God exists and evil exists. Evil, according to Maimonides, the preeminent mediaeval Spanish rabbi and philosopher, comes in three varieties. Natural evils, evils committed against ourselves, and evils commited against other humans.
Natural evils are what the name implies–evils existing in nature. Natural evils are not intrinsically evil, and affect us only as a result of the fall of humanity. Because of plate tectonics, there are tsunamis and earthquakes. Because of genetic mutations, genetic illnesses sometimes arise, such as sickle cell anaemia, Tay-Sachs disease, or haemophilia.
Planetary scientists argue that the existence of tectonic plates is a necessity. Without them, the quintessential ingredients of life–hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen–would not be replenished. Without the existence of genetic mutations, human life would have never emerged. Human beings exist as a result of mutations in hominids that caused the genus Homo and eventually the species Homo sapiens to arise.
Philosophers often ask hypothetically the question 'What would we expect the world to be like if an omniscient, omnibenevolent God existed?' No child would die. No adult would die. Poverty, hunger, and disease would not exist. There would be no natural disasters. Yet we as modern humans understand how slender the limits within which a universe could emerge, and how much more slender the conditions for the emergence of life are. A world in which there would be no mutation or disaster is a world that exists only in fantasies. We have only the world that is.
These last two evils–evils commited against ourselves and evils commited against other humans–arise as a result of human free will. Human beings murder, rape, steal, and covet. The person who eats a poor diet complains to God about his obesity. The adultress complains about her divorce.
The existence of free will is often criticised. Could God not have created human beings who freely chose good, never evil? The answer is a simple no. Self-control is a virtue to be cultivated. The freedom to choose means the freedom to choose all avaliable options, which is in this case, both good and evil.
The philosopher John Cottingham says something fascinating about religious faith and protest against evil. "The most profoundly spiritual and passionately religious people in the world's history, the people who produced Moses and the propherts and Jesus and Paul, were a people whose history was conspicuous by the most terrible suffering, the cataclysmic tramas of slavery, wandering in the desert, a homeland marked by the ever present treat of war and annihilation, brutual captivity, exile, ruthless suppression and control by a series of imperial subjugators. This is the poeple who reflected endlessely on chesed, the loving kindess of God, who produced the immortal lines, ach tov va'chesed yirdefuni kol yemi chayai–'surely thy goodness and loving kiness shall follow me all the days of my life'."
The existence of evil is not an obsticle in the way of belief in God, but reason all the more. In the words of Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, "It is a refusal to accept evil as inevitable, but at the same time and acknowledgement that we cannot leave redemption entirely to God...God is not the solution of a contradiction, but a call to become his partners in the work of redemption." It is a call to hope in our darkest hour. It is a call to justice in the face of crimes. Christianity is a religion of protest. We are to accept only that which we cannot change.
To quote Sacks once again, the man whose argument is paraphrased in this essay, "Perhaps this is not the world we would have chosen, but it is the only one we have. Either we resign ourselves to the evil it contains, or we resister a protest against it."