Not quite two years ago I addressed what some people call the Problem of Evil and used the example of how children will defy even the most loving and caring parents.
For those not up to speed on Christian apologetics, the Problem of Evil is also phrased as "why does God allow bad things to happen?"
I stand by my earlier answer, but in the time since I gave it, I've come to see things differently. To me the question is rather "How do good things happen at all?"
I mean, the notion that life should be free of harm, danger or sorrow is completely divorced from reality. Looking at the world around us and informed by history, the most logical expectation of life is that it should be (to quote Hobbes) "nasty, brutish and short."
And it often is. Interestingly, in such societies expectations of comfort and leisure are few and fleeting. I think our current notions of "evil" are largely informed by the unprecedented peace and prosperity Westerners have lived in for the past few generations.
Where I live, there is an assumption in the wider community that these things are the default setting for humanity, that they will happen organically, naturally, like flowers blooming in the spring. When something disturbs their tranquility, they are indignant and demand that changes be made to ensure it never happens again. I have a mental image of Karen demanding to speak with God's manager.
One of the keys to happiness (and avoiding disappointment) is aligning expectations with realistic outcomes. In truth, there is no bottom, no guaranteed level of comfort for any of us. The only guarantee in life is that it ends in death. People who have endured great hardship over a space of years get this.
Every Vietnam POW I've talked to (and I've talked to quite a few as guest speakers during my military career) has an incredible grateful and optimistic demeanor. They cherish every sunrise and sunset. No sensation is wasted, from a warm shower to clean sheets on their feet. After each presentation I have remarked that while I envy their joy, I'm not sure I want to spend years at the Hanoi Hilton to get it.
That's because it's hard to not to take nice things for granted when it is all you have known. While I am thankful for nice things, I have come to also be thankful for hardships that make me appreciate them more.
All of which is to say that one of the proofs of God is the presence of goodness and joy in the world. Logically, it serves no purpose. Fear and oppression are far more efficient and frankly pleasing to most people. Absent some sort of moral scruple, most people won't think twice about stealing or hurting someone. It is only through religion (specifically, Christianity) that we develop a sense that this is wrong.
Much of Western society still has a residual sense of Christian morality, but that is now fading, and we're seeing the results. Appeals to decency are now pointless, and it has even gone so far that some people respond to expressions of sympathy and offers of prayer with rage and profanity.
These are people who are perilously close to the "I would lie, cheat, steal or kill if only I could get away with it" threshold, but that can't see it.
Indeed, here I must once again mention the Yard Sign Calvinists, who often play a leading role in both disparaging Christianity and wishing harm on those they deem outside of the Elect.
Evil can manifest in many ways, and J.R.R. Tolkien's work illustrates how the more pure of motives can lead one down a dark path. G.K. Chesterton likewise gives countless illustrations of how the well-meaning and self-righteous become the devil's tools. Much of Evelyn Waugh's satire focuses on this as well (particularly in Black Mischief).
Thus, I'm not saying anything particularly new or unique, and I freely admit that the Lord of Spirits podcast has contributed to my understanding of evil.
When bad things happen, it is important that we retain this perspective. God knows our suffering, and we should always strive to learn from it. It is possible to make something good out of a terrible event - as the Vietnam POWs I mentioned above have done.
Indeed, I think that is something most pleasing to God and perhaps why people who have achieved it seem so content.