“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matt 9:35).
CS Lewis wrote, “If tribulation is a necessary element in redemption, we must anticipate that it will never cease till God sees the world to be either redeemed or no further redeemable.”1 If God is not going to end the problem of evil until he ends the world, what do we do until then?
Sharing The Gospel
First and foremost, we need to let the pain of this world remind us that people need Jesus. They need to hear the real gospel, not some watered-down self-help version. People need to know, “We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are ... rebels who must lay down our arms.”1
When we “lay down our arms” — when we repent of our sinful ways — and trust Jesus to be our righteousness before God, we are transformed by the Spirit, adopted by the Father, and promised that joy forever will eclipse the pain of this world. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations ...” (Matt 28:19).
Living The Kingdom
Second, we need to live in this world the way it ought to be.
“I have argued so far ... that the ultimate answer to the problem of evil is to be found in God’s creation of a new world ... with redeemed human beings ruling over it and bringing to it God’s wise, healing order. ... I now want to suggest that part of the Christian task in the present is to anticipate this eschatology, to borrow from God’s future in order to change the way things are in the present, to enjoy the taste of our eventual deliverance from evil by learning how to loose the bonds of evil in the present.”2
I’ve seen several versions of a cartoon where one character says, “Sometimes I’d like to ask God why he allows poverty, famine, and injustice when he could do something about it.” The other says, “I’m afraid he might ask me the same question.” Sin will exist in this world until Jesus returns. Disease is a part of this world. But so much of the pain people experience could be removed or at least eased if we could just get our act together and do something about it.
There are lots of reasons why people are poor, but people are hungry because no one feeds them. Injustice exists because we act unjustly or allow others to. We cannot stop cancer or hurricanes, but we do not do all we can to alleviate the pain the natural world causes.
When we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”, it means more than merely making Earth more like God’s ultimate kingdom, but it does not mean less. In the Old Testament, we see again and again that God wants his people to help the poor and to create just laws and see that they are applied impartially. To God, real religion and real piety are as much about our neighbor as it is about him:
“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Is 58:6-7).
As NT Wright said, “The Christian ... is thus under obligation both to honor the ruling authority, whatever it may be, and to work constantly to remind that authority of its God-given task and to encourage and help it to perform that task: to do justice and love mercy, to ensure that those who are weak and vulnerable are properly looked after.”2
And we are under obligation to do so ourselves, whether government does its job properly or not. We also are to be people of forgiveness and reconciliation. We are to be living examples of God’s healing and grace in this world.
To live out God’s solution to the problem of evil means “to live between the cross and the resurrection on the one hand and the new world on the other, and in believing in the achievements of the cross and resurrection, and in learning how to imagine the new world....”2
Saying God will make everything right in the next world will sound like pie in the sky to unbelievers. Living like his Kingdom has come on Earth as it is in Heaven will make it much more believable.
“We are not told -- or not in any way that satisfies our puzzled questioning -- how and why there is radical evil within God’s wonderful, beautiful and essentially good creation. One day I think we shall find out, but I believe we are incapable of understanding it at the moment, in the same way that a baby in the womb would lack the categories to think about the outside world. What we are promised, however, is that God will make a world in which all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well, a world in which forgiveness is one of the foundation stones and reconciliation is the cement which holds everything together. And we are given this promise not as a matter of whistling in the dark, not as something to believe even though there is no evidence, but in and through Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection, and in and through the Spirit through whom the achievement of Jesus becomes a reality in our world and in our lives. When we understand forgiveness, flowing from the work of Jesus and the Spirit, as the strange, powerful thing it really is, we begin to realize that God’s forgiveness of us, and our forgiveness of others, is the knife that cuts the rope by which sin, anger, fear, recrimination and death are still attached to us. Evil will have nothing to say at the last, because the victory of the cross will be fully implemented.”2
For more on a practical approach to the problem of evil, see NT Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God.
1 CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain
2 NT Wright, Evil and The Justice of God
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Part of Christianity 101