How do we explain evil to a Unitarian Universalist?


(Amanda Newquist) #1

A colleague and friend of mine is a Unitarian Universalist and we recently had an interesting conversation about the human condition. We were discussing one of the recent shootings in the U.S. and reflecting on several of the violent acts committed this year, including the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.
She said the only way she can cope with her sadness is to believe that everyone is born as a good person, and environmental factors (how they are “nurtured”) ultimately triggers these people to act violently. I told her that I believe we are all born with an evil/sinful nature and she was completely shocked. I even felt that I lost some of her respect for believing something that seems hopeless.

I’ve briefly read about Unitarian Universalism and it seems they draw their beliefs from a variety of sources. Here are six sources posted on their website:

We receive inspiration for our lives from a variety of wisdom sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature

Does anyone have experience or knowledge about this belief system? Any advice for how to explain evil?


(SeanO) #2

@Amanda_Newq Does your friend believe in God? In Jesus? In the Bible as God’s Word? The answers to those questions could change the right way to approach the issue.

I think a simple definition of evil with reference to God that may not be as immediately off putting to them would be: evil is the result of loving self more than God and others less than self.

Here is a video from Os Guiness that goes through eastern, naturalistic and Christian views of evil - it may be helpful in framing the discussion.


(Amanda Newquist) #3

Thank you, @SeanO for that definition of evil - that’s very helpful. My friend does not believe in Jesus or the Bible so it’s difficult to explain these concepts without using verses.

The youtube video helps as well. I liked his comment about weeping and sadness regarding events that happen in the world, and how our sadness reflects God’s heart – “it should have been otherwise.” But, does this imply that God made a mistake? As a Christian, I can trust God’s sovereignty and his goodness, but my friend doesn’t have that trust. How do we explain that God did not make a mistake when he created the universe and evil occurred as a result?


(SeanO) #4

@Amanda_Newq I think one approach is to recognize that Christ was not God’s plan B - Christ is God’s plan A. God created us knowing that we would fall and yet He considered it worth creating us. That means God must believe that the suffering is worth it.

Now, to say that God is wrong we must say we know 100% for sure that God could not possibly have a good reason for allowing evil / suffering. Tim Keller made this point - but I can’t find the quote. None of us can support such a sweeping claim.

The real question is can we trust God? God had a plan to deal with evil and suffering - Jesus. Can we trust God’s heart in allowing suffering? I think that is a resounding yes!

So, here are some things to keep in mind when pondering this question.

  • God is not distant from our suffering - He has come near in Christ
  • Christ was not God’s 2nd plan - God planned from eternity past to send Christ into the world
  • our sufferings are nothing compared to the glory for those who trust in Christ - suffering and evil are only temporary
  • Christ is proof that God loves us and we can trust Him

Ephesians 3:10-13 - His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Romans 8:18 - I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Romans 5:8 - But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Here Tim Keller makes the point about God and suffering I was referring to - near the end of the video:


Gods will and love when bad things happen to "good" people