Man has always struggled with the concept of evil. Though we -- academically -- may find it difficult to assess its characteristics, we, nevertheless, know it by our experiences alone; and a lot of the time, experience trumps rationalism. And since we have felt evil, reconciling an evil experience with a mighty God has perplexed many people. We review what we have learned about God: He is all-powerful, all-knowing, present in all things (but not as all things) and all-loving.
And yet, something does not click. If he really is all-knowing, he must know about evil. And if he really is all-powerful, he must be able to counteract evil. And if he really is present in all things, he must be everywhere evil is. And if he really is all-loving, well, how can he give us what is evil?
At the core of the problem is a man named Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher. One of the many of Epicurus' claims to fame was his putting forth these three premises: God is good; God is all-powerful; evil exists. The Christian would agree to all of these premises, but then, Epicurus would spring his trap: How can this be? How can God be all-powerful and good, and yet allow evil to exist? It would take Christians many years to answer such a terribly hard question.
It would benefit us to examine the ways Christians have tried to resolve these premises. And, as a spoiler, I’ll come right out and say that the usual way to resolve the tension is by denying one or more premises. For example, some Christians have decided that in order to make God not the author of evil, he must not be all that omnipotent.
The Manichees (third century), who thought of themselves as Christians, tried to solve the problem of evil by saying that God was not in control of evil; instead, evil was a force diametrically opposed to him, which even beat him at times. They affirmed God was good.
They stated loudly that evil did, in fact and in truth, exist, but they quietly, by a complex cosmo-theological system, eroded God’s omnipotence, and this was enough for a young monk from just outside of Carthage to dismantle their faith before the public eye because if God is not all-powerful, can He really be God?
Some may affirm God's omnipotence, however, and attempt to answer the theodicy by questioning God’s benevolence. Probably the most well-known example of a civilization doing this is that of Athens during its decline. When the Athenians (those influenced by Euripides, at least) conceptualized the gods, they did not think they were bound by rules; rather, they conceptualized their gods as literally above the rules.
And, in doing so, they accounted for evil in the world: Evil exists because God, or rather, “the gods," sometimes delight in evil. Of course, this is not what the revealed Word tells us. The Word says that He, Himself, does not "delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth," and He, Himself, is the epitome of selfless love. Such sentiments do not allow for us Christians to deny God’s benevolence in a pursuit for an answer to the question of evil.
In the third place, some people have tried to say evil is not really evil. A modern example of “Christians” who take up this answer are Scientologists, who claim evil is only an illusion. Likewise, many evangelical Christians today will call evil a “blessing in disguise.”
This is an equally dangerous thing. Saying evil is simply an illusion does not accurately account for the human experience. And, furthermore, saying evil does not exist dismisses any notions of the need of a Savior from evil, from sin, from death and from the devil. If there is no evil, why did Christ die? From what did he set us free? For what did He become our atonement?
At the end of the day, when you’re with the parents who have just gone through not only their first birth but are now sitting in the hospital room, their dead newborn in their hands, and they look up at you and ask you “How could God let our son, our only son, die?” you’re not going to tell them that “all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purposes.”
Because a Theologian of the Cross “calls a thing that which it is.” And if anything is evil, this is.
So, what do you say? You say you don’t know. You check your pride, bow your head and admit your ignorance. And then you tell them that they are not alone. There was another who had to bear unjust death, Jesus Christ. And it was Jesus Christ who suffered unrighteous evil at the hand of those He came to save. And it was Jesus Christ who rose again, conquering evil and death once and for all.
Do not try to explain away evil; you’ll never do it. Rather, confess the Gospel, that Jesus died for our sake and rose again, conquering our evil once and for all. Evil is real, but our God is all-powerful and good! He has saved us by Christ’s person and work.