Many of you know that my wife has cancer. Her long-term prognosis is not great, but the most recent scan we had shows that the chemotherapy is reducing the size of her tumors, and we are very thankful. We are keenly aware that many other cancer patients received bad news this week, and are suffering terrible physical and emotional pain from this horrible disease.
The reality of pain and suffering – whether caused by diseases like cancer, disasters like tsunamis, or inhumanities like murder – is a great challenge to faith. The psalmist Asaph says his faith faltered as he “saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:2-3). In the midst of his anguish, Job complained about God’s seeming indifference: “It is all one; therefore I say, He destroys both the blameless and the wicked” (Job 9:22). And even the Lord Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46, quoting Psalm 22:1).
Philosophers refer to the difficulty in reconciling the existence of suffering with the existence of God as the problem of evil. To state the argument in its classical formulation, it goes like this:
Premise 1: Evil exists.
Premise 2: If God was all-powerful, He could prevent the existence of evil.
Premise 3: If God was all-good, He would prevent the existence of evil.
Conclusion: Therefore God does not exist.
What are we to make of this argument? Christians accept the first premise – evil does indeed exist. And Christians agree with the second premise – God is all-powerful, and He could prevent the existence of evil. But what about the third premise – that if God was all-good He would have prevented the existence of evil? This is the key contention, and it is the one that I want to focus on in a moment.