Evil in the Book of Job

Job and His Friends  by Ilya Repin (1869)

Job and His Friends by Ilya Repin (1869)

Job is an excellent, and terrifying, book, and through it we can learn much—if we have the fortitude to patiently endure its deeper lessons.

While there are many small lessons throughout the book, there are three main things I believe we should learn from Job:

1﷒     The righteous will suffer, and sometimes they will suffer because of their righteousness—just like our Savior.

2﷒     Even though Job was “blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil,” he still had faults that needed to be corrected.

3﷒     God cares enough about his children to perfect and prepare them for perfect fellowship in the ages to come.

Lesson 1: The Righteous Will Suffer

God brags about Job—wouldn’t it be awesome if the same could be said about us. And, as the first two chapters of Job make clear—he was in a right relationship with God. The author introduces him as one who was “blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil.” The Lord amplifies this when He speaks of Job saying, “there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” And to seal the deal, even The Satan (The Accuser) does not have anything to accuse Job of, he only has an assumption of what Job might be like given the right circumstances.

There should be no debate at this point in the story, Job was in a right relationship with God. And because of Job’s right relationship with Him, God supernaturally protected and blessed him. The Accuser complains that The Lord had built a hedge of protection around Job where he could not break through and wreak havoc; however, The Accuser was certain that if The Lord removed this protection, and if Job’s material blessings could be taken from him, that Job would “curse You to Your face.” In other words, The Satan accused Job of being righteous not because of his character—who he was, but only because of the good stuff God had given him—what he got. The accusation is: Job gave obedience only because he got good stuff from God.

Now comes the first terrifying part of the book—especially for those readers that are in a right relationship with God and that are living a somewhat comfortable life—God removes His protection from Job. With this, The Accuser is now free to bring about destruction in Job’s life and to test/prove the quality of his character. One important thing to remember at this point is that while Job was righteous he was not sinless. Later in the book Job will confess that neither he nor any other human who had lived to that point was sinless before God. Just as believers in Christ are in a right relationship with God while none of us are sinless, so it was with Job. Also, as we learn in Colossians, Job (like the rest of us) was born into the “domain of darkness” where the “god of this age” has significant freedom to inflict its inhabitants. The Lord’s hedge of protection about him was not something that Job earned but a grace gift that God freely bestowed upon him. God in His righteousness could have withheld all of these material blessings and Job’s life could have been filled with pain all along, but because of the free gift of God it was not.

In his first severe test Job understands this. After his properties and possessions and children are all taken from him Job responds,

         “Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
         And naked I shall return there.
         The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
         Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Once The Accuser had his first restrained access to Job (The Lord still protected Job’s person), he violently removed all of the things that he believed accounted for Job’s righteous behavior. But as we just saw from Job’s amazing response, the first test only proved God’s point and Job’s character—Job was righteous and that there were none like him.

The next time The Accuser stands before The Lord, God again brags about his servant Job and highlights the fact that Job’s love for God was not based upon the material blessings He had given him. Not one to be dissuaded by the facts, however, The Accuser makes his next accusation: Job really only loves you because you have given him health, if that is removed he will “curse you to your face.” And with this, the second phase of Job’s testing begins.

The Accuser now is granted more access to Job (although still not unrestrained) and uses the opportunity to inflict Job with “sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” After inflicting this state of constant pain, The Accuser caps his attack against Job by using what should have been Job’s last source of comfort—his wife—against him. The Accuser incites Job’s wife to try to help bring about his prediction. In her pain, she tells Job to “Curse God and die!” But even through this extreme testing, “Job did not sin with his lips.” Job has withstood the examination and his righteous character has been fully tested and proven.

Now, if the main point of the story was to show Job’s faithfulness in passing the test, I would have expected the story to have immediately jumped to Job 42:10: “The LORD restored the fortunes of Job…,” but given the extra forty chapters between where we are and that point in the book, it looks as if the main point of the story is still to come. So while we will have to dive in deeply to get to the main point, we have already learned some important lessons.

First, we learned that this is the type of universe where, even though a perfect Judge sits as sovereign, the righteous can still suffer. If the story of Job is looked at in isolation, this is true but not very comforting. However, if we look at this story (as we should all of the Old Testament) as a pointer to Jesus in some way, then we can learn an important theological truth: If the sovereign, righteous God never allowed the righteous to suffer on the earth, then Jesus—the Righteous One—would not have been allowed to suffer and die in our place. Jesus was the only sinless person, the One who justly should never have experienced the suffering brought about by sin; however, He suffered extensively (in our place). The atonement requires innocent suffering and Job shows that this is possible. This is a profound lesson we need to learn from Job (and it is one Job’s friends needed to learn also).

