In the early 1980s, as a newly born believer, I wrestled (as I still do) with the question of evil in a world created by a loving and powerful God. When I expressed these concerns to one of my first Seventh-day Adventist contacts, a pharmacy student named Ronnie Fox, he looked at me and uttered with fervent and intense passion, “Cliff, why are you worrying now about what you will be given 1,000 years to get answered?”
Though, at that time his words sufficed (as much, I suppose, as anything regarding this issue can suffice), it hasn’t been until now, decades later, that I have come to appreciate the profundity of his answer and what’s implied in it.
In the early lines of Paradise Lost John Milton wrote that with this work he sought to “justify the ways of God to men.” That concept, of justifying the way of God to men, is what theologians call “theodicy,” the question of how God could be all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing yet allow evil to continue to exist. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz first coined the word in 1710, in his book Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil, a valiant but horrifically flawed attempt to answer these difficult questions.
What’s amazing about theodicy isn’t so much that God can, ultimately, justify His ways before us, but that He would consent to do so.
Think about it: Anything created is obviously created by something greater than it. Thus God is greater than the infinite universe He has made. Yet He will open Himself to our scrutiny, to that of beings that make up an infinitesimally small portion of that creation? The concept itself is astounding, filled with mind-boggling implications about the character of the Creator (though if this same Creator willfully offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, why should anything about His goodness and benevolence surprise us?). Theodicy is hinted at by Paul, when he wrote, “Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: ‘That You may be justified in Your words, and may overcome when You are judged’” (Rom. 3:4, NKJV).*
When is God judged? By whom? Maybe an answer is found here: “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart” (1 Cor. 4:5). Judge nothing, God included (perhaps), “before the appointed time.” Interestingly, Ellen White quoted this text in the context of the millennium, when we will be involved in looking over the records of the lost before they face final judgment. As Paul wrote: “The Lord’s people will judge the world” (1 Cor. 6:2).
In a deep sense the metaphysics of the great controversy centers around theodicy: the idea that God, instead of just eradicating evil the moment it arose, allows it to play out so that in the end all intelligent beings in His creation will see justice and fairness in how He dealt with it. This is why He allowed evil to continue, so that the free beings He created will continue to serve Him out of love, not fear. If that weren’t the issue, if God didn’t care what we thought, He could have wiped out Satan the instant evil arose in him.
Thus Ellen White wrote that just before the final judgment, “with all the facts of the great controversy in view, the whole universe, both loyal and rebellious, with one accord declare: ‘Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints’” (The Great Controversy, p. 671).
Our understanding of the millennium contains two amazing truths: first, God will allow us to be involved in the judgment of the lost; second, not until we are all satisfied with His justice and we shout, “just and true are your ways, King of the nations” (Rev. 15:3), will the lost be punished with eternal destruction.
When you think about who God is, in contrast to who we are, these are heavy concepts to grasp. Which is why, I guess, 1,000 years is only the beginning of the time we’ll have to contemplate them.
* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. This article was published November 17, 2011.