Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Problem of Evil
In this world you will have tribulation… John 16:33NKJ
Question 27 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What misery did the fall bring upon mankind?” It gives the answer, “The fall brought upon mankind the loss of communion with God, his displeasure and curse; so as we are by nature children of wrath, bond slaves to Satan, and justly liable to all punishments in this world, and that which is to come.”
Last time we looked at this question we considered all of the various phrases of the Catechism’s answer and how each one of them is either a direct quote of or reference to a specific passage of Scripture. We saw how the Bible repeatedly shows how the Fall continues to effect both believer and unbeliever alike. And yet we also noticed that whenever the believer is made to suffer in this world it is always for his ultimate good (Rom. 8:28; 2 Cor. 4:17), so that even the “punishments” of his sin should be understood as loving chastisements and correction from his heavenly Father and never as tokens of wrath from his divine judge. Yet the believer still lives in a world in which he endures the same difficulties and disappointments as the unbeliever. We ought not to minimize this fact or try to put a pretty face on our sufferings. Sometimes Christians wrongly think that because God overrules evil for our good or because of passages like “Rejoice always” (1 Thes. 5:16) only good can happen to them. Some claim that faith can somehow make everything in our lives good and a cause for rejoicing, so that if I ever feel sad or sorrowful about anything it shows a lack of faith on my part. That is not true at all! Jesus, our sinless savior, was sorrowful, distressed (Matt. 26:37), troubled (John 13:21), angry, grieved (Mark 3:5), “Jesus wept,” (John 11:35). The sorrows and pains of this world were real for Jesus. He knew God loved Him and only allowed Him to experience such things for His ultimate good and joy, yet these things themselves were not good and they were not joyful, and neither did Jesus pretend that they were.
Although Christians affirm that our God is all-powerful and all-good, we too must endure evil in this world and no amount of wishful thinking or positive believing can change that fact. As we noted back on Question 13, this paradox has sometimes been referred to as “the problem of evil.” Critics of our faith argue that the existence of evil in this world created by God means that either God is not all-powerful or else He cannot be all-good. They claim that if God were all-powerful and all-good He would not allow there to be any evil. They err in not allowing for God’s mercy. Everything in this world that is painful, tragic, infectious, ruinous, corrupting, destructive, or deadly is here on account of man’s sin; and that not automatically or accidentally, but by God’s intentional judgment. When man sinned, God’s curse, which should have fallen fully upon man, instead mercifully fell upon the serpent and upon the ground (Gen. 3:14, 17). Thorns and thistles, pain and strife, suffering and death – and so also everything that tends towards death – disease, decay, disasters, etc., are all here because of God’s judgment upon and punishment of man’s sin in this world. And seeing that God’s justice demanded the full penalty of man’s immediate death, God’s judgment upon our sin was and continues to be remarkably restrained!
In one sense the so-called problem of evil leveled against Christianity is easy: evil is in this world because God is merciful! If it were not for God’s mercy all evils would be immediately consumed by and fully given over to the wrath of God. The critics could all rest easy as there would be no perceived inconsistency, there would be no evil at all in this world. But then there would also be no human beings in this world, for we all sin. The problem of evil is real and in this world because we are in this world. We all have evil within us. So the truly amazing thing is not that there are some bad things in this fallen world, but that there are so many good things. That God would allow sinners who fully deserve His infinite wrath in hell forever to suffer some occasions of pain and suffering is no paradox at all. What is truly paradoxical is that He would not pour out the full measure of His wrath upon them immediately! And the answer to that paradox is simply that God is merciful. Even to those reprobate sinners who hate Him and blaspheme Him and whom He knows will be in hell forever, for now, for a time, they get to experience many good things, which they never have and never will deserve to experience, simply because our all-powerful all-good God is merciful! Take some time today to consider the many mercies of God all around you, none of which any one of us deserve for even one moment!