By Tyson Thorne

October 24, 2017

In middle school I had an Old Testament understanding of God. I didn’t know it at the time, but my theology was formed around something called the Retribution Principle, the ancient Middle-Eastern belief that God punishes the wicked in this life. This idea forms the basis for most of the ancient religions of the Near and Middle East, and was even a part of early Israel’s theology, though in their case they developed the inverse principle as well, that God rewards the righteous. Imagine my surprise when, after trying to evangelize my fellow students, I was ostracized, bulled and even spat upon.

On the surface, such a philosophy sounds reasonable and even comforting. God is all-powerful so why wouldn’t he bless the good and curse the evil upon the earth? As old as these ideas are, they still sound right today trapping well-meaning Christians in the health and wealth gospel. The truth is, we see examples of the wicked prospering every day. This truth is even used as an argument against Christianity by atheists, that if a good person would try to stop a crime why doesn’t the Almighty step in and stop war, murder, rape and other terrible crimes?

At the age of 13 it never occurred to me that maybe I had latched onto bad theology. In my mind, I had done as God had asked and he didn’t protect me from the abuses of my peers. My anger toward God lead me to walk away from him and withdraw into isolation. I spent my free periods in the school library, away from others. On one occasion a classmate reached out to me, and I told her (somewhat proudly) that God didn’t live up to protecting the righteous. After asking if I’d read the Bible, she pointed out that most of the prophets and Jesus’ disciple lived troubled lives and died horrible deaths. As I read the Bible again, this time without the preconceived notions of the Retribution Principle, I began to be drawn closer to the real God and into better theology – a journey that continues to this day.

Those who continue to hold to this belief blame injustice on demons and humans, and those who question God’s existence blame injustice on God’s inaction. Are either of these notions true? The former is ultimately but not practically true. It is true that Satan rebelled and, in doing so, brought suffering and death to both a third of heaven and to all humanity. In that respect Satan and Adam are ultimately responsible for evil. That said, justice demands punishment, and the punishment God provided through the curses outlined in Genesis chapter three are responsible for much of the pain and suffering we endure today. In this respect the later argument appears to be true, that God is responsible for at least some of the evil in the world. Is he really though? Pain and suffering come from many sources. As little as we like it, and as painful as it may be, punishment is not evil.

How do we reconcile, then, that God permits real evil – not suffering from punishment or natural consequences but real evil – to exist in this world when he is good and powerful enough to overcome it? In part, we can say that some of the evil we experience is a natural consequence of our rebellion against God. Is all of it, though? And even if it is, does that justify God’s apparent inaction? The most satisfying answer to this question is unknown. For several millennia philosophers have wrestled with the question and keep coming back to two possible answers. The first stems from Isaiah 55.8-9:

“Indeed, my plans are not like your plans, and my deeds are not like your deeds; for just as the sky is higher than the earth, so my deeds are superior to your deeds and my plans superior to your plans.”

In other words, we do not know the answer because God has not disclosed it to us. The other possible answer is related to the first, that there is a bigger picture that includes the war with Satan and the redemption of man that we can’t see completely. Neither answer satisfies our perfectly acceptable and real emotions. Intellectually, however, we can look through the pages of the Bible and see that God has kept all his promises so far. Since he promises evil and death and suffering will one day end, we can trust that the problem will be resolved. Why it isn’t resolved yet we cannot know, but we can take comfort in the fact that true justice will one day be served.

Learn Biblical Hebrew Online


English French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish



How to setup an RSS of Windows Reader Service