Summary: In order to trust the goodness of God we need to understand that: 1. God has given us freedom. 2. God created a good world. 3. God can redeem evil. 4. God is with us.
Epicurus, the Greek philosopher (c. 306 B.C.) raised the question: “Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to; or he cannot and does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, and does not want to, he is wicked. But, if God both can and wants to abolish evil, then how does evil come into the world?” St. Augustine put it simpler when he asked, “If there is no God, why is there so much good? If there is a God, why is there so much evil?” Katie Couric, in quizzing Franklin Graham about the recent terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, put it in more basic terms. More than once she asked the question that so many are asking: “Why would God allow something like this to happen?”
Ever since the terrorist attacks on September 11, seven out of every ten people are reporting struggles with depression. Nearly half the U.S. population is reporting having trouble concentrating, and a third say they are having trouble sleeping, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center. Women were more likely than men to be depressed — four out of five — and parents were more likely than those without children to feel depressed. “Clearly, people are devastated by what happened,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the research project. So, if you are having problems like this, you are not alone. These are uncertain times. I have noticed that I am reacting to the sounds of sirens and airplanes in an entirely different way than I used to respond.
The day before Rachel was to go into the outpatient clinic at Children’s Hospital for her treatment this week, there was a bomb scare when someone threw a package with protruding wires through the doors. When we are faced with this kind of evil, it causes us to ask some serious questions. The Barna Research Group polled the nation earlier this year with the question: “If you could ask God only one question and you knew he would give you an answer, what would you ask?” The top response was this: “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?” At the heart of this question is the concern about whether God can both be good, and at the same time permit evil in the world.
There is an interesting parallel in the New Testament to our current tragedy with the World Trade towers. Some people came to Jesus one day asking about a tragedy in Jerusalem that had taken place. There had been a senseless killing spree. They wanted to get Jesus’ opinion of why it happened. They suspected that the people involved were terrible sinners, or that God was especially angry with them, since God allowed it to happen. But Jesus told them they were mistaken, and reminded them of another tragedy when a tower fell on some people and killed them near the pool of Siloam in Jerusalem. Jesus said to them, “those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them — do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!” (Luke 13:4-5). What he was saying was that God does not act out of vengeance and punish people out of spite. Quite the opposite. For Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies, “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
So where was God in all of this? There are several truths we need to understand as we try to grapple with this important issue, if we are going to arrive at a place of trust. How do we know that God is good? The first truth that we need to absorb in order to understand all this is: God has given us freedom. The possibility of evil in the world is inseparably linked to the personal freedom which God, in his love, has entrusted us. When we use our power as free moral agents to go against God’s will, sin and evil enter the world.
There is a way to assure that evil will never again enter the world — remove all freedom of choice from the human family. Here is how it would work. When a person would decide to hijack a plane, God would do one of several things. He would kill them on the spot. He would disable them in some way. He would remove the thought from their brain. He would appear to them in an appalling vision, and tell them not to carry out their plans, so that they would be so gripped with fear they would be unable to act. He would crush them with overwhelming guilt and override their desire to do something wrong — in other words, he would stomp them into submission. An important part of being human would be lost as God turned us into puppets forced to do his will.