Lets do the groundwork first. What is the 'problem of evil'? Here is the form it is often put in:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”
-Epicurus C. 300 BC
Now, is there a problem here? well generally the answer is no. There is no 'problem' here. Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga wrote a book called 'God, Freedom and Evil' here he proposed the 'free will defense'. Most philosophers have regarded this as a success (an unusual occurrence in philosophy) and since then nobody has thought that evil and God are two inconsistent things to exist.
This illustration helps me to understand the difference:
Imagine me and a friend are on a boat out on the water, and we are looking at a specific body of water. I make the claim that there are dolphins in there. My friend responds:
"No, that is impossible, since there is no dolphin food in this body or water, and in fact they dislike the plants that grow here."
"well, actually its not impossible (insert here the 'shmee will defence' for dolphins)... so, you see there could very well be dolphins here."
My friend then responds"
"Fine, that seems to work out, however it is very unlikely that there are dolphins here, and further more, if there is indeed a dolphin or two in here, then they are idiots."
So you see the difference.
Traditionally Christians have here offered a theodicy. Theodicy comes from two greek words: Θεος meaning 'God' and δικη meaning 'justice'. Essentially it as an attempt to 'justify God' in the face of Evil.
I now want to differentiate what I will call a 'strong' theodicy and a 'weak' theodicy. A strong theodicy would be one which a non-Christian could understand and say "o yeah, I don't think evil in the world is a valid reason to not believe in God' while a weak theodicy would be one that is likely to only satisfy Christians, and a non-Christian is more likely to find unsatisfactory for whatever reason.
I cannot think of a single strong theodicy. The various ones out there, the free will theodicy (distinct from the free will defense) does not account well for natural evil, the soul-building theodicy seems to me to be less than satisfactory for the reason that I would rather be immature and not suffer some evil, and also seems to imply that God is unable to bring us to maturity without suffering, there are many others which all seem to me to only answer half the problem and do not really flow that well from the bible anyway.
The main part in which the issue with Evil comes up in the bible is in the book of Job. And Job does not get a theodicy either, here is God's answer: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? ... Have you commanded the morning since your days began? ... can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? ... Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it." -Job chapter 38-40:2 (ESV)
To which Job's answer is short: "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth." -Job 40:4 (ESV)
So yeah, its not a theodicy really.
I think that we as Christians have really failed to grasp this, I am not saying there is no place for a theodicy... but I am pointing out that God felt no need to justify himself in front of Job... however, what does this mean for us?
Should we exclaim to the skeptic who our God is? Should we proclaim his wonders? should we ask them if they can hold the Pleiades in their hand, and if they set the tides of the mighty ocean?
I humbly suggest we do not. This will get us precisely no where, and I think we as Christians have often turned this into an all too intellectual exercise (perhaps this blog post is evidence of this). We may have forgotten that the problem of evil is not out there somewhere, but more often than not its actually the problem of parents being bitterly divorced, its the problem of friends dying in car crashes, its the problem of a child born blind or with autism, its the problem with 150,000 dead in Haiti or the 6 million who did in camps like Auschwitz and then that some people even have the gall to suggest it never happened. All to often we like to think that we can answer this objection by invoking free will and waving our hand in the air as if it was never a problem.
That would not fly with me, and it definitely will not fly with a mother with a blind child or the person who lost his/her friend/spouse in a car accident when they were driving home from a movie.
Maybe we ought to realize that God's answer to Job did not finish there. The biblical narrative then continues through to this man Jesus. Perhaps God's answer is not one that explains problems clearly and offers answers that are really intelligent and insightful, but rather one that is to do with our actions... much like Jesus, to become poor in spirit, and to carry our cross.
Perhaps when we meet this objection we should be brutally honest and say that we have no answer, we do not have a wave of the hand that's going to make it better or an answer that will be obviously true when people hear it. Instead we have only the actions of a suffering servant in 1st century AD Palestine who chose to not avoid suffering but to deal with the worlds suffering by suffering as one of us.