The Problem of Evil
When I first encountered the problem of evil in an academic setting I wanted to compose a clever response to submit to philosophy journals to put atheists to shame. Yet the more I wrote about evil, the more I realized that I could not formulate a coherent argument about why evil exists. Nonetheless I do have insight on how evil does not obscure clear vision of God.
Closely related to the problem of evil is suffering. If God loves me, why does He permit me to suffer?
I have journeyed from wrestling with suffering to embracing God's love. So I may not be able to articulate how evil does not negate God's existence, but I am able to articulate how God's love is revealed in the midst of suffering.
The primary reason why I am so fascinated with evil is because it touched my life from the onset. I am the youngest of four children. I have an older sister and twin brothers. When I was five years old one of my brothers died tragically in an accident in our home. As a five year old, I could not understand what happened. I grew up with a sense that God did not love my family.
How does God work in suffering?
Thirteen years after I suffered the loss of my brother, the book of Job cut me to the heart. Job is classified as wisdom literature, a biblical genre that reveals who God is and how God's infinite design can be understood by finite creatures. After Job, a faithful Jew, lost his family, his home, his livelihood for no apparent reason, he questions God's logic. God answers Job, "Where were you when I made the stars?" to demonstrate how bold it is for a creature to try to question the infinite design of the Creator. Job answers:
I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be hindered.
Who is this who obscures counsel with ignorance?
I have spoken but did not understand;
things too marvelous for me, which I did not know
Listen, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you tell me the answers.”
By hearsay I had heard of you,
but now my eye has seen you. - Job 42: 2-5
This is one of my favorite scripture verses. In particular the lines, "No purpose of yours can be hindered" and "By hearsay I had heard of you, but now my eye has seen you." These two lines provide profound insight on how God's goodness can be seen, even in the midst of suffering.
No purpose of yours can be hindered. Because God is infinitely good, nothing can thwart his purpose, not even evil. Therefore evil can actually demonstrate God's almighty power. Evil is best understood from the cosmic perspective. When I lost my brother I was consumed by grief. I could not get past the fact that I missed him. To me the death of a loved one became an insurmountable evil. Yet decades later, I finally see the eternal perspective. Death is not the greatest evil a person can suffer. Sin and separation of God are the greater evils. Therefore not even the death of a loved one can hinder God's purpose for my happiness. It took me over twenty years to realize, through the eyes of faith, one day I would see my brother again, therefore losing him temporary although painful, was not an insurmountable obstacle, nor a permanent loss.
By hearsay I had heard of you, but now my eye has seen you. I am a cradle Catholic. I grew up in the church, yet my faith did not mature until I experienced suffering. I had heard beautiful things about God from the church my whole life. By word of mouth I heard about God, but I did not really know God personally until He met me in my suffering.
There is much more that can be said about good and evil. But in short, through my life experience God has given me insight on how evil does not mask His glory. And through the eyes of faith, evil can actually be yet another way God reveals His goodness and almighty power.
Evil causes human persons to suffer, but suffering bears fruit in greater love. My relationship with God was not able to mature until I questioned who He was and discovered His compassion. I did not see that God was a loving father until I realized that He gave me a brother in the person of Jesus Christ so that I would not be alone in my suffering. Once I recognized God as loving father I stopped asking why and began asking how and what. How will you bring me out of this suffering? What do you want to show me through this experience? How will this suffering draw me closer to you?
So although I won't be so bold to claim that I have mastered the problem of evil, I will boldly state that faith provides an answer. Evil is mysterious, but we can understand it concretely through the eyes of faith. God permits evil in order to bring about a greater good. The cross is the greatest example of that truth. Jesus came to earth to suffer with us and for us. And to show us that infinite love can come out of death and pain, namely the resurrection and eternal life.