The Goodness of God and the Problem of Evil
The “Problem of Evil” is constantly aimed against Christianity in an effort to disprove the existence of God. The so-called problem goes like this: If God is all-good, all-powerful, all-loving, and all-knowing, then he has the power to stop evil. A quick glance at the horrors of the world indicate that God has not stopped evil. Thus, God either does not exist or he does not have one or all of the above attributes. Every time something horrendous happens (the Holocaust, 9/11, the bridge collapse in Minneapolis) someone champions the problem of evil against God. Theologian Roger B. Olson recently wrote this article against John Piper’s Calvinist view of the bridge collapse while forwarding an Arminian understanding of the event. While I have enjoyed and appreciate much of Olson’s work, I would not take his approach to the problem of evil. I do think that Arminians are in a better position than Calvinists to talk about the goodness of God and the Problem of Evil. In my view the Calvinist position makes God the author of evil. Perhaps I will take up that topic another day. Today I want to address the Problem of Evil itself rather than various approaches to it.
God’s goodness is not up for negotiation. If he is not good, then he is not the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth and in the Bible. If God is all-good he cannot be the originator of evil. So where did evil come from? In Adam God created humanity with the capacity to have a meaningful love relationship with him. The nature of a meaningful relationship is such that either party is fully able to choose not to take part in the relationship. Unfortunately, Adam freely chose to rebel against God consequentially unleashing forces of evil and rebellion into the world. Since then humans have been self-centered rather than God-centered. Humans, out of self-interest have cheated, lied, and cut corners. Even when we do not sin out rightly, we often make mistakes because we are fallen and fallible. The evil in the world is the result of human rebellion against God. The bridge collapse might have been the result of faulty planning, inadequate inspection, or any number of human shortcomings. They need not be intentional to be the result of human rebellion. There is no reason to say that God caused the bridge to collapse. There is no reason to blame God for the bridge collapse. Humanity is responsible for evil in the world because humanity has rebelled against the wise and benevolent will of God. We are reaping what we have sown.
The truly amazing and wonderful thing is that God has not abandoned us to our depravity. In his infinite goodness and love he has joined us in our plight in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. In the cross of Christ, God has taken the full weight of human evil, sin, and rebellion upon himself. With his resurrection he has wrought a new creation. God is not far off in our suffering. He is with us. He hurts with us. He suffers with us. And he ministers in us. I do not like talk of God intervening in the world. Such talk indicates that God is far off and cares little for this world and its inhabitants. The truth is that God could have abandoned us to our fallen rebellion. But he has remained loyal to us. He is at work in Christ and in his church to undo the curse of human sin and rebellion. And one day, he will act fully and finally to heal his good world of all its pain and hurt and evil. One day he will fill his good world with the renewing power of the manifestation of his presence. Until that time we are charged with the privilege of being truly human, of loving those who hurt so that they see Jesus present with them. It is interesting that the Bible doesn’t seem terribly concerned to explain the presence of evil. The early Christians dealt with great evil done against them from both Jew and Gentile. Instead of trying to explain the problem, they pointed to the reality and certainty of God’s new creation. They must have realized that evil is our fault. We are responsible. However, God in his infinite benevolence, mercy, and love has committed himself to healing this world. Let us all be committed, having one mind and one love in Jesus Christ, to moving the project forward.
Grace and peace,