A quick word of warning, this post is particularly long. Not only that, the first big stretch is me talking about some doubts regarding God and the problem of evil and how many traditional positions have failed me. If you are not interested in this or you are currently in a state where reading through those kinds of things might do you more harm than good right now, you might want to just read the next two paragraphs and then jump down to the first bolded subheading. It’s “This World Has a Price.”
One of my biggest puzzles theologically is how to account for God and His intervention or lack thereof.
It turns out I’m not alone in this struggle; the history of theology even before Christianity is replete with people trying to work through this issue. If you believe you’ve got this issue completely sorted, you might contemplate why this has been a mystery for literally millennia and still confounds many of our best sense-making abilities. There’s a reason they call it “the problem of evil” and not “the brief question that’s easily solved of evil.”
The issue is that we want to maintain a list of things that appear inconsistent with our experience of the world:
- God is always good.
- God is all-powerful.
- God intervenes in history to accomplish His purposes.
At the same time, we look around in the world and see things that don’t seem to square with all of those propositions. There is suffering in the world. There’s injustice. There are tragedies that befall the innocent while prosperity comes to the wicked. Some people are spared adversity while others aren’t. It’s very difficult to come up with a philosophy or theology that harmonizes those experiences with the propositions about God.
Perhaps the most popular way to explain things is to appeal to human free will. God wants humans to have free will so that their choices have meaning and value, including their choice to serve Him, and the price for this is that some will use their free will to do evil.
That might cover some scenarios, but there are still significant issues with it.
First of all, many suffering scenarios don’t involve free will. When an infant is born with a terminal condition or a natural disaster kills and maims people and animals, the free will defense doesn’t really help us out of those. Those are scenarios where people could have been saved and nobody’s free will would have been violated.
Second, this assumes that violating free will is the worst thing you can do to someone. Perhaps from God’s perspective this is so, but it certainly isn’t from ours. While there are plenty of times we allow people to experience the consequences of their actions, we have our limits.
Parents violate the free will of their children all the time for their own safety. Don’t play in the street. Don’t stay out past seven. Don’t get into vans with strangers. Parents will also physically intervene to prevent a child from doing something dangerous.
Even with adults, where we often do let consequences run their course for other adults, we still have limits. If you visit a loved one and they’re lying on the bed surrounded by pills, breathing shallowly, with a suicide note on the table, you’re probably calling the hospital. You’re probably not sitting there sadly regretting their decision but unwilling to go against their wishes.
Third, I’m not sure the picture of God we get from the Bible is a God who is unwilling to ever use coercion. Granted, most scenarios I can think of still place the responsibility on the individual or nation to make the choice that’s in their best interest, but it’s still a consistency problem for the Free Will Defense. God does not put an angel with a flaming sword in front of every rapist or strike every tyrant with insanity or supernatural death.
Even when it comes to the decision making process within the human heart, there are stories in the Bible that would indicate that at least the author thought God was at work in that process as well. Exodus 7:3 comes to mind. The Exodus narrative switches between Pharaoh hardening his heart and God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, so we get the idea that Pharaoh is not some automaton being driven around by God, but at the same time, God is somehow involved in perpetuating Pharaoh’s unwillingness to release the Israelites.
Finally, as Christians, I think we have a hard time being consistent with a Free Will Defense. If God will not intervene to violate human free will, that does mean we can’t blame Him for the evil that people do. But it also means we can’t “blame” Him for the good things people do, either. What sense does it make to thank God for a new job or an influx of donations to a charitable work if that was simply the outcome of human free will – something He refuses to violate?
Have you ever prayed specifically for the salvation of a loved one? What is it that you’re expecting God to do that He isn’t already doing?
I realize these are painful questions, and I’m not suggesting that anyone stop thanking God for good things or asking Him to intervene in bad situations where free will is a factor. What I’m saying is that the issue of God and His relationship to the good and evil in the world and His action or lack thereof is a very complicated issue and “free will” can’t be our bromide that smooths over all the tensions.
I do believe that free will and the price necessary to have free will are in the mix, here, but they don’t solve all our problems.
