Why does God allow Evil and Suffering?
If the God of the Bible is indeed all-powerful, loving and good, why does He allow evil and suffering in the world? This is a question that many people struggle with both emotionally and intellectually. How could God allow the suffering, pain, hardship and evil of this world? If God is good, then it seems to logically follow that He would not want evil to exist and if He is all-powerful, then He would not allow evil to exist. Much of the pain and suffering seems so meaningless, so what purpose or reason is there for this great hardship that men endure? Couldn’t God have created a world without the possibility of suffering and evil?
Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, a former Christian and presently an agnostic Bible critic, has provided a clear and concise description of why he along with other people cannot believe in God based on the evident evil that is present in the world. He states –
“… I left Christianity altogether and became an agnostic. I came to a point where I no longer knew if I could believe in God. The big issue that drove me to agnosticism has to do not with the Bible, but with the pain and suffering in the world. I eventually found it impossible to explain the existence of evil so rampant among us – whether in terms of genocides (which continue), unspeakable human cruelty, war, disease, hurricanes, tsunamis, mudslides, the starvation of millions of innocent children, you name it – if there was a good and loving God who was actively involved in this world. For me to come to believe again, I would need to understand how there can be a God given world such as this. I should add that I do not know how most Christians, and people of other religions answer this question. There are lots of answers to it! But I find none of them satisfying.” Misquoting Jesus – Harper Collins, 2005, Page 248.
To deny the existence of God based on the reality of evil as stated by Dr. Erhman is not a consistent or valid argument. If there is no God, then there cannot be evil. In order to be able to distinguish evil, it must be compared to a standard of good and this standard of good must presuppose a moral law and a moral law Giver. If human beings are simply the by-product of materialistic evolution, how can there be a “right or wrong” way to live. All there would be in a “material-only world“ is the evolutionary process. This process is based on natural selection, death, destruction and the strong over-coming the weak, not some moral code. Apart from God there is no standard of goodness and therefore no basis to even refer to something as evil.
C.S. Lewis, a former atheist philosopher pondered these questions and came to the conclusion that the evil in the world actually points to God. He later became a great Christian leader. He states:
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of ‘just’ and ‘unjust’? … What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? … Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too – for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies…. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.” Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, Macmillan, 1960, page 31.
There is no simple easy answer that will “satisfy” or make us feel okay with evil. However, the Bible does explain and provide a foundation that can help us understand the “how and why” of evil and give us a hope for a future where evil will be judged and destroyed by God.
Here’s what the Bible says:
#1. This world that we live in is not the world that God originally created. We are living in a world that is fallen, abnormal and out-of-order. The evil in the world came as a result of man’s selfishness and rejection of God. God created us for a loving relationship. But real love cannot exist unless it is freely given and expressed and this means that God had to create us with a free will to either love Him or reject Him. This ability to choose opened the door to the possibility of evil – the rejection of God and His purposes and plans. God is not evil and He did not create evil. Instead, we have brought evil on ourselves through our rejection of God. (See Genesis 3; Romans 1; 3:10-23; James 1:13,14)
#2. The cause of most suffering and evil in the world is the direct result of evil directed by people toward other people. God does not create evil and He does not tempt us with evil. Instead we choose evil, hate, violence and strife. If God were to stop and remove evil, He would have to get rid of all of humanity beginning with you and I. Each of us make selfish, self-centered and evil choices that bring suffering and pain not only on ourselves but also to others around us. Jesus said – “(God’s) judgment is based on this fact; God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” – John 3:19 (See Romans 3:23; Romans 5:12)
God hates evil and injustice and those who love God are called to expose, oppose and fight evil wherever we find it. We are to do this by overcoming evil with God’s grace, goodness and love.