Second, the book of Job doesn’t directly answer the question: Why do the innocent suffer?—and, there is no single answer. If it did, the best potential answer offered would be because God was bragging about them. If this was the main point, the story could have happily ended by pasting the end of chapter 42 onto the end of chapter 2. Also, I don’t believe that The Accuser tricked God into allowing Job to be tormented. While a simple reading may seem like The Satan got the best laugh when God said, “although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause,” God’s omniscience—and the other forty chapters in the book—lead me to believe there is a deeper story. God allowed this initial test not only to prove Job’s character via a trial (which it did), but as we shall also see, this was just the first phase of the greater test that Job was about to face.

And this point leads us to the third lesson: Even though Job was in a right relationship with God, and he was proven through trial to be “a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil,” Job still had a character flaw that needed to be purged. In the next article we will see that while he was righteous, Job had a defective theology and that this in combination with a character flaw would lead him to act foolishly, but only under certain circumstances.


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Dave works in the software industry and has a background in both biology and computer science. He has interested in both of these areas, especially where they intersect. He holds a B.S. in Biological Sciences from UC Irvine, an M.S. in Computer Science from West Coast University, and an M.A. in Apologetics from Biola University.

 

 

Dave Sidnam

Dave works in the software industry and has a background in both biology and computer science. He has interested in both of these areas, especially where they intersect. He holds a B.S. in Biological Sciences from UC Irvine, an M.S. in Computer Science from West Coast University, and an M.A. in Apologetics from Biola University.

Editor's Recommendation: Worldviews and the Problem of Evil

Editor's Recommendation: Worldviews and the Problem of Evil

Campbell makes a compelling, clear, and insightful case that Christian theism offers a preferable framework for understanding and addressing the problem of evil. Along the way, Campbell carefully introduces and charitably engages a host of theological and philosophical issues, providing a well-written and easy-to-read treatment that will be of value to both introductory and more seasoned readers.
— John C. Peckham, Professor of Theology and Christian Philosophy, Andrews University
By Ronnie P. Campbell Jr.
Which worldview best addresses the various specifics of arguably the thorniest philosophical problem of all? In this careful and thorough analysis, Campbell probes the most central cognate dilemmas in order to evaluate the ability of each perspective to provide the best insights without avoiding the toughest sub-issues. The chief benefit of this volume is being guided through the maze by an insider. Highly recommended.
— Gary R. Habermas, Distinguished Research Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, Liberty University
Amid the sea of books dealing with the problem of evil, Ronnie Campbell’s work truly stands out. By bringing to bear philosophy of religion, religious studies, and analytic theology, Campbell argues that a robust, ‘thick’ Christian theism explains evil as well as or better than rival worldviews. I highly recommend this creative volume for philosophers and theologians alike, and indeed anyone troubled by the problem of evil (as we all should be).
— Garrett J. DeWeese, Professor at large, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

Gracious Forbearance

Dr. Matt Towles has taught English at Liberty University since 2007. Before coming to Liberty, Matt taught at every level, from elementary school through high school to college. He also serves as Elder and as Lead of LifeGroups at Blue Ridge Community Church.

It’s a kind of confession, I suppose, to say it like this: the death of Luke Perry horrified me. The news alert from TMZ had me fishing through my memory. I realized that I’d never seen a single episode of Beverly Hills 90210, but I had certainly seen him in the movies 8 Seconds and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He wasn’t a stranger, but he was just a celebrity—I knew him, but I didn’t. Yet there I was, horrified. Luke Perry died of a stroke at the age of 52.

It’s embarrassing, really; the death of a teenage heartthrob from my high school years troubled me more than it probably troubled most married 43-year-old men with a full-time job and kids. I have a mortgage for mercy’s sake. I can’t go in an afternoon funk over the death of a celebrity that I’d never met. I have work to do, a wife to cherish, children to love.

And that’s where my connection to him clarifies. When I was 42, I had a couple strokes of my own. A year and a half later, there are times when I don’t move very well, I get tired easily, or my emotions rise to the surface more quickly than they did before. I’m not conspicuously disabled, though my physical abilities are truly blunted in ways that I notice and mourn over: my left side doesn’t work as well as my right, I get tongue tied easily when I’m tired, and my memory for names (though I was never all that great) has gotten worse.

And it occurred to me: Luke Perry got the easy way out. He didn’t have to work through emotional or relational issues like I do. He didn’t have to face life after nearly stroking out in a McDonald’s parking lot like I did. He got to die and not deal with the rest. Of course, it’s terrible to think like that. Death isn’t usually seen as the easy way out. But there I was, horrified by the death of a stranger, and in a terribly selfish way.

Millions of people heard about Luke Perry’s death by stroke and probably did what I did: they searched their memories, found one, and remembered. They put it all together to form something rational, real. (The word [re] member means, quite literally, to put it back together). Trauma disregards the normal process of piecing things together, so when I put my memory of Luke Perry together, I immediately made it personal, without so much as a straight logical thread to follow into or out of my fog of horror.