On the other side of the theological fence (not counting Deism) is the Reformed/Calvinistic view that, while God is not a primary cause of everything that happens, He foreordains everything that happens.
From the Westminster Confession of Faith:
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
WCF Chapter III Section I
I have a grudging admiration for the Westminster Divines as they attempted to resolve the difficulties by fiat. God unchangeably ordains everything that happens, but He’s also not the author of sin nor does He violate the will of creatures. There you go, all done, nothing to see here, drop the mic.
Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, he orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.
WCF Chapter V Section II
There are some things I like about this view of God and history.
One thing I like is that it does try to encompass the breadth of the biblical pictures we have for God and His acts or lack thereof. In one story, we have God actively making things happen. In another, He’s sort of sitting back and observing. In another, He seems to be directly responsible for the good things that happen. In others, He seems to be responsible in some way for the bad things that happen. In one passage, the author tries to distance God from any kind of causal relationship to evil in the world, and then in other passages, the evil in the world is under God’s direction.
The statements in the Westminster Confession try to reckon with this diversity, which I appreciate, but they say little about the tensions between them. There is no acknowledgement that it is a mystery how these things can all be true. The WCF is pretty devoid of any sense of mystery about anything, even in the chapter on the Trinity. “We’re not sure how this works,” is a phrase you probably didn’t hear a lot at the Westminster Assembly.
The challenge, of course, is that if God is in some sense the deliberate origin of all that comes to pass, then He is in that same sense responsible for it. Like the problem with the Free Will Defense, it makes little sense to glorify God for the good things He’s ordained and then try to work it out so that He’s not in any sense responsible for the bad things He’s ordained. We’ve freed God from being the direct cause of everything, but now everything is part of His plan. I will say, in fairness, that there are voices in the Bible that seem to say exactly that.
Many Christians, however, sense an existential difficulty, here. Who wants to look at some horrible crime or devastation and ascribe it to God’s plan? Who wants to take a child who was sexually assaulted or an infant who was crippled for life by a neurological problem and say that God in some sense somehow decided that those things should happen?
So, then we get into some more contemporary variants.
One very popular one right now is the idea that bad things are not God’s will or part of God’s plan, but God is with us as we suffer through them and is at work to bring good things out of them.
This view has a number of advantages, not the least of which is that there is an extremely common motif in both Old and New Testaments of God doing exactly this sort of thing. Someone does something that is intended for evil or some tragedy happens, and God does something that flips the script. We also experience this sort of thing fairly regularly in our lives, that good comes out of something that seems bad at first.
But now we have the challenge that we’ve basically written off huge swaths of reality to happening outside of God’s control. If we acknowledge that God could act to control or stop these events, then why doesn’t He? We end up with similar problems with the Free Will Defense except, I’d argue, even greater in scope, because now we’ve got an entire world running amok with God reacting to it. While I like that this emphasizes that God is in the boat with us, it does still challenge us with whether or God is capable of controlling or stopping things and, if so, why He opts not to do that.
Further, this tactic does not seem very consistently applied. Why are some missionaries miraculously saved from a hostile government while others die in prison? Why do some families come safely through a hurricane while others perish?
The most virulent form of this view is one I’ve seen crop up in premillennial dispensationalist circles and, oddly, Pentecostals. In this view, Satan actually runs the world. The reason why things seem so bad are all Satan’s fault, not God’s. Why doesn’t God put a stop to all this? He will, but the time isn’t right, yet. More people need to be saved. We should expect things to get worse and worse and worse for everyone until, finally, God has enough and takes believers to heaven and destroys everything else.
I cannot begin to describe what a massive failure both exegetically and theologically this view is for the Church. What’s more, I’m very surprised at the Pentecostals who hold this view (#NotAllPentecostals) because I’m not sure how you reconcile a belief in exorcism in Jesus’ name with a belief that Satan controls the world. Who’s in charge, here?
I’m not going to go into a detailed critique of this view because it is horrific, but I will say that it does succeed in freeing God from responsibility to a point. I guess the larger issue would be what it would say about God that He would let such a situation go on for so long, and what does it say about the hope of God’s people when they are basically condemned to the Terrordrome for thousands of years.
