I was reading recently the early edition of USA Today in which Michael Novak writes in “The Forum” about the problem of evil. “How could a good God let unthinkable suffering torment our world?” It’s an age-old question that goes to the very root of who we are and who we aspire to be. Novak points out that The New Yorker, of all magazines, gave a good number of pages early last month to a quite brilliant book reviewer, James Wood, for a long essay on why he could no longer be a Christian. “Stories like his,” says Novak, “are widespread. They usually cite the natural evils that too often crash upon humans — in China a stupefying earthquake, in Burma a cyclone, elsewhere tsunami, or tornado, disease, flood, or cruel slow-working famine. They then add the evils that humans inflict upon other humans” and diseases, accidents.
It raises the question that I answer in Bible Answer Book, Volume 1 of why God would allow bad things to happen to good people. This is the most common question that Christians are asked to answer on shows like Larry King Live.
At first blush it seems as though there are as many responses as religions. In reality, there are only three basic answers: pantheism, philosophical naturalism – pantheism denies the existence of good and evil, because in this view God is all and all is God. Philosophical naturalism, the worldview undergirding evolution, supposes that everything is a function of random processes, thus there is no such thing as good and evil. So you have those two responses. And there’s one other – theism. Only theism has a relevant response and only Christian theism has an answer that is satisfactory.
Christian theism acknowledges that God created the potential for evil because God created humans with freedom of choice. We choose to love, to hate, to do good or to do evil. The record of history bears eloquent testimony to the fact that humans, of their own free will, have actualized the reality of evil through such choices. Without choice love is meaningless. God is neither a cosmic rapist who forces his love on people, nor a cosmic puppeteer who forces people to love him. Instead, God, the personification of love, grants us the freedom of choice. Without such freedom, we would be little more than preprogrammed robots.
The fact that God created the potential for evil by granting us freedom of choice ultimately will lead to the best of all possible worlds – a world in which “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” Those who choose Christ will be redeemed from evil by his goodness and will forever be able not to sin.