For many skeptics, the problem of evil is the biggest hurdle to believing in God. David Hume put it memorably:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?
Christians have a difficult time with this too, no matter what response we offer.
- If your answer is free will, then why did God create a world in which, through His foreknowledge, He knew people would reject Him and cause untold suffering?
- If the answer is “to bring about a greater good,” then why is so much suffering (so much of it seemingly gratuitous) necessary?
Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov didn’t think either answer satisfying. In one of the most poetic descriptions of the end of time, Ivan imagines the Christian answer:
I have a childlike conviction that the sufferings will be healed and smoothed over, that the whole offensive comedy of human contradictions will disappear like a pitiful mirage… and that ultimately, at the world’s finale, in the moment of eternal harmony, there will occur and be revealed something so precious that it will suffice for all hearts, to allay all indignation, to redeem all human villainy, all bloodshed; it will suffice not only to make forgiveness possible, but also to justify everything that has happened with men.
But then, Ivan adamantly rejects this vision:
Let all of this come true and be revealed, but I do not accept it and do not want to accept it!
Why? He can’t imagine a greater ending that would make present suffering worth it – particularly the suffering of innocent children. He tells the story of an abused little girl and then makes clear his reasons for rejecting Christianity:
Can you understand why a little creature, who can’t even understand what’s done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted? Without it, I am told, man could not have existed on earth, for he could not have known good and evil. Why should he know that diabolical good and evil when it costs so much? Why, the whole world of knowledge is not worth that child’s prayer to dear, kind God’!
“It costs so much.” For many, that is the rub.
Even Christians have a hard time with this.
- Why does God permit human evil to spread?
- Why did He knowingly create a world He knew would be broken?
- Why did He knowingly create people He knew would turn against Him and bring destruction upon themselves and the world?
Whether the response given is the “free will” defense or the “greater good” scenario, the heart of humanity still wonders, Is it worth it? Is it worth the cost?
The angels seem to think so.
In 1 Peter 1:12, the apostle tells us the angels long to look into the gospel reality we experience. We don’t know why, but God chose not to provide salvation for the fallen angels. They fell and remain fallen.
But the innocent angels, those who didn’t bow the knee to Satan’s schemes, those who didn’t join the heavenly revolt against the Maker of all things – they look wistfully at the experience of redemption that we know through the gospel.
In other words, there is something greater about being fallen and raised again than merely being innocent.
There’s something more beautiful about redemption than innocence.
There’s something more attractive about grace to the undeserving than reward for the meritorious.
There’s something more amazing about restoring peace to a shattered world than maintaining peace in pristine conditions.
Maybe in our heart of hearts, we can’t get past the problem of evil because we don’t know the full extent of the beauty of redemption. We have a hard time drilling into our hearts the eternal perspective of Paul, who said the sufferings of this present time – as horrific as they are – cannot be compared to the glory of the future (Rom. 8).
Sometimes, you feel like you’ve got to turn from preaching to poetry. To that end, here’s how Andrew Peterson reflects on this question:
And when the world is new again
And the children of the King
Are ancient in their youth again
Maybe it’s a better thing
A better thing
To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken then redeemed by love
Maybe this old world is bent
But it’s waking up
And I’m waking up
‘Cause I can hear the voice of one
He’s crying in the wilderness
“Make ready for the Kingdom Come”
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?
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