This consistency vulnerability is an obvious point of exploitation for atheism. When we look at the world with so much suffering and injustice in it, and that suffering and joy seem almost randomly allocated with no apparent rhyme or reason to it, isn’t that what we’d expect from a world without a God who intervenes in it? Deists might be able to skate by, here, but not the rest of us.
For both atheism and deism, what we observe in the world is simply the running along of the various forces that propel events: sociological, economic, physical, etc. Sometimes the combinations and timing play out one way for this person, other times they play out another way for that person. This is more or less what we observe in the world and, when theism struggles to come up with a cohesive narrative that both explains these experiences and maintains a good, powerful God, then we have an obvious problem on our hands.
Because at that point, the issue isn’t just a belief in a non-empirical aspect of reality; the issue is a non-empirical aspect of reality that in some sense wishes reality were different and has the power to enact those wishes but apparently does not. Christianity does not believe in the existence of -a- God, but rather the God who is described in the Bible, revealed in Jesus, and we contend is the actual God.
If you’ve stayed with me this long, I congratulate and appreciate you. I have some thoughts on how these challenges might not be as crippling as they seem.
The World Comes with a Price
When God makes the universe the way it is, He imports in conditions and constraints in order for that universe to work.
For example, in our universe with our space-time features, God cannot create a square circle. If you beat me in a chess match, God cannot make it so that I actually beat you after those same events occurred. These are not limitations of God’s power so much as they are constraints of the universe in which He works.
These are not necessary constraints. You can have a universe where time flows backwards or not at all. You can have a universe where spatial relations are wildly different than Euclidean geometry. But these are features of this universe, and God has to work with those materials unless He fundamentally revises the nature of the universe.
In order for this world to be what it is and work the way it does, things we think of as bad must be a part of it or at least potentially be a part of it.
The most obvious example is free will. If you want a being freely capable of consciously choosing good, it has to be equally capable of consciously choosing evil. Whether that being will choose one or the other is an entirely different story, but that potential has to be there. If you create a being without the capacity to choose evil, that’s fine and good, but they don’t have free will.
But this is also true in terms of the mechanics of the universe as we know it.
For example, our cells can divide and mutate. This allows us to grow and heal. This allows a species to better adapt to the environment as the environment changes. This also allows cancer.
You don’t get to have it both ways. If cells are capable of reproducing and producing mutation, then they are also capable of producing cancer. Hopefully, the day will come when we can spot cancer early, treat it with more success, and maybe even prevent it in practice. But we will never be able to eliminate the very possibility of cancer without fundamentally restructuring the way cells work. In fact, if we truly eliminated all capability of cells to produce cancer, we would doom our race to extinction, because that same capability is what enables healing and survival.
Even death – and I hate death. This is not some philosophical statement for me. I loathe death. It has hurt me, taken from me, and plagues me almost daily in some form or fashion. And it has hurt the people I love most very deeply. But even death is necessary the way the world works right now. Death is necessary for new life to spring up. Death frees up resources and provides new ones.
In order for your children to live, and your children’s children, and your children’s children’s children, you have to die. If people didn’t die, you probably wouldn’t be here, because the population would have to level out at a number commensurate with available resources (whatever that meant in a world where people didn’t die). In order for new generations of people to be born, find God, experience Him, love and be loved, and return to Him, people have to die. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have an Earth full of everyone God has come to know and love and not have people die. You could have a world of immortals with fewer people and generations, but you can’t have this world.
We have a longing for a better world in our hearts, as we should. That longing is God’s longing. It’s difficult to explain why we would have this longing if it were not the case that things were wrong and could be different.
At the same time, we should also acknowledge that often these bad things are corruptions or negative side effects of the same things that introduce great good into the universe, and the absence of those things (or more accurately, a world where those things were totally impossible) might very well result in a very different world that we might not approve of at all.
A world where everyone is biologically incapable of being a jackass is the stuff of our dystopian stories. A world where the Sun is incapable of going cold is a world where the Sun cannot generate heat. A world where there is no friction is a world where you can’t walk. While we can (and should) work to counter the things in the world that cause human suffering, we don’t really know what kind of world we would have if even their theoretical possibility was removed. This is a good segue into the next consideration.