Even now, though, I really can’t make a step-by-step rational argument for why I was frustrated that Luke Perry got to die from his stroke, but I didn’t from mine. To crib from Blaise Pascal, “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things.” (Pensees 277). I have emotions, brand-new, strong emotions, and I have no idea why. Like, none. My wife, on the other hand, handles emotions like a professional—really. She is in training to get her license in Professional Counseling (with a concentration in trauma, no less). Yet in our conversations, she has made the real and consistent choice to be my wife, not my counselor. I’ve been to counseling. I’m not very good at it.

“What were you thinking when that happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“How did you feel?”
“I don’t know.”
“That must have been terrible.”
“I know.”

Just multiply that snippet about a thousand times, and you’ll begin to understand why I’m drawing up papers to recommend my wife for sainthood.

“Luke Perry. The 90210 guy.”
“I remember that show.”
“He died of a stroke.”
“Oh, no. That’s terrible.” Silence. “You going home?”

Going home. That’s our code for leaving work and driving home and taking off my shoes and sleeping. I’m not sure why being barefoot clarifies my thoughts, but it does.

I didn’t want to tell her I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t want to admit that my afternoon was ruined by the death of that guy in that one show that neither of us had ever watched. I didn’t want to tell her that living was harder. I wasn’t suicidal, but I still lived in the daily shadow of a life I still needed to live. As John Cougar Mellencamp put it, “Oh yeah, life goes on. Long after the thrill of living is gone.” I didn’t want to die, but I certainly didn’t want to live this way. And I was horrified by the reminder that there were other options, besides fighting each day for a life as a dad, husband, teacher, brother, son, elder, and friend.

But she already knew that. She knew that having a stroke and then not dying is tough. It’s one thing to be thrilled to be alive (which I am) and also to see someone die and think he got the easy way out.

That’s terrible. She meant it was terrible for me to face. My horrified response to Luke Perry’s death is most certainly human—the death rate is 100%; we’re all going to die—so each of us must cultivate some appropriate response to death, even the death of someone we do not know. John Donne’s now-famous proclamation that “No man is an island, entire of itself,” assumes the positive comfort of a community of people marching toward its individual and collective demise. Yet, Donne reminds us that though death is a human reality, there isn’t much comfort in the dreaded reality of our lives, no matter how good life may be: “any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee." According to Donne, we live in the midst of the caroling of the bells, announcing the death of another human. As a consequence, we are not only reminded of our death, we are diminished by the death of someone else.

Terrible, indeed. Yet the person I knew who could best help me when I needed it the most might also be hurt the deepest by my confession. I had nothing, really, but a scattered mind, mixed with embarrassment that such a shallow pop-culture icon ruined my day. That, and a phone.

She probably could have done all kinds of things. Reminded me that I should have this handled by now. Reminded me of people with REAL trauma who have had to deal with much WORSE things than a couple strokes. Reminded me that a little prayer and a spoonful of sugar…

She could have done all kinds of things.

Yet she answered the phone. And she didn’t try to fix it or counsel me or anything like that. She listened. And then she gave me grace, even if it meant for her hearing something that was incredibly painful to hear. She listened. She took the time to give me grace. I was trying my very best to be the very best husband and person I could be, but the only thing I could muster up the energy to do was to call her. I couldn’t even think about going home and taking off my shoes and napping.

Where I live in the United States, the Christian faith puts quite a bit of emphasis on having a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Though I’d like to admit that I believe that truth—a relationship with Jesus is important—it’s an incomplete truth. We need a community of believers who have the courage to proclaim, however they may, a paraphrase of the Apostle’s Creed: “This is my faith. I’m proud to profess it.” The locus of our faith is in the resurrected Christ, but the evidence of our faith is found, quite often, in how we interact with one another.

We should not wonder, then, that there may be times when the pain of someone else becomes the focus of our ministry for that hour, that day, or even that season. We serve a risen Christ whose body carried the horrors of the cross in addition to the horrors of humanity. It’s no wonder that we ourselves might recognize the pain that each of us carries. We know how to pray and to serve and to carry those burdens. I know my wife knows, because she has learned from the man acquainted with grief, Jesus himself.

If God, Why Evil?: A Sample Sermon Manuscript for Apologetic Preaching

            Here is a sermon manuscript (albeit a brief one!) based on the STEPS model for apologetic preaching, as applied to negative apologetics, i.e., where the apologist is playing defense…seeking to remove obstacles to belief. To help understand the “flow” of the message, the manuscript is in five parts based on the STEPS acrostic.

Specify the Apologetic Challenge

            If God exists, why is there so much evil in the world? A tsunami destroys several coastal villages, sweeping entire families into the sea. A military dictator decides a neighboring people are a threat and orders his troops to kill them all in a merciless genocidal purge. A car spins out of control on a patch of black ice, crashing into a ravine and leaving a mother and her infant son dead. These are real examples of evil in the world around us, and each one brings heartache and brokenness in its wake. Such instances leave many unsure how to reconcile the existence of God and the existence of evil, and some even conclude that in a world of such pain God cannot exist.

