Theodicy - Part 1
One area Christians often struggle is with the “problem of evil.” In theological terms, this is called “theodicy” and comes from two Greek words (theos ‘god’ + dikē ‘justice’). Theodicy asks and answers the question, “If God is good and all powerful, how can there be evil in the world?”
Over the next three devotions, we will explore Scripture and look at examples of Biblical figures and instances that deal with the struggle with theodicy and see how the Holy Spirit teaches us through Scripture to trust God in times of worry and uncertainty.
John 9:1-3 ESV
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
Isaiah 45:7 ESV
I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.
We often frame our unhappy circumstances in contrast to others’ more unhappy circumstances. It’s easy to rejoice in my financial stress when I compare it with someone who has lost a limb. One is clearly more desirable for me than the other. This is simply my mind determining the “lesser of two evils.”
I have struggled most of my adult life with this problem of evil. Not so much the theological aspects of it, or even how God can still be good in the presence of such prevalent wrongs in the world, but selfishly, how it impacts my life. I selfishly think that I deserve better, that being a Christian entitles me to immunity from hardship. I act spoiled and shake my fist at the sky when things don’t go my way.
Job was a righteous man; stricken by horrific emotional and physical pain and he never knew the spiritual drama unfolding between God and Satan that led to his circumstances. Job never curses God, but he does question God. If we are being honest, it is exactly what we would have done too. God does something interesting though, he comes to Job in a Tornado; not as a comforting breeze, but as a destructive storm. God rebukes Job for questioning him and puts Job back in his place, but never actually answers Job as to why he suffered, but rather God reminded Job of His character. It is enough to know that God is inherently good, and as we will learn a few thousand years later from Paul who was equally stricken with trial, “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).
In our walk with Christ we often have experiences that we may find challenging to relate to Scripture.
Theology helps organize our understanding of Scripture so we can better apply it, especially when we are confused or emotional. Sometimes when our faith fails or we can’t reason or pray clearly, theology is the bridge that keeps us moving forward until our faith matches our understanding.
We walk by faith, but that does not mean we walk blindly or merely “let go and let God;” God has provided his Holy Spirit and Scripture (his very being and words) to be our lenses through which we see the world and see God . God is inherently Good and Holy, not because he does good and holy things, rather he does them because he is good and holy and we can only judge such things in life in relation to him as the standard.
Pain is real. Suffering is real. Evil is real, but none of those things can be more real than the goodness of God (Ps. 119:68). And we must confess that although sin is used by God to bring about his greater glory, he is not the culprit, we are. (Dan. 4:25,34–35). We should echo David in 2 Samuel 24 when faced with the choice of three punishments for disobeying the LORD, “I have great anxiety. Please, let us fall into the Lord’s hands because His mercies are great, but don’t let me fall into human hands.” Indeed, 70,000 men would die from the 3-day plague that followed, but David still considered it mercy to be left to the grace of eternal God than the hands of his mortal enemies. Job’s cry that “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21) was not a superficial display of piety or a denial of pain. Job bit his lip and clenched his stomach as he remained faithful in the middle of tragedy and unmitigated suffering. Job knew who God was, that God is good, and he refused to curse him.
Father, you are holy and good and I am sinful and willful. My human mind cannot understand your ways and my flesh becomes afraid when I forget your grace and promises. Forgive my lack of faith and grow my faith, even in my trials I will trust. Jesus promised a light yoke and your saving grace is that, but in this life, I still struggle and experience evil and even I myself bring it on others. Teach me through Scripture and prayer how to daily sacrifice myself, take up my cross and submit to a holy life, whatever trials may come, my heart will be sure of your righteousness. Keep us safe, but let us testify alongside Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that our hearts beat for you alone, that our service is for your glory, that our inconveniences pale in comparison to even the chance of seeing your face, “…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:16-28).
Pain is real. Suffering is real. Evil is real, but none of those things can be more real than the goodness of God.
- Blocher, Henri. Evil and the Cross: An Analytical Look at the Problem of Pain. Kregel, 2004.
- Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. Collins, 2012.
- Feinberg, John S. The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil. Crossway Books, 2004.
- Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. Eerdmans, 2006.