The Problem of Evil
By Pastor Tom Anderson
God is good. God is all-powerful. Evil is a reality in God’s world. Making sense of these three statements is in essence the problem of evil.
The answer to the question is the abuse of free will. God is good and he created a good world. Genesis tells us that the Lord looked over all that he had made and behold it was very good. Part of that goodness was the free will he gave to the first humans. He gave them the ability to choose. This is evident in his command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree represents human freedom.
But the risk for God was that human beings would abuse their freedom to do evil. This is exactly what Adam and Eve did in eating the forbidden fruit. So, Paul wrote in Romans 5:12 “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…”
God could only remove evil from the world by also removing freedom. But if freedom was removed, the world would not be the good and perfect creation of God. It would be less than perfect. Freedom is the basis for love. If humans had no freedom, they would not be able to love–they’d be reduced to automatons.
Therefore, the three statements are internally consistent and logical: God is good. God is all-powerful. Evil is a reality because in the goodness of God, he allows for human freedom.
Yet the problem of evil can also be intensely personal: why is any given evil happening to me right now? The Book of Job revolves around this second question. This question is not the same as the first. The answer you provide for one does not necessarily fit the other. If I am battling cancer, explaining it as an abuse of freewill isn’t appropriate.
The game-changer in discussing evil is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What is astonishing about the New Testament is that it tells us how God himself entered into evil itself. He entered into the sin of the world and died a violent death. God is not removed from our suffering, but in fact he is in it. Three days later he is resurrected. Through Jesus Christ, God destroys the evil of the world from the inside out! Sin and death no longer have any power over Jesus. He is the living first installment of God’s New Creation. The legacy of Adam and Eve has been eclipsed.
What this means is that we can no longer talk about evil in the same way. The world as we know it is passing away and a New Creation is coming. The Risen Christ is the evidence. Through the death and Resurrection of Jesus, God has found a way to remove evil without destroying humanity. By faith in Jesus Christ, believers become New Creations themselves. They are empowered by the Spirit to be born again into a new life. We set about seeking justice, kindness and love because we know this is the future.
Believers are no longer the products of their sinful past, but we are being pulled into a Resurrection future. Christ will return. Tears and sorrow and death will be wiped away. There will be a New Heavens and a New Earth. What happened to Jesus will indeed happen to the whole universe. We are headed toward a New Creation!
Sin, evil and death are only dying powers of this present reality. With each act of love, obedience and compassion, we are participating with God in the putting to death of the old and in the arrival of the New World. The return of Christ in glory will extinguish the problem of evil. It’s fitting to close with Paul’s encouraging words that put evil into the rear-view mirror:
So, we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)