Bad things happen to both bad and good people. It’s a fact that cannot be denied. The question is, “If God is good and all-powerful, how can there be evil?” It’s a question that has confused people for years, and received many answers, right and wrong, biblical and liberal. It is vital that a Bible-believer be able to understand why there is evil in the world.
What is evil? It is difficult to accurately define, but in the broadest sense it is the pain and suffering found throughout the world, or perhaps even more accurately, the cause of said pain and suffering. There are many variations of “evil” to be found in the world. Much of this pain and suffering is actually self-inflicted because of man’s sin nature and misuse of free-will. Man is wicked without God’s intervention, and in this depravity, mankind causes its own evils, such as hate, lust, and jealousy which lead to even greater evils like murder and rape.
These evils are difficult enough to deal with, but how does one deal with the suffering of the seemingly innocent? What about the children who died in Hurricane Katrina? What about the innocents affected by evil-doers as is the case for victims of rape in Africa who now have AIDS? What about the victims of the tsunami in the Pacific? Surely they did not personally cause these tragedies. Couldn’t a God who is all good and all powerful have done something to stop the suffering of the innocent?
The opponents of theism will argue that if God were truly omnipotent and he did not prevent suffering, especially that of innocents, he could not be considered truly good. If there is a God, he must not really be all good or not omnipotent. Critics even contend that if there is an omnipotent God, then he is even less good than most of humankind, for certainly most humans would help an innocent victim if they could. God, however, just lets the innocent suffer, apparently. Does this mean that God is a liar? Does it mean that God is really powerless to help us or does it mean that God is not so “good” after all?
Other critics of theism will simply take the route of atheism. It seems to be an easy enough way out at first, because if there is no God, then it would seem there is no controversy. To the atheist, it seems like an obvious answer – No God (much less an omnipotent and good God), no question as to why he would let there be evil in the world. Of course, the atheist then has a whole new set of problems: How can evil be defined without an absolute good? Is there really such a thing as morality? How does the atheist account for goodness and evil at all? Although the atheist may believe that his philosophy makes more sense, he actually has a harder time accounting for evil than does the Bible-believing Christian. Though he seems to have conquered the problem, he has actually made it worse.
The aforementioned critics are not the only people the Bible-believer needs to watch out for, however. There are many so-called theologians to be found that will embrace a doctrine of a weakling God, who is nothing more than a Santa Claus type of God. Those that hold to this belief also cannot deal with the problem of evil. This liberal view of God, which according to Packer, does not take into account the severity of God, is forced to look at God as being “hands-off.” Those who take this stance believe that while God may indeed be good and well-intentioned, he’s often powerless to do anything to help the innocent of the world. Ironically, those that continue to believe in God for some measure of comfort but deny his omnipotence are the ones that tend to be the most depressed of all. What is the point of holding onto a God if he can’t help your quality of life? Sadly, as the majority of people in America have become apathetic and agnostic, this belief continues to thrive among masses.
Still others will hold that God will not interfere with the world because to do such would be against his nature – he would actually be sinning because he would have to break the laws that govern the universe. This is a deistic point of view such as is attributed to Isaac Newton. Deists often have respect for God’s creation but do not believe a personal relationship with God to be logical, much less possible. Essentially, God is the clockmaker and setter, and no longer has a direct influence on the world. This belief is as depressing as the previous, and leads the deist to have a very deterministic and even fatalistic worldview.
So, how exactly can the Christian cope with the evil problem? Is there a way to defend both the omnipotence and goodness of God? Surely there is an answer that does not have the shortcomings of all the above arguments. God is a logical God. He is not confined to the limitations of man, but the Bible is clear that he is a God of order. God’s ways are higher than man’s ways, but one must also remember that we are created in his image, and so though he is above us, he does allow us to comprehend his ways to a certain extent.
One classic Christian argument is the lesser of two evils argument. Sometimes this argument is called the greater good argument. Those that hold to this say that sometimes God will allow a “lesser” evil to occur in the interest of the “greater good.” They claim that God may be accomplishing a greater plan by allowing certain bad things to happen. It’s a belief that makes some sense at first, but leaves the questioner wanting more. After all, why couldn’t God just stop all of the evil? This argument still needs more help.
