While the argument from evil is often used to challenge God’s existence, in a strange way the same argument can be used as evidence for that existence. Consider this: why do we experience suffering and evil as unjust? If we are purely material beings, then we should no more object to mass murder than a river objects to drying up in a drought. Nevertheless we are not like rivers. We know that evil is real, and we know that it is wrong. But if evil is real, then good must be real as well. How else would we know the difference between the two? Our ability to distinguish between good and evil, and to recognize these as real, means that there is a moral standard in the universe that provides the basis for this distinction. And what is the source of that moral standard if not God?

Even so, evil remains rationally inexplicable on any human account. Believers can appeal to the consolations of religion, but they are not spared the conundrum of why God.permits evil and suffering to occur at all. In the Bible, this is the question that Job boldly, angrily, and eloquently poses to God. Job’s point is that he is a good man, so why should he suffer? Why are his possessions taken from him? Why would God treat anyone this way, let alone one of His devoted servants?

Rather than reply directly to Job, God asks what gives the creature the right to question its creator. Did Job make the universe? Did he give himself life? God seems to be pulling rank on Job here, and Job finally acquiesces, surrendering to God without having his questions fully answered. Thus Job becomes a biblical hero not of understanding, but of faith.

We must press on, however, because Job’s question remains a valid one: why do evil things happen to good people? One answer is free will. God does not want to reign over an empire of automatons. Freedom of choice means that we are free to do good and we are also free to do evil. Man can be a saint only in a world where he can also be a devil. Thus the existence of evil in the world is entirely consistent with a God who despises evil but values freedom.

God didn’t kill all those people at Virginia Tech, the shooter did. Why, however, didn’t God intervene and stop it? This is a deep question about God’s role in the world. Why doesn’t God make Himself manifest, especially when there are tragedies to be averted? Here’s one possible reason. Imagine if God had intervened to prevent the homicidal maniac fromdoing what he did. Leave aside the violation of free will. Just focus on the consequences. The shooter would be—by miraculous intrusion—disarmed, the shootings would have been prevented, and life would go on.

In other words, life would proceed as if God had not intervened in the first place. So God in this view becomes a kind of cosmic errand boy, who is supposed to do our chores and clean up our messes and we then wish Him a very good day and return to our everyday lives. But perhaps God’s purpose in the world is to draw His creatures to Him, and the empirical evidence is that tragedies like the one at Virginia Tech help to do that.