In yesterday’s post about the missionary nurse who contracted and was then cured of Ebola, I said that many Christians resist the idea that human suffering could have any role to play in God’s plans for our world. But as I’ve said many times, the alternative is far worse: God is hands-off when it comes to evil and suffering; he may hate it for us, but he has no power to prevent it, transform it, or use it to serve his purposes. Nevertheless, the moment we say, “God answered my prayer and prevented this evil from happening,” is the moment that we assert God’s involvement in and control over evil and suffering. It’s the moment we say, “This—even this bad thing—is happening for a reason. It’s serving God’s purposes.”
As he does on so many pressing issues, John Goldingay sheds light on the relationship between God’s sovereignty and evil in his For Everyone commentary. Here he’s commenting on Esther 2:1-18:
Gross self-indulgence for which other people pay the price, sexual oppression and abuse, anti-Semitism, and slaughter are facts of the world in which we live. One of the great characteristics of the Bible is that it faces those facts. It does not deal with issues of a merely spiritual kind. It deals with how things are in our world. It invites us to face the fact of what happens to young girls in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Then, most scandalously, it invites us to assume that God is involved in this world, even in its wickedness. The Persian king is about to seek to eliminate the Jewish people, and the means whereby God will avoid the fulfillment of that intention is the sexual abuse of the teenage Esther. Esther pays a price and her entire people lives. It might seem disturbing that God is prepared to use such means to bring about the defeat of evil. It would be even more disturbing if such horrors happened and were incapable of having any significance.[†]
† John Goldingay, Ezra, Nehemiah & Esther for Everyone (Louisville: WJK, 2012), 164-5.