One of my favorites quotes from film is, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Mighty fine words from the one and only, Mr. Forrest Gump. Unfortunately, evil isn’t so clear. Sometimes evil looks good and good looks evil, because the Fall didn’t just introduce another force into the world, it changed its very composition. It warped everything—even us: our perceptions, our logic and understanding: our very beings. So naturally, we have a really hard time figuring life out, evil parts included.
The “Problem of Evil”
The so-called “Problem of Evil” is the result of mankind getting together and deciding to go on strike against Life (and the Giver of life) because he’s not doing things like we want. But the presence of evil is only a problem from man’s perspective. It’s humans getting up tight about being human, shaking their fist at infinite space and saying pathetic things like “That’s not fair.” As one of my favorite professors once said, “Theodicy exists because the knowledge of God doesn’t.”
Side-note: don’t hear my cavalier tone as anything but intentional. This is serious business. At the moment I’m three years into living with my parents who take care of me because I’m an invalid with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I know suffering. And I can smell an academic argument that isn’t worth the paper (or pixels) it’s printed on from a mile away. When you suffer for a long time, Theodicy isn’t an academic thing; it’s life and death.
And life and death comes down to drama, not logic.
The Drama of Life
The drama of life is that evil seduces us to see wrongly, to imagine the world flat even though in reality it may be round (Isa 44:18 and 2 Cor 4:3–4). We imagine God as guilty and in need of justification because we start with man instead of with God. Starting with God, we are his characters in His divine drama, His novel which is written in time-space (Gen 1:1; John 1:1) in order to reveal Himself (John 1:14 and 1:18). And any hero worth his salt can’t very well be a hero without an arch-enemy. And if there must be an arch-enemy, there must be fall-out. There must be crime, victims, heart-break, bad guys and good guys, and…evil.
You may ask, If evil is necessary in order to bring about God’s purposes for creation itself, why did God create anything at all in the first place? God created to reveal Himself. There is a revelatory urge in everything He has done in our time and space. That’s why God does anything He does (Isa 48:9–11). So the point is this: we exist in order to populate the living, breathing novel of God, and it can’t very well function as a novel without a foil.
It’s About the Big Picture
It’s that big picture that makes sense of evil and suffering in the world, and big pictures are only communicated in drama, no logic. And it just so happens that Christianity is the only big picture story that makes sense of all of this. It’s the only true mega-narrative that makes sense of all of life, and if we lose it, we lose the most distinctly Christian thing we have.
So while I’m not out to lynch the task of theodicy–it exists because of said seduction–I wish everyone were free to see reality as it really is, to see their role in life, and to see how mind-blowingly awesome God is to reach down and give us a way out.
The only people running around asking why the hero had to fight the enemy are people under the spell of the enemy–people who don’t see him as the enemy. But God has offered us Light and Truth (John 1 and 1 John 1), both of which are dramatic narratives. We Christians are people of faith, but that doesn’t mean we blindly accept things that don’t make sense. It means be believe in something, a whole lot of somethings actually, and those things all come together to form a coherent picture of reality we can then use to interpret this confusing life we live.
This isn’t the Final Answer
This is hardly anything to write home about. It’s just the way we Christians deal with evil. ISIS beheads people (including children), rapes women, crucifies (including children), and they even have their own wiki page chronicling their murders. This is evil. As I write this post, I’m asking myself, Is this the evil you see as necessary for God’s self-revelation? And all I just wrote seems like academic mumbo-jumbo. But it’s true. Even for ISIS and their victims. God has allowed this evil and it is no surprise for Him. After all, He Himself stepped down into our messy worlds in the person of Jesus, the Nazarene, and was Himself crucified—His best friends beheaded and crucified along with Him. And what answer did He give?
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
And later, when Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, his disciples carried His mission forward. One young man was stoned not long after, and you remember what he said?
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60)
Stephen’s dying words were for those who were killing him, because he knew they were doing things they didn’t understand. They were acting in ways that were false, but were totally unaware.
The final answer to evil is that yes, it exists for a reason, but that doesn’t mean we understand it. At the end of the day, our bottom-line must be to see unbelievers come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4), to have their eyes enlightened (2 for 4:6), and their hearts softened (Rom 2:5). We don’t understand it all, but we do understand that.