Jesus and the devil
Artist unknown

The problem of evil:

  1. If God exists, then he is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
  2. Given these attributes, he would have the power to eliminate evil, the knowledge of where evil exists, and the desire to eliminate evil.
  3. Evil exists.
  4. Thus, God is either not omnipotent, not omniscience, not morally perfect, or a combination, or he does not exist.

Theodicy attempts to answer the age-old question, “Why would a good God permit evil?” Theologians have presented many explanations. Gottfried Leibniz, known with Newton for the discovery of calculus, also dealt with philosophical and theological problems. He argued that the created world is the best world that God could have created. To have the possibility of great good, He had no choice but to create a world with the possibility of great evil. Only because evil exists can the greatest good, Jesus Christ, be reality.

Alvin Plantinga thought similarly with his Free Will Defense. To endow creatures with free will, God had to allow for the presence of both good and evil; creating beings capable of moral good required creating beings capable of moral evil. If God had barred the possibility of evil, He would have also had to eliminate the possibility of good and ultimately free will.

Both views have their flaws, as do any others that attempt to reconcile the goodness of God with the presence of evil.

Job and his friends
Job and His Friends, by Ilya Repin (1869)

To respond to this paradox, Scripture gives us the Book of Job. Biblical scholars debate the writer and time period of writing for this book. Traditionally they credited Moses, but the language of the book suggests otherwise. As for dating, the author may have come from the Second Temple period (late 6th century BC or early 5th century BC), either exilic or post-exilic, or during the patriarchal period a thousand years earlier.

In any event, this Old Testament book recounts the experiences of an upright man named Job who lived a pious, prosperous, and prayerful life. His name translates to “hated” or “afflicted”; given the pattern in the Bible of characters taking new names following major changes (for example, Saul to Paul), Job possibly had a different name preceding the tragedy that would strike him.

Despite faithfulness to God, Job suffered immensely through the account. First, he lost his property and children, then his health. When his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar learned of his tragedy, they joined him in mourning, tearing their robes, sprinkling dust on their heads, and sitting with him in silence. Not long after, the accusations began: Eliphaz argued that Job suffered so because of some foolishness (5:1-4); and Bildad, because of unrepentant sin (8:5-6). Zophar went a step further, suggesting that Job deserved worse (11:4-6)!

Elihu and Job
Elihu speaking to Job (Artist unknown, found on Watchtower Online Library)

Job defended his righteousness (27:6) and cried for help to a God who had turned cruel (30:21). Into this misery entered Elihu, whose name means “my God is He.” Chapter 32 says that Elihu “burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God. He burned with anger also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong” (vv. 2-3). Elihu redirected Job’s attention from his troubles, friends, and self, and back to God and His sovereignty, mystery, justice, and holiness. 

Following Elihu’s speeches, God came to Job in a whirlwind and challenged him: “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know!” (38:3-5a). These and a long series of other humbling, clarifying questions brought Job’s situation and his understanding of God back into perspective.

“I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear,” Job concluded, “but now my eye sees you” (42:5). After this encounter, God restores Job’s previous wealth and more. 

theodicymall

Where does Job’s story leave us? As far as theodicy goes, it leaves as satisfying an answer as those that Leibniz and Plantinga proposed. We can echo the realization of Paul, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?'”, but it doesn’t settle the question (Ro. 9:20). It leaves us wondering if an answer even exists.

How would you respond to the problem of evil?