• Dr. Mark C. Spellman

The Problem of Evil...

Updated: Aug 12, 2019

I wrote some thoughts a few weeks ago about God's goodness - God is good and He is good all the time.

In light of the events of the past few days, the seemingly senseless back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton that killed a total of 31 people and wounded dozens more, many people are probably asking, "If God is so good, then why do things like this happen?"

How are those who call themselves Christians - followers of Christ, people who say that God is good—to respond when people ask why bad things happen? Whether the question is expressed as “How can a good God allow evil and suffering?” or “Where was God when the Twin Towers toppled?” - the challenge is daunting for anyone struggling to answer these sorts of questions.

Many of the so-called "answers" really don’t work very well. Or they really don’t address the question the way it deserves to be answered—by delving into the depths of intellectual confusion as well as empathizing with the pain of despair of those who have been affected by these sorts of tragedies.

Insisting upon answers can lead us to wrong conclusions based on bad theology.

Rabbi Harold Kushner’s best-selling book When Bad Things Happen to Good People falls into this category. Demanding an answer for why his son suffered and died so tragically, he concluded that “God can’t do everything” and we need to “recognize his limitations … [and] forgive him for not making a better world.” Rabbi Kushner concludes his book with this seemingly holy but actually self-righteous question: “Are you capable of forgiving and loving … God even when you have found out that He is not perfect?”

Insisting upon answers can lead us to partial answers.

Partial answers are given as if they were the whole answer. The answers become non-answers. The "friends" of Job did this. After 41 longs chapters we apparently find that God doesn't want us to know why bad things happen to good people because he doesn't tell us. In effect, the book of Job offers us a choice. Will we choose to respond to life’s trials and pains as Job’s wife recommended—“Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” (2:9)? Or will we follow Job’s example and proclaim, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (13:15)?

Randy Newman in his book Questioning Evangelism says this...

Consider...what the Bible does teach us about the problem of evil. It gives us slivers of a pie chart. One tiny sliver (and I’m convinced that it’s no more than that) would be labeled, “We live in a fallen world.” Another sliver would say, “There is a Devil.” Other tiny slivers would be labeled, “People have free will,” “Sin has consequences,” “Sometimes God disciplines His people,” or “Good can come out of suffering...However we choose to word our answer, we must not imply that one of the slivers is the whole pie. Our “answer” must sound and feel like it’s 25 percent sliver, 75 percent “I don’t know.” If our words have no Job-like angst, we’ll sound more like Job’s friends and receive a similar response.

Mr. Newman goes on in his book to say...

We would do well to follow Billy Graham’s example. When he spoke to the grieving families after the Oklahoma City bombing, he found that elusive balance between the known and the unknown. After comforting people with the assurance of God’s knowledge, power, and care, he plainly answered the ultimate why question with those three great words, “I don’t know.” But then he added, “Times like this will do one of two things: they will either make us hard and bitter and angry at God, or they will make us tender and open and help us reach out in trust and faith…. I pray that you will not let bitterness and poison creep into your souls, but you will turn in faith and trust in God even if we cannot understand. It is better to face something like this with God than without Him.”

I don't know!

I was reminded today as I sat through a Presbytery meeting, conducting the business of our Lord's church here in Mississippi, sometimes it's ok to simply answer this question of "Why?" with "I don't know." I don't know why God allows evil things to happen. But I do know that Joseph's brothers left him for dead. What they "meant [for] evil...God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20, ESV).

I do know that one of the most evil acts of treachery and deceit of all history fell upon an innocent man - “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, [was] crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23, ESV).

I may not understand what is happening in the world today, but I know God is good. And, I with the Apostle Paul can say,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, ESV)