The Christian faith has only a partial answer to the problem of evil. A great deal of mystery remains. Most Christians, however, lean upon several fundamental truths.
1. Christianity acknowledges the reality of evil. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he included the petition “Deliver us from evil.” The Christian faith, unlike some other religions, never regards evil as an illusion. It is not a misguided way of thinking, a problem of human perception of reality. It is there, an actual fact of human existence.
In brief, then, Christians insist that evil is real. It is not some sort of collective nightmare that will eventually vanish. But neither is it ultimate. Only God is ultimate. And for his own mysterious reasons God allows evil to operate.
2. Christianity teaches that men and women are endowed by God with a fundamental freedom. By that term we do not mean that men and women can do what they wish. They are limited by their finite existence. By “freedom” Christians mean that men and women are responsible before God for their lives. They are free from excessive external constraints to good or evil. They are not helpless victims of heredity or environment. They are responsible for their choices.
This reminder of my responsibility for my life tends to shift the problem of evil a bit. It takes it out of the realm of theories and makes it a personal matter. That is what Jesus did. Some of his contemporaries pointed to a recent tragedy: a group of Galileans were in the temple offering sacrifice when Herod’s soldiers suddenly fell upon them and slaughtered them on the spot. How could God let that happen? And what did Jesus say? He said, “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Lk 13:1-5)
Notice how Jesus shifted the question from “God, how could you let this happen?” to “God, why doesn’t it happen to me?” He brought his curious listeners to their own responsibility before God. He would not let them use the problem of evil as a cover for their own sin. We all tend to forget that we ourselves are part of the problem of evil.
3. The Scriptures speak of a God who is moved by human suffering. He is not a heartless observer. He cares and comes to sufferers’ aid. Jesus, aware of his own approaching agony, told his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33) Christians have always found this victory in Jesus’ cross. There, faith says, God entered into the travail of sin and suffering and moved decisively for our salvation. Because of this crucial act, men and women can find assurance of God’s presence and power in dark valleys of pain.
What God gives his people is not answers; he gives them his presence. That is what the book of Job illustrates so effectively. Job wanted an answer to the problem of the suffering of the righteous. The book shows that the struggle was unfolding on two levels-an earthly level and a heavenly level. Job had no access to the heavens. And God never told him about the heavenly level. Instead, he came to Job. So the climax of the book resounds in Job’s words: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5)
4. Christianity promises a life to come where justice will prevail. Without this hope, the problem of evil might well be insoluble. But the Christian hope is not something added to faith; it is part of faith’s substance. The mysteries of tragedy, evil, pain and injustice are not resolved in this life. At present we do not see everything subject to God. But we see Jesus. He is the promise of the life to come.
(Selected and adapted)