That is where the very solid free-will argument comes in. Given that God created man in his own image, one can see that God also gave man free will. This is obvious in Genesis where we see the fall of Adam. His free will chose to disobey the good God. God did not want man to sin, and did not want evil to permeate the world as it does, but true love allows freedom, and that’s what God allowed. God in his infinite love for us allowed us to have a free will to choose him or deny him. He does not force men to come to him. He draws, but never forces. God wants man to want him, so he gave man the chance to reject him and his commands. It is interesting to note that God commanded the earth into existence, created the laws of physics, and commanded everything to be until he created man. He took time to form man in with his hands and breathed into him his own breathe. This God then gave Adam one rule: man was not to eat the fruit of one tree. It was a command quite simple. The same God who just commanded the earth into existence has given one solitary command to mankind. How strong is the free-will of man? Apparently, it is strong enough to disobey even the command of the one who not only calmed the storms, but created the earth that holds the ocean where storms occur and made the laws that determine how waves move, how wind blows, and how fish swim. God loved man enough to give him that kind of free-will? It’s truly amazing.
Sadly, man has misused his free-will since it was discovered. He has brought upon himself the consequences God said would occur in the beginning. Pain, suffering, and death are all the result of man’s disobedience. It is not God’s will that we suffer, but it is a result brought on by our sin. God so desires that we not suffer, that he even sent his Son to pay for sins so we would not have to suffer for all of eternity. However, God will not take away our ability to reject him, at least not yet. One day, every knee shall bow, but for now, God wants those who bow to do so willingly.
How can free-will be the cause of such suffering in the world? How does the free-will of a child who is being molested play a part? Sadly, the child’s free-will is rarely strong enough to overcome his attacker’s. Why doesn’t God intervene? If God did intervene, he would be taking away the free-will of the pervert, and thus there would no longer be a choice of morality. God is omnipotent and good, but just as he allowed free-will to Adam in the beginning, he allows free-will now. This is the worst part of the depravity of mankind – it causes the suffering of the innocent. The same principle applies to the suffering caused by natural disasters. Even these are caused by the depravity of man. Earth was perfect before the fall of Adam, and was still close to paradise before the Flood, but man’s sins brought forth the destruction of the original perfection. Still, God does not take away the free-will of man, which would have to be done if He were to intervene in many situations.
However, God should not be viewed as non-interventional. He is very much the opposite. God has intervened many times throughout history to prevent the suffering of mankind. God hates to see us in pain. A read through the Scriptures reveals many miraculous occurrences, and even today, there are many reports of what individuals believe to be divine intervention. This is one reason to surrender one’s own will to God. God will not take it from someone unless it is given to him. With a surrendered will, God can take it and make so much more.
Still, even people who are surrendered to God suffer. Paul had a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7), and Stephen was martyred (Acts 7:59). Why does this happen? God is indeed accomplishing something greater. The Bible says “that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). There is always a lesson to be learned when the Christian suffers. Paul had to learn to depend on God’s grace. Stephen was able to minister to many people through his suffering, and if God’s Word is true, he has been richly rewarded. It is hard to accept suffering, but when one understands why it is that we suffer, it is refreshing to the soul. The Marines have a slogan, “Pain is weakness leaving the body”; In Christianity, there are often thorns in the flesh that are put there to discipline. As Psalm 119:71 says, “It was good for me to be affected so that I might learn your decrees.”The beauty of the Christian arguments given is that they do not have to be independent of each other. They work beautifully together and reinforce each other. God truly is an awesome God.
Coughlan, M. J., The free will defence and natural evil, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 20:2/3 (1986), 93-108
Johnson, J. L., Procedure, Substance, and the Divine Command Theory, International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, 35:1 (1994), 39-55
Keller, James A. (Wofford College, USA), The Hiddenness of God and the Problem of Evil, International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, 37:1 (1995), 13-27
Packer, J.I., Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1973 [1993 reprint]), 158-166
Sontag, F., The once and future Christian, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 19:1/2 (1986), 119-121
Steel, Carlos, Does Evil Have a Cause? Augustine’s Perplexity and Thomas’ Answer, Review of Metaphysics, 48:2 (1994:Dec.), 48
Whitney, B. L., An aesthetic solution to the problem of evil, International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, 35:1 (1994), 21-37
 Keller, James A. (Wofford College, USA), The Hiddenness of God and the Problem of Evil, International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, 37:1 (1995), 13-27
 Steel, Carlos, Does Evil Have a Cause? Augustine’s Perplexity and Thomas’ Answer, Review of Metaphysics, 48:2 (1994:Dec.), 48
 Johnson, J. L., Procedure, Substance, and the Divine Command Theory, International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, 35:1 (1994), 39-55
 Packer, J.I., Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1973 [1993 reprint]), 160
 Whitney, B. L., An aesthetic solution to the problem of evil, International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, 35:1 (1994), 21-37
 Coughlan, M. J., The free will defence and natural evil, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 20:2/3 (1986), 93-108
 Sontag, F., The once and future Christian, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 19:1/2 (1986), 119-121
 Packer, 166