Friday, December 14, 2012

Domesticating Evil

“What do you think about evil?”

It was a question my Gospels professor asked a classroom full of junior and senior Bible majors, who always have deep thoughts and several cross-references to back them up (sometimes they’ll even throw in a little Greek). So I knew it would be an interesting discussion.

Several students shared about how they’ve learned a lot about trusting God in hard times, and that suffering has given them the ability to minister to others who are suffering and bring them hope.

But the professor kept pushing. “But what about really terrible evil on a large scale—like natural disasters or trafficking of child slaves or genocides?”

Or an entire class of elementary school kids in Connecticut murdered on what was once a normal school day. What about that?

And the answers came again, this time more along the lines of how God can bring good out of even the worst evil, like with Joseph. Sometimes natural disasters like wildfires are ultimately a benefit to the land. We can’t fully understand what God is up to so we just need to trust the He has a plan.

In a way, I think all of those things may be true. But I raised my hand anyway, because I just couldn’t leave it at that. There was something more that I felt needed to be said, so I said it. “Sometimes I think we need to let evil be evil without saying that it leads to something good.”

Everyone kind of looked at me suspiciously, like I was condemning theodicy and the entire apologetic enterprise. Which wasn’t what I was doing.

Can God use evil to accomplish good? Yes. But if we only talk about the fact that evil is a means to good, then why not celebrate evil? After all, it’s God’s chosen tool to work in our lives. Since no terrible event (based on how we talk about it) is without some kind of justification, evil can’t be all bad, right?

Wrong. Because the Fall happened. Sometimes we choose evil, and yes, God can work through that to bring some measure of redemption…but it wasn’t His design. The world is broken. We do not do what is right. Everything falls apart. And when you think of the collective sum of all the suffering in the world—or even all the suffering of this one situation in Connecticut­­: all the crying siblings, all the frightened children, all the teachers and parents who would have died for those kids but couldn’t—trying to force evil to make sense seems pointless and insensitive.

I think we do a great disservice to the goodness of God when we try to explain away evil. We go to extreme lengths to make evil tamer, like domesticating a mountain lion and bringing it into the house as a family pet. But it’s not blasphemy to hold back an authoritative judgment on why God let this happen. God does not need us to defend Him or explain His actions.

When we refuse to justify or moderate evil with promises of Romans 8:28, we’re actually being more true to our faith. We are saying, “This is not the way things should be.” We should mourn with people and resist the urge to give them cliché and hollow promises of future blessing or heavenly reward. When we do that, we are showing that we need a Savior, because, God help us, we cannot save ourselves. Too many things are broken. Too much needless pain comes to others because of our selfish choices. Too many tears are shed for children who aren’t coming home.

We need Jesus precisely because evil is evil.

So please don’t put evil in a fluffy bunny suit. Don’t try to make it harmless or understandable or good in the end. Don’t sing, “You make all things work together for my good,” and expect that God is under an obligation to eventually turn every terrible situation into something that is good for you individually in a way we can see on Earth. Don’t promise the last chapter of Job to everyone who’s going through a hard time.

Cry. Mourn. Pray. And feel free to get angry at injustice and senseless violence. Because God does too, and He might even appreciate it if we stopped trying to make holy-sounding excuses for the sinful actions of others.

Evil is evil. God is good. I can believe both of those at the same time.


  1. This. I have been trying to come up with a way to express this same thought, too many people have been justifying it by "the way the community has come together" or similar wishy-washy mumbo jumbo. sometimes tragedies are just tragic. thank you for putting words to what i was feeling but couldn't describe

  2. thanks for this, amy. just a little while before coming across this post, i had sent a note to a friend with similar concern about our society's tendency to desperately grasp for making sense of evil. when like you said, we live in a fallen world.

    paul tripp says in his book, forever,
    "so much of your distress at what is, is really a hunger for what will be."