We all know about the problem of evil or theodicy, how can a good and benevolent God allow evil and suffering. This dilemma and the Bible’s book of Job is the subject of a new book by Mark Larrimore called “The Book of Job: A Biography.” I learned about it in a New Yorker review of the book by Joan Acocella. I’m not sure the book or the review comes down on one side or the other, but as Western civilization became de-Christianized and more secular an increasing number of commentators saw atheism as a viable alternative to an inscrutable God who for seemingly arbitrary reasons inflicts unjust suffering on Job.
I’ve always found this dilemma fascinating because, well, I’m a human, but the other reason is how one-sided the debate is. It seems to be assumed that the burden of proof is completely on the side of the theist, especially the Jewish or Christine theist. And this is nothing new. The book of Job itself, seen by many as the oldest book in the scriptures, doesn’t offer much of a defense of God. Job and his “friends” ask the question, and God’s answer is, well, because. I’m God, how dare you expect an answer of me.
As a Christian I don’t find that real satisfying, but I’ve always wondered what the alternative is. It is quite obvious that evil and suffering exist. If we jettison God does that make the problem of evil any less problematic? Does it actually buy us any comfort? Any satisfying explanation about why this ugliness exists? I would argue it makes the problem all the more horrific. In a godless universe evil is just a brute fact, suck it up, deal with it, then you die. At the least if there is a God you can rage at him for the supposed injustice of it all.
As theodicy’s punching bag, Christianity actually sits in a pretty strong position when speaking of the problem of evil. Unlike the atheist view we at least have an explanation as to why it exists, as implausible as it may seem to some. In Genesis 3 we see that God made the universe good and man ruined it, or at least introduced ruin into it. It is called The Fall. Man thought it was not good enough to be a creature and so succumbed to Satan’s temptation that he could be “like God, knowing good and evil.” That hasn’t worked out very well.
Of course we could blame God for giving Adam and Eve the freedom to fall, but I guess he thought it was preferable to creating robots. Immediately after the fall, God promised a solution which we see played out in the history of redemption. This history leads us to the most unjust just act of all time: God himself in human flesh in Jesus Christ, sinless and perfect, is condemned as a common criminal and tortured to death. As unbelievable as this is to some, we cannot say that God is some remote singularity who cannot relate to our suffering.
To see the injustice of this historical event is obvious, but how can it be just? We all know and agree that when laws are broken a penalty must be paid; this holds no less true for breaking the law of God, which of course every human being has done and will do. The penalty for sin happens to be death, to which we are all condemned upon conception. Jesus the perfect Lamb of God paid the ultimate penalty the wrath of a holy God required, death, for us, and was raised on the third day as the conqueror of death. Divine justice has been met in Christ, and his righteousness can now be given freely to us that we might have that relationship with God Adam and Eve forfeited. This is what is known as the Gospel.
As the Apostle Paul says, Christ crucified is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks (I Cor. 1:23), but at least it offers an answer to the pink-elephant-in-the-room-question some people never ask: why is there death? Is it just another natural brut fact with no meaning, no purpose, no reason? This atheistic answer is no answer at all, because everyone knows death is a brutal disgusting reality, ugly and heart wrenching, and the non-answer is certainly no better and as I argue much worse than how a good God could have allowed death to come into the world he created.
As difficult as it can be at times, Christians and religious Jews believe in the perfection of God’s character. He cannot do wrong, regardless of how it appears to us. As Paul says again in Corinthians, we see through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 12:12). So we trust in him because our knowledge is so finite, so miniscule. Ultimately Job got it right, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”