One question that never seems to go away, even if we would prefer that it did; is the so called problem of evil and God. The Scottish philosopher par excellence, David Hume is famous for rhetorically musing:
“Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is impotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”
My usual response to this kind of Humian skepticism, when I encounter it usually in evangelistic situations, is that they are starting in the wrong place; more pointedly, that they are starting in the wrong story, and thus ultimately with the wrong conception and categories for thinking about who God is, and how this God acts, and how he has concretely acted for us in and through Jesus Christ. And not only as a past reality, but in a perfect tense, in an ongoing reality that flows from the particular event and act of God in Jesus Christ for us at the cross; which inaugurated and presupposed a whole bunch of things about God’s eschatological life breaking in on us then and now, and into the future. Basically all I want to highlight with this post is a quote from Michael Horton, he captures this kind of shifting-the-story approach when engaging with this purported problem of God and evil:
[O]ur question, therefore, could be transposed in the following manner: If God is a player at all in this drama, much less the playwright, why doesn’t he reduce the problems the characters encounter? In the “divine drama” model, the problem of evil needs to be reconfigured. Without determining the possible positions in advance, the root metaphor nevertheless resists metaphysical speculation. Here, the question is, given the facts of this play. It is a drama with its own plot: creation in the divine image, forfeiting the consummation by rebellion, a promised Messiah and a typological kingdom of God, the advent of the second Adam to rescue fallen image-bearers, and his return “at the end of the age” in order to consummate the forfeited kingdom forever. Its central actor is an unsubstitutable character, as Hans Frei would say. And its answer to evil is practical (acted out) rather than theoretical. No other story could be substantiated to make basically the same point. [Michael S. Horton, Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama, 92.]
Obviously, this kind of narrative-shifting approach to dealing with this philosophical and ethical dilemma of God and evil, is situated in a kind of presuppositionalist mode; which in some ways needs to be corrected a bit. But that notwithstanding, the general principle of this approach is laudable, precisely because it discerns the underlying problem at the center of conceiving of God and the problem of evil. Contrary to Hume’s approach—one that starts in a story wherein humanity’s autonomous reason and rationality reigns supreme—the theo-dramatic approach highlighted by Horton presupposes one crucial thing; that the story is not one of our making, but God who is Lord over creation (not able then to be collapsed into His creation as hyperimmenant approaches do), and this story (creation, in general/salvation-history, in particular) is His story; and His story has cruciform shape come hidden and at the same time revealed in the sullen vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ for us.
So far, from evil being in competition with a Holy God; what the right story does for the interested reader, is that it reorients the starting questions to those that God Himself has provided in His-tory; and the antecedent reality to this-story is really His kind of life that He has always already shared with His dearly beloved Son bonded in the communing love of the Holy Spirit. An inner life that is shaped by the kind of cross-shapedness that is fitting and fitted for what is finally revealed as the ultimate fulcrum for which creation was originally made; that is to participate in this kind of cruciform life in union with Christ for all eternity. This is the wisdom of God, logos tou staurou, the cross of Christ, the wisdom of the cross.
One consequence of holding to this ‘right story’ is that we come to understand that through God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ, and the story that is funded by that (our lives in relation to His), is that creation/nature has not ever impinged upon God’s character. Our sin did not determine how God has decided to determine Himself for us. What this story underscores is that God has always already, in His wise life, been in the shape that could answer and engage with whatever proclivities His creation might conjure up under its own contingent independence—say starting in the Garden of Eden. Because God is love (i.e. in free Self-given mode), and because He is grace (which is what creation is under-girded by), anything that occurs in this sphere (including evil and its adjunct, sin) has no independent ontology of its own; in other words, sin and evil are always realities that are within the scope of the answer provided by God’s life. Not as if sin and evil determine God’s life, nor in the sense that God determines what evil and sin are; but in the sense that God’s life in its singular core, in its Triune relation, has the overwhelming capacity to answer such things in a way that is fitting to His life of humility and exaltation all in one moment of gracious time.