By Pastor Bill
My mom has been with the church triumphant now for many years but she continues with me in many ways, especially with all the proverbs she taught. One of those little sayings is, “You can’t have your cake and eat it to.” I’ve always taken it to mean that there are trade-offs in life. Sometimes you can’t have everything you want. I believe this little idiom actually applies to the greatest theological problem with which we mortals struggle: theodicy.
As a person of faith and a pastor, I have a real heart for people who are honestly struggling to believe in God and specifically in the God-man Jesus the Christ. One of the biggest philosophical stumbling blocks for people is the immense amount of suffering and evil in the world. About every other week it seems I’m hearing about someone who is ready to throw in the towel on faith because of this issue. The question is simple: How can a good and all powerful God allow such evil and suffering to exist in the world? Volumes of books over the centuries have addressed this vexing question but I’m going to suggest the key answer is in my mom’s old proverb, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
The actual issue here is whether a gracious and all powerful God is incompatible with the existence of suffering and evil. Many conclude that those two can’t coexist. I believe they can. Here is why. Biblically, we believe that God did not cause evil and suffering. Evil and suffering came in via human decision and the rebellion of Satan. God created us in God’s image and although I don’t know exactly what that means, I do know being created in God’s image means we are not mindless robots. We have at some level freedom and autonomy. Adam and eve, whether the first or simply prototypical humans, had a choice. The Biblical explanation of why things are so messed up is because human beings decided to go it alone and have it our own way. How loving would God be if we were created with no autonomy and freedom? Aw, but one will respond, “Ok, so God didn’t cause evil but why does God allow its effects? In other words, if God is loving, why doesn’t he stop all the horrible results of human sin? Let me answer with another question: If God intervened and fixed our actions every time we humans in large and small ways did things that cause suffering, would we really be free? If God said for us not to do some evil action and intervened every time we do it anyway, would we really be free? You see when we reject the notion of a good and gracious all powerful God because of the theodicy dilemma, we are really saying, “God, I want my cake and eat it too. I want to be free and not a robot but I also want you to prevent any of the negative consequences of my freedom.” There are trade offs in life. In truth, all the suffering in the world is the price for each of our being created as something more than mindless robots that God manipulates.
What has God done? Well read the whole Biblical narrative that culminates in God giving his very self in Jesus of Nazareth, the Word made flesh, the 2nd person of the Trinity. Jesus died for our sins and was raised to make us right, whole, and just. (Romans 4.25) Why doesn’t God do something in the face of evil and suffering? God has. God took on flesh for us. But God has also created each one of us and works through us to get God’s will done on earth. Why doesn’t God do something? God did, he created you, he created all of us to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be God’s instruments. My heart breaks as I see all the suffering in the world yet I actually do see God doing amazing things to bring about healing. What would the world look like if God withdrew his hand? It would be far worse or probably we would have destroyed ourselves by now. Ultimately, I look to the event of the resurrection for assurance of God’s goodness in the face of evil and suffering but I also remember my mom and her wonderful wisdom, “Bill, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”