My piece on Epicurus’s famous riddle last week garnered a number of comments. One of those was from one of my regular commenters, GV, who asked the question, “Is there any other religion that gives a solution to his riddle?” I got the impression the question was probably rhetorical, yet it’s a good question and deserving of some thought.
The basic gist of what I wrote in that piece is this. Undergirding Epicurus’s riddle are two major presuppositions, both of which are flawed. The first is the idea that God isn’t solving the problem of evil. The second is that the evil that needs dealing with is all “out there”.
The problem with the first is that it assumes that God needs to deal with the problem of evil according to our ways. He should come and zap the evildoer right here and right now. And if he doesn’t, what kind of God do you call that? Yet the Bible tells us that he has dealt with the problem of evil, he is dealing with the problem of evil, and he will deal with the problem of evil. That he dealt with it in the past by sending his Son to take the sins and the evil of his people upon himself at Calvary. That he deals with it in the present by calling people to repent of their wickedness, and to trust in the death of Jesus as the payment for their sins. And that he will deal with it in the future, when at the end of time he will banish wickedness forever when he proclaims judgement on those that have refused to repent and accept his offer of salvation.
The problem with the second presupposition is that the problem of evil isn’t “out there”. It’s “in here”. In my heart. And yours. And Epicurus’s. And so when Epicurus invites God to respond to the problem of evil by “dealing with it”, he knows not what he asks. Does he really want God to come and “deal with” all wickedness? If he does so in the way that Epicurus is suggesting, then Epicurus gets zapped along with everyone else. Not just the murderers, the rapists, the thieves, the genocidal maniacs, the warmongers etc. Everyone. Which is why it’s a fine thing that Epicurus is not God, or that God didn’t hearken to him to “prove” his goodness and his omnipotence. For had he done so in the way that Epicurus was suggesting, that would have resulted in only one good remaining – God himself – whilst all humanity would have been subject to his wrath, since “there is none righteous, no not one.”
Which brings me onto GV’s question: “Is there any other religion that gives a solution to his riddle?” It won’t surprise you to hear me answer that with a resounding no, but why so?
Question: What is the fundamental difference between Christianity and all other religions? It is this: all other religions are based on man doing something to earn salvation or reach paradise. They are man reaching upwards, trying to reach heaven or some equivalent, and trying to prove his worthiness in getting there. Christianity, on the other hand, is God reaching down to pull sinful and helpless man up to heaven. All other religions are man striving to earn salvation. Christianity is man admitting that he can never earn salvation, and being entirely dependent on God to save him.
And so the most astonishing and radical message that this world has ever heard is that God came down to earth and took on humanity. He became a man. Not only this, but he was subject to illness, temptations, and trials just like the rest of us. Ultimately, he was subjected to the most cruel and humiliating death, despite his obvious innocence, and his sinless life. God – the God that Epicurus questions as not being able or willing to deal with evil – came here and did that!
What has that to do with GV’s question? Everything. Epicurus’s riddle supposes a God who is distant and removed from evil. A God who doesn’t much care. But by coming in the flesh, God shows that he cares passionately that evil has infiltrated his creation, causing such pain, misery and anguish. And on the Cross of Calvary, he showed just how much he was willing to banish evil forever, by facing wickedness head on, taking the punishment for evil on himself, so that every sin of those who repent and follow him could be forgiven.
Epicurus’s riddle also supposes a God who is unable to deal with evil. A God who just isn’t powerful enough to destroy it. But again, God coming in the flesh, shows that this is not the case at all. When Jesus Christ came to earth, he came because he was determined to deal a death blow to evil. And he did. Yes, it still lives on, and will do until the end of time. But the death of the Son of God, followed by his resurrection where he openly triumphed over evil, shows that God has already dealt with the fundamental problem of evil by placing the guilt of it on his willing Son. Those who accept his payment are now granted eternal life, free from all wickedness, and those who refuse this gracious offer will have to bear their own guilt when good and evil undergo their final separation at the end of time.
Name another religion where these things are true? Where the god of that religion has showed that he is not aloof to the misery that evil has caused. Where the god of that religion has showed that he had a plan to banish evil after all. Where the god of that religion has come amongst his creatures to deal with the problem. I don’t think there is one.
Epicurus’s riddle can only be answered by a God who enters his creation to deal with the problem of evil. It can only be answered by a God who deals with evil by taking on the punishment for evil himself, so that guilty humanity can go free. Which is why Christianity alone can give us the answer to this riddle.