I’ll try not to be philosophical.
A theodicy is an attempt to answer the Epicurean trilemma:
- If God is unable to prevent evil, then he is not all powerful.
- If God is unwilling to prevent evil, then he is not all good.
- If God is all powerful and all good, then why is there evil?
Why is there disease? Why is there malice? Why is there oppression? Why is there poverty? Why is there war?
This is a common question throughout the Scriptures, and throughout Church history, and beyond. It is important and difficult. There’s a thousand answers, and a thousand objections to each answer, and a thousand more refutations of each objection. A few of the answers that carry weight with me:
- Who are we to pose such a question?
- This is a holy question—be encouraged to cry out to Him with this question, as did Habakkuk
- The answer to this is in the category of mystery
- Far from pain needing a justification, grace to sinful humans is what is irrational
- Suffering deepens our relationship with our Redeemer
- Suffering grows our soul
- All evil will end and be healed, and all good will be restored, and this restoration will be greater than we can imagine, and the pain and evil we suffered will fade away in the joy and blessedness of paradise
- God is patient and slow to punish, but he will surely bring justice to every evil
- Christ demonstrated his concern for evil by entering the world, suffering death, and overcoming it
- Correct academic answers to this question rarely satisfy the heart
But there’s one more answer I’d like to discuss briefly.
God pleases to work in this world primarily through his Church, which he calls his body. This is a mystery even more profound than the problem of evil, I think.
It means that we believers are tasked with building his kingdom on earth. God wants us to be involved in the work. Christianity doesn’t simply mean “You believe, zap, you’re good now,” it means signing up for a life-long mission and calling. And as an aside, strong Reformed grace does not in any way negate strong calls to virtuous action. Immediately before Paul says, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” he says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
And so, if there is evil, then it means the Church has work to do. So possibly the trilemma changes:
- The Church is not all powerful
- The Church is not all good
- Therefore, there is evil
I find this to be helpful. The presence of evil need not stagnate us into passive deliberations, but can instead motivate us into active work, frail and imperfect as that work might be. There is disease? Let us work to cure it. There is malice? Let us stop its effects and get at its heart. There is oppression? Let us fight for freedom. There is poverty? Let us give a fish and teach to fish. There is war? Let us defend strongly and bring peace.
The problem of evil moves us to #MakeChristianityDemandingAgain.