By Mike Richardson
Faculty, College of Theology
If God is good then why is there still evil, pain and suffering in the world?
What a great and challenging question. I may not be able to fully answer the question in this short response, but I think I can point out a path to reconciling these two ideas: God’s goodness and the fact of evil, pain and suffering. The path I have in mind comes from the idea of “story.” The story we use to describe our lives provides a coherent framework for understanding the meaning and purpose of all of the parts of our lives. If our story can’t do this, we either change our story or reject it and come up with a new story to explain our lives.
So, is there a single story where God can be good while evil, suffering and pain are still part of the story? Or, are the two parts of the story irreconcilable so that one of the parts of the story needs to go in order for the story to make any sense? In reality, many of the stories that inspire us have elements of evil, pain and suffering as well as goodness. We don’t see a contradiction in those stories and we find them compelling, as long as everything works out in the end.
A story that illustrates good and evil in the same story comes from The Lord of the Rings and involves the perils of two Hobbits, Frodo and Sam, as they pursue an incredible journey to destroy the “one ring” in the fires of Mount Mordor to save Middle Earth. In the movie version, Sam talks to Frodo about the great stories that are told and how he and Frodo will be part of those stories; stories about heroes and suffering, about pain and evil, about exploits and failures and about good winning out in the end after passing through all of the uncertainty of the quest. He mentions that stories like these are the only ones really worth telling.
The Christian story of creation, fall, redemption and restoration, God’s story for humanity, is one of those stories. We are living in the middle of that story, so there are times of turmoil and fear. God’s goodness shines brightly at times, but at times it can only be perceived dimly. We see heroes who do exploits for the glory of God, but unspeakable evil lurks in the background, and at times, comes to the foreground. The Christian story has a great beginning and a great ending; a celebration when everything will be put right. Still, the middle of the story must be lived out.
Perhaps this story is not the one you would write, but it is God’s story, and for Christians, the story that actually describes reality. It is a story that holds in tension the goodness of God with the reality of evil, pain and suffering. I think the story makes sense, and it certainly gives me hope. I hope and pray it does the same for you, Theophilus.
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