In the film Hannah and Her Sisters, the character played by Woody Allen tries to tell his Jewish parents that he has difficulty believing in the God of their faith. His mother won’t hear such nonsense and locks herself in the bathroom. Allen’s character shouts after her, “Well, if there’s a God, then why is there so much evil in the world? Just on a simplistic level, why were there Nazis?” From behind the bathroom door the mother cries out to her husband, “Tell him, Max.” The father replies, “How in the world do I know why there were Nazis? I don’t even know how the can opener works!”
Evil confronts us in many ways, and demands some kind of an answer. Regardless of whether we believe God exists, that we are god, that everything is god, or that there is no god, some kind of answer is needed. To the Christian, the question is posed in light of the view of God that is presented in the Bible, but all beliefs and everyone has to come up with some kind of explanation. The problem of evil demands some kind of philosophical response, but also one that satisfies us existentially.
It has been fashionable of late to reject any and all notions of truth in place of taste and perspective. Reality is merely what one clams it to be. Truth is merely as we see it, or as it is socially constructed. But even when posing the oft-asked questions, “Where was God when such and such an event happened?” or “Why did God allow it to happen?” some knowledge of what life is about is presupposed. Moreover, positing the questions of God’s involvement and whereabouts in the midst of evil presupposes some sense and notion of good.
But where does this notion come from? As the Twin Towers fell in New York City, many of the same voices which days earlier claimed the moral equivalence of all views suddenly seemed compelled to invoke evil as real, as different from something else, and that something called the “good” was both better and to be defended.
The biblical vision captured in the Westminster Confession in 1646 claims: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” To most modern people, the chief end of life is to provide freedom and as much pleasure as we can get forever. Interestingly, as we look back through the history of ideas, the question, “Where is God when it hurts” was not asked before the 17th century. The inquiry has a late pedigree in our making man the center and measure of all things in our considerations.
Yet the Bible clears up any ambiguity about who we are, who God is, what is wrong with the world, and what can be done. The possibility of freely chosen love means allowing conditions that permit freely chosen rejection, evil, or alternatives. Our lack of interest in God and our self-assured confidence excludes any normal or routine reflection on life. For many of us, pain is the platform from which the imperative questions of life are asked and answered. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
The question of God’s presence in the midst of evil is answered in the silhouette at the heart of a different question: Where was God at the crux of human history? As the disciples’ gazed at the cross, their expectations were dashed, their hopes shattered, and they could not see God in the midst of the turning point of history. But at the cross, what men at first could not see was the very triumph of good over evil.
Stuart McAllister is vice president of training and special projects at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.