We Don’t Know How the World Should Be or How God Should Behave in It
The Tao Te Ching tells us that we should not label anything good or bad because we don’t know everything that gave rise to an event or what the total effects of it will be.
A man stubs his toe on a rock, and it hurts so bad that he has to sit down for a few minutes until the pain subsides. Is that good or bad?
What if this delays him five minutes, and five minutes ago, a drunk driver was careening wildly across the very road that man would cross? Was stubbing his toe good or bad?
(A somewhat less somber portrayal of the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching is the song “Oh, That’s Good / No, That’s Bad” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.)
While it’s easy for us to consider that, in the situation of the man stubbing his toe, the stubbed toe saved the man’s life, also consider that the man in the story has no idea his life was just saved. The only point of reference he has is the stubbed toe, and it really hurt. He might go on to have a pretty crappy day, all because of the stubbed toe that, unbeknownst to him, was the best thing that could have happened to him.
We can scale out this microcosm many times over. As smart as we are individually and collectively, and as much as we know about natural and social forces, we really do not know all the factors that brought an event into being, nor do we know all the effects that event will have today, tomorrow, or years down the road.
We can readily acknowledge the bad effects of something or someone in the terms we can observe. That’s all we can do, and that’s what we’re called to do. We don’t allow murderers to go free because, hey, maybe that murder was the best thing that could have happened in the world!
But even as we acknowledge our obligation to judge in the present circumstances, we also have to admit that we are totally unqualified to pass judgement over whether or not, in the ultimate scheme of things with horizons far beyond our own, this event didn’t serve a purpose that, if we had known, we would agree that it was necessary.
Once again, I’m not being coldly philosophical. I’m thinking right now of events in my own life that I’m pretty sure I could not tell you what possible benefit could justify those events happening. Those events hurt, and every benefit I can think of pales in comparison to the suffering and trauma of those events on me and everyone in their orbit, to say nothing of all the suffering and evils that go on in the world that I haven’t experienced.
But that’s exactly the point. The fact that I can’t see the factors that unspooled from those events or all the things that happened that resulted in those events is precisely the point. I can’t. You can’t. We can’t. On occasion we can, but often we can’t.
So, I ask you, why is it that we are so confident that we can accurately predict, prescribe, and judge what a good and powerful and loving God ought to do in the world?
Not only are we confident that we can chart out what such a God would/should do, we are so confident that it is actually more likely to us that God doesn’t exist than that we might be wrong about what omnipotence, omniscience, and goodness might look like.
Think about that for a moment. When I doubt that God is loving or powerful or that He exists altogether because of the problem of evil, I’m assuming that my ability to judge an event and all its possibilities, variables, and effects on everything for all time is so cohesive, accurate, and absolute – that a contradiction of that judgement is a reason to believe God is not good, powerful, or doesn’t exist.
That position is mind-blowing in the sheer scale of its abandonment of perspective.
The story in the Bible that comes to mind, here, is the book of Job. If you’ve not read Job, it opens with God and Israel’s accuser having a debate that God provokes. God praises the faithfulness of His follower, Job, and the accuser responds that Job is only faithful because his life is prosperous. In response, God allows the accuser to torment Job, removing everything Job has that makes life worth living. Throughout the story, Job remains faithful despite everyone else telling him that he is either a grievous sinner or else terribly wronged by God. Job, for his part, insists on both his faithfulness and God’s trustworthiness, but in his grief and confusion, he still wishes to bring his case before God.
It’s also interesting that Job explores other problems of evil, such as the wicked prospering on the earth. It’s almost as if the story of Job was explicitly written to offer some kind of perspective on God and evil and suffering in the world.
When Job finally speaks with God, God does not explain His actions, nor pawn them off on the accuser (“I’m really not the secondary cause, here, Job”), nor offer either the Free Will nor the Calvinistic defense. Even though the reader is actually told the reason for Job’s suffering at the beginning of the book, God Himself does not tell that to Job. Instead, God questions Job’s ability to pass judgement on Him:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
Job 38:1-7 (NRSV)
This goes on for literally two chapters. God brings up an overwhelming multitude of scenarios about creation and the way the world works and the flow of history.
