The Problem of Evil Solved!

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Salisbury Gargoyle(Based on a non-canonical hypothetical conversation between Jesus and Thomas.)

For forty days after his resurrection, Jesus met often with his apostles, speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). The apostles asked many questions about times and seasons, and about God’s plan.

One day Thomas said to Jesus, “You rose from the dead and defeated Satan! But there is still so much violence and evil in the world. Why?”

Jesus replied, “As I have often told you, there are many things you do not understand now, but you will know later.”

Thomas said, “But can you give us some help now? We are troubled and puzzled that we still see so much suffering and evil all around us!”

Jesus said, “This is a very big question. And there will be a very big answer.”

Thomas said, “Surely there must finally be a truly satisfying answer to evil! Especially the problem of so much terrible and seemingly meaningless, innocent suffering in this present world.”

Jesus said, “In the Age to Come, the Father will fully compensate for all this evil and suffering. He will make up for it fully.”

Thomas replied, “Well, yes. God’s purposes are always good and perfect. And your people in the past have always said that. The Psalms often say the same thing, one way or another. Among us Jews, it’s the traditional answer. But it doesn’t give much help to people who are suffering right now!”

Jesus said, “Yes, I know. But there is a great truth here. In the Age to Come, the Father will fully, genuinely compensate for all the suffering in the present world. He will give the victims of suffering a rich, fulfilling life that far outweighs the suffering. Even if the people who suffer now do not know me now in the midst of their suffering, they will know me then.”

Thomas was quiet, pondering these words.

Jesus continued: “Actually the life to come will be richer, fuller, deeper, more joyous and satisfying than if the person had never experienced the suffering at all. Tears of suffering will become streams of joy.”

Thomas said, “What?! How can that be?”

Jesus said, “In that day you will see that the painful, often overwhelming experience of suffering will have been redeemed. In fact, the heavy agony of suffering will make the New Creation richer and brighter than if it had never happened!”

Thomas said, “I can’t comprehend that.”

Jesus said, “No, not yet. But search the Scriptures. Many places the Law and the Prophets point this direction. Some of my chosen instruments in coming days will teach and write things that point this way. This will give comfort to those who mourn or suffer or must endure torture, tragedy, exploitation, and abuse.”

Jesus added, “I am not saying everyone will be saved, or that suffering buys salvation. No. But I have paid the ransom. I have opened the door. I have conquered death, suffering, the grave, the Evil One.”

Thomas and the other apostles fell silent, thinking about these words.

After a few minutes Jesus added, “This is for you to believe. You must trust me and the Father. You must let my Spirit lead you. And you will be my comforting arms and hands and feet now, to the world’s poor and oppressed, the world’s suffering ones, here and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus concluded, “So this is for you to believe. It is faith and trust. It is hope, not as the world gives, but as promised by the Father in the Scriptures, and as you have seen in me and in all that I have taught you. This is not meaningless. It is not empty words. It will not satisfy the wisdom of the world. But it is the truth.”

Thomas said, “Lord, I believe.”

Jesus said finally, “I am the Lion and the Lamb. Right now, people see me mostly as the Lamb that was slain, who died but rose again to bring salvation. But I am also the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. The day is coming when I will roar, evil will be judged, and the earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.”

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Postscript: N. T. Wright argues in Surprised by Scripture that the solution to the problem of evil is to be enacted, not explained philosophically. We, God’s people, are to be the solution to the problem of evil. Wright argues, “The suffering love of God, lived out again by the Spirit in the lives of God’s people, is the God-given answer to the evils of the world” (Surprised by Scripture, 124).

Still, the problem of evil remains painful and complex for us now, as I discuss in my previous Seedbed post, “The Myth of ‘God’s Uncontrolling Love’” (a version of which is now also on Academia.edu).

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International Representative, Manchester Wesley Research Centre in Manchester, England. Formerly professor of the history and theology of mission, Asbury Theological Seminary (1996-2006); Professor of Wesley Studies, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, 2007-2012. Has taught and pastored in São Paulo, Brazil; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Snyder's main interest is in the power and relevance of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom for the world today and tomorrow. Works include The Problem of Wineskins, Community of the King, and most recently, Jesus and Pocahontas: Gospel, Mission, and National Myth.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I especially find your dialogical format helpful in thinking through the problem of evil and to be specific, the idea that the hope of the life to come is what anchors our suffering here on earth. As one who lost a brother last year, I get the sentiments of N. T. Wright in saying the intellectual problem of evil isn’t as important as his (and the scripture’s) theological solution, that is, new heavens and new earth. Still, the philosophical solutions offered build may help support a robust theology of suffering. I’m in agreement with general sentiments that in our present (and future) personal suffering, the “suffering Love of God” (also heard this phrase from Wolterstoff) will carry us through. . . I experienced it during the loss of my brother. God is a God of comfort, now and in the life to come.

    • Excellent. Thanks, Kevin. I am sorry for your loss. Most basically, these issues are personal, intimate, often painful and sometimes puzzling. Yet we need to do the best we can to provide rational answers, or at least partial answers.

  2. I continue to be somewhat amazed and puzzled that the evil, suffering, abuse, oppression, torture, predation, and capricious evil in the world don’t seem to concern Christians more than they do. I think many find such meaning in the love of God and in Christian family and fellowship, and in the circle of their own lives, that they simply don’t think much about the evil and suffering in the world.

    • Great post Dr. Snyder! I, too, share your confusion as to why more Christians are not concerned about the problem of evil. I was wondering if you had any suggestions on good books to read on the subject? Thanks and I always enjoy reading your thoughts here.

      • Thanks, Mike. Good to hear from you! I know C. S. Lewis writes on this, as does E. Stanley Jones. However I’ve just finished N. T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture,” and at two or three places he writes eloquently and helpfully on the matter, putting it into (I think) proper biblical perspective.

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