“Why does evil exist?”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Both, along with many similar questions, are oft received inquiries in the matters of Christianity & religion at-large. While many may have settled on solid answers to these questions (more regularly accusations), they appear time and time again. Truly a stumbling block for many, the knowledgeable responses to them can never be too firmly founded.

Charles Hodge included the topic in his “Systematic Theology” by 1873, to which I find his expositional commentary quite affordable:
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“How can the existence of evil, physical and moral, be reconciled with the benevolence and holiness of a God infinite in his wisdom and power?

This is the question which has exercised the reason and tried the faith of men in all ages of the world. Such is the distance between God and man, such the feebleness of our powers, and such the limited range of our vision, it might seem reasonable to leave this question to be answered by God himself. If a child cannot rationally sit in judgment of the conduct of his parents, nor a peasant comprehend the affairs of an empire, we certainly are not competent to call God to account, or to ask of Him the reason of his ways. We might rest satisfied with the assurance that the Judge of all the earth must do right. These considerations, however, have not availed to prevent speculation on this subject. The existence of evil is constantly brought forward by sceptics as an argument against religion; and it is constantly in the minds of believers as a difficulty and a doubt. While it is our duty to obey the injunction, “Be still and know that I am God,” it is no less our duty to protest against those solutions of this great problem which either destroy the nature of sin or the nature of God…

The [scriptural] method of dealing with this question is to rest satisfied with the simple statements of the Bible. The Scriptures teach,

(1.) That the glory of God is the end to which the promotion of holiness, and the production of happiness, and all other ends are subordinate.

(2.) That, therefore, the self-manifestation of God, the revelation of his infinite perfection, being the highest conceivable, or possible good, is the ultimate end of all his works in creation, providence, and redemption.

(3.) As sentient creatures are necessary for the manifestation of God’s benevolence, so there could be no manifestation of his mercy without misery, or of his grace and justice, if there were no sin.

As the heavens declare the glory of God, so He has devised the plan of redemption, “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.” (Eph. iii. 10.) The knowledge of God is eternal life. It is for creatures the highest good. And the promotion of that knowledge, the manifestation of the manifold perfections of the infinite God, is the highest end of all his works. This is declared by the Apostle to be the end contemplated, both in the punishment of sinners and in the salvation of believers. It is an end to which, he says, no man can rationally object. “What if God, willing to shew his wrath (or justice), and to make his power known, endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that He might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory.” (Rom. ix. 22, 23) Sin, therefore, according to Scriptures, is permitted, that the justice of God may be known in its punishment, and his grace its forgiveness. And the universe, without the knowledge of these attributes, would be like the earth without the light of the sun.

The glory of God being the great end of all things, we are not obliged to assume that this is the best possible world for the production of happiness, or even for securing the greatest degree of holiness among rational creatures. It is wisely adapted for the end for which it was designed, namely, the manifestation of the manifold perfections of God. That God, in revealing Himself, does promote the highest good of his creatures, consistent with the promotion of his own glory, may be admitted. But to reverse this order, to make the good of the creature the highest end, is to pervert and subvert the whole scheme; it is to put the means for the end, to subordinate God to the universe, the Infinite to the finite. This putting the creature in the place of the Creator, disturbs our moral and religious sentiments and convictions, as well as our intellectual apprehensions of God, and of his relation to the universe.

The older theologians almost unanimously make the glory of God the ultimate, and the good of the creature the subordinate end of all things. [German theologian, August] Twesten, indeed, says [in “Dogmatik, vol. ii. p.89.] it makes no difference whether we say God proposes his own glory as the ultimate end, and, for that purpose, determined to produce the highest degree of good; or that He purposed the highest good of his creatures, whence the manifestation of his glory flows as a consequence. It, however, makes all the difference in the world, whether the Creator be subordinate to the creature, or the creature to the Creator; whether the end be the means, or the means be the end. There is a great difference whether the earth or the sun be assumed as the centre of our solar system. If we make the earth the centre, our astronomy will be in confusion. And if we make the creature, and not God, the end of all things, our theology and religion, will in like manner be perverted. It may, in conclusion, be safely asserted that a universe constructed for the purpose of making God known, is a far better universe than one designed for the production of happiness.”
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Hodge does preface this final systematic explanation with other conceptual figments, such as sin being considered the necessary means to display and achieve the greatest good (espoused by theologians like Samuel Hopkins and Nathanael Emmons), but settles on a very structured approach, seeking not to rationally limit the infinite God or make happiness the end of creation.

I hope that you, too, find comfort in the sovereignty of God; that He does not merely use comfort, joy, and pleasure (for us) as an end to our being, but that He, alternatively, finds the most pleasure, the most good, and ultimately the most glory, in making Himself known to His children above all. It is fitting that, in order to contrast the righteous, glorious God of the universe, making his goodness & greatness more superlative than comparative must be done with the complementary likes of misery and ruin (simply put, sin). In the vein of what C.S. Lewis famously said in “Mere Christianity”:

“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

{Originally written on February 24, 2020}