The problem of evil is if God is all good and God is all powerful, why is the world full of evil? Why is their pain and suffering in a world created and ruled by a loving and good God? No single theological problem has occupied more intellectual energy, time, and ink than this one.
moralism and cynicism
When suffering hits there are two basic ways that people respond. The more religious person says “Why is God punishing me? What am I doing wrong? Maybe I should have prayed more. Maybe if I just had a little more faith.”
This response is essentially moralism. In order to avoid suffering I must be more diligent, more holy, more worthy of God’s protection.
The other approach to suffering is not moralism, but cynicism. Whereas religious people tend to see suffering as a punishment from God, secular people tend to see suffering as proof that there is no God. Or if there is a God he is either incompetent or indifferent.
Moralism is based on the idea that God is actively causing all pain and suffering in the world as a part of his purposes and his glory. Cynicism is based on the idea that nobody is in charge. Life is random. It is all a matter of chance. There is no one good and powerful God in charge.
The book of Job was written to tell us that both of those approaches are absolutely wrong.
the book of Job
There is no book of the Bible (no piece of literature) that addresses the question of suffering with the intellectual and philosophical integrity and with the emotional and dramatic realism as the book of Job.
The book of Job is an epic poem. It consists of, first of all, a dialogue between God and Satan, then a long dialogue between Job and his friends and then a climactic dialogue between God and Job.
In the prologue, Satan (the adversary) randomly appears at a heavenly council meeting with a challenge - “Does Job fear God for nothing?”. Satan’s charge against God is that he is running a Machiavellian universe. God is a manipulative deity who only blesses those who worship Him and who withholds blessings from those who don’t.
Are human beings really free? Is there such a thing as free will?
The charge in the prologue is a literary device and, in the context of this epic poem, can only be answered one way. If God were to destroy Satan, it would prove Satan’s point. If God simply dismisses Satan, it would prove Satan’s point. The only way the challenge can be answered is for it to be put to the test - and that’s where Job comes in.
The central point of the prologue is that arbitrary things happen behind the scenes that affect us, about which we know nothing. There was a random event that happened in the heavenly realms, and Job gets caught up in the middle of this, and all that he goes through is a result of this. Job never learns about this and that is part of the essential point of the book.
Throughout the book Job’s friends take a moralistic approach to Job’s suffering. They believe God is behind everything that is happening to Job and he has a reason for bringing on all of the afflictions he is bringing. Job takes on an increasingly cynical approach. He still believes God is behind everything that is happening to him, but he has no reason for it. It is all arbitrary and God is indifferent to it.
But when God shows up He gives us an alternative to both of these. It goes beyond both moralism and cynicism. God says two things that, on the surface, don’t seem to make much sense. First, God talks about the unfathomable vastness and complexity of creation - “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” Then God talks about forces of evil within the universe (Behemoth and Leviathon) as a way of portraying that there is a whole lot going on in the universe that we don’t know about.
The point of the book of Job is that the mystery of evil is a mystery about the unfathomably complex, war-torn creation. It is not a mystery, first and foremost about God but a mystery about creation. A creation that has been seized by war.
Every aspect of creation that does not reflect God’s loving character ultimately comes from some will other than God.
God gave humans and angels free will so that we could truly worship and love Him, but what we do with this free will is up to us. If I genuinely have free will, than I can choose to align myself with God’s will or go against it. God has the power to stop me – but if he always prevented free wills from doing the evil they are capable of than he has not really given us free will and therefore genuine love is impossible.
We are all free to make decisions and these decisions have ripple effects on the rest of creation. Today we are experiencing the sum total of the ripple effects of every decision made in humanity.
Adam went one way and we’re still under the ripple effects. Lucifer went one way and we’re still under the ripple effects. Your parents went one way we’re still under the ripple effects.
The world is interdependent. Everything affects everything else. So the mystery of evil has to do with all of the free decisions of both human and angelic beings.
You are free. You are responsible. Your choices matter. And yet...
Paul says in Romans 8v28-39 we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose
Every single thing that happens as a result of those choices, God is working out for our good. It’s not that God foresees everything you are going to do. But what you do, the ripples you make, God works together into the plan He wants and the course He wants history to take.
Even though God does not cause all things, He can work in and through all things, and He is able to bring good out of it. He is infinitely intelligent. He has prepared a response.
On the one hand your choices belong to you. They are yours. You are free and you are responsible. And yet, in the end, the result will be exactly what God wants.
God is fixing everything, all of creation, into the way He wants it to be. But He doesn’t do that despite our choices, but through them. Our choices become a part of his plan.
risk vs. reward
Why did God give us free will? Why take the risk? Why, when we screwed up in the Garden and walked away from Him did he not just end it all?
The answer is simple. Love.
At the center of the universe is an all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing, God who is head over heals in love with you.
And so despite all of our choices and despite all of the opposition and despite all of the havoc we have wreaked upon His creation God is determined to restore us. He is determined to love us.