It ends with:
And the Lord said to Job:
“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
Anyone who argues with God must respond.”
Job says, basically, “I think I’ll just keep my mouth shut.”
And then God takes off again, going into all these things that God has done and all the things that happen in nature in the world. For two more chapters. At the end of this, Job responds:
Then Job answered the Lord:
“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job 42:1-6 (NRSV)
I mean, this is God’s defense. “You have no idea how the universe is supposed to work, but yet you have the gumption to call Me into question.”
At the end of the story, God restores Job’s fortunes and condemns his friends. Interestingly, God says of them, “For you have not spoken of Me rightly as my servant Job has done.” But Job didn’t offer a defense for God. Job made his case and then acknowledged that he wasn’t in a position to be able to pass judgement on God’s actions. Job spoke rightly about God by having completely justified complaints about God and ultimately acknowledging he didn’t know what he needed to know in order to actually pass judgement.
Job is quite possibly the oldest Scripture in the Old Testament. It’s a long book, too. It’s easy to summarize the story, but there are so many issues raised by Job and his friends throughout the book about evil, suffering, justice, love, and God. These issues are as old as the Levant, and this perspective on the issues served the Jewish people through exile, tyranny, dispersion, and prophecies and promises from God that seemed to have failed at the time.
The story of Job is a story of God’s people in the world, and at the end of it, God’s people are to say, “We have many complaints that are justified, but in the end, we don’t know everything that needs to happen. You do. We trust You.”
This would be a good segue into my conclusion, but I want to make a quick stop before we get there.
Scripture’s Portrayal of God’s Acts Are Multivocal, Complex, and Usually Look a Lot Like the Real World
There is a reason that the Free Will Defense, the God Ordains Everything perspective, the “God doesn’t want this and is with you and will turn this around” perspective, and others come into our discourse. All these views are present in various places in Scripture.
Sometimes, they even collide.
One of the most fascinating passages of Scripture, to me, is Isaiah 10. In it, God talks about how the leadership of Israel has oppressed her. In response, God will send Assyria to conquer Israel.
Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger—
the club in their hands is my fury!
Against a godless nation I send him,
and against the people of my wrath I command him,
to take spoil and seize plunder,
and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
Isaiah 10:5-6 (NRSV)
The perspective is that God is doing this, somehow. Assyria’s conquest is an expression of God’s anger against oppressors. The club in their hands in my fury. Against a godless nation I send him.
But what’s this?
But this is not what he intends,
nor does he have this in mind;
but it is in his heart to destroy,
and to cut off nations not a few.
For he says:
“Are not my commanders all kings?
Is not Calno like Carchemish?
Is not Hamath like Arpad?
Is not Samaria like Damascus?
As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols
whose images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria,
shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols
what I have done to Samaria and her images?”
Isaiah 10:7-11 (NRSV)
Whoa, hold on. You just said You were sending Assyria. But now You say that Assyria just up and decided on their own to conquer Israel? Conquerors gon’ conquer? Jerusalem is just another city to them, and they’re just doing what they’d normally do?
So which is it? Is God sending Assyria against Israel, or is Assyria just doing what they’d normally do without respect to God whatsoever?
Isaiah 10 seems to indicate that both are the case.
Then, it gets into some very deep free will / sovereignty / responsibility waters:
When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the arrogant boasting of the king of Assyria and his haughty pride.
Isaiah 10:12 (NRSV)
So, to recap, God is sending Assyria to conquer Jerusalem. Assyria, however, is conquering Jerusalem just because they want to conquer lands. After this is done, God will punish Assyria because of this.
Catch that: God will punish Assyria because Assyria did what God planned for them to do in the first place.
Well, you know, Free Will Defense!
Ok, but read further:
Shall the ax vaunt itself over the one who wields it,
or the saw magnify itself against the one who handles it?
As if a rod should raise the one who lifts it up,
or as if a staff should lift the one who is not wood!
