Recently I found myself in the midst of a very difficult situation where evil appeared to triumph over good. I found myself asking the same questions many of us ask. How can a good God, the God I believe in, allow suffering and evil? Is He really good? Is He really there? Every fiber in my being cried out against the wrongness of my personal suffering and was heightened by thinking of the harsh pain so many others are facing worldwide. Where was the good, the right, and the just that I and the rest of humanity so rightly longed for?
Wrestling with the problem of evil is nothing new for us, both personally and intellectually. It’s a problem that is harder than most because it’s not purely cerebral. It touches the very core of our being. To think through the why and how of suffering often opens up old wounds, causes current wounds to fester, and is just plain painful. For many of us, the answers we find are unsatisfactory, so we come to the conclusion that either God does not exist, or that if He does He’s evil Himself.
I’ve discovered that in looking for answers to the questions we have, I’m led to more questions, ones I didn’t expect. The problem of evil is no exception. We struggle with evil, but why don’t we struggle with goodness?
Why is it we never flip the question around? If God is evil or does not exist, then we have the Problem of Good. Why would an evil God allow anything good to happen? If He doesn’t exist, how do we know what is good and evil to begin with? Maybe the evil and suffering we abhor are nothing more than the workings of our imagination over minor discomforts in the grand vacuum of a meaningless existence.
Inherent in our questions surrounding both good and evil is an understanding of morality. There is something inside each of us that KNOWS there is truth, justice, and goodness. We rarely question the good because instinctively we know it is how things are meant to be. Goodness is morally good! We accept the good without question because our hearts tell us it’s normal. And we cry out against evil because we recognize it’s abnormal.
Yet for all of our instinctive understanding of good we’re still left with the question of “how?” How do we know what is good? This is an important question because knowing what is good is what enables us to identify what is evil. To claim there is anything immoral is to claim there is a standard of morality that is outside of us. Who, or what, defines that standard of morality? When we rejoice over goodness and mourn over evil, how do we know we are right in doing so?
In Mark’s Gospel a young man approached Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The man thought he was asking a straightforward question about moral standards, but Jesus saw into the heart of the matter, drawing out the deeper issue. What is good? Who defines it and sets its standards? So he responded, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”*
Here Jesus tells us what is good and who defines its standards; God himself. To know what is good, right, just, and moral one must know who God is and the morality that flows from His character, defining goodness for us. The problem of good disappears in the goodness of God who has set morality in our hearts, a morality we respond to whether we affirm it or not.
If the problem of good is answered in the character of God, who alone is good, this sheds light on the evil we abhor. If God has set the moral standard of goodness, then evil is the breaking of that standard. The young man who came to Jesus left him disappointed because he recognized that the standard of goodness required by God was beyond his ability to live up to. He had broken it and would continue to do so. The disciples themselves were disturbed by this, asking, “Who then can be saved?”
The answer Jesus gave rings with as much hope today as it did two thousand years ago, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”* He then showed us how this is possible. By suffering and taking the consequences for our evil upon Himself, living and being the morally good we fall short of, Jesus demonstrated that the good, right, and just we long for can be ours.