Theodicy - Part 2
The problem of evil can be daunting and appear irresolvable. The best apologists and theologians in church history and even biblical figures have failed to fully answer all the questions raised by the existence of evil in this world. The longer we live within this mortal coil, the more the world seems to descend into further chaos. Terrorism, endless wars, school & church shootings, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, tsunamis, pandemics, financial collapse, unemployment, human trafficking, widespread idolatry, gender confusion are just a few examples in a list we could add to daily.
Evil is not an illusion. We can’t close our eyes tight and will it away. The Bible never minimizes the truth of misery and pain. Moreover, the example of Solomon shows that stoic detachment from evil is not the right response. Today we will examine how the wisest man in history dealt with theodicy or the problem of evil.
Evil is not an illusion. We can’t close our eyes tight and will it away. The Bible never minimizes the truth of misery and pain.
Genesis 50:20 ESV
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Habakkuk 1:1-4 ESV
The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.
Stoicism is often regarded as the unofficial American religion. To be Stoic is usually understood as being completely unemotional and calculating, but that is an oversimplification. Stoicism is a humanistic philosophy of personal ethics informed by logic and the natural world. As social beings, happiness for humans is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain.
God in his providence has wired me to be more analytical and calculating than emotional. I feel things, and on occasion become overwhelmed with emotion and even cry (shh, don’t tell). That said, the typical response for me is to shut my emotions down, or partition them off so that I can get to work fixing the problem at hand. This works for many problems in life, but Spiritual trials and prolonged suffering require more; they require faith.
Even the best of us have a mind broken by sin, eyes blinded by pride, hearts hardened towards God. Christians become complacent in their faith and miss that while the Elect are destined for eternity with Christ, this mortal life will be busied with sanctification, which more often than not hurts, because we are forced to set aside our comfort. We have our minds molded like clay and renewed (Rom. 12:2), blind eyes taught to walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7) and hard hearts ripped from our chest and replaced with hearts that beat for Christ (Ezek. 36:26). Believer, you are the envy of angels because you, unlike them, actually are like God, knowing the difference between good and evil and yet have been forgiven!
God blessed Solomon with enhanced mental abilities, allowing him to think clearly and express great wisdom. Throughout Ecclesiastes Solomon achingly searches for the reason behind human laboring and suffering and ultimately the failure of human wisdom (Eccl. 1:2-18). Solomon looks back at a life lived in piety vs. one of utter hedonism and he concludes that trying to pigeonhole God into humanistic terms is foolish and vain (Eccl. 2). Scripture instructs us not to lean on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6) and Solomon concludes that what believers must do is “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
It is very likely that evil and strife and pain will go unanswered in our lifetimes -we must accept that God is not looking away or ignoring or incapable. God is not arbitrary, nor does he act irrationally, permitting evil without purpose or end.
Scriptures like the book of Job and John keep us from universally declaring that pain is a specific punishment for specific sin (Eccl. 12:13-14).
Father, you are holy and good and perfectly just, but I am full of deceit and arrogance. Forgive me for trying to apply to you human reasoning and logic when your ways are far above my ways. I trust that your justice will answer every evil and nothing in this life will go unaccounted for, including my own sin. I thank you that my sin was justly dealt with at the cross. I praise you with all my heart and thank you for the unmerited grace you give to your children, despite our stubbornness. The evil I hate in the world comes from the reflection of your holiness; teach me to love unconditionally and seek your face so that I reflect your holiness more than the world that corrupts. Keep us safe, but let us proclaim with Jeremiah that “the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (Lam. 3:31-33).
Believer, you are the envy of angels because you, unlike them, actually are like God, knowing the difference between good and evil and yet have been forgiven!
- White, James R. Grieving: Your Path Back to Peace. Bethany House, 1997.
- Boyd, Gregory A. God at War: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict. InterVarsity Press, 2007.