Reflecting on the problems of evil is one of the traditional tasks of Christian theology. Pointless tragedies and prolonged suffering present Christianity with a theological conundrum. Tilley cites Hume to highlight the incompatibility of two conflicting truths at the heart of the dilemma: 1) God is good and powerful. 2) Evil and suffering exist. Similarly, C.S. Lewis articulates the atheist argument as such: “If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both”. The prevalence of evil and suffering essentially question the character and attributes of God.
Addressing the paradoxical question: “how can Christians maintain that God is all good and powerful and yet evil and suffering persists in abundance”, requires sensitivity and maturity; ultimately the leading of the Holy Spirit. As Schultz points out, an eagerness to justify God’s ways to man may result in sinning against the people Christians are called to console. There is a place for doctrine and theodicies in a Christian’s response, but not if it misrepresents God or contradicts what Jesus achieved on the cross.
The question at hand shall be dealt with in three parts. Firstly, the aim is to establish God’s character by a brief examination of Christian theology concerning God and creation. Secondly, the writer will comment on the doctrine of original sin and the theodicy of free will to answer why a good God allows the manifestation of evil. This is by no means an exclusive list, and lastly, the discussion shall conclude with the Christian understanding of God’s sovereignty against the future eschatological hope.
Theology of Creation, Provenance, Redemption
Christians believe that everything exists due to an uncreated God’s eternal “act of willing”. The Sovereign God does not create because He needs the universe to be God or to love; He creates because of His perfect self-giving love, and His desire for Trinitarian community with humanity. Furthermore, God’s love for his creation is evident in His providence. Jensen asserts that from a properly Trinitarian perspective, God is considered as the source of all things; even to the point of cosmic redemption. Although sin distorted God’s plan for humanity He loves the world so much that in His mercy and grace God gave up His only Son, Jesus, to a) serve as a revelation of who He is, and b) as an ultimate sacrifice for sin (John 3:16). In doing so, God demonstrated that humanity has more than just a future eschatological hope; God is present and meets humanity here and now, amid evil and suffering.
The question of impossibility
The revelation of the nature, character, and heart of God, renders Lewis’ “self-contradictory” exercise worth exploring. Lewis asserts that the word “unless” changes an impossible situation into a possibility, for example: “It is impossible to see the street corner from this angle unless one shifts position”. “Unless” renders the impossibility merely relative, as opposed to: “It is totally impossible to see the street corner while I remain where I am and the obstructing building remains where it is”. Someone might add: “unless the ‘nature of vision or space’ were different from what it is”, but Lewis would challenge that the ‘vision or space’ could well be of the ‘suggested nature’. The ability to see around corners in a new way may be indeterminable; but more significantly, it may be self-contradictory, since “unless” does not make it possible to see around a corner. It is absolutely and intrinsically impossible because the object, the eye, carries its impossibility within itself; hence impossible under “all circumstances in all worlds and for all agents”. Lewis asserts that God’s omnipotence implies the power to do the intrinsically possible, not the intrinsically impossible. There are two significant implications: firstly, one can attribute miracles to Him, but not absurdities; and secondly, God will not act against his own nature. Given that evil and suffering are intrinsically contrary to God’s character and God cannot cause what He explicitly condemns, how does one make sense of the prevalence of evil and suffering in this context?
Despite opposition from determinists who argue that freedom is merely a fantasy in a world that is wholly regulated by natural causes, Jensen maintains that the fundamental human experience of free will, the very basis of morality, renders humanity responsible for their actions and consequences, good or bad; a theodicy for evil which shall be duly considered.
One can be tempted to adopt the anti-theodicy viewpoint of Philips who concludes that any effort to justify God’s ways to humanity demands “naturalistically fallacious arguments” in which ordinary, natural events are used to articulate and defend the supernatural and the divine. Phillips asserts that theodicy attempts to “explain evil away by showing that senseless evil really has some sense”, and those who resort to theodicies obviously considers that God could be evil.
Granted, the challenges to reconcile the apparent evils in the world with Christian doctrine is well known, and the misuse of theodicies is a reality. Consequently, Shultz contends that responses to evil and suffering should not be limited to simplistic theodicies. Biblical and pastoral theological understanding of pain and suffering need to be “intelligent about the emotional aspect of our human being”; and in addition to employing theodicies, Christians must navigate difficult questions with pastoral care. For example, to tell a mother that her newborn baby is deformed as a result of sin, will be a misrepresentation of the character of God and do an injustice to the message of the cross.
Original Sin and Theodicy of Free Will
“The doctrine of original sin is a distinctively Christian belief”. Augustine relied on the Latin translation of what Paul said in Rom.5:12-21 when he formulated the doctrine. In quo omnes peccaverunt (ἐφ᾽ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον), “in whom [Adam] all have sinned”. The implication is thus that sin and death entered the world through one man and it spread to all others, hence present-day suffering and death is punishment for the sin humanity is by implication all guilty of. Since the fall (Gen. 3), it is evident that humanities’ free choice caused endless evils in history, for which God cannot be blamed. The atrocities of the holocaust springs to mind. Similarly, God cannot be held accountable for accidents that happen under the influence of alcohol, for example. If this is true, how does one then position the sovereignty of God?
