Philosophy for Dummies, contains a whole chapter on the issue [of the problem of evil]. Given the raison d’être for the “Dummies” series – simplifying complex issues and processes into digestible bites illustrated by catchy icons proclaiming Warnings, Great Ideas, and Tips – meriting a whole chapter shows how important the issue is thought to be. In the bulleted, sound-bite sized, summary of all of Western philosophy, a chapter is massive. And what is the author’s conclusion to the problem of evil? Basically, if you think you have an answer you haven’t understood the question!
The conclusion of Dummies is the same conclusion offered to Job in the bible. Job has lost all his property, all his children and their spouses, all his livestock, and finally his own health and standing in the community. After much gnashing of teeth and calling out for God to answer him, Job finally receives a response. God tells Job that suffering is a mystery, and because Job isn’t God, Job cannot expect to understand. Not a particularly satisfactory answer, but as the Dummies author, Tom Morris, points out, “Any theism that didn’t ultimately point to mystery would not be a very believable world view.”
But the book of Job actually presents more than a single response to the problem of evil. The “it’s a mystery” answer is presented in the main text of the poem and a completely different one is set out in the prose Prologue and Epilogue. According to the Prologue Job’s suffering was a test of his faith, and because he remains faithful to God despite all his suffering, the Epilogue tells us he is rewarded with a double portion of all the property he had previously lost, and ten more children to replace the ten dead ones. Lucky wife!
In the Poem, Chapters 3-42, Job’s friends offer suggestions as to why he is suffering: Job must be a sinner, or he must be paying for the sins of his children or ancestors. Job summarily rejects these answers. Then Job finally says to God,
I quit! I don’t think I’ll ever get a straight answer from you and it’s just beyond me.
And he resigns himself to his suffering. Not a very good answer, but isn’t that how life works out most of the time?