Something more reasonable than rationalistic solutions to the problem.
In the eighteenth century, Scottish philosopher David Hume attempted to impale Christian theology upon one or both horns of his famous dilemma: “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”
Christian philosophers and theologians ever since have answered Hume’s clear, cold, philosophical prose with clear, cold, philosophical prose.
But another eighteenth-century writer, William Blake, compressed the problem of evil into one vivid image:
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Most of us confront the problem of evil in Blake’s terms, not Hume’s. We struggle with particular, flesh-and-blood evil: this criminal, this regime, that disaster—not with general, fleshless, bloodless “Evil,” an intellectual abstraction. As Blake focuses upon the case of the tiger and the lamb—evil, ruthless predator and innocent, helpless prey—he enfleshes the problem of evil, posing it in terms we cannot overlook with a yawn as a mere intellectual puzzle, irrelevant to life as we live it.
But can we Christians, who are used to responding to the problem of evil in clear, cold, theological terms, truly answer Blake’s question? Can we meet flesh-and-blood symbols? Can we move beyond rationalistic answers to an answer that corresponds to the problem of evil as we ourselves experience it?
We can if we read the Scriptures. They are not uncomfortable with symbols. ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 63+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more