The problem of evil has vexed believers for centuries. Traditionally, philosophers have divided evil into two categories. One is natural evil, and the other is personal or moral evil. A hurricane would fall into the first category, but murder would fall into the second. Neither of these is amoral, since they raise the same question: “How can a God of love allow such atrocities to happen?”
Put another way, atheists like to quote a purported passage from Epicurus: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
There is an ancient Christian answer to this. C.S. Lewis laid it out for contemporary readers in his: “Problem of Pain.” But a few years later, he realized intellectual answers are inadequate for the heart. He records his own struggle over the loss of his soul-mate in: “A Grief Observed.” Both are recommended resources for the reader.
Nevertheless, we will attempt a brief answer in this article. In order to answer the puzzling quote above, we must go back to the beginning. The first chapter of the Bible ends by saying: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” But the first humans opened a sort of Pandora’s Box.
They were given the choice of eating from the Tree of Life that would allow them to live forever, or eating from the Tree of Good and Evil which would lead to certain death. Unfortunately, our primordial parents picked from the forbidden fruit. Consequently, God pronounced a curse over all of creation.
Saint Augustine called sin the corruption of something that was good. In other words, it is not a created thing. We turned away from God, distorting our souls. And this move brought chaos into the created order. This is part of the Biblical answer to Epicurus quandary.
If we move on to the book of Job, we gain additional insight. Some people debate if Job was an actual person, but that is beside the point. This story lies in that section of scripture called: “The Wisdom Literature.” In other words, its’ point is true.
Now in this story, we find a righteous man named Job. He was the most virtuous person on earth, and God richly blessed him. Wouldn’t we expect this? But the story takes an unexpected turn. The curtain is pulled on the heavenly drama, and we find Satan questioning Job’s motives before the heavenly court. God allows for a progressive amount of testing. Job loses everything, but is proven blameless. And in the end, God restores everything Job had lost --- and then some.
The story listed above might seem crass, unless we realize its point. We might not realize the purpose of our testing on earth, but God makes things right in the end. Now let us translate that into actual reality. The New Testament makes it clear Jesus is coming at the end of days to judge the living, and the dead (Acts 10:41-43). The choices people make today have eternal consequences. And there is a unique promise given to those who believe in him: every tear will be wiped from their eyes (Revelation 7:17), “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).”
In his sovereignty, God does not take away the wills of human beings. We have an astounding capacity for evil. But in his grace, he overcomes this. The amazing love and power of God can take the most evil things of this world, and work them toward an ultimate good. It’s hard for our finite minds to imagine this outcome, but we look forward to it in faith. Only God could accomplish this.
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