God controls evil.
I told you. It's not pretty. But it's true. A 100% good God controls evil. But that's the conclusion of the matter; what's the beginning?
Religions offer us four options for the relationship of the physical and the spiritual.
- Pantheism - They are the same. All is God, God is all. Good and evil are contained within God. Hinduism and Buddhism fall into this category alongside most Eastern religions
- Panentheism – The physical is within the spiritual. God is present everywhere within the physical, but there is some part of him that is outside of it. This is a popular compromise forming between Eastern and Western religions that has gained popularity in Emerging Christianity and Unitarian Universalism, etc.
- Immanence/Transcendence – The physical and spiritual are distinct but overlapping. This allows God to be separate from Creation entirely but engaging creation simultaneously. This is the classical teaching of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
- Deism – The physical and spiritual are distinct. God created the world then got out of the way. Revelations of his nature are limited or nonexistent. No one can really know God. This became popular among Christians in the Enlightenment period.
So which worldview matches reality? As disappointing as it is that God doesn't stop evil all the time, does he seem to stop evil...sometimes? If so, then those three options are eliminated. Really, if God has stopped an evil occurrence just once, then his supremacy over evil is demonstrated (transcendence) and his involvement in the world is proven (immanence).
If God is supreme over evil, then he either has a purpose for it or he doesn't. If he doesn't, then that's no supremacy. Again, it seems very strange to say that God uses evil, but that is exactly what the Biblical record shows us.
God personally killed Egyptians to motivate Pharaoh (Exodus 11:24; 12:29). God permits Satan to physically afflict Job and take the lives of his servants and family (Job 1:12; 2:6). God via Satan (probably a Job-like situation) tempts David to take a census, then punishes him for it (2 Samuel 24:1,10; 2 Chronicles 21:1,7). God uses the Babylonians to punish the people of Judah, then uses the Persians to punish the Babylonians for being cruel to Judah.
God uses evil. Can that be good? I'm of the opinion that the answer is, yes. I will not, however, presume to know exactly why God used evil in any particular situation. The difficulty with answering such questions is that there are many possible reasons why bad things happen. However, from the limited human perspective, we never know exactly which reason God has on that occasion.
The good news is that an absolutely good God who is perfectly supreme over good and evil will only use them fairly and justly. As with Job, we are stuck with the responsibility of trusting God's judgment even when it seems to be the utmost injustice.
Of course, this argument borrows heavily from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and N.T. Wright's Simply Christian.