Questioning Goodness - Jon Dengler
Many people will point to evil, pain, and suffering in an effort to discredit the reality and the goodness of God. I have personally wrestled with this as well, and have found what is called theodicy to be one of the most difficult and most important questions of our faith. Theodicy is most commonly laid out with four basic premises:
1. God is Good
2. God is omniscient
3. God is omnipotent
4. Evil exists
The basic argument would be that any three of these can be true at the same time, but not all four. For example, maybe God is Good and wants to end evil and knows what it would take, but is not powerful enough to do it and therefore evil exists. Or perhaps He is powerful enough, but doesn’t know what to do. Or maybe he just isn’t good. Evil existing is the only premise that is always considered true because, well, because it is true. It is the only truth listed that we can fully acknowledge about existence. It is an existential reality.
This, for me, became the most solid ground to start building on in my own theological journey. We may not know what we think about God, or love, or eternity, but we know sin and pain and suffering and loss and death. We know it in a deeper way than most of our knowledge. We know it existentially. Not only do we all know these things, but we all have a problem with them. Throughout the world, in many different cultures, we still mourn over death, condemn stealing, and forbid murder. We agree at some base level that it is wrong. This is evidence of a moral law - there seems to be some standard that exists within all of humanity that gives us the ability to recognize or call something evil, wrong or bad. This law implies a lawgiver. If there is no lawgiver then there is no law. If there is no law, then there is no evil to be upset about and our very question of theodicy seems to negate itself.
Theodicy, in my mind, is evidence of a good God. The very fact that we questions God's goodness is a testimony to His goodness. We were created in His image, and God also has a problem with evil in this world. It isn’t that he doesn’t know what to do about it, or that he is not powerful enough. We, the church, are God's answer to evil and suffering in this world. He has chosen to give us both the freedom to destroy the world and the option to participate with Him in redeeming it. He has called us to be his hands that are healing and transforming this world. We are the answer to theodicy. God is good, omniscient, omnipotent, evil exists, and God is working through his people to bring about His will in this world. God's theory of change takes a long view and he is building a sustainable kingdom.
The major problem with this is not that God is not good but that so many of his people are not. Those who call themselves Christians and claim to be the church are holding so many resources and tying them up in buildings and youth programs while 30,000 children die each day from hunger and malnutrition. We actually do have the resources to do something about it and Jesus - the one we call Lord - has explicitly told us that we will be judged by how we respond to hunger and sickness. We have been told what to do and therefore know, we have the resources and therefore have the ability and evil exists. My question is whether we are any good.
God help us. If we are going to be the Church that you have called us to be and bring about the kingdom that you have described then we desperately need you to grip our hearts. May the reality of evil grip our hearts, not in such a way that we question you but that we would change everything about the ways that we are living.