            Maybe you agree with them and sit here today not believing in God, or at least you are not sure if God exists. You have experienced evil, and know of others who have, too, and now the idea of God seems more of a fairy tale than a reality. Surveys of religious beliefs, and specifically about whether God exists, show that you are not alone in your conclusion and questioning. Not everyone believes in God, and often the reason is related to so much evil in the world. Let’s think about this together. Does evil in the world prove that God does not exist?

Tell the Critic’s Best Argument

            Before I present what I think are good reasons to believe in the existence of God in spite of the evil in the world, I want to talk a bit more about what many atheists have argued in defense of the conclusion that evil rules out God’s existence. The atheist begins by acknowledging the presence of evil in the world. Consider, for example, what I discussed earlier. The tsunami that kills thousands; a tyrant who commits genocide by killing an entire neighboring people; the mother and child who die in a car crash—these are examples of evil in world. The tsunami and car crash represent what may be called natural evil, and the genocide is an example of moral evil.

            If God exists, the atheist continues, then surely he would be powerful enough to stop evil, both natural and moral. God is all-powerful, right? Further, if God exists, then surely he would want to stop evil. God is all-good, right? Yet, evil still exists, both in natural disasters and in the wicked choices people make. So, the atheist concludes that God is either not powerful enough to stop evil, or he is not really good, since he does not stop evil. Therefore, since evil exists, God must not exist, at least not an all-powerful and all-good God. This is especially challenging for the Christian conception of God, which considers God’s power and goodness as essential to his existence. Thus, if the atheist is right, and evil proves God is not all-power or all-good, then what of the Christian God?

Expose the Weakness of the Critic’s Argument

            But wait a minute. Before we conclude that the presence of evil in the world is proof that God does not exist, and if he does then he is weak, wicked, or both, I think there are some problems with the atheist’s argument. Let’s consider these as questions. What if God is all-powerful and all-good, but he refuses to override human free will? While we can certainly imagine a world without moral evil—without genocidal military dictators, without child molesters, without rapists—such a world would also be somehow less than human if free will were taken away and the only reason for no moral evil was because there was no human freedom. True freedom implies choices, the freedom to choose good or to choose evil.

            Further, if God does not exist, then where does the atheist get the ideas of good and evil, of right and wrong? If the atheist responds that each person must decide what is right and wrong, then possibly what the rapist does is actually right in his own way of thinking. Even if the atheist refuses to go along with such relativism, insisting that there are actual moral facts, a real and objective right and wrong, they have no ultimate standard from which to make this conclusion. Moral laws require a moral lawgiver, but the atheist does not think one exists. There are other questions to ask the atheist who believes evil and God cannot coexist, but these represent what I think are the ones especially important for now.

Present the Answer to the Apologetic Challenge

            What does the Christian faith teach about God’s existence, especially considering the presence natural and moral evil in the world? For starters, the Bible explains that God made the world and everything and everyone in it, and that when he did this he made humans as his special representatives. Genesis 1:1 declares that, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and in 1:27 that, “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” However, as the Bible goes on to reveal, the first humans chose to disobey God in the very area we are discussing—in the area of good and evil. Genesis 2:15-17 describes how “the LORD God took the man and put in in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

            Perhaps you have heard how this all turned out, how the man and woman chose to disobey God and eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and how that resulted in several far-reaching consequences. These include a breakdown in human relationships and, eventually, the first murder. Likewise, the natural world became a difficult place for the man to work and live. What are we to make of this? It seems reasonable to me that the misuse of human freedom goes a long way in explaining the presence of evil in the world that God created. The account doesn’t stop here, though. No, far from abandoning the world to evil, God began redeeming it, promising one day that he “will wipe away every tear…there shall be no more death, no sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain” (Rev. 21:4). Thus, it also seems reasonable to me that God will one day bring an end to all evil and, though I am not immune from its effects, that God’s existence is a key to understanding evil in the world.

Summarize and Transition to a Related Invitation

            I don’t pretend that this brief message answers every question related to the presence of evil in the world and whether God exists. There are other aspects of the topic to discuss, and you may have even deeper, more personal questions. However, what we have heard does offer a possible solution to the dilemma created by evil. Yes, evil exists. There have been and will likely be more terrible natural disasters, more evil regimes, and more fatal crashes. Natural and moral evil are part of the world we live in, and they touch all of our lives. Does the Christian faith offer a solution? Absolutely, though it is not a simple, quick fix. The Christian faith not only explains the presence of evil related to human freedom and the promise that evil will one day be fully dealt with; the Christian message is also one that includes God’s own struggle with evil. Jesus Christ was the victim of moral evil. He was murdered in a most ruthless, painful manner, even though he had done no wrong. Jesus took evil personally, dying a criminal’s death on a Roman cross, centuries ago. The Christian faith does not teach that it ended on the cross, though. Rather, as an example of how God will eventually overcome evil, Jesus rose from the dead and will return to earth someday.

