“Did you ever sit and ponder, sit and wonder, sit and think,
Why we’re here and what this life is all about? . . .
With all we’ve thought, and all we’re taught, why all we seem to know,
Is, we’re born and live a while, and then we die.” – George M. Cohan
“From the beginning of written thought humans have realized that everything fades, that we fear the fading, and that we must find a way to live despite the fear and the fading” – Irvin D. Yalom
I recently finished reading the books of Job and Ecclesiastes again. No, I wasn’t tempted to throw myself over a bridge when I finished. What stood out to me, however, were the similar themes of the books. Job confronts readers with the so-called problem of evil; Ecclesiastes pummels disciples with the monotony and seeming purposelessness of life. Each of these realities smacks us in the face in the day-in and day-out grind of life. What can we say about this?
I can’t claim to answer every question regarding the presence of evil in the world. But I can share with you how I process the matter in my own mind.
First, I check my presuppositions at the door. Note the following: If we begin with presuppositions that the Bible itself does not share, we are bound to reach the wrong conclusions. The old syllogism on this matter typically goes like this: 1) If God were all-powerful, he would be able to prevent evil; 2) If God were all-good, he would desire to prevent evil; Conclusion: So, if God were both all-powerful and all-good, there would be no evil. 3) But there is evil; Conclusion: Therefore, there is no all-powerful, all-good God.
Remember how this works: In analyzing this syllogism, all we have to show is that one of these premises is not true. In this case, the second premises does not line up with Scripture. The hidden presupposition is that there would never be a reason for God to allow evil. We have to ask: Has God promised anywhere in the Bible to prevent evil at all times, in all places, and in all circumstances?
If the Bible is my authority, then I must bow to its teachings. And in this case I must surrender my presupposition that a good God would always prevent evil and that he would never have a good reason to allow evil to take place.
The most glaring example biblically is the death of Christ. Consider for a moment: Murder is sin, according to the Bible (Exod. 20:13 et. al.). And Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of the Father (Mark 1:11), was murdered. The Son’s murder, as revealed in Scripture, is anything but an afterthought. Jesus actually says on more than one occasion that he “must” die (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33). Why? Because his death was in keeping with the Father’s plan (Jn. 12:27-33). Peter references the awful events that took place during Christ’s torture and crucifixion in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, saying: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:22-23, emphasis mine). Stated simply, this was not an accident.
During his prayer in Acts 4, Peter returns to this theme. Again, note the strong language: “[F]or truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28, emphasis mine). And of course, all this is in line with what God said through the prophet Isaiah: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief” (Isa. 53:10, emphasis mine).
Thus, ultimately we must say that it was not the Romans who killed Jesus; it was the Father who sent him for this very purpose. Through all the evil intentions, murderous plots, and wicked scheming of men, God fulfilled his purpose. John Piper put it like this: “In the death of Christ, the powers of darkness did their best to destroy the glory of the Son of God. . . . But instead they found themselves quoting the script of ancient prophecy and acting the part assigned by God. Precisely in putting Christ to death, they put his glory on display—the very glory they aimed to destroy.”
Human reason unaided by divine revelation cannot see this.
Second, I remind myself of my cultural moment. I am helped by knowing that our generation is not the first that has confronted the problem of evil: “For centuries, during which all men believed, the nightmare size and emptiness of the universe was already known,” as C. S. Lewis noted years ago. However, all previous generations confronted this problem different from our own. Prior to the modern period, the presence of evil resulted in lament to God, not expressions of disbelief in God.
This raises a question, doesn’t it? Why is the presence of evil one of, if not the, main reason people cite for why they refuse to believe in God? While some readers will roll their eyes in disgust at the thought, the answer goes back to the Enlightenment—the period of time when people began to question the authority of the Bible in earnest. (See Roy Porter’s short work, The Enlightenment.)
Humanity’s confidence in unaided human reason grew to such an extent that if we couldn’t think of a good reason why God might allow evil, then there must not be one. Whereas Paul praised God for the inscrutability of his ways (Rom. 11:33), modern and contemporary human beings find they cannot abide such a position. When it comes to the problem of evil, they trust their perceptions more than God’s Word.
I’ll finish with this final thought.
Ecclesiastes 3:11–12 reads: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has set eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from beginning to end.”
Consider how profound that second sentence is! Read it again: “Also, he [God] has set eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from beginning to end.”
The English words “find out” come from the Hebrew word matsa’, which speaks of figuring something out by way of comprehensive study and/or analysis. In these words Solomon is telling us that both our desire to understand life and our inability to do so is designed by God. Such a notion harkens back to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians: “. . . in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom . . .” (1 Cor. 1:21).
The point is clear: We need humility: “Humility demands that we acknowledge our incapacity to perceive the total picture.” True wisdom reveals itself in an admission that we cannot understand all of reality in a fallen world.
 “Life’s A Funny Proposition After All,” in Poems That Live Forever, ed. Hazel Felleman (New York: Doubleday, 1965), 309.
 The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients (New York: Harper, 2009), 125.
 John Piper, Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 12.
 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 4.
 James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), 66.
 Michael Casey, A Guide to Living in the Truth: Saint Benedict’s Teaching on Humility (Ligouri: Ligouri/Triumph, 2001), 82.