Okay, I’ll play. Personally, I don’t mind talking with people who are willing to challenge their own beliefs. I’m constantly challenging my own understandings, correcting and fine-tuning them as I learn more of both God and his creation. But I should warn you that I don’t approach the question of evil from the standard starting point, such as your example of the girl being raped, so you’re likely to be unsatisfied by the “answer” that I provide. On the other hand, you’re already unsatisfied by the academic treatments of the problem of evil, with which you hint that you are familiar, so perhaps what you need is an entirely different way of thinking about the problem. I can point out a direction that proved helpful to me, but it may or may not be helpful to you or anyone else. As Pascal noted, “We are more easily convinced by reasons we have found ourselves than those that have occurred to others.”
First, I would note a common feature of approaches to the question that begin where you began. I would call it the “I could have created a more just world than this one, therefore God cannot exist” form of argumentation. On the surface, this is a powerful argument because it resonates with our innate sense of justice and fairness. Both of us can multiply examples of injustice and senseless suffering and death ad infinitum. This world will cease to exist before it ceases to provide examples.
Many people try, at this point, to invoke individual responsibility and freedom, but this addresses evil caused by man; it says nothing of natural disasters or birth defects or childhood diseases or any other myriad “natural” evils that occur. I’m sure sure that you have read the philosophical arguments addressing both those aspects of the problem of evil, as I have, and found them unsatisfactory. Therefore, I won’t rehash those arguments. Instead, I will simply note that any argument that ultimately rests on the premise “I could have done it better …” in arguing against the existence of God is presumptive (at best) and foolish (at worst). If, as you say, you are a theist, then surely you believe that the ultimate mind behind all that exists is greater than you are. To say “I could have done it better” is to say that you, a mere man, limited in every way, are somehow greater than the one who designed the infinite, intricate system that we observe.
The problem, to my mind, reflects the limits of our reason in the face of ultimate questions. We cannot prove, using logic alone, that God exists, or even whether our the ultimate source of our origins was good, evil, ambivalent to such things, or mere chance, just as we are unable to prove logically that the earth was not created in six literal days with an appearance of age, or that it was not created 15 minutes ago. To ask “Why does evil exist?” is to ask “Why is the world what it is?”, and to answer, we must return to the question of our origins.
Logic can point us in the right direction here, even if it cannot provide an ultimate answer. I think we can at least rule out the possibility that our origins are ambivalent to good and evil, if we are attributing this ambivalence to a divine being (obviously, “chance” is ambivalent to questions of right and wrong). A divine being who lacks a sense of justice is a lesser being than we are, for that lack implies an inability to empathize with the creature and to understand its thoughts. We are reduced to the level of a “thing,” such as a chair, and the divine is reduced to an impersonal “force,” not much different than gravity or magnetism. In short, a god who is ambivalent to justice is also ambivalent to us and our plight, and so is no better than “chance” as an answer. Granted, some people may find that a satisfying response, but I am not wired that way.
For me, the only two possibilities are that everything we see is the result of chance, or it is the result of a good God. I choose to believe that a good God stands behind all else. The reasons that I choose to believe this are many. My starting point is Jesus. If, as John asserted in the prologue of his gospel, Jesus is the human face of God, then we learn who God is by observing Jesus. I find Jesus to be loving, caring, and compassionate to all he encounters. Furthermore, I find in his story an answer to the problem of suffering and pain and evil. Whether or not it is an answer that solves the intellectual problems I cannot say, but it solves the deepest desires of my heart, and answers to the questions that plague me.
Jesus, the lamb of God, bore our griefs and carried our sorrows with him in his suffering. The God and Father of Jesus Christ is not indifferent to our suffering and pain. He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf, in order that he might reconcile us to God. And God, through his mighty power, transformed the most evil act perpetrated in the history of humanity into the ultimate good. In short, the God whom I worship has the power to transform evil into good. Whatever suffering and evil has existed and will exist in the world, God through Christ will redeem it and transform it to his glory and to our benefit. I believe this because I believe that God is good, on the basis of the love he has demonstrated for us in Christ.
This is not to negate the force of your argument. On the contrary, the fact that all of us, limited as we are, feel righteous indignation in the core of our being at much of the evil that we observe should tell us something, even if it cannot tell us everything. What it tells me is that things are not as they should be. Most of the arguments back and forth on the problem of evil assume that this world is the last word on the question, and all of their reasoning is based on that assumption. Christian faith, on the other hand, says that this world is transitory, and it will one day be supplanted by the eternal kingdom of God, where God will wipe away every tear, and where this short-term situation will no longer even be remembered or thought about.
I look forward to that day in faith. Pascal was right:
"We must know where to doubt, where to feel certain, where to submit. He who does not do so understands not the force of reason. There are some who offend against these three rules, either by affirming everything as demonstrative, from want of knowing what demonstration is; or by doubting everything, from want of knowing where to submit; or by submitting in everything, from want of knowing where they must judge…
"Instead of complaining that God had hidden Himself, you will give Him thanks for not having revealed so much of Himself; and you will also give Him thanks for not having revealed Himself to haughty sages, unworthy to know so holy a God.
Two kinds of persons know Him: those who have a humble heart, and who love lowliness, whatever kind of intellect they may have, high or low; and those who have sufficient understanding to see the truth, whatever opposition they may have to it."