Probably one of the most difficult challenges for the Christian to answer in the problem of evil (theodicy) is why it seems that seemingly innocent people suffer. Children get cancer and die. Non-combatants are killed in war. Any number of complaints that are raised by skeptics are given stumbled answers by any number of apologists with appeals to such things as “mystery” or “free will”. And while the range of responses may be true, as a Christian, I find such answers lacking.
In reality, as a Christian, I must recognize a few things. The first thing that must be recognized is that the unregenerate man cannot, it will not understand what is said.
John the Baptist, in John’s gospel, is quoted as saying,
A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. (John 3:27, ESV)
While we have an answer, a reliable and logical answer, the mind set on the flesh cannot receive the truth.
Second, we must, necessarily, make sure that we are convinced of these facts. Doubt and insincerity bleed through like a leaky pen in a shirt pocket. It is a wonderful work of God’s grace and mercy that allows anyone to understand what needs to be grasped, and I am grateful for what I have received, so in that gratitude, I share. So, what is it that we need to understand.
First, the physical world is under a curse because of man’s rebellion against God.
[Cursed] is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;…
(Genesis 3:17, ESV)
We have to realize that the world in which we live is no longer under God’s active support. While God superintends his creation, man’s rebellion has caused God to withdraw his positive, apparent, obvious presence (which goes to God’s hiddenness). God allows matters and events to play out to their logical conclusion without his active intervention. Paul picks this point up in his epistle to the Romans, saying,
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18, ESV)
In the original Greek, the revelation that is being made of God’s wrath is in the passive voice. God doesn’t have to act to reveal the consequences of man’s sin and rebellion, they logically occur on their own in this life. Sin’s final payoff is death (Romans 6:23, James 1:15) and after separation from this life, then comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27).
Second, God has not written us off.
Paul, the apostle who dealt with many of these questions, points out a stark fact,
[We] all…were by nature children of wrath…(Ephesians 2:3, ESV)
By saying “were” Paul indicates that God has intervened and made a way out from under his righteous wrath for some. God demonstrates his justice by leaving most and his love by saving some. He has done this by sending his Son, who willingly took the place of one rightfully condemned to die in their place, suffering God’s wrath for those God seeks to reconcile to himself. God was under no obligation to do this but did it so that the whole range of his attributes (holiness, justice, righteousness, mercy, love, etc.) could be displayed.
Thirdly, it is wrong to conclude that this life is all that there is.
A modified form of Pascal’s wager has been put forward by any number of authors who make a valid point:
If God does not exist, then anything is permissible.
Even the most hardened atheist will argue against the last point, which is a tacit acknowledgement that the point is correct, and while their rebellion against God is embodied in their faithlessness, the absurdity of its reality slaps them in the face. They recognize acts such as murder and robbery and rape are wrong,even evil, but their sin-calloused hearts will not allow them to say why such is the case. For if this life is truly all that there is, then there is logically no reason to believe that things such as “right and wrong” or “good and evil” are truly meaningful concepts. If this life is all that there is, then all that matters is my happiness; and if my happiness is all that matters, then I can kill the guy who stole the parking space I have been waiting for the past 5 minutes for while the old woman behind the wheel waited for her car’s air conditioning to kick in while I have been sweltering in my Jeep. I can steal my next door neighbor’s new 60-inch UHD TV that he just bought to watch the World Cup on. I can force myself sexually on the cute 14 year old girl at the swimming pool. There’s nothing really “wrong” with those things if this life is all that there is. However, if God exists, and if God has made revelation of who he is and who we are and how we are to relate to one another as creatures, then it follows that there are such things as “right and wrong” as well as “good and evil” and that we have not only the ability to make such judgments but also the responsibility to follow them through.