The first point of my sermon on Acts 9:32-43 addresses the grievous nature of this fallen world. While I approach it as a fact of life, the existence of disease and death have been used as arguments against the existence of God. This issue is often called the problem of evil. How can I believe in a perfectly good and powerful God when there is so much death, disease, and evil in this world?
Libraries worth of books and articles have likely been written on this issue, both for and against the existence of God, because this is a critically important matter. That said, I’m fully aware that a reflection consisting of about 700 words is not going to adequately address this matter. However, I hope to point you in the right direction by summarizing a recent book on this topic. I pray this reflection will complement the main idea of the sermon that through the healings of Aeneas and Tabitha we are invited to taste and see the goodness of God by faith in Jesus Christ.
To begin, we need to define the problem, and to do that we can launch from the discussion of God’s power. If the healings of Aeneas and Tabitha display the power of God over disease and death, then we might wonder why God’s power wasn’t used to prevent disease and death in the first place. If our text should make us ask, “What is God not capable of?” we might follow up with this question: “Is God powerful enough to have made a world without pain and suffering?”
If we answer yes, then another potentially disturbing question may come up: “If God is powerful enough, is he then not good enough to have made a world without pain and suffering?” All of this can then be summarized into one searching question: “How could the perfectly good and infinitely powerful God of the Bible have created a world with pain and suffering?”
Before addressing this question, though, it’s important to remember that the problem of evil is a universal problem. Everyone has to wrestle with the grievous nature of this w8orld. While this does not address the question, it does frame it properly. If God is on trial, so to speak, with this question, then so also are Buddha, Allah, materialistic atheism, and so on. In reality, the various explanations ought to be compared so that the testimony of Scripture on this matter can be fairly evaluated.
But now, turning to one way to address this question, I will quote Greg Welty’s answer: “The pain and suffering in God’s world play a necessary role in bringing about greater goods that could not be brought about except for the presence of that pain and suffering. The world would be worse off without that pain and suffering, and so God is justified in pursuing the good by these means.” As Welty explains, this answer assumes that these greater goods are dependent on evil but also far outweigh evil. And so, he argues that “if every evil can be traced to a dependent, weighty good,” then the Christian has a reasonable answer to the problem of evil.
Welty then argues that the Scriptural testimony supports his argument. He considers the examples of Job, Joseph, and Jesus, each of which testifies to some great good that came about by evil. Importantly, he also notes that these three biblical examples include an element of mystery. To some degree in each example, “God leaves created persons in the dark (in the dark about which goods are indeed his reasons for the evils, or about how the goods depend on the evils).” That is to say, there is always an element of limited human knowledge when it comes to God’s actions in the world.
This final part is crucial for us because it requires us to humbly submit to the unsearchable mind of God on matters he has not revealed to us. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deut 29:29) says Moses, reminding us that God’s revelation is not a complete revelation of himself. “To the extent that God has not spoken about a particular event in history, his judgments are unsearchable, and his paths are beyond tracing out. But that does not mean there is not a greater good which justifies God’s purposing of that event.”
In the end, I would argue that the problem of evil is less important than the solution. For the believer, the cross of Christ decisively declares that God himself solves the problem. The testimony of Scripture and our experience of salvation are a taste of God’s goodness, which we will fully experience in the new heaven and new earth where there is no unclean thing, no problem of evil.