Last night I delivered my presentation on Mafia and the Problem of Evil to about thirty members of the evening fellowship at St Peter's in Harrogate.
At TFN we are committed to giving Christians an opportunity to think through challenging and difficult topics. Almost every day we hear about atrocities perpetrated by IS jihadists etc. How do we make sense of these terrifying stories? In my presentation I try to help sixth formers (RB in schools) to understand five ways of looking at evil and atrocity.
1) Evil is caused by bad karma (Hinduism)
2) Evil is an illusion because nothing exists (Buddhism)
3) Evil doesn't exist because everything is just physical (Materialism)
4) Evil has to exist because it comes from God (Neo-Platonism)
5) Evil is caused by human and angelic rebellion against God (C S Lewis)
In my talk I hope to get people thinking about conflicting perspectives on evil before I outline a Christian perspective. In my experience both Christian and non-Christian people have not thought about the nature of evil.
Often they are shocked by the materialist mindset that evil doesn't exist because murderers and terrorists are just machines and have no free will. Many are startled to discover that Hindus often espouse a karmic understanding of atrocity. Rape victims deserve it because they behaved badly in a previous life. Some are surprised when I outline the pantheist view that God is responsible for evil because everything comes from God, both terrorists and Tearfund!
During the discussion I was asked if all 'bad' people are evil. An excellent question. I pointed out that the book of Kings is very helpful in answering this question. Rulers in Scripture are not just good or bad. There are degrees of both virtue and depravity. Some kings are very good (e.g. Hezekiah, Josiah) and some kings are wicked (e.g. Ahab, Manasseh). There are other kings whose faithfulness to God is a 'mixed bag'. Jehoshaphat comes into this category. In many ways he was a good king but he had a weakness for forming alliances with 'evil' kings like Ahab, Ahaziah and Jehoram.
This theme is communicated clearly in 2 Chronicles 19:1-3. Jehu, the prophet, recognises that Jehoshaphat is far from perfect but "there is, however, some good in you for you have rid the land of the Asherah poles and have set your heart on seeking God."
I find it comforting that Scripture recognises this complexity! Many of us share Jehoshaphat's status - bumbling, stumbling sinners who have set their hearts on serving God.