The question is always the same. Where was God?
After the initial shock and horror subsides, after the news crews go home, we’re always left with the same question: So where was he?
Did he know ahead of time what was going to happen one week ago today? Was he aware of the shooter’s plans? Does he have foreknowledge, foresight, the ability to peer into what for us is the unknown future? Christians who take their Scriptures seriously can’t help but say yes. God knows the end from the beginning. Indeed, he declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:9–10), and this exhaustive foreknowledge is one of the distinguishing marks of his deity.
Was he able to prevent it? Was his arm too short to make a gun misfire, to cause an evil young man to have a car wreck on the way to his crime, to give an off-duty police officer a funny feeling in his gut that would cause him to drive by an elementary school? If God can’t prevent something like this, then what good is he? Why pray for God’s help if he can’t actually keep murderers from executing children?
But, of course, the Bible says more than that God could have prevented it; it says it occurs “according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). Indeed, he works all things according to the counsel of his will. And when the Bible says ‘all things,’ it means all things:
This ‘all things’ includes the fall of sparrows (Matt 10:29), the rolling of dice (Prov 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Ps 44:11), the decisions of kings (Prov 21:1), the failing of sight (Exod 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Sam 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Sam 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Pet 4:19), the completion of travel plans (Jas 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Heb 12:4–7), the repentance of souls (2 Tim 2:25), the gift of faith (Phil 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Phil 3:12–13), the growth of believers (Heb 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Sam 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27–28). (John Piper, “Why I Do Not Say ‘God Did Not Cause This Calamity, But He Can Use It for Good’”)
All things — good, bad, ugly, and horrific — are ordained, guided, and governed by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
Does disaster befall a city unless the Lord has done it (Amos 3:6)? What about a school? I don't say that lightly. I realize what I’m saying. Or rather, I know what the Scriptures are saying. I’ve wept with parents as they watched their child die slowly of an incurable disease. I’ve watched dementia rob me of my father, taunting me and my family with his slow death. I realize that confessing God’s absolute sovereignty over all things, including the pain in my lower back and the cruel disease stalking my dad and the horrific actions of a wicked man in Connecticut, is hard to fathom. But I’m not helped at all by removing God from the equation, by making him a spectator watching the tragedy unfold on CNN like the rest of us. If he can’t keep evil from happening on the front end, then how can he possibly bring us comfort on the back end?
It’s questions like these that have driven me again and again to the Scriptures. And what I’ve found there is a wealth of help in navigating the problem(s) of evil — there’s not just one, you know.
There’s the biblical-theological problem: What does the Bible teach on God’s goodness and the reality of evil, and how can we coherently put the pieces together?
There’s the philosophical problem: What is the relationship between creation, sovereignty, causation, freedom, and moral responsibility? God is all-wise, all-powerful, and all-good. Why then does evil exist?
And then there’s the real problem, the deepest problem, the one that in many ways drives the others and maintains their potency. I mean the emotional problem of evil. I mean the deep and profound revulsion we feel toward pain, the sense of outrage that we feel when we witness blatant atrocities and horrific suffering. I mean the howl of the soul that echoes in the recesses of our being when we’re confronted with cancer, genocide, hurricanes, rape, fatal car wrecks, school shootings, earthquakes, sex-trafficking, and the institutionalized murder of the weakest members of the human race. Whatever solution we pose to the theological and philosophical problem of evil should also at least attempt to address the psychological, emotional, and pastoral questions that well up in our hearts and minds.
This essay, “Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil” is an attempt to do just that. Here at Christmastime, in a season of grief and sorrow, as well as expectation and hope, among a people who have eaten their fill of tears, I’d like to make a humble and serious attempt to wrestle with the problem(s) of evil, to shed light on this perpetual and vexing challenge to the coherence of our faith and the integrity of our hearts.
Read Joe Rigney’s entire article, “Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil: Biblical, Philosophical, and Emotional Reflections on a Perpetual Question.”