            What does all this mean to you as you struggle with evil and God’s existence? Maybe it means that you have begun to consider that evil is not all there is, that God really does exist. If that is you, I hope you will continue to wrestle with these matters and let the evidence build. Talk with the person who invited you here today or talk with me after the service. There is more to know about evil and God and the hope of the Christian message. Maybe you are that person here who has decided it is time to stop doubting and start believing. The evidence makes sense. You’ve heard this message and others like it, maybe even read books and talked with others, and now you are ready to follow the evidence where it leads. It leads to Jesus, and in just a moment we will offer you an opportunity to talk with someone about taking the next step in your journey of faith.

(Next week’s article will give another sample apologetic sermon outline, one that focuses on positive apologetics.)


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T. J. shares a passion for the moral argument(s) and brings much to his new post. He is, in his own words, a “mere Christian with genuine fascination and awe for the breadth and depth of God’s gracious kingdom.” He became a Christian in 1978, and began pastoral ministry in 1984. He has worked as a youth pastor, senior pastor, church planter, church-based seminary professor, a chaplain assistant in the Army, and a chaplain in the Army National Guard. A southern Illinois native, T. J. is a graduate of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a BA in Political Science; Liberty University with an MAR in Church Ministries, an MDiv in Chaplaincy, and a ThM in Theology; Luther Rice College and Seminary with an MA in Apologetics; and Piedmont International University with a DMin in Pastoral Counseling. He is currently writing his dissertation on crisis leadership in the epistle of Jude for the PhD in Leadership at Piedmont, as well as pursuing a PhD in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty, hoping to write his dissertation on some aspect of the intersection of moral apologetics and the pastorate. He is the author of several books, including God Help Us: Encouragement for Evangelism, and Thinking of Worship: A Liturgical Miscellany, as well as journal articles on liturgics, pastoral counseling, homiletics, and apologetics. He and his wife have five children. T. J.’s preaching may be heard at www.sermonaudio.com/fellowshipinchrist.

The Goodness of God after the Loss of My Son

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The goodness of God is perhaps nowhere more in question than in situations of unexpected loss—especially when this loss is of your happy and healthy 6-month-old son. A year ago, October 7, 2017, the dark cloud of death appeared over my family and brought with it a deluge of grief and flash floods of confusion, pain, and frustration after my son Landry failed to wake up from a routine nap. In the aftermath that followed in those difficult first few weeks and months, the slowly receding waters of despair revealed a new reality for our family that remains something from which we are healing to this day. On several occasions, the murky deeps even drew out an ancient serpent who hoped to sink its venomous fangs into my weakness and inject the poison of doubt concerning what I have publicly professed as a maturing believer, pastor, and theologian—doubts of God in general and of his goodness in particular. And yet, my commitment to and assurance of a good God, in spite of this horrible calamity, remains, and, in fact, is more certain than ever before. How can this be?

When Goodness Doesn’t Register

It is well known that the Christian worldview argues that a good God offers hope that brings perseverance in seasons of tribulation to those who know and belong to him. One iteration of this principle is recorded in 1 Peter 1:6-7:

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

This passage teaches that the good promised in the future is able to provide needed perseverance in present difficulties. However, there are those moments in which this particular implication of the promised goods offered by a benevolent God seems especially distant and even foreign. Being reminded of how good God is in providing future hope while in the throes of great suffering might be compared to a flood insurance agent knocking on your door, hoping to sell you a policy for the next major weather event while there is still standing water in your house.

Both of these situations share the promise of coming answers and aid and yet both do not yield immediate comfort and/or present satisfaction for one’s existential confusion. Put differently, there may be at least one situation (acute grief and loss) in which a straightforward moral argument for God or the future goods that he provides is not the most appropriate means of rescuing someone from doubt and disillusionment. It certainly wasn’t what contributed to my resolve to remain a Christian theist in my darkest hour.

 

Other Goods and Cumulative Apologetics

Interestingly, even the apostle Peter appears to have recognized this in his first epistle. Prior to promising perseverance in trials (supported by the future hope offered by a good God) he reminds his audience of other foundational truths that are apologetically useful and uniquely evidenced.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

In this lead up to the passage cited earlier, Peter appears to predicate any and all future hope for salvation and all of the good things that entails with the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This integral event happens to be one of the most thoroughly evidenced episodes in all of history. Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, William Lane Craig, and company have devoted decades to demonstrating that not only is the resurrection of Jesus Christ possible, it is the most probable explanation for all the available historical data that is conceded by the widest variety of critical scholarship. This data includes but is not limited to the following: the fact of Jesus’ death, the presence of an empty tomb three days later, the radical transformation suffered by the disciples in general and James and Paul in particular, the spread of the resurrection story in the proximity of Jerusalem (exactly where the events were said to have transpired and where they could have easily been investigated), the explosion of the early church, the instigation of Sunday worship, etc.

