Monday, February 15, 2010

The Problem of Good

A common problem with which many people struggle is what's called the Problem of Evil.
Evil exists in this world. Yet theologians tell us that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good. Now, if he is all-knowing, then he of course is aware of evil. And if he's all-powerful, he's certainly capable of doing something about it. And finally, if he's all-good then it seems that he should do something about it.
And yet evil exists.

There has been much thought with regards to this very serious problem, and Scripture has a lot to say on it as well (e.g. Job, Matthew 13.31-43, James 1.2-4, John 9.1-3, Romans 8.28, Romans 9, Genesis 50.20, et. al.). But while there is much that can be said to help us better understand how to think about it, the presence of evil in our world remains in some way a real mystery.

I would like to offer another mystery for consideration which I will call the Problem of Good.

We as human beings commit great amounts of evil. There is genocide, war, slavery, oppression, corruption, and widespread injustice in our world. We hate, we murder, we lie, we steal, we cheat, we exploit, and we abuse ourselves and others. We're prideful, lustful, greedy, gluttonous, envious, slothful, and angry. We often give approval to and enable the evil that others are doing. Even taking into account that there is disagreement regarding morality, it can be safely said that nobody follows perfectly even their own moral code.

If God is just, then we assuredly deserve punishment.

And yet the sun still rises every morning! The world hasn't been destroyed! If you're reading this blog, it means you're still alive. This may sound overly dramatic, but it is a profound truth worthy of our meditation.
After teaching that we should love our enemies, Jesus points out God's own indiscriminate love and blessing: "[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5.45b)
By the grace of God, many of us still have food to eat. Many of us still have shelter. Many of us are healthy. Many of us marry and have children. Many of us have friends and families. We all have talents, gifts, and abilities that are unique to each of us. And any of these things that we might be given the privilege to have, we have in spite of our own wickedness. We do not have these things because we are so smart, but because God is so merciful.

But the Christian faith doesn't stop there. It teaches that God's incredible goodness extends far beyond even what has been mentioned thus far. We are taught that, far from destroying us or even desiring to condemn us, God himself decided to become a man in order to redeem us from all of the sin and corruption that we have brought on ourselves:

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5.6-8

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." - John 3.16-17

God is just, and God is great, and yet he cares enough for us to give us his very self. How are we to understand this? Does this make sense? It is a problem of the Christian faith.

Let us not overlook the great goodness of God but instead meditate on it and struggle with it as the profound mystery that it is.

We must live in the mystery of the problem of evil.
And we must live in the mystery of the problem of good.


  1. Great post.

    It is unfortunate in today's American Society, I think, that many are slow to name evil, face evil. We're much too worried about hurting someone's feelings than we are helping them see evil for what it is.

    It's definitely a difficult position to be in...on the one hand I think many of us struggle to live good lives but yet - on the other hand, we "allow" in a certain sense some evils to exist or, in the very least, do not discourage others from participating in it.

    But we're so darn worried we might "alienate" another person...that they might never seek our counsel ever we temper our words and hesitate to name evils in this world.


  2. I just had one additional thought (why do those come right after I hit post?)

    From an individual...or self vantage point, I also think we seek approval of the world over approval of God, which makes us so susceptible to falling into committing evil...

  3. Hahaha, you need to read this

    In summary, it's a thought experiment about a parallel world, like ours in every way except people there worship a God that is all powerful and all knowing, but purely 100% evil. And the theologians there have to deal with the problem of good.
    When Jesus said God sends rain to the righteous and unrighteous, he forgot to mention that God has a track record of sending a lot more rain to the unrighteous, enough to drown all of them.

  4. May I submit the follow postulation on behalf of the late Sir William of Occam?

    Stuff happens. Mystery solved.

  5. Jenna you beat me to it. I was thinking the same thing.