Is it wrong to stab someone with a knife?
Surgeons do it all the time.
Why is it okay for surgeons to stab people when it is considered evil for everyone else to do it?
Simple: surgeons stab people in order to heal them. They injure the body so that a greater good can result.
The deductive problem of evil is defeated by the argument from greater good. How can an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God exist when there is evil in the world? Simple: evil temporarily exists so that a greater good may come out of it. Not only is this argument logical, but it is also what the Bible teaches.
Now, this is Philosophy 101 stuff, but I don’t suspect anyone who has left the church over the problem of evil will come back after reading this simple illustration. I don’t think people leave the church because of the cold logic of the problem of evil. If they leave over the problem of evil, it’s because the cold logic of the problem of evil confirms what they have also experienced: they have suffered and they can’t understand why God would allow them to suffer the way they have. This is especially true if their suffering has come at the hands of the church.
In Death to Deconstruction: Reclaiming Faithfulness as an Act of Rebellion, Joshua S. Porter appeals to a generation abandoning the faith, urging them to choose a more nuanced faithfulness instead of outright rejection of orthodox Christianity. He structures his book around five “great predators”: biblical illiteracy, the problem of evil, a politicized Christianity, hypocrisy, and self-denial, laying out paths forward within orthodoxy avoiding each.
Having gone through all five of Porter’s great predators, I want to spend my last six posts in this series reacting to the book and suggesting my own path forward. Today, I want to consider theodicy. If you’re not familiar with the term, a theodicy is a Christian attempt to solve the problem of evil. The problem of evil, you may know, is the question of how an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God could exist considering the amount of evil in the world. A theodicy is an attempt to answer that question.
As I mentioned in my previous post on this topic, I don’t think people wrestle with the philosophical problem of evil as much as they wrestle with the emotions around whether or not God is good. I think most people get their perceptions of the Christian God from their experiences with the Christian church. An unloving church makes people question the love of God. The Scriptures make this point: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20 ESV)
If people feel loved by God’s church, then the problem of evil is not such a strong predator. Love is the post-evangelical theodicy. In order to demonstrate the love of Christ to our culture, the church needs to recapture three virtues: hospitality, fidelity, and humility.
Jesus practiced radical hospitality. He was known as a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend of sinners. (I don’t think Jesus was actually a glutton or a drunkard, but I do think he ate and drank with sinners often enough to have the reputation!) People need to know that they are welcome at church regardless of their spiritual state—that people matter more to us than their behavior. Does this mean we shy away from addressing behavior? No (we’ll get to that in a later post), but it means our love for others transcends the discomfort their behavior might cause us. They are welcome, whether or not they believe. They are welcome, whether or not they behave.
Hospitality bleeds into fidelity. By fidelity, I mean the church needs to be faithful to people through conflict and disagreement. In a society in which people walk away from marriages and unfriend or unfollow each other for disagreements on social media, people long for some sense of permanence—that relationships will endure hard times. Now, there will be times when repentance, confession, and making amends are necessary for healing, but the church needs to be willing to put in the work. There is no such thing as cancel culture in the kingdom of God.
Finally, the church needs to be humble. All of us have beliefs that are wrong, we just don’t know which beliefs they are! We need to be willing to dwell in community with those who disagree, without seeing them as an enemy to defeat. If we find ourselves surrounded by those who agree with us on everything, perhaps we are getting this wrong. If we find ourselves shocked that someone might claim the name of Christ and yet hold a different position than us on a social issue, perhaps we are getting this wrong.
When people know that they are loved by the church, they will find it easier to believe that they are loved by God.
What do you think about this? Is the church of the future one of hospitality, fidelity, and humility? Which of those most resonates with you?