I prayed with her in the hospital. She donated a kidney to the father of one of her students, a man from our church. She was a cheerful, kind person. I was glad that I had the chance to meet her. A day or two after going home from the hospital, she was murdered. The news was shocking. Such a selfless and sacrificial act followed by someone’s act of cruelty and injustice.*
Emotionally, I understand the atheist’s rage against the problem of evil and pain. The atheist argues that if God is all good, loving, and powerful, then evil and pain should not exist. Since we are surrounded by evil and pain, the argument continues, God must not exist. Yet the atheist’s argument has an unstated premise. It assumes that an all good, loving, and powerful God would always immediately and preventatively deal with the problem of evil and pain. But what if there is a reason for delay? What if the last words stamped across human history are justice and mercy?
That after all is the Christian message. There is a reason for delay. If God had dealt immediately with the problem of evil, the Bible would end at Genesis chapter 3 and humanity would be lost. God has been at work in history to save, redeem, and reconcile. The world had to continue with the consequences of sin and death. The march of history had to include human free will, even the will to do great evil. God ultimately entered into human history in the person of His Son to die on the cross to provide the solution.
The cruelty of the cross demonstrated how malevolent sin is, and Christ’s substitutionary death proved God to be both just and merciful. The demands of justice were fulfilled so that mercy could be abundant. Our sin problem is cured by God’s forgiveness. Our sin problem is treated by sanctification, the transformation of character that comes from living close to God. And we await Christ’s return. As Peter stated: “…[W]e are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13, ESV).
Yet, we live in between the times of Jesus’ first and second comings. I must admit that there are times when pain and evil strike that we may feel like we’ve been sucker punched in the stomach. We reel with the problems that evil and pain create in the world around us. We wrestle with our faith that points us beyond to the ultimate solution even though we are left to tread through the valley of the shadow of death.
Intellectual arguments are not the salve for broken hearts. We must weep with those who weep. Love, patience, kindness, and service are a balm to the hurting. Yet, service is prompted by faith. The anguished cry of the atheist is not the last word. God has the last word, and because He does, we live and serve in hope.
– Russ Holden
*The murder of Renee Pagel was brutal. I met her days before due to her donating a kidney to man who was member of our church. His daughter was Renee’s student. I went to her funeral because of this family’s closeness to the situation. And it happened, one of the detectives on this case was also a member of our church. I remember the day he texted me to say that Renee’s estranged husband had been arrested. It took fourteen years. We are confronted by evil in this life, and I believe Christianity has the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual answers. But there is still pain. We must weep with those who weep.