The problem of evil is a challenging subject to tackle. The question is often put this way: If God is all-good, all-powerful, and all-wise, why does He allow so much suffering and evil?
For the last five years I have read and graded position papers of first-year seminary students seeking to biblically answer this question for the ages. (In theology we call it “theodicy” as in Theos = God, and dika = to judge or justify. In this question we are seeking to judge, defend, or justify God. And that’s part of the problem, if we’re honest; who are we to judge God?) In Just 7-10 pages these first-year theology students are often over-matched. It’s difficult to give a comprehensive and compelling answer.
Let’s make no mistake: it’s not just a philosophical question begging for an abstract answer.We suffer; personally, painfully, and relationally. Where is God in the midst of tragedy, especially when suffering hits our lives?
A related question usually follows:
- Why can’t (or won’t) God just remove all the evil from the world, just leaving the good behind?
That assumes that we who ask the question are on the “good” side, and there are others who are on the “bad” side. Why can’t God just rid the world of evil and pain in one moment? Can’t He do whatever He wants? (See Psalm 115:3.)
In grading each student’s paper I seek to counter the students argument with the question: How does Jesus answer this question? (Not just with His words, but also with His life and death. Certainly the God-Man has much to say about the problem of good and evil, right?) In looking at His life, His words, will, ways, and worth, does Jesus answer the problem of evil?
In teaching His disciples, perhaps Jesus simplifies the issues at play. Read on:
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Thankfully, we are not left to our own devices to make sense of what He said. Soon after this, Jesus explains:
36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
Did Jesus just explain to them the problem of evil?
[HT: Thanks to Aaron S. for compelling me to look deeper at this great passage giving us Jesus’ words.]
Pastor Joel Dombrow preached the best response I’ve heard: ONE GOD » God is Good (Sunday, July 24, 2011).
In seeking to answer the question of theodicy, here’s a sermon I preached a year ago on July 24, 2010: Road Blocks: If God is Good, Why Do Bad Things Happen?