Officiating weddings is one of the true joys of being a minister. The pre-planning, the counseling, the buying of the license, and the rings. The rehearsal, the decorating, the ceremony! What fun!
That still moment just before the wedding march starts. The groom is nervous! Everyone stands! The bride enters! For a single moment, all is right in the world! Everyone is happy! Joy! Wonder! But in all the happiness, there is one unwanted guest. It just sits over there, biding its time. This guest does not need to be showy today, because this guest plays the long game. That guest's name is Evil.
Indifference, Death, and Time were just Solomon setting us up for the bigger issue. Indeed, each of those things can be thought of as sub-categories of the Evil. Solomon is so aware of the problem Evil poses that he brings it up three different times in Ecclesiastes.
Evil shows up in many ways – trouble, anguish, financial disaster, disease, death of a child, or spouse – call it what you will. As a minister, a teacher, a theologian, I get asked from time to time, “Why does evil exist?” This question is the greatest challenge to Christians. This question even keeps Christians from growing in their faith.
It may help to define our terms here. A standard dictionary definition of evil is “the fact of suffering, misfortune, and wrongdoing.” This however is not precise enough for our purposes. A man that is suffering the loss of his home because he gambled his paycheck away is not suffering evil. We need a more precise definition of evil. A better definition is “serious unjustified harm inflicted on sentient beings.” Within that definition, we can then also make two distinctions or classes of evil. We will call the first natural evil, which is evil that is not caused by humans. The second we will call moral evil, that is, evil caused by human means.
We must define God next. There are two ways to define God. One is in the purely philosophical sense. This definition usually centers on God as the First Cause or as The Perfect Being. For the Christian, this seems to be well short of an acceptable definition. It simply gives too much ground and opens up attacks that can be answered from Biblical revelation.
For the Christian, the definition of God would be Creator and Ruler of the Universe, a Supernatural Being, Wholly Other, but revealing Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ, of which the Bible is the record. Any theodicy or defense that would not consider the revelation of Christ may be philosophically correct but not Biblically correct.
The next thing to consider is that lots of people use what is called “The Free Will defense” as the reason for evil. Over the centuries there have been lots of philosophical formulations of that idea. But as I noted above, to be philosophically correct is not what we are looking for. We are looking for being theologically and Biblically correct.
To just formulate a logical explanation of evil does a disservice to both the lay Christian and the lay Atheist. For both parties, their belief is not founded on logic. The belief or non-belief in God is transrational. My meaning in this is that belief or non-belief in God defies logic or rational reasons. When a person gives assent to the idea of God, we say that they come to faith. If they were once a theist, we say they lose the faith. If it takes faith to believe in the existence of God, then why are we trying to rationalize a defense against those who do not?
Second, talking about God in the abstract damages or ignores the revelation that was given in the person of Jesus Christ. If the definitions of Christ as the God-man given at Nicaea and Chalcedon are correct, then everything we need to know and all the questions is answered in that revelation. Looking outside of that revelation takes you away from Christianity. Christianity must be Christocentric, not just Deist-centric.
This is the point of John 1:1-18. The logos became flesh. God Incomprehensible became comprehensible. Taking logos in its fullest meaning, “the Word became flesh” is more than just a pithy religious statement. It is a combination of metaphysics, language, and religion into one person - Christ. The very thought of God, the fire of Heraclitus, the knowledge of Plato’s Theaetetus, the Universal Law of the Stoics, the Wisdom of the Hebrew writers, the hopes of all humanity all combined into one form, one man, Jesus Christ. We do not need some rationalized, sanitized version of God to defend. God has given us the version He wants us to understand and defend in the person of Jesus Christ.
Returning to our couple at the beginning, when they asked me to perform the ceremony, I set up a time to meet with them as a couple to do some premarital counseling. One of the things that you listen for is for the idea of coercion in the idea of marriage. Did either side feel pressured to get married? Are they going into the relationship of their own free will?
As Christians, we need to look at the entrance of evil the same way. There was no coercion to turn away from the command of God and eat of the fruit. Just as the couple is choosing to get married, so Adam chose to eat the fruit.
Some philosophers respond here would be that God could have made man that would not have taken the fruit. On both sides, there is this debate about whether such a creature or place could exist. This is a red herring, a sophism. It takes away from both the reality of now and the reality of the revelation given to us. Out of the Genesis account, we can only be sure of two things. One is that evil exists. The other is that God did not crush humanity in His rebellion.
There is however another argument given by the atheist at this point. If God is all-good, all-powerful, all-wise then couldn’t He have come up with a way to get rid of the evil? He did in the Incarnation/Cross event of Christ! This is not just simply a religious statement. It also has profound philosophical implications for the problem of evil as we have presented it.
God gives such honor and regard to man’s free will that the death of Christ takes place without any interference from God. We see the problem of evil not residing in God but humanity. While this may absolve God of blame, this does nothing for his goodness. Yet in the Cross, we see that He loves and honors man to the point of allowing His death. This shows His goodness in entering and suffering with the ones with whom evil is an everyday issue.
Christ did not use supernatural means to escape the cross. (Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?) Nor did he use political means (My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servant's fight). We can see that God has honored man’s free will and freedom to do what man wants with that freedom.
How then does this help us with our problem of evil? Let us go back to the wedding couple. They married of their own free will. Let us jump fast forward five years, and he commits adultery. She finds out and says, “A great evil has been done!” She is right. All her friends gather around and tell her to leave the bum. What does she do? No one would fault her for leaving him. Yet is that her only option? No, she can stay and honor the vows that she made, “…for better, for worse…till death do us part.” Now she is going to suffer public shame. If there are financial losses (loses his job, lawyers, and irate husbands) she will bear with them. God did something similar.
In making humanity with a free will, God committed Himself to allow and even bearing the consequences of that free will. God could have made something or someone other than what He did, but the fact is He did not. God -- like our fictional wife -- must be willing to bear whatever consequences come.
At this point, you may object and say that she is a fool and the husband will do it again. While that is a nice assumption and emotive response, you have no way of knowing if that is the case. The wife has just given a new definition to Love, Truth, and Strength. It is a Love that sees beyond the hurt of the moment and what could yet be. It is the Truth that freedom of will does exist and not everything is causally determined. It is Strength in that she is willing to be vulnerable enough to see what his actions will now be.
God has done the same thing. The stumbling block with both the wife and God is in the definition of power and wisdom. Power is always looked upon as a destructive force, the eradication of the current circumstances. Wisdom is looked on as a changing of course, that the original course is now hopelessly lost.
In the Cross of Christ God showed that power is not destructive but redemptive. He showed that the wisdom is not in eradication, but Incarnation. The logic of God is not in an Aristotelian or Newtonian sense. The problem of evil exists only for those who will not accept the revelation of God in Christ. Ecclesiastes points out the problem. The rest of scripture gives us the solution.