God–an interpretation of God typically propagated within in the tradition of the church—is in meticulous control over all things. At the very least, He is a cosmic chess player, manipulating choices and events to carry out His will. Unfortunately, one would have to logically say if God does good, He has to do evil (or at least allow it for His divine purpose). People speak of how things can occur against God’s will but not outside it. However, most times that is as unsatisfying as the apology of God allowing evil to punish us for our sins, which has led to the mindset of people living and believing Got is practically hiding behind every bush waiting to smite us when we screw up (thanks Augustine).

This starts with a bad definition of sovereignty. The imperial language of the New Testament story, e.g. God’s Kingdom, no other sovereign ruler controls every aspect of their dominion, especially if you are trying to balance that with not denying our free will. Doing the casual math of scanning the day’s newspaper, there seems to be more pain, misery, injustice, and violence than love, prosperity, justice, and love in the world; either that or at least the bad stuff grabs the headlines.

We can point to the metaphor of life as a tapestry, tapestries being little more than a series of knots and stray strands on one side, metaphorically our human perspective of life; but a beautiful tableau when you flip it over, God’s perspective. However, we’re still left asking what kind of God inflicts or allows such barbarity and we’re left with the reality of still needing to be rescued from our present age and circumstance.

The claim of Christianity, the “foolishness” of the Christian story, is that through the life of Christ, evil can be conquered. One of the points of the temptation account of Christ illustrates that we can’t use evil to defeat evil. His was not a military solution, not a political solution, not a(an empty) religious solution. We could argue the philosophy of “the problem of evil”, but in the end, where does that get us? We could learn to accept that there is a mystery to creation; a complexity to reality. Some things simply can’t be explained from a human perspective. Frankly, we could just as easily ask considering the world around us, how can we believe in humanity?

Through the crucifixion of Christ, we see God’s goodness, His omnipotence, and the reality of evil could be found in one place, yet not be in conflict as at the cross evil was perpetrated, yet goodness came out of it.

Even if you de-mythologize the Bible, Christ, angels and demons, you’re (still) left with an unresolvable problem of evil. In our hubris, we fail to recognize the limits to rationality and naturalistic ways. We’ve become too smart to be aware of a non-ordinary aspect of reality and have excluded the spiritual and anything remotely mystical.

Greek/Enlightenment ideas of defining and categorizing everything in order to understand them crept into our ideas of God. Suddenly, His character and nature became about His timelessness, His immutability, His otherliness. Yet somehow this was to be reconciled with the fact that Christ learned, grew, and changed, knew some things and not others – and was certainly relateable. Maybe we, like the Orthodox view, would be better off defining God by what He’s not.

The heart of the problem of evil assumes an understanding of God and how he operates. The story of the Bible doesn’t address this issue (Job apologists aside, do you really find an answer for suffering beyond “I’m God, you’re not, shut up!’). This possibly points to a rather conspicuous elephant in the room: that the classically defined church tradition of God is not the one interpreted from the Scriptures (which doesn’t use words like omnipotent and all-controlling to describe His sovereignty).

For that matter, the Bible doesn’t give us a theory of evil. Instead, it tells a story about how it came about and what God is doing about it. It is a story, working towards a climax of a Messiah, a suffering servant, that somehow leads to redemption. The crucifixion was how God dealt with the problem of evil. Jesus took on the burden of evil, took on its full force and exhausted it, with the resurrection was the sign of evil and Death being defeated. He let the forces of evil and darkness do their worst to him and breaking their power over Him and humanity, transforming not only our lives, but our way of life. We live in the “already/not yet” tension, with evil having already been defeated, though it hasn’t yet reached its fruition. Violence and recrimination continue the cycle of evil, but the honesty of confession and forgiveness break the cycle.

The key to defeating evil is truth and reconciliation; the power of forgiveness and love.

Suggested Further Reading:

Wright, N.T., Evil and. the Justice of God (IVP Books, November 2006)

Boyd, Gregory A., Satan & the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (October 2001)

Boyd, Gregory A., God at War: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict (September 1997)

Ontological Evil – Part I: Defining Evil
Ontological Evil – Part II: The Story of Evil
Ontological Evil – Part III: Spiritual and Natural Evil?
Ontological Evil – Part IV: Evil Defeated?

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