An evangelist, a pastor, and a philosophy professor walk into a recital hall.
What you thought might have been the beginning of a bad joke was actually my Friday night.
A student at Calvin University and a member at Trinity Baptist Church invited me to share at an apologetics club meeting. The topic was The Problem of Evil. Below are the notes I put together. While I didn't get a chance to share everything in this document and what I wanted to share, it is my prayer that in the ten minutes I had and in my answers during the Q&A time, God was glorified and the truth of scripture was spoken from my mouth.
Here are my notes from the night.
My name is David Rodgers.
I am the pastor of Children and Family and Adult Education at Trinity Baptist Church, near Knapp Corner.
I want to share a very quick, very open and honest, summary of my life to help you understand why I think it is important to think about this topic.
Growing up my dad spent time in a psychiatric wing of a hospital because of severe anger issues and my mom was hospitalized because of an eating disorder. She still struggles with the effects of this.
After graduating college, I lived in the Dominican Republic for 8 years through a MAJOR hurricane. When I first arrived in the D.R., living in a third world country was overwhelming
Until I visited Haiti, where life was even tougher.
I returned to the states in 2002 and two years later my dad died at 56, from lung/breathing issues
Four years ago, my family moved to Grand Rapids, from Ohio, for a ministry position. This position did not work. I was in this role for only one year.
Then I worked in a warehouse for almost 3 years while I tried to figure out what I wanted to be when I grow up. Actually, ½ year was deciding if I wanted to be in ministry. One year was sending out resumes and beginning the ministry search
AND then COVID hit
My mom was very sick in the hospital for about a month. Some of that time she was on a ventilator.
These circumstances were hard, some very hard.
In each of them, there why moments when I cried out to God, “Why?”
Each of us has suffered, is suffering, will be suffering, and knows someone in any of those three states.
In my new role at Trinity Baptist Church, I pray I can help others look to God during the difficulties and “Why?” times of life.
I am not sure why you are here tonight.
You may be here because you are going through suffering right now and are looking for answers.
You may be looking for a good debate topic and this is a good one.
You may be trying to make sense of circumstances in this world and your life.
You may be questioning God’s goodness and power.
Whatever the reason, you are here, and I am thankful for that.
As a pastor in a local church, I want to share in a way that will help you think about God and prepare you to better handle the challenges of life, and help others do the same.
Let me clarify what I mean by that.
I hope my time here tonight will help Christians, I mean those who have repented of their sin, called out to Jesus to save them, and are trusting in Jesus Christ day by day, trust him more and more.
And help those who are not to consider who God is, who you are without him, and the necessity of trusting in Him in this broken, sinful world.
I am going to be referring to a couple of books and articles and will put more information at the end of this post.
The first quote is from a book that has been a blessing to me and my family for years. The Gospel Primer contains reminders of what we have in the Gospel.
One entry is “Perspectives in Trials”
More than anything else could ever do, the gospel enables me to embrace my tribulations and thereby position myself to gain full benefit from them. For the gospel is the one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move, and every hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves His gospel purposes in me. When I view my circumstances in this light, I realize that the gospel is not just one piece of good news that fits into my life somewhere among all the bad. I realize instead that the gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials. The good news about my trials is that God is forcing them to bow to His gospel purposes and do good unto me by improving my character and making me more conformed to the image of Christ.
Preaching the gospel to myself each day provides a lens through which I can view my trials in this way and see the true cause for rejoicing that exists in them. I can then embrace trials as friends and allow them to do God’s good work in me.
Question for you, what is the chief end of man?
The answer, man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
In talking with people about the Problem of Evil, the challenge is what do they believe about God. Here are a couple of statements about God we need to remember.
God is God and we are not.
God is Holy, which means not only that he is perfect but that he is also so “other” than us, different, separate.
God is to be worshipped and submitted to.
God is to be glorified. Our worship is not like a microscope but rather a telescope.
What does a telescope do? It takes something huge, and so not of this world, and makes it more understandable, visible to us but it doesn’t completely represent the object being looked at.
God glorifies himself. He is a jealous God.
The difference between our jealousy and God’s jealousy is he deserves our worship.
He deserves to be AND NEEDS TO BE IN THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE.
If this problem of evil debate is between believers, it is about worship, where is God.
If the is debate is between an unbeliever and believer, it is about the existence of God but really at the heart of the argument is worship.
I want to share ideas from a Gospel Coalition website article by Greg Welty, professor of philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In sharing these thoughts from this short article taken from a 22-page journal article, I am not doing them justice.
If you have done any research, even a little, you probably saw these six statements in some form.
- A perfectly powerful being can prevent any evil.
- A perfectly good being will prevent evil as far as he can.
- God is perfectly powerful and good.
- So, if a perfectly powerful and good God exists, there will be no evil.
- There is evil.
- Therefore, God doesn’t exist.
Now the “problem” with this argument is in the second statement.
“A perfectly good being will prevent evil as far as he can.”
In the article, Welty writes…
We can argue that this premise is false: Theodicy.
We can argue that no one can know this premise is true because no one can know enough to conclude that God doesn’t have a good reason for permitting evil: Inscrutability.
“We cannot grasp God’s knowledge, the
complexity of his plans, or the deep nature of the good he aims at
in providence. And there is no proof that God does not have good reasons for
allowing evil but because he is good can only assume that he does.”
We “can’t come p with God’s reasons, given who God is and who we are.”
I have shared from a devotional book and a philosophy professor.
Now I want to share from the Bible, our source of truth. Here are four passages.
Job 38 – 42.
In my Bible, there are two titles given to these sections “The Lord Answers Job” and “The Lord Challenges Job”
With one small section 40:3-5, entitled “Job promises silence.” Let me read that.
Go home tonight and circle the question marks in Job 38 – 42.
The Story of Joseph
In Genesis 50, Joseph’s brothers come to him fearful that Joseph would have his revenge after their father died. They worked out a formal statement of apology. What was Joseph’s response?
“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good [an even greater good than my good], to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear, I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus, he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Do you know who this verse is written to?
This well-known verse is written to Jewish exiles in Babylon.
Do you know what the verse immediately before this verse says?
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you…”
I would remind high school and college senior classes of this context before they picked this as their class verse.
The big idea is not “God has big plans right now for me.”
The big idea is “I am going to trust God’s plans now and for the next 70 years and beyond because of who he is not because of my circumstances.”
The "good" in verse 28 is not the easy life with no troubles.
Verses 29 says is conformity to the image of God.
As you read through different Christian writers you will see different approaches to the problem of evil (logical, evidential, existential) and different responses to the problem of evil (Free Will Model, Soul-Making Model, Possible Worlds, Suffering of God, Mystical, Narrative)
In what I shared with you tonight, in pastoring my church family, and in the narrative of scripture, I believe the “greater good” response best demonstrates a high view of God and understanding of the Biblical narrative and Biblical theology.
“So many traditional treatments of the problem of evil assume that God’s ultimate purpose is to provide happiness for man and that is not so. God’s ultimate purpose is to glorify himself.” Christensen.
Resources referenced in my notes.
A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent
The Problem of Evil by Greg Welty, www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/the-problem-of-evil/
What About Evil? A Defense of God's Sovereign Glory by Scott Christensen