Few topics evoke as much personal experience and emotion as those related to the “Problem of Evil, Pain, and Suffering.” After all, evil, pain, and suffering are a universal facet of the human experience. It’s something we all have in common. We all experience such things directly and indirectly. Evil is done to us. Evil is done by us. We are affected by evil done to and by others. In fact, we have an overwhelming sense in which the entire world–in some way–is broken. When we speak of the Problem of Evil, Pain, and Suffering, we are referring to the tension that exists between the persistence of evil, pain, and suffering in the world and the Christian belief in the existence and sovereignty of a perfectly powerful and perfectly loving God. The question that has occupied philosophers and theologians for millennia is this: If God is all-powerful (and therefore able to prevent evil) and if He is all-loving (and therefore would desire to prevent evil), why is there evil? Hence, the title of today’s post: If God, Why Evil?
Often–albeit, not exclusively–this issue has been raised to me most often by atheists, those who don’t believe that any God exists. For many of them, the issue of evil, pain, and suffering have contributed greatly to their resolution that there is no God. They reason that God is not evident in such a broken world and that any deity worth regarding would be powerful enough to prevent evil and loving enough to want to. However, the Bible does provide an account of evil, its origin, the plan of God to contend with evil now and in the future, and God’s ultimate solution to the Problem of Evil. By contrast, many atheists who I have had opportunity to dialogue with have failed to realize that their worldview does not possess the ability to account satisfactorily for evil. By that, I mean that atheism fails to provide a basis for discerning something to be objectively evil for all people, for all times, in all places. This was the turning point for C. S. Lewis. In Mere Christianity, he wrote, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” In other words, unless good and evil, just and unjust, are merely a matter of personal preference, then there must be some universal, transcendent standard of good that is true for all people everywhere. No human institution, organization, government, society, or individual can possibly provide a universal objective standard of morality, that deems all thoughts, words, and deeds either morally good or morally evil. Therefore, the atheist objection that evil negates the possibility of God’s existence doesn’t hold water. But the question still remains: Since evil exists, is God not all-powerful or all-loving? In other words, why is there evil?
Again, the Bible provides an account of the origin of evil. Where did it all begin? It began with the immoral choice of a significantly free creature. God endowed humanity with free will. Free will is inherently good. It provides the individual with the ability to freely choose good. However, one is not truly free to choose good unless she is also truly free to choose evil. Genesis 3 recounts the first immoral decision, to act in rebellion against God and his commands. As the biblical narrative progresses, it becomes quickly evident that as humanity multiplied in number, so did morally reprehensible actions. To this day, most of the evil that befalls humanity is caused by humanity, whether by self or others. A case can even be made for natural evils (e.g., injury and death as a result of tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.). Prior to humanity’s fall into sin, humankind was protected in the Garden by God, even though the world had been ordered according to natural laws that God instituted to sustain the world. Natural laws only became natural evils when humanity was divorced from God in sin as a result of human rebellion.
Yet, the story of humanity and its relationship with God did not end in Genesis 3. In fact, God’s salvific plan was first introduced in that very chapter (i.e., 3:15). The fact of the matter is that God is all-powerful and all-loving, which means he is both able and willing to rid the world of evil. However, to do that prematurely would mean that not only evil, but corrupted humanity would be ultimately discarded. Instead, God sent his Son, Jesus, at the proper time to make atonement for humanity, to rescue people from the perishing world of sin and brokenness, and to prepare them for a Kingdom that will forever exist as God intended (without evil, pain, and suffering). Why hasn’t this happened yet? Peter makes this clear in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (ESV). God will ultimately do away with evil, pain, and suffering. However, he will do it at the appropriate time, when all who would be redeemed will be redeemed. The closing book of the New Testament promises, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4, ESV).
Evil originated with the immoral actions of free creatures, and for this reason, evil persists today. The all-powerful and all-loving God did not leave humanity to the consequences of its actions, but instead, provided salvation in Jesus Christ, who will ultimately rid the world of all evil, pain, and suffering forever. Amen.