Last night we watched an episode of The Waltons called “An Easter Story”, in which Mrs. Walton is struck with polio. As her hope of recovery begins to waver, the spirits of her family members also fall. They begin to struggle with the deep question of “Why would a good God allow this to happen?” As the oldest son in particular struggles with the thought and refuses to accept such a God, his father (who is not even a church-goer) attempts to give him some form of comforting explanation. “You feel He hasn’t kept up His end of the bargain, huh?” he asks, “Well, maybe that’s because it’s your bargain, not His.” The son finds this hard to swallow, and refuses to accept that his mother should be an invalid for the rest of her life. In the end, Mrs. Walton does fully recover – but the question “Why?” is never answered.
Watching the episode reminded me of that paper I had to write for my philosophy course (the one that I mentioned in my last post), in response to H. J. McCloskey’s article. I found it interesting because although McCloskey did spend some time attacking the common arguments for God’s existence, the one topic that he spent the most time on was the problem of evil.
I never really understood why evil is such a problem for the theist until I took this philosophy course. To me, the problem of evil was easily explained: it isn’t God’s fault – it’s ours! Man is the one who sinned and brought about the Fall – not God. So instead of shaking our fists at the sky and asking why a good God could allow the storms to thunder, we should look instead to ourselves, to our own hearts, and then ask why a just God could allow the sun to ever shine on us.
What I didn’t realize was that the problem of evil goes far deeper than that. It digs into the root of the problem and asks, “Why would a good God even create a world in which there is a possibility for evil to exist?”
And that is not so easy to answer, at least from a philosophical standpoint. There are many different solutions that have been presented, and I suppose most of them are all true to some extent.
The most popular solution is that God created us with free will. He didn’t want a bunch of mechanized robots that loved Him because they had no other choice. He wanted us to choose Him on our own. But creating us with that potential also meant that there was the potential for us to not choose Him, and to choose evil instead. As we know, that’s exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden, and the world has suffered ever since. Because of Adam’s sin, death and disease and suffering entered the world. “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Rom. 8:22 NKJV).
Another popular solution is that God has allowed evil so that good can be cultivated. What does that mean? Well, it’s kind of along the lines of “You can’t see the stars unless it’s dark out.” Look at virtues like courage and patience and sympathy. How can you be brave when there is nothing to fear? How can you be patient when there is nothing to bear? How can you be sympathetic when there is nothing to sympathize over?
And yet the atheists, I learned, find fault even with these arguments. Couldn’t God have created us with a free will that freely chose right? And even if evil can bring about a greater good, what about pointless evils that bring about no good that we can see?
So I had to learn the responses to those questions. They can get rather complicated (especially the one regarding free will) and it took me a little while before I could wrap my mind around them, and even then I wondered if I had got it right! But they all eventually came down the point where we have to say that “We don’t know everything.” After all, we’re not God! And even though we can surmise all we want about what His reasons are for allowing evil, we may never know for certain. All we can do is give some possible reasons, and prove that there are possible logical reasons that God could allow it to continue, and thus show the skeptic that a good God and real evil are not contradictions – that the presence of both is not logically impossible.
Honestly, I much prefer the plain Biblical explanation. Philosophy has its place, but it can be difficult to understand sometimes. To me, I just read the Bible and I see a story unfolding slowly but surely, in which the good will triumph over the evil.
The story begins with a good God and a perfect world: a world of joy and love and peace, with no trace of sin or sadness or suffering. Then man turns his back on God, and the world is no longer perfect. But from the beginning, God begins to shape His master plan to return the world back to the place that it was. He justly punishes the sinners, but His love shows through again and again as He embarks on His plan, dropping clues here and there to point mankind toward the climax.
Sometimes the plan seems like an endless maze with no ending point. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. But always, always, always, good triumphs in the end. Job may lose everything he loves and suffer tremendously, but his faithfulness is finally rewarded. Jacob may end up with more wives than he originally wanted, but the most unloved becomes the mother of the Messiah’s line. Joseph may be sent as a slave in Egypt and falsely imprisoned, but nations are saved from famine as a result. Esther may be torn from the family she has left, but Israel’s existence is saved because of her. And the list could go on and on.
And then, finally, comes the turning point. The Messiah – the Savior – arrives. The first major part of God’s plan is revealed. For the world to change, men’s hearts have to change. Sin must be dealt with. And it is. God the Son gives His life for us to pay for all of our sins, and then rises triumphant from the grave to give us hope in the life yet to come. He asks us to choose Him, to choose His salvation, and then He offers us a change of heart so that we are no longer under the condemnation of sin. With a promise that someday He will return to make all things new, Jesus leaves us to reign from Heaven, and sends us a new Helper to help us live for God.
So now we wait in hopeful expectation, waiting for the next turning point – the climactic return of our Savior, who will usher in a new age, ruling us here on earth. And finally, finally, will come the ultimate climax:
“The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone…Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said,“Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful” (Revelation 20:10a, 11-15, 21:1-5).
Here is finally the culmination of good. Satan is forever gone. Death is forever gone. Sorrow and pain are forever gone. God shall dwell in our midst, and we shall commune with Him as we were meant to from the beginning.
Yes, God has allowed evil. But He never said that He wouldn’t. As Mr. Walton pointed out to his son, maybe perfection in this life is our bargain, not His. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Evil does exist. Bad things do happen to good people. And yet, we do have hope, because we know that any evil is temporary. We know that God is working on a great and wonderful plan that will overcome all the evil that is in the world right now.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:18-23).
The story begins with a good God, and a perfect world. And the story will end with a good God, and a perfect world.
No, “end” is not the right word. For it will be a new beginning. And on this we set our hope.
“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before” – last words of The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis.