The Problem of Evil through the Lens of Psalm 56
The “problem of evil” has occupied philosophers and theologians for centuries. How, it is asked, can evil exist in a world that is supposedly created and ruled by a good God? The question itself has lead many who ponder it to despair and atheism. Various answers have been offered, none of which have laid the question to rest, but perhaps we have been asking the wrong question all along.
Psalm 56 does not view evil as an abstraction, the presence of which must be explained. David, ever practical in his theology, does not view evil as some mysterious force or inexplicable abstraction that coexists with a good God. The problem he sees is evil men. “Man would swallow me up; always fighting, he oppresses me” (vs.1). Similar language runs throughout the psalm, giving evil a very human face. Evil is a human problem, not a philosophical abstraction. The “problem of evil” may be debated in the ivory tower, but on the ground it is the problem of evil people. It is the problem of sin.
When understood this way, we realize that philosophy cannot offer a satisfying answer. Instead of looking for an explanation of an abstraction, we should be looking for a solution to the human condition. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ offers such a solution.
David grappled with the problem of evil within himself and sought the forgiveness of the Lord (Psalm 51), but in Psalm 56 he faces the problem of evil men who oppose him. He is not just a target of opportunity. His faith explains the resistence he encountered (Matt. 5:11, 12). As a believer trusting in the Lord, David learned something else about the problem of evil men – that, ultimately, they cannot detract from his joy of salvation, or mitigate his blessings, or undo God’s grace in his life. “In God I have put my trust, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (vs. 11). As believers in Christ we too have the joyful assurance that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:38, 39). Evil men, no matter how formidable they may seem, cannot undo the work of a righteous, sovereign God. And whatever evil there may be in the world, it is not strong enough to prevail over God’s plan or God’s people.
Yes, there is a problem of evil. It is a real-world problem, a human problem. Philosophical explanations, endlessly debated, will only offer cold comfort to a suffering world. The only solution (and unlike all else, it is a solution) is the gospel of Jesus Christ. By faith in Him we can know the freedom of forgiveness from sin and its consequenses. By faith we know that the “problem of evil” has an answer from a holy, sovereign Savior.