Process theologians deal with the on-going state of being and the relationship between God and man. Theodicists attempt to explain the simultaneous existence of evil and a loving, all-powerful God. If God exists as an all-powerful and loving Deity, how can there be genuine evil in the world? Does genuine evil exist? Is God the author of evil? If so, why does God hold humans responsible for their actions? In this essay, I will attempt to explain how an understanding of Scripture can bring light to a coexistence of evil and a loving God.
The problem of how evil and a loving God can co-exist can be understood, as long as we bring free will into the frame of reference. Is God all powerful? If so, and he does nothing about Satan, then how can God be merciful? He allows all the suffering to continue by his inaction. Is it possible that God is not all powerful, and Satan exists because God can’t do anything about him? That doesn’t sit well. Let’s stipulate that God could smite Satan at will. If God did that, however, then there would be no choices, no temptations, with which human kind would wrestle. There would be no need for free will, at least in the sense of choice between good and bad.
The Christian understanding of Satan goes back to the Garden, where Satan, who was represented by a snake, deceived humanity and as a result changed the course of history. Since that time, Satan has been attempting to thwart the purposes of God by deceiving humanity and leading them away from a relationship with a loving Creator. Satan has also been blamed for the earth’s disasters. We see this exemplified in the book of Job, where Satan challenges God about Job’s piety. God accepts the cosmic challenge and Job subsequently becomes the victim of a relentless attack.
Of course, Biblical scholars do not take the accounts of Job and creation literally, but the concept of evil personified is evident. We repeatedly see evidence of this truth in the Gospels as Jesus casts out demons. In college, a psychology professor told my class that demons were only a representation of mental illness or epilepsy—two conditions for which the biblical writers had no frame of reference. But how does this explain Paul’s statement in Ephesians that our “struggles are not against flesh and blood, but against…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”? An example of this struggle is found in Daniel chapter 10 where Daniel’s answer to a prayer is delayed by demonic activity that hinders the messenger angel.
An evil entity capable of influencing the hearts and minds of people, and incorporating the concept of a curse set in motion when humanity first disobeyed God gives an adequate Scriptural explanation of why people sin. It also explains why a loving God holds people responsible for their choices. Humans have the power to resist temptation. They also have the power to stop others influenced by evil from carrying out evil deeds. However, this does not explain why an all-powerful and loving God does not stop evil from happening. The experience of Job causes us to ask why a loving God would agree to a cosmic challenge in which Job would lose his family, his wealth and his health.
Cobb said that a “proper conception of divine power holds the key to the Christian solution of the problem of evil” (Evil and the Power of God, 1). This is certainly true. As imperfect people we have imperfect expectations of God. Those imperfect expectations can cause us to misunderstand a loving God. However, there is another element that will help us in our journey as we experience the results of evil. That element is absolute trust.
Part of my own experience is so mysterious that all I can do is entrust myself to a God who has proven his goodness and love. In 2004, my husband, who was a pastor in the Nazarene church and loved God, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is almost always fatal. It is usually found too late because pancreatic tumors begin in the back of the pancreas many times. In Gordon’s case, the tumor blocked the bile duct and started causing symptoms immediately. Because of this, Gordon had 18 months left rather than the usual 4 to 6 month death sentence that most pancreatic cancer patients receive. This 18 month period was full of trials because of his health. It was also full of happiness as we experienced God’s love and care in many ways. During this time of uncertainty, the only real assurance I had was that God had a purpose and that he was taking care of our family. The peace that I had was evident to everyone around me.
To share all of the miracles our family experienced is beyond the scope of this paper, but the questions about why Gordon died, why I was a 37 year old widow, and why my three boys were left without a father could possibly remain with me until I reach heaven. Through this experience, though, I share the awe that Job felt in realizing that God’s purposes far exceed my understanding.
Like everyone else, I do not understand the problem of evil. I understand that because of the curse we do not live in a perfect world and bad things happen. Though my experience with the evil of cancer pales in comparison with other tragedies, it is because of my experience that I understand that evil does not change the loving nature of God’s character. Scripture says that the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous, so no one is exempt from suffering the effects of evil events. As Christians attempting to explain a loving God to non-believers and to each other, we must take Cobb’s suggestion and bring to process theology and theodicy a view immersed in Scripture. It is through an understanding of the process of events in Scripture that the problem of evil can be satisfactorily explained.