“How can there be a God who is both perfectly good (and therefore opposed to evil) and all-powerful (and therefore capable of eradicating evil), when the world displays the presence of evil on so many levels?”
The problem of evil has been dealt with in numerous books and articles. It is most definitely a question that you will run across in the course of defending your faith, and it is worth understanding. It has, however, been addressed, and addressed well, in other apologetics materials. Instead of rehashing old material, let’s take a look at a different facet of the “problem of evil”: namely, how it can hit far too close to home for the Christian.
Even Christians can fall into the trap of believing that the goodness and mercy that are to follow us all the days of our lives (Ps. 23) are intended to manifest as worldly success. Oh, many of us don’t want the typical worldly goods. Many times we sincerely believe that what we desire is a spiritual good—and herein lies the rub. There are many spirits at work in our world who are eager to bring pain and suffering to all who bear the name of Christ.
As Christians, intellectually we know that God is all-powerful and also perfectly good. We may have even addressed the problem of evil with our friends, neighbors, and co-workers who question us about it…Yet sometimes we are unable to address it with ourselves. It’s often much easier to address someone else’s suffering than it is to confront your own.
In our market-driven world, we expect actions to produce results. We make this assumption every day. Do you want a good grade? Study. Do you want to be an athlete? Train. Do you want to be a musician? Practice. Over and over we are told, explicitly or implicitly, that if we try harder or dream bigger, we will be able to meet our goals. The student will get a better report card, the athlete will make the team, and the violinist will finally master that selection from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. And the apologist who ardently applies herself to study, prayer, and doctrine—who investigates how to proclaim and defend the faith in truth and love—what will she get?
Apologetics can seem deceptively simple. In fact, that’s one of the criticisms I hear most often from other Christians who shy away from any sort of defense of the faith: “It’s too simple. Life doesn’t have quick fixes like that. You can’t just present a five-step plan for defending the faith.” This highlights a common misunderstanding about apologetics that can occur among apologists themselves: that apologetics is somehow the answer to more converts, more souls saved, and more battles won under the banner of Christ. Before we rush out into the world, wide-eyed, optimistic, and overflowing with apologetic zeal, we need to understand the problem of evil and how it applies to us.
The world isn’t interested in hearing from cheerleader Christians who live in ivory towers and beam benevolently on the world.
Our sinful natures have a way of twisting everything around to meet our supposed needs. In Greek mythology, sirens were mystical beings who drew sailors to their deaths with beautiful songs. Enchanted by the music, sailors steered too close to dangerous rocks and ran aground trying to reach the source of the songs. The Tempter, Satan, is the greatest and craftiest siren of all. He knows exactly what you desire most in the world, oftentimes better than you know yourself.
C.S. Lewis identified “joy” as the nameless longing that we all experience in unique ways, the “unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” Joy, according to Lewis, is longing for something. This same joy can be twisted into your own personal torment, the reef upon which you crash and break. Even fictional characters seem aware of this horrible irony. Consider the villain’s chilling remark at the end of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I film: “Miss Everdeen,” he intones to our heroine, Katniss, “It’s the things we love most that destroy us.”
C. S. Lewis experienced deep darkness after the death of his wife, Joy. After his struggles with the silence of God in the face of despair, he made an incredibly insightful comment:
Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not “So there’s no God after all,” but “So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.”
Each one of us can identify with this statement on some level. For Christians who are experiencing the reality of pain and suffering, the fear can become not “There is no God” but “There is a God, but he isn’t good.” Oftentimes the more you grow in your faith, the deeper the darkness around us seems. History is full of strong Christians who struggled with despair—think of Martin Luther, C. S. Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers, just for starters. Unbelievers aren’t the only ones who cry out to God, “Why?” And this, ironic as it sounds, can be a powerful tool in real-world apologetics.
This victory over death is the only answer to all evil—Christ the only One who swallowed up death forever.
The world isn’t interested in hearing from cheerleader Christians who live in ivory towers and beam benevolently on the world. You’re doing no one any favors if you bounce around acting like life is perfect the way it is and you have everything under complete control. It isn’t and you don’t. If you are worried that your spiritual life is not up to snuff, congratulations. You are right. That’s why your testimony, if used at all, should not be about how Jesus infused you with the power to become a straight-A student or to obtain other earthly successes. Your testimony should talk about your sin and the depravity and evil that rages inside you. If you puff yourself up with spiritual ego, people will write you off as just another prideful windbag. Honesty really is the best policy.
Evil and suffering will touch you. Sins that you do (sins of commission), sins of not doing things you should’ve done (sins of omission), and the fallen world around us will wound us. You will experience sorrow. You will question God—the psalmists did! There will be days when the knowledge that God is perfectly good and all-powerful doesn’t seem like enough, and it is in those moments that Christ draws us out of our self-centered views to gaze upon the One we have pierced. Only in Christ can we experience the goodness and power of God; only in what seems like the most heinous crime ever committed to a man who appeared completely powerless do we see the glory of God.
When you address the problem of evil, whether in your own life or that of another, never forget that Jesus wept. So will you, many times throughout the course of your life. And when you do, take comfort in Jesus’ simple statement: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This victory over death is the only answer to all evil—Christ the only One who swallowed up death forever. Only here can the tender, bruised heart find solace and the keen mind something worth clinging to. Only here had God become a man of sorrows, when the fullness of time had come, and only here can the wandering heart and the searching mind find perfect rest and the healing of all harms.