The evidential case made for this important event not only helps the believer defend a central component of Christianity and, by proxy, a myriad of other connected theological teachings, it is not as prone to the kind of emotional scrutiny and skepticism that the concept of a good God is (that is, when articulated in isolation), especially in tragic situations. In other words, one can know/remember in a primarily intellectual way that there are good reasons to affirm belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead along with its theological implications even if/when their existential experience has them doubting God’s goodness. This appears to be Peter’s agenda in his encouragement. When one suffers tribulation that interrupts his conviction in God’s goodness because of a tidal wave of emotion, he can still remember on a more cognitive level that there are good reasons to affirm other fundamental elements in his system. This initial step then has the potential to lead, eventually, to the acceptance of God’s work and many attributes—including but not limited to his divine benevolence. This became especially clear to me when on what would have been my late son’s first birthday, we celebrated Easter Sunday. On that day my Christian convictions were reinforced not by what I felt, or even directly by any formal moral argument, but by a miraculous event that transpired some 2000 years ago and the many strong reasons to affirm its historicity. It was only after this primarily intellectual recollection was made that I was able, in time, to reacquaint myself with more distant affirmations.

One may wonder, especially in the miry depths of despair, how the alleged resurrection of some Nazarene two thousand years ago can provide hope for anyone. Even if he was raised, what is that to me? Whether raised or not, still here I am, drowning, gasping for air. While in the dark, questions come quickly, incessantly. One question comes, perhaps, more naturally than the others: “Oh Jesus of Nazareth, what is this hope to me? How will you right these wrongs? How will you make my family, my son, and me whole again?” In the dark of the deep, only the brightest light will reach the bottom. So, what does the reality of Jesus and his empty tomb offer those who weep?

In that dark place, after recalling Christ’s most wondrous resurrection (affirmed by compelling evidences), I was reminded of several of his claims. Chief among these was his claim to be “the light of the word” (Jn 8:12)--a phrase often heard, but not frequently understood. When Jesus said these words, he was at the Jewish Festival of Lights. Around the temple, bowls were filled with oil and the wicks were so large, they were made from old priestly garments. When lit, the entire temple was filled with the blazing light. Since Jerusalem sits perched on a hill with the temple at the top, one would have seen the lamps burning for miles around.

The light of the golden lamps represented at least two things for the Jews at the feast. First, it was a reminder of the Exodus and of God in the pillar of fire. As the pillar of fire, God would lead Israel to the promised land and he would be in their midst. The Jews also saw the fire and hoped for a new Exodus, where God once again free them from oppression and be with them. God will liberate his people. But the light also represented God himself. After all, the temple was meant to be God’s dwelling place. In fact, there are many occurrences in the Old Testament in which God is said to be light or like light. For example, Isaiah (60:20) tells us that in the day of the messiah, “Your sun will no longer set; your moon will not disappear; the LORD will be your permanent source of light; your time of sorrow will be over.”

It was during this ceremony that Jesus declared, “I am the light world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12).

What this Nazarene offers, then, is Emmanuel, God with us. He offers peace, where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4). That is some solace, indeed. What Jesus offers is to make all wrongs right, even the death of a son. How this will be accomplished may be a mystery, but that is the promise. Here is the lighthouse whose penetrating beams reach through the depths of grief.

This short testimony reveals the necessity of a well-rounded, multi-valent apologetic system. A cumulative case for God and his work is essential, because if one is either dependent on or tethered to a single argument/style or argumentation, he runs the risk of being broken loose when the storm strikes, doubt overwhelms, and skepticism rises. To encourage the church and effectively communicate in compelling ways to the secularist, the Christian theist must be equipped with a variety of cases for God and employ them appropriately to reach people where they are emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, and otherwise. In my personal odyssey, it was the strict evidential case for the resurrection that acted as a lifeline that both kept me connected to my theism and eventually reacquainted me with other elements therein. In this an many other cases, more immediately assessible arguments are able to draw those at risk of drowning in darkness to other truths that slowly, but most assuredly, betray the guiding light that leads the way back to glorious God from whom are all good things.

The Goodness of God

In providing multiple evidences and/or arguments for his existence that can be employed in a multiplicity of situations (from the highly emotional to the academic), God shows something about himself that appears far off when tragedy strikes—his goodness. Only a good God would provide proof of himself that is capable of both piercing through the flood waters of grief and being intelligibly apprehended by people who are struggling to believe that he is benevolent in those painful moments. One might say that by providing arguments in addition to the moral argument, God once again demonstrates how utterly good he really is, and of that I am most assured even after losing my son.