Isaiah 10:15 (NRSV)
Here, God compares Assyria to an ax thinking that it’s greater than the person swinging the ax (God) or a staff trying to raise the person who is raising it. This isn’t just God observing things human beings are choosing to do: God is swinging the ax and raising the staff, here.
And then, God will actually punish Assyria by… the liberation of Israel.
Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts: O my people, who live in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrians when they beat you with a rod and lift up their staff against you as the Egyptians did. For in a very little while my indignation will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction. The Lord of hosts will wield a whip against them, as when he struck Midian at the rock of Oreb; his staff will be over the sea, and he will lift it as he did in Egypt. On that day his burden will be removed from your shoulder, and his yoke will be destroyed from your neck.
Isaiah 10:24-27 (NRSV)
So, which is it? Is God in some sense in control of everything that’s happening? Is Assyria just acting naturally doing the same thing they’d do if God didn’t exist? Is Assyria morally culpable for this? Will God turn this evil situation around for the good of His people?
Isaiah 10 portrays of all these as being somehow true and doesn’t bat an eye.
I use this text just because it pulls many different perspectives together, but obviously we find different portions of these perspectives emphasized throughout Scripture depending on the situation.
We also get a dash of this from Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts:
You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.
Acts 2:22-24 (NRSV)
So, the crucifixion of Jesus. Was it an evil that Peter’s audience is accountable for? Yes. Was it part of the definitive plan of God? Yes. Did God overturn the result for good? Yes.
I hope that clears it up for everyone.
Even in our keystone story, Job, we get some of the ambiguity:
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Job 2:9-10 (NRSV)
Ancient near eastern misogyny aside, Job affirms that both good and bad events come from God. At the same time, the reader knows that God is doing none of these things but has given the accuser liberties to do so.
God having a plan, God being in control, God being sometimes active and sometimes passive, people acting freely out of their own desires, and nature running according to natural law are all different layers that describe the same reality from the perspective of the biblical texts.
God is at work bringing everything to what’s best, and sometimes ancient Assyria is a jerk and conquers someone, and sometimes dead branches break off of trees when their structure degrades and someone happens to be under them when it happens, and sometimes things happen that God really hates. Sometimes Jesus cries when his friends die.
This is hard for us to reconcile, because we can only envision our plans coming to fruition through control. We are creatures and we exert our will on other creatures. Even if I’m the most cunning, Games of Thrones manipulator on the planet, I still have to do things to make my plan happen. The idea that I might have a purpose for an event to fulfill and that event coming amount solely through chance, freedom, and mechanistic naturalism would be absurd, but that’s because manipulation and force is the best I can do.
Somehow, in some way, God who created the universe with all its starting parameters running its courses, and this God who permeates and fills every subatomic particle, is both behind our reality, non-coercive in its execution, and an actor within it as He sees fit. All these facets have their biblical data. Is it any wonder we struggle to make a cohesive picture out of all of this that makes sense to us?
In a sense, this is what the Westminster Confession is trying to pull together for us, but we are forced to acknowledge that this is a portrayal of meta-reality that we cannot understand. It is mystery. And this is why all philosophical and theological constructs that try to put everything in a nice neat package will eventually fail us, the same way that an explanation for how something (anything) can exist eternally before everything else will fail us.
This is why I think that coming to a place of being able to live with the problem of evil is more about acknowledging our limitations than comprehending God.
Do We Trust God?
This is what it comes down to, doesn’t it?
Is God there? And if so, is He good? Is He powerful? Does He have our best interests at heart? Is He trustworthy? If I pray, will He answer? If He doesn’t, was He still doing what was ultimately best?
How much do I trust my own capacity for truly understanding an event in a cosmic context? When I see evil or chaos, does my inability to see a good reason for it mean that there isn’t one? If there is a God who has suffused all time and space and made them the way they are, should I expect that He will consistently behave exactly as I believe such a being ought? Has God told us there are things we will not understand, and has He shown us things about Himself on which we can depend?
Everyone is going to have to answer those questions for themselves. As for me, I have seen enough to believe that there is a God who can be known and can be trusted.
Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him
Job 13:15a (KJV)