Updated: Sep 6, 2021
Through the years, I have read various works of literature treating the problem of evil to include the views of skeptics, philosophers, and theologians. In recent years, skeptical writers have “gone off” on the God of the Bible by stating that if he indeed exists, he is guilty of being a cruel tyrant. Skeptical thinkers, such as Emeritus Professor of Philosophy Richard Norman (University of Kent), refer to the state of this current world and say that a Christian cannot explain the presence of evil/suffering in the world and must say that it is a mystery from the perspective of Christianity with its all-good, loving, yet omnipotent God. How can a good God allow all of the pain and suffering that we observe in the world?
This post is not an exhaustive attempt to deal with this question. I will come back to this issue in my posts from time to time because it is such an important issue to discuss. Rather, I want to make several points in regards to Norman’s above mentioned idea (about Christians and evil) that I first heard in his discussion with Doctor Clay Jones regarding the problem of evil that was aired on a radio broadcast on June 21st of this year (here is a link to the discussion between Jones and Norman). Jones is associate professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University in La Mirada, California. Jones made some great points generally regarding the problem of evil and its relation to what the Bible has to say about it. This discussion caused me to think about the problem of evil in relation to God’s overall goal for humanity.
In law enforcement circles, when putting together any sort of operational plan, the first consideration is to put forth the goal of whatever mission you are trying to achieve. After clearly stating the goal, then the particulars of the operation will flow from this guiding principle. For instance if the objective of a fugitive apprehension operation is to arrest violent sexual predators with outstanding warrants who are wanted in a particular jurisdiction, then targets can be selected for apprehension, law enforcement partners with concurrent jurisdiction can be invited to participate, and post-arrest interrogation strategies can be developed. This would also hold true for the formation of arrest procedures as well because there have been violent acts perpetrated against police officers by sex offender fugitives when arrests attempts are made. More than likely the operation planner will assign more men per team, make sure that each team has a body bunker that they can bring with them to the door for added protection, and make sure to have the proper armaments available in the event of a violent confrontation. The goal of the operation determines the way in which the operation will proceed. This process of goal setting is transferrable to any other enterprise as well.
It makes sense to me that if we are going to assess Norman’s view, we need to discern what the Bible says regarding God’s ultimate goal for humanity. The Bible does give us the reason why he created humanity. One such passage that gives this reason is recorded in the twenty-first chapter of the Revelation According to John. In verse three, John states, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’” This passage is the proclamation given in the future as John sees the “New Jerusalem” in a vision “coming down out of heaven (v. 2).” It is from this starting point that we can discuss the problem of evil. In view of God’s desire to make a people for Himself that will dwell with Him eternally, we can discern why God allows evil. God desires to expand his family and extends this invitation to humanity through relationship with Jesus Christ.
So, when we are in relationship with Jesus Christ, God works through these trials to make us more like Himself in this life and to prepare us be united with him in the future. It is in these times of struggle when God meets us in our need and causes growth to occur (Romans 5:3-4). It is in these hard times that we can draw strength from and follow the example of Jesus Christ, God himself, who lived a life of sacrifice even ultimate sacrifice on a cross. Not only do we receive sustenance from God as we go through the struggles themselves, but we also know that we are being prepared for eternity as a member of God’s family (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Also, even as the first man, Adam, brought death and “fallenness” to the world through his disobedience (Romans 5:12), so Jesus, the second Adam, brings redemption and entry into God’s eternal family (Romans 5:18-21). So, we can see that the fallen state of the world is in accord with what is included within the Bible. With the goal of expanding His family, God allows evil to make those in relationship with Him more like Himself and prepares us for an eternity as God’s family members.