Proof of a Good God: 'Crucified Under Pontius Pilate'
Many Christians imagine this is the only way out of this dilemma, and they put their hope in the gospel according to Job: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21, NASB). Fortunately, that is not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is only when we look at Jesus—at his incarnation but especially his crucifixion—that we are able to hear some really good news.
Crucified Under Pontius Pilate
The problem with the way we sometimes frame both the question and the answer is that Jesus Christ never makes an appearance in either. When Jesus Christ is not a part of this conversation, the conversation becomes abstract. In such conversations, God is said to be good. Or powerful. Or evil. Or impotent. Or whatever we conclude, based on our understanding of these abstract words, which we apply to another abstract word—God.
From a variety of sources, we've come up with a working definition of these abstract words and this abstract God—the God of logic, who must do y if in fact he is x. So when we are told not only to believe in this abstract God but also to give every part of ourselves to him, to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—well, faith or trust is hardly the word to describe what we do. It's more like "cross my fingers," "hope against hope" that he'll turn out to be a good God.
In the Gospels and the Epistles, we are never called to believe in a God who would or would not do x. The New Testament does not begin with the abstract. It does not give us words like good or power or even God, then ask us to trust in those words or ideas. Paul teaches that, in fact, God is not the God of our imaginations or of our logic, who must do y if in fact he is x. No, we're talking about a righteous and holy God who justifies sinners. This is a God whose workings are more wonderful and concrete than we can imagine.
Our God is not the God of philosophers, the God of metaphysicians. In the New Testament, God is first and foremost the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, as the Nicene Creed puts it with great specificity, "was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried." Only when we fully grasp the historic, concrete, fleshly, and deathly nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ—the one crucified under Pontius Pilate—can we turn the corner on the question that so plagues our age.
The message of the gospel is decidedly not: "Buddhist children who die without hearing the name of Jesus Christ are going to hell; repent and believe in the gospel!" It is not, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." No, the gospel, the good and specific news, is that God has come to us in Jesus Christ, was crucified under Pontius Pilate—a particular magistrate at a particular time and place—died, and was buried.
The New Testament, of course, is the revelation of the meaning of this event: God has looked upon his miserable creatures, rebels against his goodness, defiant in the face of his love, trapped in the nexus of sin and death, fully deserving every evil that comes their way in this life and the next—this God has looked upon all this in his holy righteousness and righteous holiness and has said, "Enough!" And he came to live among us, taking on not just a human body, but flesh, that is, the brokenness and the sinfulness of humanity. He has become the sinner who deserves to die, and he has died on the cross, for the very people who put him on the cross, that they might know who he really is.