#3. The natural world is “fallen”. The Bible refers to this as “cursed” and this curse is the direct result of our choice to reject God. Evil is not only moral but it is also natural. When people commit evil acts such as murder, rape, theft, dishonesty… this is referred to as moral evil. But there are also natural disasters that bring great suffering such as famine, disease, earthquakes, fire, tornados… and these are examples of natural evil. According to the Bible, the fall of man and the loss of paradise resulted in a world full of difficulty and suffering. “For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time”. Romans 8:22 NLT. (See Genesis 3:17)
#4. The evil of this world is temporary. The Bible states that one day God will judge evil and remove it. The paradise that was lost in the Garden of Eden will be paradise restored in a new heaven and new earth. There will be no more tears or pain. “And then I (John) saw a new heaven and a new earth and the old earth had disappeared. He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:1,5 NLT (see II Peter 3:9,10; Matthew 25:31-46).
#5. God has entered into our evil world. He (Jesus) has suffered and died for us and through His resurrection, He gives us true hope for eternal life with Him. God has gone through the human experience. He suffered pain, hardship, betrayal, despair, humiliation and death. “He (Jesus) was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief”. Isaiah 53:3 NLT
“Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:6-8. NLT
However, Jesus has won this battle of sin and suffering by rising from the dead. He has defeated death and evil and through Him (Jesus), we can have forgiveness for our evil actions and have eternal life with Him. Jesus said – “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in Me and believes in Me will never die.” John 11:25,26 NLT
#6. God can bring ultimate good out of suffering. We may not understand the reason for pain and suffering, but we do know that there are elements of character development that can only be realized through pain and suffering.
For instance, difficult obstacles produce perseverance; our needs produce opportunities for faith; trials produce patience; danger produces courage; suffering produces compassion. Pain can produce gain. For certain, Christ’s pain (His death on the cross) is our gain. (See Romans 8:28; James 1:2-4; I Peter 1:6).
The question of why there is evil is certainly not an easy one to understand. So what other options did our Creator have?
Option #1. God could have simply not have created anything. He could just have existed in eternity without creation. This would certainly mean that evil would not exist. However, this would mean that human goodness, purpose, ultimate meaning and relationship would also not exist.
Option #2. God could have created a world without evil by creating people without the ability to choose. We would simply be robots. However, this would also eliminate genuine love and meaningful relationships.
Option #3. God could intervene when people commit evil by supernatural means – stopping their actions. In doing so, God would also have to stop many actions that people want the freedom to act on and entertain – evil thoughts, pride, lying, acts of embellishment…. This would again provide a world of rigid, robotic actions, without any real love, purpose or relationship.
Option #4. God could remove all evil people so that only good people who choose goodness would live. However, to do this He would have to remove all of us for none of us are truly good. It is true that some people are more evil than others, but where does God draw this line between “too evil and not as evil”? We have to conclude that all evil brings pain and suffering.
God has not chosen any of these options. Instead He has chosen to create the real, actual world where real, actual choices take place with real, actual consequences that impact us.
But this world of evil also allows for real goodness to shine and where real love and relationship can be expressed. It is in this world that we can choose to love and know God our Creator which is the ultimate purpose for our lives. From this real, actual world will come a future eternal realm where injustice and sin will no longer dominate us.
God allows evil to exist for reasons that we as finite, limited human beings cannot fully understand, but we do know that God will not allow evil to win and that in the world to come, it will be destroyed. At this point in time, we don’t see the end of the story; only God, Who has the eternal perspective can truly know what the final outcome will be. Our opportunity is to trust Him and believe that in His wisdom and goodness He will bring ultimate justice and purpose in the eternity that is to come. (See Isaiah 55:8; Romans 11:33).
The Gospel tells us that on the cross, God has demonstrated His love for us. It is there that He provided the remedy and cure for our sin and evil. On the cross He bore the penalty for all of the sin of humanity and through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can be reconciled to God. We can be God’s instruments to bring goodness, healing, help and salvation to those who are suffering. We can be His hands extended to others who are suffering and in need.