God & Righteousness: Theodicy – Part II

Biblical & Practical Theodicy

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Introduction

The problem of evil and suffering in light of the righteousness of God is more than a philosophical or theological problem, especially to the Christian, it is a practical one.[1] To the believing community, it is extremely difficult to grapple with these issues in the midst of great pain or suffering while still being faithful to God and the scriptures; this is where the real theodicy comes into play. It is one thing to pontificate on such matters in a classroom, Sunday school classroom, or even from behind the pulpit but it is an entirely another matter to face evil when evil is staring you straight in the face. The following essay will show how the biblical text allows for the saints to suffer, sometimes miserably, in this life and where believers can find God amid great loss and suffering. 

Biblical Evil and Suffering

The best place to start is to recognize that evil and suffering do exist and in what states they do exist. One could even go further to define what evil is. Evil cannot be defined without the concept of God dictating to humanity what sin is; “Evildoing seen in religious perspective, not only against humanity, society, others, or oneself, but against God. The concept of God, therefore, gives to the idea of sin its many-sided meaning.”[2] This is a more difficult concept to the atheist or agnostic, but to the believer, sin and evil are synonyms. It is important to remember that at this point is when evil and suffering come upon us, because humans often forget where this pain and suffering originated from.

It is imperative to understand where evil comes out of. “The Old Testament oscillates among three things: evil seen as idolatry and consequent dehumanization; evil as what wicked people do, not least what they do to the righteous; and evil as the work of the “Satan” (a Hebrew word meaning “accuser”).”[3] All these evils are seen in the light of sin or missing the mark of what God has expected for the man to follow. This missing of the mark leads to evil which perpetuates the pain and suffering that is so abundant in the world around us. The seed of this can be found in the book of Genesis, and not from the fall. In Genesis 4:6-7 the Lord speaks to Cain and warns him from impending doom and the fallout for his upcoming sin. God could have prevented this catastrophe but did not, nor does He readily prevent humanity from committing the many atrocities that we commit daily upon each other. This portion of Genesis is often skimmed over but it shows that God allows the saints (in this case Abel) to suffer at the hands of evildoers, not without its purpose. God allows humanity to make its choices in life and those choices have consequences, consequences that have ripple effects throughout history by which the pain and suffering we cause to others will one day be served to us. We make our own beds but tend to complain about the sheets when we (humans) are the ones that dirty them.

 To God, not man, evil might not be as gradient as humanity would like. This is the difficult part of personal theodicy that humans hate to come to grips with; God sees all sin as evil, but humans see evil as the mounting of sins in one concentrated area. This is how humans want to explain evil; evil is gratuitous harm, pain, suffering, etc. whereas God sees all sin as evil. This can be found abundantly in the scriptures where God equates sin with evil and wickedness which he hates: James 2:10-11, 1 John 3:15, Romans 2:11, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Mark 3:28-29, etc. The New Testament further defines evil and sin as anything in opposition to the will of God; James 4:17. The reason humans balk so heavily at this is due to the hedonistic disposition of our nature. Francis Aveling writes:

No matter from what condition of life we select an individual in order to examine this desire of happiness, we shall find: first, that it is present; and secondly, that it is present with definite characteristics. To no matter what degree of happiness our type-individual has already attained, he consistently desires a greater and a higher happiness: and, by a simple process of elimination, we are easily enabled to assert that no created good that we know can fulfil this strong and constant desire.[4]

It would serve the saints well while suffering through pain and loss to find aspects of our humbler selves when crying to God… pleading the why.

 It is all too common to thrust the blame toward God when evil hits us but we never remember the gratuitous nature of our past the copious amounts of sin and evil we commit in the eyes of a Holy and righteous creator. This is played out in the book of Job. Job is, himself, counted and unworthy of the great affliction and loss that befalls him (Job 1:1). Yet, he is riddled with all sorts of evil, suffering, pain, and loss, so much so that it brings him to wish for death (Job 6). When Job cries out to God for an answer, he is given a harsh admonishment from God that His (God) ways are not our (man) ways (Job 38-42).  The book ends with no real solution to why God allowed Job to suffer through so much. This is reiterated by the prophet Isaiah; “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).[5] “That is, God may simply want to teach us that His ways are ultimately beyond our scrutiny. At some point, all of us need to recognize that we must let God be God and know a few things we don’t!”[6]

The Potential of Evil

One aspect of evil and suffering to take note of is that it can always be worse. As mentioned above, human desire for happiness, safety, and pleasure always overshadows our gratitude to give thanks that even greater evil and suffering is not heaved upon us. That is why the New Testament encourages saints to be thankful in all situations (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Humans are constantly looking at the glass half empty when, for the Christian, we realize that our own depravity is owed the wrath of a Holy God and that the glass is really full. God is just and right to extinguish the existence of mankind at any moment without any hesitation. His wrath is just (Romans 1:18-23), and humans are owed much more evil than we realize. 

