Many Christians—and people in general—are uncomfortable with tension when it comes to life’s most difficult questions. Yet Christianity is full of paradoxes. And perhaps the most challenging Christian paradox of all is the problem of evil.
“I think one of the paradoxes that exists in the people around me, or one they struggle with the most, is this concept of God being good, yet suffering being present,” said author and speaker Jackie Hill Perry in a recent episode of The Gospel Coalition Q&A. “How does that work? How can God be a good God, yet at the same time there are so many bad things among us?”
While there are helpful truths we can recognize as we tackle the problem of evil, there are no easy answers—something Perry and fellow author and speaker Jen Pollack Michel made clear as they discussed how believers should approach one of the most difficult challenges many of us will face.
Christians and the Problem of Evil
How can a perfectly good, all-powerful God co-exist with the evil that is present in this world? If God cares about justice, why is injustice rampant?
Christians have their own version of this problem because it seems strange that God would allow his own children to go through pain and suffering. “How can God be good, yet there is suffering in my life as a Christian?” asked Perry. “Ain’t I his? I’m a beloved, but you said I should expect trials and that they’re good for me and they’re making me golden?”
Perry pointed out that God’s character is the root of why we struggle with the problem of evil in the first place. We desire justice because God loves justice, and we are made in his image. “I think it’s the impatient parts of us that don’t recognize that justice is on the way,” she said, “but that justice also was done in the past on Christ Jesus.”
Perry also suggested that one good question to ask is, “What do we expect out of goodness?” The implication is that if we expect an immediate resolution to what we are going through, we are likely to be disappointed. She said, “I’ve tried to anchor myself in the fact that God is so much more committed to my sanctification than he is my comfort. And so that being the case, then he is good to me because he is showing me him in these difficulties.”
Michel brought up the Book of Job, the classic biblical text that grapples with the problem of evil, and pointed out that, like many of us, Job’s friends did not know how to make sense of suffering. The friends incorrectly believed that Job, who was a righteous man, must have done something to deserve all of the pain he was going through. For him to be blameless before God but suffer terrible trials “didn’t make sense in their worldview,” said Michel.
Perry and Michel agreed that when it comes to the problem of evil, we need to accept suffering as being “mysterious.” Michel said that when she has experienced personal suffering, some people have wanted to offer her quick answers in order to explain what happened. And it is true that the Bible does “make sense” of our suffering. Romans 5:3-5 says, “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 8:28 says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”
“But that does not really reduce the tension of it,” said Michel, “especially when you’re in the middle of it.” So instead of trying to escape the tension as quickly as we can, we need to accept the mysteriousness of our situation. She believes that when we refuse to do so, it is out of a “desire for control.” We want a God who “acts as we expect, a theology that is going to deliver outcomes that we can anticipate.” The problem is, said Michel, “that kind of desire for control is not faith. Faith is taking God at his word whether it looks like it makes sense or not.”