Skeptics often toss the problem of evil at Christians as if it were a ticking time bomb. "If there is a God, and He is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, then why is there evil in the world?" It often seems as if we have got five minutes to dismantle the problem to their satisfaction, or we have exploded any chances of continuing a spiritual conversation.
But a new book, Evil and the Justice of God by author and theologian N. T. Wright, turns the age-old question of evil on its head. Wright suggests that perhaps more important than asking, "Why evil?" is asking, "What is God doing about it?"
According to Wright, "the entire canon [of Scripture] . . . tells a story which, from a bewildering variety of angles, is all about what . . . the Creator God . . . is doing about evil." From forbidden fruit to flood, we watch evil enter the world and spread like a wild vine to cover it. God deals categorically with evil in the flood, but also mercifully spares Noah's imperfect family to start again. Almost before the rainbow recedes from the sky, evil raises its ugly head in Noah's own family. It continues to spiral out of control until the Tower of Babel, where God again deals with the problem by confusing our languages.
In Abraham, God again chooses one imperfect family to be a part of the solution to the problem of evil. It doesn't take long, however, to see that the solution is again part of the problem. The same pattern occurs with David and his lineage.
How will God solve the conundrum? How will He deal with the problem of evil? He will send Jesus Christ, a fully human, fully divine answer. As Wright says, at the cross God draws "evil to a point in order to deal with it there." Justice is satisfied. But mercy, through forgiveness, is also extended. From there, God calls a new-born people to be a part of the ongoing solution.
Though we still struggle with sin, we are called to be God's agents of restoration until Christ's final return, when evil will be dealt with once and for all.
The question of evil then becomes, not a philosophical one, but a practical one. As Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission has said, "Over time I have come to see questions of suffering in the world not so much as questions of God's character, but as questions about the obedience and faith of God's people." God's people must herald God's solution: Jesus Christ, who forgives our evil and makes righteous living and justice possible.
Organizations like Haugen's International Justice Mission are answering the problem of evil by freeing women held as sex slaves. Prison Fellowship volunteers are answering it by going into prisons and bringing the light and hope of God's forgiveness.
I could list countless other examples, but here's the point. The next time someone poses the problem of evil to you, tell them, while you may not be able to answer the why, you do know what God has done and is doing about evil. And He has called us to join Him in His work.
From BreakPoint®, March 14, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries