Dodge: Where is God When It Hurts?
Let me just admit it. I sometimes question whether God is good. According to the United Nations World Food Program, almost 800 million people, a little less than 10% of the world’s population, don’t have enough food to lead an active life. Not to mention the New York Times recently reported that there are over 60 million people fleeing from chaotic lands. If God is all-powerful, why does he allow this?
This so-called problem of evil has been around for a long time and has always been the best argument against Christianity. Simply stated: if God could do something about evil, but doesn’t, he’s not good. If God can’t do something about evil, he’s not all-powerful. Since the effects of evil obviously exist, this must mean either God isn’t good or that he isn’t powerful. To some, this is proof that God doesn’t exist.
Normally, we would turn to the Bible for guidance. But, let’s face it, the Bible isn’t always helpful here either.
Take, for example, Job, who was the most righteous man of his day, blessed with kids, cattle and crops. Yet, unbeknownst to him, Satan suggested that Job would abandon God if God took away all he had. Remarkably, Job maintained his integrity, even after the loss of his children, his wife’s support and some 35 gruesome chapters of his friends blaming him for his misery. Scholars believe that the three cycles of arguments with Job’s friends is specifically designed to demonstrate the inadequacy of all the prevailing answers to the problem of evil in Job’s day.
But when the trial was all over, what does God do? God rebukes Job for even asking “why” (Job 38-39). Does that sound like a loving God to you? I struggle with it sometimes.
The answer Christians have given to the problem of evil is not perfect, but it is true. Evil exists because of the misuse of our free will. God is not the author of either physical evils (death, disease, depression) or moral evil (sin). But, as Thomas Aquinas points out, God does allow the evil of trials and tribulations to mold us into the people he wants us to be (ST I.49.2). We may not like this, but without pain, it’s very difficult for us to grow in the spiritual life.
Thus God never provides a definitive answer to the problem of evil. Yet, what Job learns, what we all need to learn, is that God gives us something far better – he gives us himself. This is why faith in God, even in the midst of inexplicable pain and suffering is still the right answer.
This is why the ministry of presence is so essential. As Christians indwelt by the Spirit, when we visit someone who is sick or spend time with someone hurting or call someone in pain, we are literally re-presenting Christ. We bring God into their lives because of His presence within us. We answer suffering not with clever solutions to philosophical problems, but with the power and love of God.
God gives us himself, not clever answers. This is the ultimate response to evil in our world.