Occasionally we run across a philosophical or theological difficulty that threatens to drive us into a ditch, causing us to “ditch” our search for the truth in a particular matter. Common road blocks include the apparent contradiction in the Trinity, a Good God allowing evil in the world, and the list goes on. While evidence in our search mounts for a particular view (e.g., God exists) we are tempted to get stuck on a seemingly imponderable problem (e.g., the presence of evil in the world) which appears to favor the opposing view point. This prevents us from moving forward with the investigation, or at least from being able to objectively consider the many evidences that exist in favor of the view.
Let’s use the presence of evil and suffering as an example. The problem of evil in the world presents a formidable challenge to the existence of God for many people. The reasoning goes like this: Christianity claims that God is all good and all powerful. However, if God is all good He would want to do away with evil and the suffering it causes, and if He is all powerful, He would be capable of doing away with evil and the suffering it causes. Therefore, either God doesn’t care about the plight of the suffering, in which case he is not all good, or He cares but is not powerful enough to do away with evil, in which case He is not all powerful. In either case, the presence of evil and suffering in the world proves that the Christian God does not exist. [While the problem of evil would appear to score a point against the existence of God, it actually serves as a solid argument in favor of His existence. See here and here.]
People have wrestled with this issue for centuries. Some have reconciled this apparent dilemma to their own satisfaction and chosen to believe in God. Others have concluded that there is no satisfactory resolution and consequently have chosen to reject the idea that God exists. But somewhere in the middle is someone who is genuinely stuck in the ditch of the problem of evil, and being stuck, is unable to proceed with their investigation. For others who fall somewhere in between, on this or any other theological or philosophical problem, I want to suggest a way forward.
How does a cold case detective deal with a piece of evidence that doesn’t seem consistent with the majority of the evidence he has gathered so far? He stays out of the ditch by making note of the apparent inconsistency, setting it aside for the time being and continuing his investigation. He doesn’t automatically dismiss it as irrelevant or insignificant, but neither does he allow it to drive the entire investigative project into the ditch. He leaves it for further consideration and investigation at a later date. In some cases, more light will eventually shine on the issue effectively removing the apparent inconsistency. In other cases, the seemingly contrary piece of evidence will remain on the shelf while the preponderance of the evidence demands that the verdict goes against it. In still other cases, the apparent inconsistency may be proven to be an actual inconsistency, resulting in a complete change in the direction of the investigation altogether (this doesn’t happen to be the case with the problem of evil – quite the opposite actually).
If you find yourself heading toward the ditch of a particular intellectual or theological problem, my suggestion is to shelve the issue for future consideration. We have good reason to believe that the view of the world that Jesus held was accurate and trustworthy. This doesn’t mean that every problem text or cosmological imponderable is going to be resolved to our complete satisfaction, nor does it mean that we won’t have a shelf of our own with a few sticky issues on it. But what it does mean is that the majority of the evidence is indeed on His side and we are in good standing to side with His view of the world. A good investigator doesn’t allow the occasional and apparent inconsistency drive him into a ditch, and neither should we.
Keep the investigation moving. Stay out of the ditch!