I held my son Enoch’s little hand as he died, and went through a suffering that no words could express. A perpetually wounded heart that would not mend, a broken body for which there is no antidote, or a destroyed home that can never be the same…all left me asking many questions: Will I ever see my son again? Is there a theodicy that would qualify? Or is evil a sociological phenomenon? What are the philosophical suppositions that we have subliminally swallowed to even raise this question? How would the bloody cross of Jesus of Nazareth address this universal dilemma?
There are more books and articles on this topic than any other in theology. But because it is so personal, we need to be reminded of the simple truths about it. Let me share seven things that I have considered when thinking about this topic.
First, there cannot be evil unless there is God.
One of my friends told me that if this happened to his son, he would become an atheist. But how can that be? Evil is a deviation from the way things ought to be, right? But there can't be a deviation from the way things ought to be unless there is a way things ought to be. There can't be a way things ought to be unless there is a design plan that says, 'Here is how things ought to be.' And there can't be a design plan that says, 'Here is how things ought to be' unless there is a Designer who put forth that design plan in the first place.
So even in raising the objection of evil, my friend is presupposing some absolute standard and thus a designer who makes that standard. So he cannot even raise the problem of evil without first assuming an absolute standard that makes events ‘evil’. My friend is smuggling in God to deny God. It would be best if he clings to Him, for only in Him is comfort and ultimately something more than an answer.
I fought with God and, what a surprise, I lost. But in losing I really won.
Second, the problem of evil is not a logical impossibility.
Epicurus, Hume, and Dawkins claim that evil is not our fault but God’s. The Logical Problem of Evil is:
- If God is all-powerful and Omnipotent, then He could eliminate evil.
- If God is all-knowing and Omniscient, then He knows how to eliminate evil.
- If God is all-good and Omni-Beneficent, then He would want to eliminate evil.
- But evil exists.
- Therefore, God does not exist.
Augustine, Aquinas, Swinburne, and Planting argued that the “Freewill Defense” solves the logical problem of evil correctly. It is logically impossible to create free people who must choose good as much as it is impossible to create square circles or married bachelors. Evil is a necessary byproduct of the ability to love and choose.
God desires our love more than anything else from us, so He thus allows evil. See Joshua 24:14-15. God knew this the whole time. This was not Plan B. It was his plan all along.
But choice itself did not help me with the death of Enoch. Because it was not a choice of man that he died. He died because he was sick. I rest on the sovereign plan of God and trust even when I cannot see His plan.
Third, God did not create evil. It lacks ontological status.
When Joe’s daughter Lulu complains that he brought darkness into her room, he did no such thing; he just took away the light. Evil is a lack of goodness as darkness is a lack of light. There can be an absolute good, but there cannot be an absolute evil.
Absolute Evil. Objective evil cannot exist if atheism is true. Pantheism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, in general, claim evil is an illusion. However, rape, murder, war, child abuse, greed, human brutality, kidnapping, and slavery are objectively evil—not illusions. Consider, cosmologically, that the farther we move from the sun, the colder and darker it gets, thus theologically, the farther we move from God, the source of all goodness and truth, the colder and darker it gets spiritually as well.
So Lulu waits for the light and when the sun arrives in the morning, all darkness will flee, for in Him, the Son, is no darkness at all.
When Enoch died, it was very dark and cold. But in coming close to the source, the Son himself, I found the warmth of His peace, even though I did not know why, I trusted his hands, his pierced hands.
Fourth, not all evil is sin. It is evil for a baby boy to die. But it is not sin.
See 1 John 3:4 and James 4:7. Sin is the act of volitionally violating God's will by breaking His holy transcendent commandments. Crossing that divine boundary is sin. There are sins too numerous to mention, but two basic kinds: sin of omission (not doing what you should be doing) and sin of commission (doing what you ought not to be doing). But an evil event, like an earthquake, cancer, or a doctor accidently cutting a brainstem is evil, but not necessarily sinful. R.C. Sproul said it well: “Evil is not good, but it is good that there is evil.”
And God uses all kinds of evils to bring about good. What good can come from the death of my son? Two of them. Daniel and Ana. They are two precious children we adopted from the Republic of Moldovia, one of the poorest countries in Europe. Out of the ashes of Enoch’s pain came the joy of their laughter.
Fifth, not all suffering is evil.
The Apostle Paul, Lincoln, Caesar, Gandhi, Churchill, and Luther suffered and overcame almost impossible odds. It is in the crucible of suffering that our character is formed. It is His instrument to mold His saints. No athlete hones or disciplines his or her body without pain. Consider this:
I walked a mile with Pleasure
She chatted all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow
And ne’er a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me
Robert Browning Hamilton
I learned more about my own soul and about God in this period of time than any other time in my life.
Sixth, evil is not answered in the cross if that was not God on it.
If the man who died on that cross 2,000 years ago was not God, then the cross is not enough.
Professor Peter Kreeft said it well:
If that is not God there on the cross but only a good man, then God is not on the hook, on the cross, in our suffering. And if God is not on the hook, then God is not off the hook. How could he sit there in heaven and ignore our tears? There is, as we saw, one good reason for not believing in God: evil. And God himself has answered this objection not in words but in deeds and in tears. Jesus is the tears of God. (Making Sense out of Suffering, IVP, 1986)
People tell me they understand my pain, but even Jesus cannot unless He also experienced the pain of every human being, and only the divine can do that. He vicariously suffered in our place the wrath and justice of God. And rose from the dead to tell us one thing: “I love you this much, and since I have overcome death, one day you will too!”
Seventh, evil is not someone else’s responsibility.
Yes, the Church has its shares of sins and evils; these are not to be ignored or minimized and we need to own up to these. But the Church has done more to address evil and suffering in the world than any other organization in history.
So, then, is there at least one or two people in your life who need you to be God’s hands and feet and voice to them today?
I close with the beautiful words of the atheist, Ivan, from The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky:
I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they've shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.
And in all that, I trust the One with divine pierced hands that one day I will walk on marble streets with Enoch and my other children, walking with our God, who in His one hand will wipe all tears from our eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone forever.
Then the one sitting on the throne said:
I am making everything new. Write down what I have said. My words are true and can be trusted. Everything is finished! I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give water from the life-giving fountain to everyone who is thirsty. (Revelation 21:5-6)