The problem of evil is something that is frequently talked about and debated in the realm of apologetics. If you listen to guys like William Lane Craig, one of the things you’ll hear is that if it is possible that God can have a morally sufficient reason to allow the existence of evil, then the supposed contradiction that is often leveraged against His existence disappears.
On the logical front, this may be perfectly acceptable, but it has always felt unsatisfying to me. Not that I think I will ever have a full grasp of things in this life, but I think it’s helpful to think through what that reason might be. If you have a couple hours and want a better treatment of the subject that, then listen to Lindsay Brooks on “Theology Matters” here.
One of the things that is brought up in the program, and indeed in discussions on this topic in general, is the Free Will Defense given by Alvin Plantinga as his answer to the logical problem of evil. (Distinguished from the emotional problem of evil). As a reformed guy, I’m not hugely satisfied with his argument, since the whole idea of libertarian free will is not to be found in Scripture. So I started thinking about what might the possible reason, or at least part of the reason, why God might allow the existence of evil.
It occurred to me that we need to look at this from the perspective of God, before we look at this from our perspective. What I mean here is similar to when I have conversations with people about the doctrine of election. Generally speaking, when people find out you’re a Calvinist, they want to jump straight to election and start debating. In reality, it’s better to start with how God actually is, and once we have the idea of His sovereignty in place, then we can work from there. It’s more important to realize that God’s freedom is higher than ours. In order for God to be free, He cannot be forced into either saving everyone or damning everyone. Don’t get me wrong, none of us deserve salvation, but it gives God more freedom to say that He does not have to do 100% one way or the other.
So if we start with God, we get a number of useful things in place. First, He is the potter and we are the clay. This is a humbling distinction, but it’s helpful when we deal with evil because our first instinct is to start throwing out indictments against God. We see numerous examples in Scripture of God using a foreign nation to punish His people Israel, only to then turn around and use Israel to punish them. From a human perspective, that seems to make no sense at all. However, if we start from God, and the fact that He has righteous standards that must be upheld, then punishment for sin is viewed through that grid, instead of our strange and often slanted idea of fairness.
Secondly, we find in Scripture the fact that we are made in His image. That image has been distorted by the fall, but it is still there. It seems to me that it would be better, as His image bearers, to have a more full, rather than less full, revealed image of His character. Connecting back to God’s freedom, it seems that He would somehow be less free if there was a world in which He only showed mercy or only showed justice et cetera.
Within the context of Christianity, I find that the more fully the Holy Spirit reveals to me through the pages of Scripture the nature of God, the better it is for me. This is one of the reasons I’m reformed. The doctrines of grace give me a larger view of God and humble me greatly (even if my pride fights against it).
I submit that this brief explanation of the goodness of a more full revelation of the character of God, may be the morally sufficient reason (or at least one of or part of) that God has for allowing the existence of evil. However, this deals primarily with the logical problem of evil. The emotional or experiential problem of evil is another animal entirely.
You might have everything settled in your mind about the logical problem of evil, but when disaster strikes, it’s very easy for that to not help you one bit. Personally, it helps me greatly to realize that God is sovereign. Even if something awful happens, God is in control, and I may be taken through a dark night of the soul like Paul, but God is faithful. This is where it is helpful to have a God that is not simply a mushy, lovey dovey sort of human god, but One who is big enough to handle the hard. The Scriptures are rife with examples of God bringing individuals and nations through incredible hardships, and we have the unique advantage of being able to see why He did those things. These are the sort of things that are to build our faith in our Creator. We are to reflect on the concrete things He has done in the past and use those to illuminate our present calamity.
This is not a solution to either the logical problem or the emotional problem of evil, but I hope it is a step in the right direction, and that it is a step that is honoring to God and edifying to His people.