There are certain questions that have risen throughout the ages as people have pondered the knotty paradox of a loving God and the presence of horrific evil in this world. Philosophers have spent lifetimes developing "theodicies," which the American Heritage dictionary defines as "A vindication of God's goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil." Some have posited that God could not have made a world in which we were honestly free, unless we were given the choice to not follow God, and from that choice springs all the evil in the world. There are other theories as well: God gives us the opportunity to develop qualities of character in struggling against sin; He gives us the chance to build connections with people that will last through eternity; Sin allows God to show the extent of His love in a sacrificial way that would have been unnecessary in a world without sin.
That these questions have not only occupied our present age is demonstrated in the fact that they are much on the mind of Julian of Norwich as well. She struggles, as we might, with the insistence that all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, aware of the "great hurt that has come by sin." I find it interesting that she is not given an answer to the question "Why?" Rather, she is given assurance of the outcome.
All things - whether small or large, through accident, immaturity, or blatant choice shall be made well. This is to be a present comfort. But as for the means or the reasons, God does not obligate Himself to tell us His ways or "his secrets." These are "hidden and concelaed from us: that is to say...all that is our lord's secret counsel, and it belongs to the royal lordship of God to have his secret counsel in peace, and it belongs to his servants, for obedience and reverence, not to desire to know his counsels. Our lord has pity and compassion on us because some creatures busy themselves with this; and I am sure that if we knew how greatly we should please him and ease ourselve to leave it, we would." (Chapter 30)
This encouragement to have simple trust in the goodness and greatness of the Lord is perhaps the biggest challenge to our faith, especially when we see the pain and suffering of the world around us. We are to allow God His secret counsels, and not to seek to understand all things. This seems odd, until perhaps we remember the story of Job, where God never answers a question that Job poses either. He merely shows Himself, and Job is silent.
Julian resolves the paradox in the following way: "There is a deed which the blissful Trinity shall do on the last day, as I see it, and when the deed shall be done, and how it shall be done, is unknown to all creatures that are beneath Christ, and shall be until it is done...by this deed he shall make all things well. And the reason he wishes us to know is that he wises us to be more eased in our souls and made peaceful in love, leaving the beholding of all the tempests that might hinder us from truth, rejoicing in him."
How we address the problem of evil might depend on what we see first. If we start with the pain and suffering around us, we may find it impossible to focus our eyes on a loving God, distracted by the "tempests" from beholding him. If, however, our sight is dazzled at first by the greatness and majesty and love of the God who speaks to Julian, and if we believe that this love floods the earth, it is perhaps easier to have faith that the evil we see around us fades in comparison. Not that we excuse it, or sit idly by while people murder and rape and accuse, but that we are not overwhelmed. Rather, we choose to embrace God's perspective, to trust in His love and allow some questions unanswered.