Mailbag: Some Questions on Satan, Free Will, and the Nature of Evil

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A colleague passed this question along from a student:

 

Hello, throughout my life I have always sought ought the guidance and insight of pastors of my churches and the Christian teachers at my schools. I base my religious view on history, faith, reason, and observation. I weigh most heavily on reason and try to figure out specific things that test my faith. Through this reasoning I have grown closer to the Lord. I have formed multiple questions that aren’t usually told in Christian school or churches, but questions that beckon my mind and soul. A lot of the question I have my personal answer to (and some are difficult to truly know the answer to until I can ask the Lord face to face in heaven), but I thoroughly enjoy asking other people their thoughts so that I may get insight on what they believe and possibly adapt my own view to fit what makes the most logical sense by means of a Christian standpoint. So, with all of that said, I have a question for you… 

The Lord created all things, but Satan is able to distort such things and taint them. So, if God created everything, why did he allow evil to be even a thing? God gave humans and angels the ability of freewill so that we are not mindless drones who blindly love Him; because true love has to be voluntary. But why did He even create evil to be an alternative? He could have allowed for freewill without evil being an option. Why create sadness and pain? Sin and torment? Anger and distortion? It is a bit difficult to explain, especially since humans aren’t fully able to understand a world without all of this stuff, so the meat of the question can get lost In the folly of my ability to explain. But why would God create such evil and bad things? Satan could still have the freewill to love God or not love Him without the factor of evil being an option. Satan is unable to create matter. No one can. Only God can. Matter cannot be created; it can only be reformed and repurposed. So, that means Satan tainted life and caused sin to be defined as a tainted version of something God created (in a paraphrased sense), so then how come sin was even able to be created? Why is something being tainted an ability that God gave us? Again, it is hard for the human mind to understand in this fixed plane of existence, but what if God had allowed something even worse than sin to be able to come into being? Where would we be then? Why would God allow for such pain? Such with Job, who did everything unto the Lord. God allowed Satan to destroy his life to test if he would still love the Lord. Why would God need any more assurance that Job loved him? Why would He allow his people to be subject to such pain and sorrow? Sure, Job got stuff in the end, but nothing could replace certain things that he lost. That is like a father allowing a bully to beat up his kid just to see if the kid would still love his father (even though he knew that his dad told the bully to beat up his son). So why is such distortion and sin and pain and sorrow and evil even a possibility? Freewill can still be existent without evil. Why would God find it necessary to create such things?

 

Here's my reply:

 

 

Thanks so much for passing along your student’s intelligent and thoughtful questions. I’m happy to try my hand at addressing some of them—addressing, more than answering. Some of the questions, to my thinking, don’t lend themselves to easy answers at all. At best we can list some clues and hints, not necessarily anything systematic that can tie it all up in a bow. We continue to see through a glass darkly, and coming to terms with our epistemic limitations is a good thing. We should certainly use the minds God’s given us, but at the same time epistemic humility is a virtue, and acting like we know more than we do is a mistake and ultimately dishonoring to God. All of that to say: these are hard questions and don’t lend themselves to quick, pat answers, by any stretch of the imagination.

 

The way your student is seeking guidance and insight from pastors and teachers is a good practice. There’s wisdom in an abundance of counselors. At the same time, he may have contributions of his own to add to the conversation. As members of the church, we all have a part to play, and who knows? Perhaps some of these burdens on his heart correspond to directions God’s laying on him for his own ultimate vocation. Each of us is instructed to seek wisdom, and the older we get, the more we have to balance our expectations about answers that others can provide with what God may be teaching us. God may want to speak through this student, who may one day become a great teacher himself.

 

As a philosopher, I’m a big fan of “reason” too. There’s nothing wrong with asking hard questions, nor with using the steam of general revelation and clear thinking to make progress in answering them. Often the very practice of asking and working hard to answer questions is itself a quite formative process, the culmination of which has for its most important result not just an answer, but the wisdom that comes from the struggle. I’m also aware, as a philosopher, of reason’s limitations. We don’t always get all the answers we want. The problem of evil, the topic of discussion here, is notorious for leaving us less than completely satisfied. The simple fact is that there are mysteries here, and though we can do our best to untangle knots, mysteries will remain. Sometimes we need to trust God and his goodness despite not finding all the answers we might want. We’re promised all the answers eventually, but not always within timetables of our invention. I think this is especially true with existential aspects of suffering. God promises to give us strength to get through, and to be with us through whatever we might be called to endure…but he doesn’t offer specific reasons for every trial we might have to go through, and expecting otherwise is bound to disappoint. Folks who claim to know all those specifics often strike me as inordinately presumptuous and overly confident in their own analyses.

 

Okay, then, Satan—yes, the Bible has a lot to say about Satan. On connections between Satan and the problem of evil, a new book is forthcoming on the topic by John Peckham. I wrote a blurb for it; it’s well worth the read. The book’s called Theodicy of Love, and it at least partially treats some of the questions your student raises. Now, why did God allow evil to be a thing? How we ask a question is revealing. For evil to be a thing, it sounds like some “reification” is going on. It may well be a thing in some sense, but not a substance or material object or anything like that, but a certain heart orientation. And I suspect that’s what it is. Suffering is nonmorally bad, but gratuitously inflicting needless suffering is morally bad, even evil. Immanuel Kant had this insight that nonmoral badness has to do with consequences, but evil is a distinctively moral category of the heart.

