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"How Believe in a Good God in the Midst of Glaring Evil"

King, Martin Luther, Jr. (Dexter Avenue Baptist Church)
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry


King delivered a version of this sermon to his Dexter congregation a few days after the MIA voted to boycott city buses indefinitely.1 He draws upon a Crozer paper, “Religion’s Answer to the Problem of Evil,” to construct this handwritten outline.2 King readily acknowledges the existence of evil as a force in the world and its deleterious effect on Christian faith but concludes by offering various rationales for belief in God despite the reality of evil.

  1. Introduction—We come face to face this morning with an old question: How can we believe in a good God in the midst of glaring evil. Many centuries ago Job confronted this problem. In the glorious days of Greek culture Sophocles wondered how the gods could look complacently down on so much suffering and pain.3 There is hardly a person here this morning who has not asked this question in some form. There are times when we all experience the heightening joy and soothing warmth of life's summers. At such moments we dont think about the problem of evil. But at other times we experience the bleak and desolate chill of life's winter. At such a time we are prone to cry with the earnest believer Carlyle, “God sits in his heaven and does nothing.”4
    We seek to live by the faith that our God is all-good and all-powerful. But on every hand the facts of life seem to contradict this faith.
    1. Nature is often cruel with its floods and tornadoes, with the long ruthlessness of the evolutionary process, with dread diseases like cancer and ills like insanity. As John Stuart Mill said, “Nearly all the things which men are hanged and imprisoned for doing to one another are nature's every day performances. Nature kills, burns, starves, freezes, poisons.5
    2. Nature is apparently non-moral. It makes no distinction between the evil and the good. It is true that it sends its rain on the just and the unjust, but the obverse is also true, it sends its floods and tonadoes on the good and the evil.6
    3. The world seems positvily immoral at times. The innocent suffer for the deeds of the evil

    In the midst of all of this we are prone to ask where is God. How can we reconcile an all-good and all-powerful God with the glaring facts of evil. This is the question the men have struggled to answered in every generation. The answered to this problem can be broken down to about four.

    1. Dualism is perhaps the simplest answer.
    2. The second answr may be called the legalistic. It rest on the principle of retribution. The universe rest on law and evil is simply the results of wrongdoing. Judaism used this in its view that goodness brings prosperity.7
    3. There is the position absolute idealism in its various forms.
      1. Looked at from the whole it is not evil.8
      2. Christian science view.9
    4. The disciplinary view. Pain and sorror are here to develop character.10

    Now the real question is Why do we believe in a good God in the midst of glaring evil.

    1. The first reason is because disbelief in a good God presents more problems than it solves. It is difficult to explain evil the presence of evil in the world of a good God, but it is more difficult to explain the presence of good in a world of no God.
      1. The [vast?] & orderly structure of the cosmic order.
      2. Michael Angelo
      3. Handel
      4. Plato
      5. Shakespeare
      6. A great person or a child where did it come from
      7. Going out look at the stars
    2. The second reason why we believe in a good God is that all the suffering and pain we bear come from four factors, and all four of these factor are necessary for the existence of a good world.
      1. First, the freedom of will
      2. Second, the evolutionary nature of the world
      3. Third, the law-abidingness of the universe
      4. Fourth, the intermeshed relationships of human life.

1. On 12 January, the MIA elected to continue the bus boycott after the city rejected their most recent proposal “to assure all passengers equal treatment” (To the Commissioners of the City of Montgomery, 9 January 1956, in Papers 3:97-98). Dexter's program for 15 January 1956 indicates King preached this sermon.

2. King, “Religion's Answer to the Problem of Evil,” 27 April 1951, in Papers 1:416-433.

3. Sophocles (ca. 496-406 BCE) was one of classical Athens's three great tragic playwrights, along with Aeschylus and Euripides.

4. King cites lines from Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resatus (1836), p. 163.

5. Mill, Three Essays on Religion (1874), pp. 28-29: “In sober truth, nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another, are nature's every day performances ... Nature impales men, breaks them as if on the wheel, casts them to be devoured by wild beasts, burns them to death, crushes them with stones like the first Christian martyr, starves them with hunger, freezes them with cold, poisons them by the quick or slow venom of her exhalations.” King used this paraphrase of Mill's quote in a 27 April 1951 paper for Davis (see note 1 to “Religion’s Answer to the Problem of Evil,” in Papers 1:416).

6. Cf. Matthew 5:45.

7. King, “Religion’s Answer to the Problem of Evil,” in Papers 1:418: “A second view explains physical evils as a punishment for moral evils. Such a view rests in the principle of retribution. This view goes back to the old Deuteronomic idea that prosperity follows piety and righteous.”

8. King, “Religion’s Answer to the Problem of Evil,” in Papers 1:420: “There is a fourth position which explains evil as incomplete good. Absolute idealists like Hegel and his followers have been strong proponents of this view.”

9. The Church of Christ, Scientist teaches that sickness, evil, and sin are all merely illusions, with no basis in reality. The Church's founder, Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), espoused the benefits of spiritual healing through prayer over the practices of medical science.

10. King, “Religion’s Answer to the Problem of Evil,” in Papers 1:419: “A third view explains nonmoral evils as disciplinary rather than penal. Here the purpose of evil is to reform or to test rather than to punish. ... Character often develops out of hardship.”


CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands: Sermon file, folder 70, “Christ the Center of our Faith” / “How to Believe in a Good God in the Midst of Glaring Evil.”