Question I received today:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
Good question. Many people have the same objection and it is very understandable. In fact, one of my favorite teachers, the late Ronald Nash, used to say that if anyone rejects God for anything other than the problem of evil, his rejection is without excuse. However, what the objection above fails to recognize is the other option, “God is able to stop evil but not willing because the evil brings about a greater good of some sort.”
This is very common and finds many parallels in real life, from discipline of children to weight training. If God is the ultimate author of life and in control of all things, you would suspect that evil is allowed for a greater good. In fact, biblical Christianity would affirm that trials, pains, and tragic situations are working together for good for those that love God (Rom. 8:28). Look only to the situation of Joseph and the evil in his life. Sold into slavery, jail from being wrongly accused, hated by his brothers, etc. His perspective is that which we are taught to live by as Christians: [Joseph to his brothers who hated him sold him into slavery] “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Gen 50:20)
One thing that we cannot expect is to know why particular evils happen. Sometimes we will, but most of the time we won’t. We, as Christians, trust the Lord, leaving all things in his hands, truly believing he knows what he is doing even in the most difficult and, often, seemingly meaningless tragedies. One of our greatest temptations is to look at situations and evils and interpret them as evidence of God’s absence. Once we do this, we have conceded to the very antinomy of our faith—disbelief.
As I deal with the death of my sister and the disturbing debilitation of my mother, I am tempted to see meaninglessness. I am tempted to say “God cannot be involved.” I am tempted to place God on the stand and say “Until you give an account for this, I will no longer believe in or trust you.” But our faith does not entertain such tribunals. We are not simply those who believe in what Christ did: because of what he did, we trust in him for all things, even when we do not understand them.
Finally, we ground this belief in reality, not blind hope. We understand that if God created the world, acted in history, became incarnate, died on a cross and rose from the grave, then he is true to his word. This is why theology and the solidification of our beliefs is of vital importance. He is in control and he has a reason—a good and righteous reason—for the allowance of evil. We, like Job (who never understood why all the evil befell him) stand with our hands to our mouths (i.e., not accusing God) and trust the One who is more tender, just, and loving than we could ever imagine. We are convinced that the present evils are nothing to be compared to the glory that follows (Rom. 8:18).
I remind myself of this each day when I have to deal with my mother and her pain, the hardest situation that I have ever had to deal with.
I hope this understanding helps you, too.