This is part two to this post.
Evil is not primarily a problem to fix or an experience to escape but rebellion against God and its consequences. My discomfort or inconvenience or even pain is not the tragedy here—the reason it feels so wrong and hurts so much is because it is connected to our rejection of the One with whom we have to do. Most times that connection is very indirect, but the suffering of this world can serve us by teaching us to feel the depth and gruesomeness of that wrong. This is where the “little” evils fit: lost socks and tempers and such.
So the extent of evil is not measured by how I feel, but how I feel can remind me of the extent of true evil. In this perspective, suffering if God’s servant to remind us of the greatest wrong and the greatest right. In the moments when I come squarely to face with the evil in my own heart, it is a chance to reaffirm what I was made for (to glorify and enjoy God), to feel the wrongness of losing that and to rejoice that it has been given back to me by Christ. So when I have one of “those days,” what I am feeling is the weight of sin and, comparatively, the jubilation of a world free from sin. Actually, Paul says that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Which means that as bad as evil feels now, it’s nothing compared to how good it will feel for everything to be made right—it’s beyond our imagination let alone our experience.
From the perspective that everything should be right and good (which is what I still wake up with every day), the sin-smashed state of this world leaves us shell-shocked. But from the perspective that we have all chosen to turn our back on the One from whom all life comes, I’m also shell-shocked that life goes on as much as it does. I’ve had the opportunity to be in an anatomy and physiology class lately and the unthinkable genius of my own body is overwhelming. If just one group of cells decided not to do its job or my tiny capillaries suddenly decided not to allow the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, I would die instantly. Explanation of these processes is most often impossible—all scientists can do is describe the few bits of data they’ve managed to observe. And yet here we all are, pumping blood and breathing, moving and speaking and seeing and hearing every second of every day for decades. Sure, things go wrong but not nearly all that could. We still have gravity to count on and seasons and day and night and the vast majority of children grow and most cars on the road stay on the road. Considering the potential for problems, there’s a lot of life happening here on this planet. This extravagance of mercy is from the hands of Jesus. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Jesus holds all things together, using his authority over all the powers that operate in this world to bring them, even in sin, to his goals and purposes. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. The goal is reconciliation, a drawing back of all creation back to its Creator. Jesus makes gravity work so we have the chance to know Him and discover that life, as good and as bad as it is now, is nothing compared to what it could be. So when something big or little goes wrong, an accurate theodicy will result in gratitude and trust that I have so much good from the hands of Jesus that I count on it every day and that tragedy is tragedy, not the norm.
Lastly this, which I find extremely practical even though it comes from an abstract philosophical discussion of theodicy: “Evil is not there to be understood, but to be fought.” We have theologian Henri Blocher to thank for this bit of brilliance, which he arrives at after 100 pages of analyzing various theological responses to the problem of evil throughout Christian history. No matter what you do, he concludes, you cannot dilute the evilness of evil, the goodness of God or the sovereignty of God. And what that leaves you with is an unexplainable mystery—where did evil come from and how does it coincide with the nature of God? But mystery does not equate with absurdity and the lack of explanation for evil is nothing if not fitting. How could the one bit of reality that is out of step with the God of reality who created all logic and wisdom be explained? “We do not understand the why of evil. But we can understand that we cannot understand. Human reason is made to trace the connections in God’s created order, and to weave harmonious patterns from them; to understand means to integrate. A rational solution to the problem of evil would necessarily imply that evil was an integral part of the harmony that came forth from God!… But evil is disruption, discontinuity, disorder, alienness, that which defies description in creational terms…” When you reach the end of understanding evil and face a choice between the reality of God and the reality of evil, choose to side with the God who makes the complaint of evil possible. It is the experience of His goodness and a suspicion of His power that makes the cry of protest rise in our hearts. An accurate theodicy will not exhaust its believers in a futile chase after evil’s source, but in a battle against its insidiousness. When we face failure and heartbreak, don’t wallow in the aches of “why?” forever, but join the God who hates it more than you and gave his own life to ruin it.
“In the light of the cross, how could there be any doubt about the three propositions at the heart of the Christian position? The sheer and utter evilness of evil is demonstrated there…as hateful in the weight of guilt which could be removed only by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God… The complete sovereignty of God is demonstrated there: all this happened ‘by God’s’ set purpose and foreknowledge… Of no other event is it attested so fully that God ‘willed’ it. The unadulterated goodness of God is demonstrated there. At the cross, who would are entertain the blasphemy of imagining that God would, even to the slightest degree, comply with evil? It brought him death, in the person of his Son. Holiness stands revealed. Love stands revealed. At the cross, God turned evil against evil and brought about the practical solution to the problem.”
Don’t be overwhelmed by evil, don’t merely try to escape the feeling of it, don’t try to grasp it—fight it! Fight it with gratitude for mercy, trust in a sovereign but dying God and a grace-filled imagination that longs for righteousness to cover the earth like the waters cover the sea. It’s coming.
This is part two to this post.