 

Now, I rather like the appeal to free will your student mentions (not that this is all that needs to be discussed in this context, but it’s a good place to begin), but he wants to suggest that, though free will might be necessary for genuine love relationships (which seems right to me), God perhaps didn’t need to “create evil” as its alternative. But though this is certainly an intriguing suggestion, it’s not clear to me that this was an actual possibility. Not to love as we ought, particularly not to love God as we ought, introduces sin into the world. It’s not clear we can have the ability to resist God and avoid evil; this may well be the very essence of evil at its root. If so, evil wasn’t created by God, but rather its possibility was introduced when God conferred freedom on us. God’s not, at least on my theology, the author of sin. Perhaps he would be on certain models of meticulous providence, but I don’t buy that theology. So the idea that God could have allowed for free will without evil being an option is not obvious to me, and I suspect it’s somewhat contrary to the standard Christian theology on this matter. 

 

Next, why create sadness and pain? These are examples of what I think are nonmoral bads. One fairly standard sort of reply is that these were introduced into the world because of rebellion against God. Why sin and torment? Sin, again, was introduced by human willfulness against God’s best for us. Torment? Sin intrinsically leads to torment, in one sense, because it goes against the grain of the universe; it’s not how we were meant to live, and it invariably detracts from our happiness, and the more entrenched we get into it the more tormented we become. Anger and distortion? Well, anger isn’t necessarily a morally bad thing; Jesus experienced righteous anger. Anger isn’t sin, or else we wouldn’t be told in our anger not to sin. In a perfect world, though, anger will be banished. But we’re not in a perfect world, but a fallen one that God’s in the process of redeeming. I could go and discuss distortion along similar lines, but the point is this: Why did God allow any of these things? (I wouldn’t say “create” as that’s misleading; at the least if we use that language it requires very careful unpacking.) Why allow them? Presumably because he knew that ultimately through his redemptive plan he could use our failings to produce more complex goods not otherwise possible, or something like that. Looking at the world at this moment is just a snapshot of something fully in motion toward a particular glorious end, if Christianity is true. It’s not yet the world as God intended it to be, but it will be when redemption has had its full effect.

 

“Why would God create such evil and bad things?” He made valuable agents whose existence introduced their possibility, is the way I’d put it. “Satan could still have the freewill to love God or not love Him without the factor of evil being an option.” I doubt it; not to love God is indeed evil; God is worthy of our worship. Again, the claim put forth is not at all intuitively clear to me, and stands in variance with Christian teaching. The idea that Satan twisted something in creation into what it wasn’t intended to be is right; this is very much the Augustinian account of evil. The student then asks why sin was even able to be created? Why did God give us the ability to taint his creation? Perhaps that question addresses, once more, the value of free will. If such freedom entails the freedom to resist God, then that may well entail this tainting ability. We don’t have to talk about Satan in this regard; we have this ability as well, and why? Well, perhaps the ability to love God requires freedom that entails such distortion capacity. It’s not clear this isn’t the case, at least to me. Your student may simply disagree; fair enough. But on that matter perhaps we’d just end up disagreeing. But what bolsters my conviction is that the sort of requisite robust freedom we need has big implications, among which is that sin is really, really bad—a violation of our telos, a disordering of creation, a subverting of God’s intentions, and all the rest.

 

I’m not trying to offer a definitive response to every question here, but just offer my first spit balling sort of ad hoc reply.

 

Next, what if God had allowed something even worse than sin to be able to come into being? Where would we be then? That’s what philosophers call a counterfactual, but more than that, it may well be a counteressential—an impossible scenario. What would be worse than sin? It’s not clear anything is. Sufficient are the actual sufferings of this world and the next; I’m not sure it’s a good idea to launch into a defense of counterfactual, perhaps even counteressential sufferings.

 

In terms of Job, I think there’s a lot to say about that book beyond that God did it to see if Job still loved God. I’d suggest reading some really good commentaries on Job. There are profound insights in the book. Reducing it to whether Job would still love God leaves way too much out. Just one example: In Job we see a minor theme of the OT that becomes a major, if not THE major theme of the NT: the redeeming value of innocent suffering.

 

And so my final point is just that: in the NT we see the clearest picture both of suffering and God’s use of it for redemptive purposes. None of this discussion can get off the ground, from a Christian vantage point, apart from the wondrous mystery of the cross of Christ, where God didn’t merely watch us suffer, but came and suffered himself, indeed took our suffering on himself. And we’re told that those who trust him may suffer for a little while here, but in the life to come there will be such glory it will make the sufferings of this world, as horrific as they can be, pale into insignificance by comparison. That’s a lovely promise to hold onto.

 

Again, pain and suffering are tough topics. Personally I think they raise the most difficult questions we face as Christians. At the same time, I can’t imagine any other worldview nearly as equipped as Christianity to offer us hope rather than despair in the face of sufferings.

 

Thanks for the chance to reflect. I hope your student keeps thinking and that God blesses his efforts!

 

Best,

djb