When I was a freshman in college, I took a philosophy course called “God, Evil and the Meaning of Life.”
The entire semester was spent studying and debating the so-called “problem of evil.” It goes like this: If God is completely good, and God is all-powerful, yet evil exists in the world that God created, then either God is not completely good or He is not all-powerful. Or, as Friedrich Nietzsche and Elie Wiesel concluded, God doesn’t exist at all.
At 19 years old, at a secular college, this was a major challenge to my faith. And the problem of evil remains a challenge for everyone—Christians and non-Christians. Whether it’s a 30-something mom we know dying of cancer or a teenager gunning down 17 people at a Florida school and then walking to a Subway restaurant and calmly drinking a soda—evil is a palpable problem in our lives.
It makes us ask, Why? How can God let this happen? Does He even care? Is He even there?
The best answer to those questions is what took place on what many call Good Friday.
Today—when millions of Christians around the world set aside time to remember Jesus’ death on the cross—we see that God Himself experienced the problem of evil. Yet in that very moment He also showed His complete goodness and His total control.
Consider what happened on the cross: a completely innocent man, in the prime of his life, was brutally executed for crimes even his executioners knew he did not commit. I imagine Jesus’ family and disciples asked themselves that day, “Why? How can God let this happen?”
And the experience was even worse for God. He broke off fellowship with His own son—a fellowship even more intimate than marriage. He smeared human evil from all ages onto the person He loved most, then poured out His angriest wrath on him, and then turned His back on him.
From a human perspective, this was evil. As we understand from the Bible, God the Father did not merely allow or permit Jesus’ death. He positively worked to orchestrate it, from the moment of Adam’s sin. He did not force anyone to yell “Crucify him!” or hammer nails in the cross, but God the Father clearly was responsible for Jesus’ death. Jesus Himself said as much when, during His prayer to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, He called His pending sacrifice “your will”—and sweat blood at the thought of it. (Matt. 26:42; Luke 22:44)
Yet, despite all that, Christians have traditionally called this Good Friday. Why is it good?
Jesus’ death—even though it’s the clearest evidence of evil in the world—was used by God for the greatest good in the world—the eternal salvation of billions of people. God orchestrated and endured evil against His own Son for our good.
I has helped in seeing this point this past Sunday when I listened to a sermon by Mark Vroegop, pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis, on The Fall and the problem of evil.
My takeaway from Vroegop’s sermon was this: We can’t say that evil is necessary in the world to produce good, and we shouldn’t glibly say to anyone suffering from the effects of evil that it will automatically be followed by surpassing good, in just a few days. But we can trust in God.
God's actions on Good Friday give us compelling evidence that, because He is so powerful and so good, He even brings out the greatest good from the most extreme evil.
God does not do this as a mechanical system. We cannot trigger His evil-transforming power with a button or the right prayer. We cannot schedule a good-for-evil transplant procedure at our local church exactly when we want it.
But as a loving person, God can be counted on, in His timing, to use His evil-into-good power for those He loves. When we as Christians face evil in our own lives, we can take comfort in this: For our benefit God transformed evil into good—when it cost Him the most and when we deserved it the least.
Now that we know and love God, we can be sure that God is—in usually mysterious ways—using the evil we experience for our good.
So this day—and any day when in the face of evil we remind ourselves of Jesus’ death for us—is, indeed, a good day.