Theodicy - Part 3
Humans do not live in the best of all possible worlds. This world is fallen, wrecked by sin and its consequences, marring an otherwise good creation. Not all suffering is tied to a particular sin nor can we can draw a one-to-one correlation between the degree of a person’s sin and the degree of their suffering. Suffering belongs to the full weight of sin that both believers and unbelievers bring upon this world. Violence begets violence. Scripture tells us that even creation gets angry with its human masters and exploiters (Gen. 3:17; Isa. 24:20; Rom. 8:19-23). Instead of stewarding the earth wisely and replenishing it, we exploit and pollute it. Until Christ returns with the new heavens and earth, we’ll deal with the results of evil, even such evil that is not directly tied to our personal endeavors. Christians are subject to this trouble the same as unbelievers (Matt. 5:45).
Until Christ returns with the new heavens and earth, we’ll deal with the results of evil.
Romans 3:5 ESV
But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way).
Ecclesiastes 1:13-18 ESV
And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
Humans have a character trait unique in creation. We want to see the best in people and believe that deep down people will do the right thing. Apart from the Holy Spirit who enables believers to do good works (Phil. 2:13), humans will only do what is in their own best interest. Sometimes that best interest is altruistic, sometimes its self-centered, but if we can help it, it will always benefit us somehow. We often bring this attitude with us on our walk with Christ and impose undue morality on others and are shocked when sinners behave like sinners. To be frank, some of the nicest people I know are unbelievers and some of the rudest people I’ve known were professing Christians. The Gospel applies to both sets of people.
The Bible makes it clear that evil is something God neither intended nor created. Rather, moral evil is a necessary possibility. If we are truly free, then we are free to choose something other than God’s will—that is, we can choose moral evil. Scripture points out that there are consequences for defying the will of God—personal, communal, physical, and spiritual.
The existence of evil is often presented as an enormous problem for those who believe in God, mostly because of various false dichotomies. God must, it is assumed, prevent all evil or he is evil himself. God must immediately punish all evildoers and never trouble those who are innocent or he is assumed not to be omnipotent. In reality, these assumptions miss the actual means by which Scripture resolves the problem of evil.
God uses all things to fulfill his purposes and even uses evil for his glory and for our good (Rom. 8:28). When evil troubles Christians, we can appreciate that God is glorified even in the punishment of sin (Prov. 16:4; Ps. 76:10; Rom. 9:14-24). God never does evil and is never to be blamed for evil. In Luke 22:22, Jesus combines God’s predestination of his crucifixion with the moral blame on those who will carry out the execution (see also Matt. 26:24; Mark 14:21; Acts 2:23, 4:27-28). There is such a thing as secondary causes; human beings do cause evil and are responsible for it. God rightfully judges moral creatures for the evil they commit, whether intentional or unintentional. Scripture affirms this repeatedly (Isa. 66:3-4; Eccl. 7:29; Rom. 9:19-20). The blame for evil is always on the responsible creature (man or demon) who does it, and that creature is always worthy of punishment.
All through history God has taken steps to limit the influence of evil (we call this common grace & providence). And, most importantly, God himself took the consequences of our sin, so every person can have access to forgiveness and salvation. As a result, all sin, evil, and suffering will someday be completely ended. Beyond the philosophical or theological aspects of this issue, Scripture in and of itself goes a long way to neutralizing the power of the “problem of evil.”
Remember this Christian -evil is not ultimate. Scripture never denies the horror of evil, but neither does it regard evil as having power above or equal to God. Scripture’s final word on evil is triumph. The resurrected Christ stands over all creation as “Christus Victor,” the one who has triumphed over the powers of evil and will make all things new.
Remember this Christian -evil is not ultimate.
Father, your ways are not our ways. We seek to live with as little pain as possible, but you call us to a life of trial and suffering for Christ’s namesake. Forgive me for cheapening the cross and thinking I am above suffering in the way Christ suffered; may I be counted worthy to partake in the suffering for our faith (1 Pet. 4:12). I trust that whatever suffering or injustice comes to me in this life, that I will see your glory and grace as more than sufficient for me. (2 Cor. 12:9). Forgive me for thinking too much of myself and not enough of you (Rom. 12:3). Keep us safe, but let us fully believe, even though the afflictions of the righteous are many, even if we do not see relief in the way we think best, that you will save those who are crushed in spirit and you will deliver us out of them all, even if that means parting this world and meeting you face to face.
- Horton, Michael Scott. Too Good to Be True: Finding Hope in a World of Hype. Zondervan, 2006.
- Wright, N. T. Evil and the Justice of God. InterVarsity Press, 2014.