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Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God: A Letter to a Friend

February 17th, 2009 | 3 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

From time to time, I will get an email with questions about how to live the Christian life.  While I am not a pastor, former students or sometime readers of this blog will occasionally seek my opinions.  One such individual recently emailed me, expressing her struggles to believe in the goodness of God.  Below is my response (and here are some related thoughts).

I don't think I understand the depth of your struggle, but I have shared in a minor way in your questioning. For me, the pertinent question has never been whether God exists. The more pertinent question is whether he is good, and then whether he is good to us. Denying his goodness affords you an outlet for your anger and frustration (albeit one who isn't particularly interested in you), while denying his existence I think would only allow you to fall back on the Stoicism that comes from believing in fate, or the universe, or some other semi-deity.

Of course, you have proposed the semi-Christian route of affirming God's goodness, but not affirming that he is good to you (of course, semi-Christian is probably the same as sub-Christian).  I have at points in my life adopted a very similar view of God. At times, in order to justify my own struggles at my job, I told myself that God was interested not in my success, but in my holiness. Functionally, what I meant was that He is interested in my holiness, but not interested in me. It is sometimes easy to comfort ourselves with half-truths, rather than waiting patiently to have the full truth revealed to us.

I think it is important, then, to ask these questions, but to ask them of God. If He is interested in us, then he is interested in providing answers to them--not answers, necessarily, in the sense that we know what the events mean and how he will use them, but answers in the sense that we know that all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

There may be, then, a tension right now between faith and reason. But the difficulty of our current situation is that if there is to be reconciliation, if there is to be meaning, if there is to be goodness that comes out of evil, we sometimes do not see it until the end of our lives (or if not then, at the end of all things). We are asked to believe, not irrationally, but in hope (the knowledge of things unseen). And as Paul points out, "in hope we are saved."

Your questions are, then, important to ask for your own sanctification's sake. However, in G.K. Chesterton's commentary on Job, he penned the famous line, "The questions of God are more satisfying than the answers of man." Of course, Job's encounter did not come until he had aired his complaint before God. Whether he is right to do so is an open question--from my vantage point, I don't see that he had another alternative. But then, I am young in the faith.

One further point: horrendous evils like you have experienced are nearly impossible to comprehend because fundamentally, they are grounded in and characterized by irrationality. They are deeply chaotic. So also the Cross. It is for this reason that it is the most significant and reasonable "answer" to the problem of evil. And it's meaning is not clear until the Resurrection, which restores order to the universe by exalting the King to his rightful throne. I suspect that your longing to have your questions answer can only be met with any real satisfaction here--in the experience of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

For this reason, I would encourage you to read the Psalms, particularly Psalms 27 and 37. The ESV translation of the end of 27 is good, but I have always preferred the NASB: "I would have despaired had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the living." I have always found great comfort in Psalm 37 as well. Additionally, 2 Corinthians might be of some comfort to you during this time and, of course, the Gospels.

Additionally, if you do not have a worshipping community where you can pray, confess sin, and read Scripture together, find one. As you see God working in other people's lives, it can either frustrate you (why not me?) or give you hope. I trust it will be the latter. If you are seriously questioning your faith, do not cease worshipping as long as you have it. You may find that your faith is reinforced through the discipline of worship.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.