The character of God can be understood through perceiving His creation (Rom 1:20, ESV) and, even more so, meditation on the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. God has damned Earth to produce thorns and be a place of danger. Even the life of the perfect human, Christ, was full of hardship; His cross was bloody, and at the Calvary His soul experienced anguish. In both cases, one sees adversity and suffering in the hope for God’s glory (Rom 8:22). The whole reality of “fallenness” demonstrates how God condemns human sin (Rom 3:26, ESV) because of His holy and beautiful nature. There is nothing useful in evil itself, but the way that God deals with it through both unspeakable mercy and severe damnation should compel His creatures to worship. The ultimate goal of theodicy, therefore, is to explain God’s attitude towards evil. This will cause people to believe and bless His name in all circumstances.
Of course, the very aim of a theodicy suggests internal consistency of discourse. If the argument is devoid of logic or addresses one issue at the cost of another, it will distort the character of God (1Cor 14:33, ESV). Moreover, it will not deal with the major question that arises when the logic chain between the existence of God and the sinful state of His creation seems to be broken: If God is all-powerful and all-loving, why does He allow evil?
In order to answer this question, one needs to distinguish between moral and natural types of evil and understand that the latter results form the first one. It is possible to define moral evil as the action of will to act out of accord with the law of God. For instance, if a person does not love the neighbor, he or she commits moral evil (sin) towards both God, and the neighbor. Natural (physical) evil is defined as an action of a non-rational being that causes sufferings to humans (a disease or natural disaster can serve as examples). Of course, if one keeps in mind that the first king of the Earth (Adam) has willfully sinned, and the planet was damned and given over to devil (Luke 4:7, ESV), the present evilness of the world will not seem strange at all. It is even a great wonder that, after the damnation, there is still something beautiful left on the planet (like the sun and the rain, or family and marriage). Therefore, while the adversity of the nature points humans to their sin, beautiful and life-giving God’s blessings display the beauty of the Covenant and the fullness of Christ’s merciful atonement (Matt 5:45, Eph 5:32-33, ESV).
However, explaining these spiritual things to an unbeliever is often a challenge (1Cor 2:14), because he or she does not have the testimony of God’s love and mercy in the heart (Rom 5:5) and may see God as a mean and demanding judge. Sam, who does not know God, may think that he deserves utter happiness and peace. Therefore, I would humbly point him to the deadness of his own heart by exalting the beauty of Christ and the justice of God’s Law. If, by grace, Sam began to catch a glimpse of God’s perfections, he would inevitably recognize and mourn human depravity. Then, he might realize that the evilness of this world is just a reflection of how vile people are, and how justly God reacts to it. However, the ultimate goal of any theodicy is to glorify the Father before a doubting man or woman, and God wants to glory in His mercy rather than wrath (John 3:17). Therefore, after giving an insight into God’s holy justice, I would commend Christ’s love and grace to my atheist friend.
If Sam was currently going through suffering, I would try to draw him closer to God even more earnestly. The one who understands that God is good, and no darkness originates in Him (1John 1:15), that He does not tempt anyone to do evil (Jas 10:13) and allows suffering only for the good of His saints (Rom 8:28), will turn to the Savior for consolation or admonition.
Of course, now we can see God rather dimly (1Cor 13:12) and inevitably distort and doubt the truth while seeking after it. How mercifully and patiently God leads the saints in the paths that they did not know (Isaiah 42:16) towards the full knowledge of his personality (Eph 4:13, 2Cor 4:6)! That is because He has promised to reveal Himself to people of great love, not perfect knowledge (1Cor 8:1-3).