When my wife was pregnant with our second child (my daughter, Avery), we wondered together what she would look like. Would she have red hair like her older brother? Would she have freckles? Would she look more like mom or dad?
It was fun imagining what my daughter would look like. But it was also difficult—I had no reference point for the options of what she could look like. I knew what I looked like, and I knew what my wife looked like, but I had no reference for what our daughter could look like.
I remember when she was born and I caught my first glimpse of her, I thought, Of course. How could she look any different?
Now that I know my daughter, everything about her makes perfect sense. I couldn’t imagine her any other way. But before she was born, I couldn’t picture her.
I think this is true of us and the kingdom of God. A lot of what happens now doesn’t make sense to us. But some day it will. God promises that all things will work together for good (Romans 8:28). How that will happen and what it will look like remain veiled to us today, but some day it will all make sense.
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.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to work through Porter’s book and offer a response. The book is great—there is much I agree with. However, I sympathize with the deconstruction trend more than Porter does, and so I will also talk a little about how toxic streams within evangelical culture have contributed to the deconstruction movement and how often deconstruction is a rejection of American evangelicalism and not a rejection of Jesus. I also want to suggest a path forward for reform and paint a picture of what a post-evangelicalism could look like.
The second of Porter’s great predators is the problem of evil. Porter follows Greg Boyd, who written extensively on the problem of evil. I’ve read a bit of Boyd, and I don’t find his theodicy to be completely satisfying. I do agree with Boyd that a certain amount of freedom has been granted to humans and to spirits so that works of evil are not directed by God, but are allowed under his sovereignty.
But does this really help as theodicy?
In my opinion, it does not. Whether God directs evil or merely allows it, He still has the power to stop it and yet He chooses not to. In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira lie about the price of a field they sold, and God immediately strikes them down dead. In Acts 12, the Angel of the Lord strikes down Herod for refusing to give glory to God. Clearly, God has the power to strike down evil-doers at will.
Now apply this to the Holocaust. Even if the first person in the gas chambers took God by surprise, you would think by the tenth, the one-hundredth, or the one-millionth, God would be wise to what was happening. He could have struck down Hitler in an instant. He could have struck down the guards at Auschwitz. For some reason, He chose not to act.
A God who stands by idly, watching, and does not intervene to stop evil (when it is completely in His power to do so) is not much better than a God who directs evil according to the mystery of His will. It’s a distinction without a difference.
The only satisfying answer to the problem of evil for me is that for some reason (that we don’t understand), the world as God created it is the best of all possible worlds and that some day, the reason for evil will be made clear.
In the meantime, I wrestle with evil. My wrestling with evil has nothing to do with whether or not there is some kind of plan to the suffering (I believe that there is); my problem with evil is whether or not God cares about our suffering (He does).
I preached on this recently. You can find the sermon and my take on the problem of evil here.
John 11 is the best theodicy to me. I see three things about God’s relationship to evil in it. First, when Jesus finds out that Lazarus is sick, he doesn’t panic. He stays where he is. He knows the future and that Lazarus’s illness will not lead to death.
Second, Jesus reminds Martha that he is the resurrection and the life. Whatever happens to us in the middle of our story, the story ends with resurrection and life. God has promised to right every wrong and wipe away every tear. In the end, we will look back on human history and say, “Of course. It had to be that way.”
Finally, Jesus weeps with Mary. Even though he created all things. Even though all things are held together by his power. Even though he was right about to raise Lazarus, he still wept at the loss of his friend. Jesus suffered as we suffer. This last point is especially important to me—God suffers with us. He cares. God has not subjected us to a world that He has not subjected himself to. He suffers with us.
God is in control. God has promised to make everything right. God suffers with us. How does that make you think differently about evil?