This idea of the potentiality of evil is often never spoken of during our personal theodicy. N.T. Wright writes about this in his exposition on evil and suffering:

Somehow, strangely (and to us sometimes even annoyingly), the Creator God will not simply abolish evil from his world. The question that swirls around these discussions is, Why not? We are not given an answer; we are instead informed in no uncertain terms that God will contain evil, that he will restrain it, that he will prevent it from doing its worst, and that he will even on occasion use the malice of human beings to further his own strange purposes.[7]

This sentiment is spoken of in the New Testament where God prevents Satan from doing his worst (1 John 4:4) and speaks of the Holy Spirit as the great restrainer (2 Thessalonians 2:6) and points to a time when God will no longer restrain great evil and allow it to manifest itself on the whole of the earth (Revelation 16:14). It is at this time that all humanity will truly see what evil really is and how God has been shielding us from it all this time.

Moreover, it is incumbent upon the saints to remember just how fallen we are in the midst of our own pain and suffering while turning to God for comfort, guidance, and relief. Even at the hands of immense loss or during the lowest valleys of our lives, it can, and sometimes will get worse and the potential for ever greater pain is allows just around the corner. This is where we find God, and His grace, amid our suffering.

Where is God in Pain?

 It is very easy to question God in the midst of great suffering while facing insurmountable evils, this is often the “go-to” for even the most faithful of believers. Where is God in our pain? This answer is short, simple, and sweet: He is everywhere! God did not create the evil that saturates our pain, and evil is not good, but good can come out of every painful situation. “What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.”[8] God can turn the worst situations into learning and sanctifying experiences (Romans 8:28). Nowhere is this more clear than in the case of Joseph. Although Joseph went through years of betrayal, imprisonment, loss, pain, and suffering (which would have caused many to lose faith); in the end, Joseph realized that what others meant for evil God meant for good (Genesis 50:20). Although the purpose may not be known at the time of specific pain, God is faithful to His plan and will bring all to light and avenge all evil of the world and reward all the good (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

To synthesize all this is to have a God-centered view of the role evil and sin play in our lives. The best way to explain evil and the various types are to look at sin, not as an individual act, but as a condition. This condition spreads, infests, and plagues all of humanity in a cursed broken world. This serves as a terraforming agent where evil invades all the earth and all humanity that inhabits the earth. No one is exempt from this, and evil rules the world. In John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11, Jesus speaks of Satan as the ruler or prince of this world. This is not meant that Satan is in full control, but that humanity has chosen him as their ruler, or prince. Humans worship everything but God and this causes great sin and evil to prevail and metastasize. Ultimately only God, through the Holy Spirit, can regenerate the elect into turning toward Jesus Christ for redemption and salvation to defeat the great evil that has invaded the world. Humans are and have always been, the cause of such sin, evil, and suffering in the world. That is why God allows it because we (humanity) want it to be so. In a paradoxical way, God is giving us what we want, for evil to rule over us. That is why so much evil exists because it is just the right amount we ask for and justly deserve at the same time. Satan did not create Auschwitz, humans did. Humans are the perfect sort of evil that dishes out the perfect amount of evil on each other than insists to question God why he allows for it.[9]

Conclusion

God tests the righteous (Psalm 11) and in that testing, saints are taught (Psalm 94:10), disciplined (Hebrews 12:5-11), and given wisdom (Job 35:11). It is through our pain and suffering that God meets us at our weakest and that weakness is found perfect in the power of His grace (2 Corinthians 12:9). In some distant future, when the end times arrive and the faithful are restored to perfection humanity just might find itself thankful for the evils of the world that helped shape us into the saints that we become.

In summation, evil and its various forms exist in the world. That evil is generated and caused by fallen humanity either by choice or curse. God allows, and at times ordains, this evil to occur in order to demonstrate to humanity His glory and showcase our sinful actions. Even greater evil could exist and sometime in the future will exist to display just how just and graceful God has been to an ungrateful people. Amid such evil and suffering, God saves those who call upon His grace. By this He demonstrates His grace and glory while sanctifying His saints in the process; therefore, concluding that our pain and suffering is self-induced and meaningful in the life and walk with Christ that we have chosen. Pain has a purpose.  

 

Bibliography

Elwell, Walter A., and R. E. O. White. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988.

Feinberg, John S. “The Many Faces of Evil.” Lifeway. Liberty University, 2018. https://www.lifeway.com/en/product/the-many-faces-of-evil-P001243768.

Lewis, C. S. Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer. 1st ed. San Francisco, CA: Harper One, 2017.

Wright, N. T. Evil and the Justice of God. Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Aveling, Francis. God of Philosophy. St. Louis, MO: Sands and Company, 1906.

Footnotes: 

[1] N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 43.

[2] R.E.O. White, “Sin,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1967.

[3] N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice, 44.

[4] Francis Aveling, The God of Philosophy, ed. Francis Aveling, Expository Essays in Christian Philosophy (London; Edinburgh; St Louis, MO: Sands and Company; B. Herder, 1906), 143.

[5] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is taken from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version.

[6] John S. Feinberg, “The Many Faces of Evil,” Lifeway (Liberty University, 2018), https://www.lifeway.com/en/product/the-many-faces-of-evil-P001243768, 486.

[7] N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice, 53.

[8] C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, 1st ed. (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2017), 321.

[9] This paragraph was taken from earlier work in this class called Conceptual Application Assignment that was turned in Module week six.

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