The Pastor's Study | God's Answer to the Problem of Evil
The greatest act of evil in the history of the world was used by God to accomplish the greatest good ever achieved. In fact, God was overseeing the most egregious act of injustice known to man. God planned it in eternity past, He predicted it in the Old Testament, He orchestrated all the events leading up to it in the New Testament, and He carried out its execution to the bitter end.
Who Caused Jesus’ Death?
When it was released in 2004, Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, became a public scandal. Although it brought in over $600,000,000 worldwide, it was boycotted by standard American distribution companies, Hollywood elites, and even by a few countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain. The controversy was over the question: “Who was responsible for Jesus’ death?” In Gibson’s film it was the Jewish leadership that spear- headed Christ’s death. As a result, Gibson was branded an anti-Semite. All the pundits chimed in with their opinions. Most suggested it was either the Romans, or Pilate, or Judas or the Sanhedrin who killed Jesus. Few, if any, in the public arena were consulting the Bible for the answer. But the Bible is clear on who was responsible for killing Jesus. Those responsible include the following: (1) the Jewish Sanhedrin (John 11:47-53), (2) Judas (John 18:1-3), (3) Herod (Acts 4:27), (4) Pilate (John 19:16), (5) the Roman soldiers (John 19:17-18, 23) and all sinners, including you and me (Isaiah 53:5). Christ’s execution was a corporate act.
Amidst the furious debate at the time of Gibson’s movie, one candidate was entirely left out of the discussion regarding whom had Christ executed—and that was God the Father. God was never associated with the betrayal, arrest, torture and death of Christ, the greatest act of evil humanity has ever known. Yet Scripture teaches that God the Father was in charge every step of the way. God planned Jesus’ death in eternity past: “blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet 1:19-20; cf. Rev 13:8). God announced 4,000 years before His death that Jesus would be “wounded” (Genesis 3:15). One thousand years before the crucifixion, God said Jesus would be pierced in the hands and the feet (Ps 22:16). God predicted 700 years before Christ that Jesus would be murdered by evil men even though He, Himself, would be absolutely innocent (Isa 53:9).
The Father’s Plan
Not only did the Father plan Jesus’ death in eternity past and predict it in the Old Testament, the Father was active in the death of Christ and even punished Jesus, His own Son, while Christ hung on the cross for nearly six hours. Isaiah clearly says that God the Father was the One who punished Jesus on the cross: “Smitten of God, and afflicted...the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief” (53:4, 10). Smitten, afflicted, crushed...by God the Father Himself! Some evangelicals blatantly deny this key truth about the atonement. Many others misplace the emphasis of Christ’s sufferings either by overemphasizing the physical pain He endured or by saying He was passively abandoned by the Father. Tim Keller says at the cross Jesus experienced “cosmic rejection and pain,” but never explicitly says it was the Father who punished Jesus. Christian philosopher Douglas Groothuis, says Jesus did not even really know why He was dying on the cross at the time of the crucifixion! What made Christ’s death on the cross so horrendous was not so much the physical pain as much as the invisible transaction that took place as the Father poured out His full fury of wrath and hatred toward sin on Christ as He hung on the cross.
This is also the clear teaching of the New Testament: “O Lord...For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, who Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:24, 27-28). God predestined, or planned in eternity past, the death of Christ by means of evil wicked sinners to accomplish His perfect plan of salvation for the world. At the cross, God poured out His full fury of holy torment toward sin on Jesus. It was the cup of the Father’s wrath that Jesus would absorb (Mark 14:36). Jesus was punished by the Father as the perfect substitute for sinners and thus conquered Satan, subdued death, overcame the world and appeased God’s holy hatred of sin. The most heinous evil human act in history—the death of Christ—achieved the greatest good ever known, which is salvation for sinners.
God’s Solution to the Problem of Evil
Neither raw human logic, nor esoteric philosophy can answer the dilemma of the problem of evil. Only God can. And He has chosen to reveal what we need to know about it in the Bible. There is much about it that God has chosen not to reveal, and that is to His glory. In the end, with humility and faith, we must submit our hearts to God and solicit the prayer of Abraham who said to God: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Gen 18:25).
The problem of evil is considered by many the strongest argument against the truth of Christianity and the Bible. Simply stated, the problem of evil asks, “If God is good and all powerful, then why is there evil and suffering in the world?” Historically, many Christians have attempted to answer this question from a philosophical and theoretical point of view instead of a biblical and theological one. As a result, typical answers offered are man-centered, Arminian, insufficient and even at times unbiblical. The doc- trine of the sufficiency of Scripture, or sola Scriptura, needs to be invoked on this matter. Biblical truth needs to define and drive this discussion. The believer cannot allow the critics to frame the debate by granting them their sterile definition of evil and their myopic definition of who God is. Evil is what God says it is as revealed in Scripture—not what some atheist or evolutionist says it is, for they have no binding universal standard by which to define anything. God needs to define His nature—not the atheist. The atheists blasphemously define God with only two attributes—love (goodness) and power. They conveniently deny God His essential nature of holiness as revealed in His justice, wrath, jealousy, righteousness, glory and sovereignty.
God is in Control
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is typically neglected in discussions on the problem of evil. The Bible clearly reveals that God is absolutely sovereign over all things including evil, pain and suffering, and has a plan for it all in His perfect timing for His glory. In addition, the reality of the Fall of man and God’s resultant devastating curse on the earth and the human race is usually downplayed or ignored altogether in discussions of the problem of evil. Why is there pain and suffering and evil in the world? Because Adam and Eve disobeyed God and willfully sinned as rebels and God punished them with the curse as a result. Ever since then, all creation has been groaning in turmoil awaiting the redemption yet to come. This world is currently fallen and under God’s judgment. Jesus the Savior is the answer to the problem of evil. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He was all good and omnipotent, yet was subject to pain, suffering and the evil of others. He subjected Himself willingly to the most heinous evil act in the history of the universe (crucifixion) to accomplish the greatest good ever (salvation). All who believe in Him as Savior and Lord will have eternal life, eventually in heaven where all pain, suffering and evil will be banished forever. Those who reject Christ will live in the worst place of suffering, pain, and evil ever known—eternal hell, a real place which will exist for all eternity. And both heaven and hell will simultaneously reveal for all creation, for all time, the full, true, glorious nature of the one Almighty God of the universe. To Him alone be all the glory, forever and ever.