Mary & I recently went to the movies and saw “Tolkien,” the biopic about the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. We liked it. It’s about J.R.R. Tolkien’s early life—from boyhood to when he began teaching at Oxford University. There’s nothing about him leading C.S. Lewis to faith, or about his association with the Inklings (there’s not a lot about his faith in Christ at all, actually). There’s quite a bit about the events that shaped him and became themes in his novels. If you read Tolkien, you realize that the fight against evil is a dominant motif. The problem of evil is one that we Christians must address at times with those who have a different view of the world. Here’s an attempt to give you some talking points for that discussion.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100:5)
As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them. (Ecclesiastes 9:12)
The Biblical view of this world is one of spoiled goodness. Evil is the warping of the good. God did not create evil, but He did create both invisible and visible beings with power over a physical world who have the ability to choose His good or to reject it. Thus, good is primary and evil requires good to exist. We know God does not override the will of angels nor humans in their choices (to do so would take away their free will) but the Bible states that God can make good come from evil choices— for He is both merciful and full of grace. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
A truly good God would only create the best of all possible worlds. The problem is that this world is obviously not the best possible world—but it is on the way to the best possible world. God will create a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more pain or death; but in the meantime, He is about making goodness appear in the bleakest of situations. Consider heroism, which is the kind of good that can only grow in the face of evil. Consider patience, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, sacrifice—all of which require an evil against which to react. The Book of James acknowledges this when James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:1-4)
The Bible reveals that God only permits as much evil as is necessary (in a universe with beings who have free will) to provide for the potential of their increased goodness. As evil as these times are, God recognizes our ability to choose but allows only what He must to accomplish His ends. It was even so with Jesus—as the writer of Hebrews says, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)