In any conversation about faith, theodicy – the question of why a good and powerful God allows evil – is never far from the surface. The recent spate of natural disasters that have wreaked havoc in their wake offer a stiff challenge to those with Christian convictions. Over half a million refugees have fled Myanmar into Bangladesh, leading to a humanitarian crisis in response to which the Disasters Emergency Committee has launched the ‘Rohingya appeal.’ This seems to be another ugly case of ‘ethnic cleansing’ with the Rohingya people targeted with genocidal intent. Then there is the Las Vegas massacre when 59 were killed by a lone gunman.
Whereas compassion and prayer are our first response, we cannot duck the need to grapple with the difficult questions generated by these cataclysmic events. This is too short a piece to offer a comprehensive engagement with this difficult issue but I would like to offer some pointers.
The only conclusion that we can draw from the repeated examples of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ is that God prizes ‘freewill’ highly. Given the devastating cost in human misery resulting from our ability to choose evil rather than good, we recognise that the freedom God has given us comes at a grave price. The Christian contention is that God gives us ‘freewill’ because freedom is essential to ‘love’; love must be freely offered and received, otherwise it is not love. God’s goal for humanity is that we learn to love each other and to respond in kind to God’s love for us. Despite the anguish caused by its misuse, ‘freewill’ is integral to God’s purposes for creation. ‘Natural evil’ poses an even harder test to those seeking to offer an intellectual defence of the Christian faith. However, there seems to be a link between ‘moral evil’ and ‘natural evil.’ We are
gaining ever-increasing insight into the complex relationship between human activity and our changing weather patterns. With the spectre of global-warming looming large, we cannot exonerate ourselves. Nonetheless, we can legitimately ask whether God could have created a better world, one that did not have earthquakes and hurricanes for instance. That is a reasonable question but one without a ready answer.
Two other features of this debate are the Cross and the Christian vision of the End of Time. Besides the Cross of Christ showing us that God knows, in Jesus, how it feels to suffer physical pain and emotional desolation, the Cross is also mysteriously about God entering into the evil that has resulted from creation. When Christians talk about Jesus Christ bearing our sins or enduing God’s wrath as he is crucified, there is a related sense that, in the Crucifixion, God in Christ is taking responsibility for the tragic suffering and human evil that has resulted from God’s decision to create this beautiful, yet marred, world.
Joyfully, Good Friday was followed by Easter Day, and the Resurrection signals that God has won a decisive victory. That means that God’s Kingdom is coming. Confidence that, at the End, God will be victorious and evil banished, gives Christian hope, even in the most difficult of times. Although to our eyes, it may seem like a tortuous journey, we are slowly but surely heading towards God’s Kingdom. In short, the future ultimately belongs to God.
The coming of God’s Kingdom is described in evocative terms in the final book of the Bible. The writer’s mystical vision is of a holy city coming down out of heaven from God. As he watches, God declares, “Behold, I make all things new.” With the renewal of the whole created order, God’s reign of perfect justice is evident everywhere. Death, crying and pain are no more.
By the Holy Spirit, we are given a glimpse, a foretaste, of God’s Kingdom here and now. In the face of tragic events, local and global, let’s ask God to give us compassionate hearts, a readiness to intercede in prayer, and a renewed confidence in the loving purposes of God for our church and for the world.