The concept of free will is contested from different angles, including by Freud and Darwin supporters for reasons that fall outside the scope of this discussion. Even Augustine, the “authorized voice” for Protestant Reformers’ doctrine of grace, free will, and pre-destination, rejects the free will defense on the basis that God’s sovereignty is absolute. The determination is that every action in creation, even human choices, renders God ultimately responsible for humanities’ poor choices and the subsequent pain.
The basis for God granting free will to humanity is consistent with his desire for true relationship and reciprocating love. Initially, there appears to be a conflict between a) the belief that the history of the world is the result of the divine purposes of the Triune Creator God, and b) that humans simultaneously experience fee will. Although free will by its very nature, risks the possibility of good or evil, Jensen is unconvinced that there is dissension between divine omnipotence and human liberty.
Jensen insists that genuine freedom is not in the ability to randomly exercise an option, but in a free human’s spontaneous gravitation towards God to align with His will; a movement that calls for the Spirit of God to firstly liberate the human from the bondage of the power of sin. There can thus be no conflict or competition between the will of a genuinely free human and the will of God. The will of a free human desires to see the will of God, which is to establish the kingdom of God as the pinnacle of history, fulfilled. The Spirit of God covers the consequences of the original sin and herein lies Christian justification.
The Suffering Jesus and Eschatological Hope
In conclusion, God’s goodness and power manifests in His character and love for humanity. When evil is contemplated against the “suffering and the cross”, and the subsequent resurrection, Christians can maintain that God is all good and powerful despite the abundant persistence of evil and suffering in the world. Isaiah’s “gut-wrenching revelations of the Suffering Servant" in Scriptures and the historical completion in the New Testament confess God’s love and faithfulness to humanity. Christians believe with the Apostle Paul that God justified himself in the cross and the resurrection of Jesus; God’s sovereignty is evident in the eschatological hope.
Grenz asserts that sovereignty implies God’s ability to bring to pass the divine goal for the world and from a Christian perspective this glorious display of God’s sovereignty is anticipated at the second coming of Christ. Furthermore, to conclude that the presence of evil and suffering in the world point to a wicked, powerless God is premature. Grogan asserts that on eschatological fulfillment it will be evident that despite human’s poor choices, God all along worked to bring good out of evil; just like in the final chapter of the story of Joseph (Gen.37).
To complete a jigsaw puzzle may require the same persistence and determination as Josef. The individual pieces may seem meaningless until the last few find their spot and one realizes that even the darkest pieces have a place; and they are vital to complete the picture.
 Terrence W Tilley, “The Use and Abuse of Theodicy,” Horizons 11, no. 2 (1984): 304–319.
 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Revised ed. edition. (San Francisco: Harper One, 2015), 17.
 Gregory Schulz, “Pain, Suffering, Lament,” Logia 24, no. 2 (2015): 9.
 Rian Venter, “Trends in Contemporary Christian Eschatological Reflection,” Missionalia 43, no. 1 (April 2015): 106.
 Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, Volume 3, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Eerdmans, 2009), 13-16.
 Stanley J. Grenz and Leighton Ford, Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living, 2 edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998) 61.
 Alexander S. Jensen, Divine Providence and Human Agency, 1 edition. (S.l.: Routledge, 2018).
 Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 1st Fortress Press ed edition. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 56.
 Jürgen Moltmann, “The Passion Of Christ And The Suffering Of God,” The Asbury Theological Journal 48, no. 1 (1993): 19–28.
 Lewis, The Problem of Pain, revised edition, (Harper One, San Francisco, 2015), 18.
 Ibid, 19.
 Alexander S. Jensen, Divine Providence and Human Agency, 1st edition, (Routledge, S.I., 2018), 68 .
 Terrence W. Tilley, “The Use and Abuse of Theodicy”, Journal Article 11, no. 2, (1984): 67
 Eric Stencil, “Malebranche and the General Will of God.,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 19, no. 6 (December 2011): 1107–1129.
 Tilley, “The Use and Abuse of Theodicy.”, 67
 Schulz, “Pain, Suffering, Lament.”, 7
 Neil Ormerod, Creation, Grace, and Redemption (Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 2007), 68.
 Ibid, 70.
 Jensen, Divine Providence and Human Agency, 68-69.
 Wim François, “Grace, Free Will, and Predestination in the Biblical Commentaries of Cornelius a Lapide,” Annali di storia dell’esegesi 34, no. 1 (2017): 175–197.
 Grenz and Ford, Created for Community, (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998), 79.
 Jensen, Divine Providence and Human Agency, 67.
 Schulz, “Pain, Suffering, Lament.”, 9.
 Ibid, 8.
 Grenz and Ford, Created for Community, 63.
 Brian Grogan, God You’re Breaking My Heart: What Is God’s Response to Suffering and Evil? (Messenger Publications, 2016), 146.
 Ibid, 15.