William Cwirla (LCMS): The problem of suffering (theodicy) is really a matter of the clay critiquing the work of the potter. The question lays a moral problem at God’s feet and then questions the existence of God. “Evil” implies “good” and our ability to discern the difference. Without an external objective standard of good and evil, we would have no ability to speak of evil in the world. Therefore, to call the existence of God into question on account of the presence of evil in the world presupposes a higher standard of the good against which to judge what is and isn’t evil.
The question presupposes that God should run the universe according to our set of rules. If we were God, we wouldn’t permit the presence of evil in the world. This is an anthropocentric view of the universe, as though everything that causes us suffering is necessarily evil.
The question fails to take into account the presence of sin and its cosmic effects. The fall of Adam not only plunged humanity into sin, it also disrupted the inherent harmony of the created order (Rom. 8:18-25). Pain and suffering exists because the inherent harmony of creation has been messed up by sin. Even when human beings don’t have a direct hand in the cause of suffering, say an earthquake or a hurricane, it is nevertheless due to the disruption of creation’s order by sin.
So what is God to do? One thing he doesn’t do, at least on a regular basis, is intervene. He doesn’t block bullets from finding their targets; he doesn’t turn hurricanes away from cities; he doesn’t necessarily keep a meteor from plummeting through the roof of your house. Instead, he restores order to the cosmos by reconciling all things to himself in the death of his Son Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-19) and bringing all things together under a new Head of creation (Eph. 1:10). In Christ, the God who suffers, “evil” and pain are ultimately employed for good, trumped by the all-reconciling death of Jesus.
We run into trouble with the question of evil and suffering when we attempt to address it apart from the cross of Jesus Christ. Then the discussion becomes a philosophical abstraction, pitting God’s mercy and love against his omniscience and power. The cross of Jesus silences these speculations. Here the Innocent One suffers on behalf of guilty humanity; here God himself bears the ultimate injustice and evil in his own crucifixion which he makes the reconciliation of all things. Jesus Christ, the second Adam and the new Head of creation, sets the disordered universe back into order by his own dying and rising, gathering all things into his death (John 12:32).
In Christ, there is no problem of evil and suffering, for “in all things God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). The existence of God is not negated by the presence of evil. Rather, the presence of evil demonstrates the cosmic reality of sin, ultimately reconciled once and for all in the death of Jesus Christ.
Michael Brown (URC): First, we must understand that God did not create the world evil. The Bible reveals to us that God made all things good. He created humans in true righteousness and holiness. He crowned them with glory and honor and gave them dominion over the works of his hands. Violence, sorrow, and death were not part of man’s original experience; he only knew the blessing of life in God’s good earth. It was not until Adam sinned against God and broke the covenant into which he was placed that the horror of evil, pain, and death came to be a regular part of existence in this world. As a result of the fall, God could have judged the world immediately and plunged all of mankind into the eternal punishment we rightly deserve. It is only because of his great grace that he chose to redeem a people out of this fallen and dark world. That is why this age of suffering continues: God is gathering in his elect until the Last Day. We have the confidence that God is in fact doing this because he sent Christ his Son “who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4a).
Second, we must understand that while this present evil age continues, God oversees all things by his providence, that is, his constant interaction and intervention with the world he has made. He not only preserves his creatures, but is directing everything to its appointed end, “work[ing] all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11b). He even uses the evil acts of men for his own purpose and glory. Yet, he does so while remaining free from and the just judge of evil. It is this understanding of providence that led Joseph to declare to his brothers who sinned against him: “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20a). What this shows us is that God is both good and sovereign. We are comforted to know that he is always in control and that, as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, “whatever evil he sends upon me in this vale of tears he will turn to my good; for he is able to do, being Almighty God, and willing also, being a faithful Father” (Q. 26).
Finally, we must understand that the story is not over. Just as this world was once free from evil and pain in the beginning, so shall it be again when the King returns. Paradise lost will be paradise restored, only infinitely greater. This universe will be resurrected to fit the glory of the age to come-an age in which God has promised to dwell with his people and forever keep them from pain, suffering, and evil. As we read in the final chapters of the Bible: “He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3b-4).
Jason Stellman (PCA): One philosopher claimed that there are many arguments against God’s existence, but this is the only good one! There are a couple ways to approach this question. But before I start apologizing on God’s behalf and defending his actions, we must remember who it is we’re talking about here: the all wise, all powerful, good, and loving God.
We need to be reminded of this because our sinful temptation is to think that God has gotten himself stuck in a corner and we need to reason him out of it. But this is the height of arrogance. “Let God be true,” Paul insisted, “and every man a liar.” God doesn’t need us to get him off the hook! This is crucial to remember: There’s no hook on which God can get stuck from which we must rescue him. If there is a hook, it is we who are stuck on it, not God.
C. S. Lewis used to object to God’s existence for this same reason (all the evil in the world). But then he realized something that many today have never wrestled with: How do I know things are evil or bad? His conclusion was that, in order to be able to recognize evil, he must have some standard of “good” against which he measures everything else. To use his illustration, one cannot recognize a crooked line unless he first has some concept of a straight one. But if there is no God, the very objection to evil loses its force, for if the universe is nothing but the result of random chance, then evil could never be recognized as such.
So that leaves us with the uncomfortable conclusion that there is a God, and this God allows (and in some way ordains) that evil things occur. What do we do with this? I think it is at this point that eschatology becomes very practical. The story into which we have been written is not just a tale about a Shepherd whose sheep got lost and remained that way. Rather, the Christian story is about a God who went to such great lengths to redeem his fallen ones that he sent his own Son to live, die, and rise again for them. Though we are still living in a period of delay, the promise remains that this same Lord Jesus will descend from heaven and put all things right. To Adam it seemed as if Paradise was lost. To us, Paradise feels postponed (though we presently experience it in part). But from God’s perspective and according to his testimony, Paradise has been regained, and the day will come when a new heaven and new earth will descend, and the former things-such as evil and pain-will be remembered no more.
So my point is this: the problem of evil cannot be abstracted from the rest of the story God is telling and considered on its own. All good drama needs a point of crisis, for without this the ending doesn’t appear nearly as glorious.