“There are man-eating sharks in every ocean. But we still swim. Every second somewhere in the world lightening strikes. But we still play in the rain. Poisonous snakes can be found in 49 of the 50 states. But we still go looking for adventure. A car can crash. A house can crumble. But we still drive. And love coming home.
Because I think deep down we know all the bad things that can happen in life they can’t stop us from making our lives good.”
The preceding copy is from a recent All State Insurance commercial. The line “People live for good” appears on the screen at the end. It’s a touching commercial, as far as commercials go. I mean, it’s not Hallmark, of course, or even AT&T’s “Reach out and touch someone.” But it’s good.
And it makes the claim that people are living for “good” whatever that is supposed to mean. I’m assuming it means happiness. I think I would agree with this observation, albeit written to woo customers into a contractual commitment. The point of the ad seems to be that though bad stuff happens (which is why insurance companies exist) we can still find some measure of happiness in a tough world.
We all know too well that it is a tough world. It’s a wild world, to quote the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens. Believers and unbelievers face the fatal force of a cruel and uncaring cosmos everyday. Atheist author Alex Rosenberg makes this point clearly in his book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, “Reality is rough. But it could have been worse. We could have been faced with reality in all its roughness plus a God who made it that way.”
He’s right. It could have been worse . . . especially if God really did make it this way. But perhaps God didn’t make it that way. And the alternative, at least for Rosenberg, is a universe born from chance headed towards certain doom that doesn’t give a rip about what happens on the frail surface of one of its planets. Ultimately, however, I’m a Christian because I believe the claims of Jesus are true, not simply because I like the Christian end of the story better than the atheistic one.
No one should choose their worldview based merely on a preferred outcome, but it is helpful to at least consider the contrast. And it is always helpful to examine the coherence of someone’s worldview in evaluating their commitments. One way to do this is to step inside their view of reality and test whether or not their values (what they care about and how they live their lives) flow logically from their premises. And this leads into, in fact, one of the critiques of the Christian faith, that the existence of evil is incompatible with belief in a loving and all powerful God.
Let me begin by saying that I don’t think we can totally let God off the hook when it comes to the problem of evil. I believe He is sovereign but I’d be lying if I said I fully understand how all this works. I totally get it when we say that God does all things for his glory. And I believe that in his “omni” attributes he is in charge of the whole show. I get it. And I believe it. But how does this jive (to use some retro jargon) with our day to day encounters with evil?
How does it all fit together in the face of gross suffering? I can’t totally answer that, just to be honest. I’m not sure that I will ever be able to exhaust all of what that means and how all it all works out. I believe God is all loving and all powerful. I believe he could stop evil. And everyday reality reminds me that he hasn’t. Yet. I believe there is a timeline, that the Father alone knows (Matt 24:36), when evil will be extinguished. Maranatha.
But there ares some foundational truths that frame the way I think about evil in our world that keep me from despair, and actually enable human suffering to point to the goodness of God.
For starters, I know that God created the universe as good (Genesis 1). I believe what the Psalmist said that to be near to God is our good (Psalm 73:28). And I also know that from the very beginning of time humanity has chosen to go the opposite direction. That surely can’t be good.
As far as I can tell there are seven clear effects of mankind’s rebellion against God outlined in Genesis: physical pain and death (2:17, 3:16), moral confusion (Genesis 2:, 3:13, 22), guilt and shame (3:7), spiritual separation (3:8), satanic oppression (3:14-15), relational strife (3:16), and environmental turmoil (3:17-20).
I know some theologians don’t like a free will explanation of evil, but I’m not sure how to make sense out of the Genesis narrative without considering Adam’s decision . . . d-e-c-i-s-i-o-n . . . an act of the will by which he disobeyed God. As I stated earlier, we have to see Adam’s fall (and ours) against the backdrop of God’s providence. It seems, however, that an all wise Creator made a creature who possessed the ability to make meaningful decisions. And Adam chose unwisely. And so do we.
As John Lennox has pointed out, parents take the same risk when they choose to have children. Kids can choose to reject their parents or to love them. It kind of makes sense since God reveals himself as Father and even when Jesus told a story of God’s great love he packed it in a parable about a rebellious son who received absolutely astounding grace from his father upon returning home. I’m not sure if the parent analogy is not one of the best word pictures for God’s relationship to humanity since that is the one used most frequently in Scripture.
So here we are in a fallen and cursed world facing natural and moral evil as we serve a God we can’t see. Sound easy? Of course it’s not. But there are some rock solid promises you can cling to even as you taste the bitterness life shoves down your throat. For starters God has promised to bring an end to evil and to reverse the curse. In the midst of the effects of the fall (mentioned above) God promised Adam and Eve that one of their descendents would crush the head of the serpent. This was inaugurated by Jesus’s life and ministry but it will not be fully realized until his return.
So we live in the “already – not yet” of this reality.
Ergo, we should be careful not to too quickly appropriate certain promises that belong to the “not yet” of the Christian faith. For example, the passage we often quote at funerals that Jesus has removed the sting from death (1 Corinthians 15). If you read the passage in context it’s clear that this is part of the culmination of history when Jesus destroys all of his enemies, including his final enemy, which is death (1 Cor 15:26).
So for now death does sting. For now the grave does seem victorious. Consequently, we grieve. But we don’t grieve as those without hope (1 Thess 4:13). Believers have a peace that doesn’t make sense to the watching world—it surpasses human understanding (Phil 4:7). This is the power of the gospel at work in the life of the Christian.
Dark times may tempt us to doubt the reality of God’s power and goodness. But God expressed his love for us by entering our suffering. In the Incarnation Christ took on the form of a servant to be mocked, whipped, and nailed to a tree. I’m sure Jesus’s mother might have been tempted to question God’s good providence, but surely she understood that her son’s flailing silhouette exalted upon a Jerusalem hill was actually the manifestation of God’s love for humanity. And Christ’s resurrection was God’s validation stamp on the expiration date of the grave. Death is not final. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).
But is evil really compatible with the gospel? If you’re a believer you’ve likely heard that question. And if you’re a skeptic you’ve likely asked it.
Here’s a quick thought to wrap up—and I offer this in hope of not insulting such an important question with a brief response. I’m not sure how the problem of evil could be considered incompatible with Christian faith if it is viewed through a biblical framework. The four fundamental elements of a Christian view of history are creation, separation, incarnation, and regeneration. The sum is that we have rebelled against our Creator, he responded in love when he entered our despair, died in our place and defeated the grave so that we might have new life. This is the gospel.
Like the commercial, I believe people live for good. I believe this is the Image of God stamped on every individual, and I believe it is, in part, a result of the common grace bestowed upon all of humanity. But I don’t think we can muster the kind of confidence we need to face a shark and snake infested world by placing ourselves in the good hands of an insurance company. I believe our good will be found in the hands of a loving God who will one day crush the snake and kill death itself.
That is something, or rather someone, worth living for.