This is the second of two articles on the problem of evil and suffering. In the first article we noted that there are two fundamental types of evil:
(1) Moral evil: evil attributed to human beings; and
(2) Natural evil: the problem of pain coming from the natural world.
The reality of evil causes some people to assert either that God does not exist, or that He does not care and therefore is not good. However, rejecting the existence of God leaves one with two unresolved problems: there is no ethical basis for defining “good” or “evil”; and there is no hope for dealing with evil.
So what does the Bible teach about this issue?
In the first article we drew some lessons from the book of Job, which describes the suffering of a man who experienced both natural and moral evil on the same day. In this article we will look at Jesus’ teaching on the subject. This is described in Luke 13:1-5, when He responded to two shocking incidents that had occurred in Jerusalem. Jesus’ response to each incident was to ask a question and then give an answer.
The first incident was moral evil: under Pilate’s authority some Galileans had been murdered and their blood mingled with their sacrifices. Jesus’ question was: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?”
The second incident concerned 18 people killed by a collapsing tower, apparently innocent victims of an accident or earth tremor. His question concerning this was: “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?”
Jesus’ answer to both questions was: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Jesus’ questions seem to reflect the consensus of his listeners that these people suffered because of their sins. This principle of retribution is exactly what Job’s friends assumed about his suffering! God told Job’s friends that they were wrong, and Jesus said the same to his listeners.
Jesus’ answers are also similar to the answer given to Job. That is, instead of asking “Why?” when we see evil, we should take a different perspective. In Job’s case it was to look at God’s power and justice and remember that He is sovereign. Jesus taught that we should examine ourselves and be sure that sin does not stand between us and God.
Neither Job nor Jesus’ listeners get an answer to the question “Why?” However, we do get answers to some vital questions from the crucifixion, resurrection and promised return of Christ.
When we look at the cross, we see the answer to the question: “Does God care about suffering and injustice in the world”? The answer is a resounding “Yes”!
When we look at the empty tomb of Easter morning, we see the answer to another question: “Does God have the power to deal with evil and suffering”? The answer is, again, a resounding “Yes”!
When we remember Jesus’ promise to return in judgment we know the answer to a third question: “Will there be justice one day”? The answer is a final and resounding “Yes”!
In the crucifixion God participated in our suffering. In the resurrection, He demonstrated victory over death. In Jesus’ return we are assured of justice, and know that this is a moral universe. Our conscience is not an illusion.
While unbelievers may scoff at the idea of judgment, it is important to point out that without the promise of judgment there can be no promise of justice. The common human sense of right and wrong calls out for justice when we see barbarous acts carried out on innocent victims, for instance the summary beheadings by ISIS of civilians or the abuse of children. If there is not judgment, there is no justice.
A Christian is not one who has solved the problem of suffering, but one who has come to trust God in our suffering.