Christianity posits a God who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent – a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and always fully present everywhere. And this is the best He can do?
We live in a real world in which children are abused and murdered in horrible ways. We live in a real world were police, prosecutors, and politicians abuse their power and authority by destroying innocent lives, both figuratively and literally. We live in a real world in which we are set upon by sickness, disease, disability, and ultimately death. Again and again, those whom we love are brought to the grave, leaving us behind to mourn, until finally we, too, go down to death. Our whole lives are spent in dying. A God who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent – and this is the best that He can do?
Christianity posits a God who loves us, cares about us, and knows our every want and need before we even know them ourselves. And this is the best that He can do? This hardly seems to be a God whose attitude toward us is loving and caring. This is a God who is at best indifferent, and more probably hostile toward humankind. How are we to understand an all-knowing, all-powerful, and always present God who puts us in this world of pain and suffering to live our lives of quiet desperation?
For many Christian denominations, the only response to the problem of evil is to rule the question out of order. Others offer more complicated and convoluted answers, but in the end, fail miserably to answer the fundamental question – is this the best He can do? There is no real reconciliation of the reality of pain and suffering with the supposed attributes and qualities of God. So in the end, we are left with no answer, except for the Word of God – the Holy Bible.
What is evil? Some answer the absence of good, or a want of goodness. So rather than being a something, evil is defined as the absence of something – in other words, instead of being some thing, it is a not thing, or more simply put, nothing. However, defining evil as being nothing as opposed to something means that evil is without agency, without the ability to act independently, to do what it pleases, and to affect our everyday reality. (Agency is defined in social sciences as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.) We know, from merely being alive, that evil isn’t a nothing, for a nothing couldn’t act to hurt us. Yet we are hurt in myriad ways continually. So we conclude that evil is a something. We conclude that there exists a malevolent spirit in the world that foments misery and suffering. That malevolent spirit is Satan, the Accuser, the great enemy of God and of all of humankind.
Evil exists. Evil is real. Evil has a name. Evil has agency, and Evil is our enemy from the moment of conception till we breath our last upon this Earth. Evil is that which the Holy Bible calls Satan, the Devil, the enemy of God and of all people. We live now in an era when many deny the reality of Satan. (They deny the reality of God, as well, but that denial is, fundamentally, the work of Satan who desires that all people deny the existence of God.) The Holy Bible tells us that Satan is a Created Being, just as we are Created Beings. But we are created Human Beings. Satan was created an Angelic Being. But instead of serving God as he was created to do, Satan rebelled. Satan wanted to be God, to supplant God as the Supreme Being. He is a liar and the father of lies. He is persuasive. He convinced countless other angels to follow him in his attempt to overthrow God. And for his rebellion, Satan was cast out of God’s presence. And Hell was prepared as the place for Satan and his followers to suffer for all eternity.
But not yet. Now Satan has agency in this world. Satan is the accuser. Satan is the silent whisper in the ears of humankind, telling us what we already know – that we are sinners. That we harbor all manner of evil thoughts and desires in our hearts. That we are altogether unloveable. That a just God couldn’t possibly love us. That we are enemies of God, and God is an enemy of us. So why not eat, drink, and be merry with what little brief moment we have upon this Earth. Why not indulge our appetites for transient pleasures and ignore God, since God knowing our hearts, will undoubtably judge us and condemn us at the end of time. This is the lie that Satan, the Accuser, uses to turn billions away from God. Are Satan’s accusations wrong? No, we know in our hearts that we are guilty of everything as charged. In a court of law, a just judge would no doubt sentence us to punishment. However, remember that Satan is a liar. And one of the ways he lies is to leave out the most important facts.
Yes, God is a just judge. Yes, God must and will punish sin. But…But…God is also a merciful judge. And in his mercy, God has provided substitute to bear the punishment that we so richly deserve. God himself suffered that punishment for us. God the Son, Jesus the Christ, though without sin himself, took all of our sins unto himself. Jesus suffered and died to pay the penalty for all of our sins. For all of the sins of all human beings for all time. And in him, we have forgiveness for our sins. Not because we deserve it. But because God is merciful. God offers us not justice but mercy. How do we receive this mercy, this forgiveness of sins, and escape the punishment that we deserve?
This was the question that the people of Israel asked the Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost: “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter, speaking with the authority of Jesus and the words given to him by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit answered them: “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” The simple message of the Gospel is this: All who believe and are baptized will be saved. All who will not believe and be baptized are condemned. God does not condemn them. But they condemn themselves by their unbelief.
How can we believe this? In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul, speaking with the authority of Jesus and the words given to him by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved by faith. And this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the Word of God, the Holy Bible, to grant faith to those who will hear. The answer to how can we believe is found in these words from the Apostle Paul. God wants all people to hear his Word, and hearing, to believe. Some will harden their hearts against God’s Word, taking delight in their rebellion and pride. But many will hear the Word and by the gift of the Holy Spirit they will believe in Jesus Christ and be saved.
God’s answer to the problem of evil is the cross of Christ. Yes, evil is real. Yes, evil is with us everyday on this fallen world. But the cross of Christ provides the means by which we can be saved from evil’s ultimate power to destroy. Because Jesus has paid the penalty for all of our sins – past, present, and future – we are forgiven. When God looks at us now he doesn’t see that hot mess of sin that we are, but instead sees the righteousness of Jesus that in his mercy he has given to us as our own. The great task that God has given to every Christian is to tell others about this miracle of grace. Faith comes from hearing the Word of Christ. We are God’s messengers so that all can hear this good news.