The “problem of evil” has been debated for centuries. How can God allow evil and suffering to go on in the world? If He rules the world, why is there so much pain? Did He create evil? Or did He just allow it to exist (and how does that work)? Is evil under His control? If so, how can He be truly good since He allows so much of it? If not, aren’t we hopeless? A full spectrum of answers has been given to this question, both dark and discouraging answers as well as bright and hopeful answers. But none seem to have quelled the outcry of a sin-laden world that continues to demand an answer for the evil that we are affected by every day, and the pain and suffering that come with it. And so we continue to question, and often complain.
But no one seems to be complaining about God’s mercy. When there is a fork in the road of our thinking, we naturally choose the path that most exalts ourselves. Our philosophical questioning and theological interrogation is not objective. It’s partial — partial to us. When things are hard, it must be God’s fault. It couldn’t be ours. Therefore, we find ourselves able to question and discuss and debate and rail about the problem of evil while rarely humbling ourselves enough to recognize the problem of mercy. And there is such a thing as the problem of mercy.
Instead of asking, “Why is there evil in the world if God is so good?” why do we not ask, “Why is there salvation for the world if we are so evil?” Instead of vilifying God by passionately protesting the presence of pain and suffering, we ought to put our collective hand on our mouth and honor God for His mystifying mercy. It is not surprising that there is pain and hardship in this world, for “the wages of sin is death,” and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 6:23; 3:23). We should expect misery to be widespread, because all have sinned, and we should expect for it to be miserable, because its end is death. It should not surprise us. It is our just punishment. What should surprise us — what should shock us — is that God has saved so many of us from the eternal version of that misery. It is astounding that God has saved anyone.
God has been merciful to us, to a degree that is nothing less than confusing. And He has done so in order to exalt His Son, and thereby, to exalt Himself. This is why He has shown us mercy. May we not dare to dig into the problem of evil without first acknowledging the problem of mercy. This will be our wisdom, it will be our humility, and it will be God’s glory.
Originally posted October 8, 2005