One of the most powerful objections to the Christian faith throughout the centuries has been the problem of evil. If there is an all powerful, loving God, then how can there be so much suffering and evil in the world. If he is all powerful, he has the ability to stop it; if he is all loving, he should have the desire to stop it. If then there is evil in the world, such a God must not exist or he would have moved long ago to eliminate it. This essay will deal with the intellectual aspects to the problem, though as will be noted at the end, the emotional impact can be even more difficult to resolve.
A few have responded to the problem of evil by saying God is not good. This explains why there is so much evil in the world: the ultimate reality is himself evil. This is where Satan worshipers and the worshipers of evil “gods” in other religions get their inspiration. But the problem with this view is “where does all the good come from?” If the all powerful god is evil, why isn’t all of existence a living hell for everyone in every way all the time. This simply doesn’t mesh with reality, which bears the mark of divine beauty, even if it is defaced by evil.
Many more have tried to solve the problem of evil by saying God is not all-powerful. He wants to bring evil to an end but doesn’t have the ability to do so. He is a fellow, finite victim and sufferer just like us. But if this is true, what hope do we have that goodness will ever triumph over evil? This viewpoint leaves us engaged in a hopeless, endless struggle. There is no end goal, victory or rest we can look forward to. Such hopelessness can lead to despair and does not meet the deepest longings of the human heart.
The Bible will not allow us to solve the problem of evil in either of the above fashions. The Bible insists that God is love (I John 4:16) and that he is all powerful (Jer 32:7). Then how can we reconcile the existence of evil with the reality of God’s power and love?
First, we must realize that God did not create evil. We, the human race, brought evil into this creation by rebelling against God. We chose evil over God. God is letting us eat the bitter fruit of our decision. It is the just punishment for our rebellion to get exactly what we wanted.
But some will respond, “Why didn’t God just create us so we couldn’t choose evil?” This is because God didn’t want robotic dolls for children. He wanted children that would freely choose to love him. But for that choice to be real, there had to be real consequences for choosing badly. The amount of evil in the world is a testimony to the amount of glory God bestowed on us as human beings. Our choices have the power to do great harm as well as great good.
Still the question could be asked, “Why doesn’t God put an end to evil now? We have learned our lesson. There is no need for creation to continue in this pain.” This is where a third attribute of God comes into play, his infinite wisdom. He is all powerful and can stop evil; he is all loving and wants to end evil (and he will one day). But in the meantime, in his infinite wisdom, he has chosen to allow evil to continue because he sees some greater good will come from doing so. If we can’t see what that good reason is, it’s because he has an infinite mind while ours are finite. We can’t grasp intellectually everything that he is doing. He calls us to trust that his plans are good even if we can’t understand them.
This brings us to the most crucial question in this essay, “What good reason do I have to trust God?” The answer is Jesus Christ. God did not sit in heaven and let us suffer alone though we deserved it. God become one of us in Jesus and has experienced our suffering. This suffering reached its apex when Jesus was unjustly crucified on the cross by evil men. The Scripture tells us that God allowed himself to suffer in this way because he was reconciling sinful humanity to himself. By taking the punishment that we deserved on to himself and paying it in full, he set us free from that punishment and opened to door for us to have a new relationship with him.
What Does the Cross of Christ Teach Us About Evil?
1. God Is Just and Righteous. God does hate evil and he will punish it. He punished it in Christ for all who would believe in Christ as Savior. But the cross is also a warning to those who will reject Christ and pursue a life of evil. Their punishment will come. All evil will be punished either in Christ on the cross or out of Christ in hell. God is a just God and evil will be defeated.
2. God is Love. His willingness to take the punishment for our sin against him on himself when we in no way deserved it, is the greatest proof to us that he is love and wants an eternal loving relationship with us. The cross gives us hope that whatever we experience here, the ultimate spiritual reality is love and that is where we are headed for all eternity if we trust in him. God’s love for us displayed in the cross, creates and draws forth that trust from within us.
3. God Sympathizes with Our Sorrows. Because he has suffered, he understands what we are going through, and he can help us in our times of suffering. He survived the sufferings of this world and can show us the way through them. He wants to help us because he can sympathize with our struggles since he experienced them. He has compassion on us because he knows how hard it is to live in this broken world.
4. God Is Infinitely Wise. The cross also proves God’s great wisdom in bringing good out of evil. The cross of Jesus was a horrible thing, but through it God saved the world from hell. God brought great good out of this horrific event. It gives us hope that whatever God allows, he has a good reason for it and that good will somehow come from it. In addition, it assures us that somehow suffering is necessary to defeat evil, for surely God would have never subjected himself to it unless there were no other options.
Potential Reasons God Has for Allowing Suffering in our World and in Our Lives.
1) Trials Develop Strength of Character and Faith
Trials help us to develop the character trait of perseverance (Ro 5:3). As we have to exercise our faith against the struggles of this world, the muscles of our faith grow stronger.
2) Trials Help Us Learn Wisdom
Trials help us mature as human beings (He 5:8). Trials make us exercise moral choice in difficult circumstances, causing us to grow in wisdom.
3) Trials Are God’s Training Ground for Us
Trails show us that God loves us like a father loves a child (He 12:7). Every parent disciplines their children because they love them. The same is true of God. Only a bad parent would let their child get away with evil behavior that could lead them to harm or fail to prepare them for life through training in life disciplines though this may be a painful process.
4) Trials Develop Humility and Self-Understanding
Trials develop humility in us (2 Cor 12:7). We are reminded how weak we are in trials and learn not to look down on others who have the same weaknesses. It also reminds how much we must rely on God’s strength and grace to live in this world. Finally it brings down to reality in how we should view ourselves: we are not almighty and in control. Such self-understanding is necessary for maturity and true faith.
5) Trials Affirm the Reality of Our Faith
Trials help us see our faith is real (Deut 8:2). As we persevere through a trial, it assures us that our faith is real and thus gives us hope for our ultimate salvation for salvation is received by faith.
6) Trials Reveal that God’s Way of Life Is the Best
Evil and suffering in the world confirm God’s path of goodness is the right path for us. As we experience the reality of evil in this world, we see that humanity should have never chosen to rebel against God in the first place. We are simply experiencing the fruit of our bad decisions. We thus should learn to make better choices (Rom 1:18-32).
7) Trials Show that God Is Patient and Loving
As God delays the final judgment, he is allowing more time for people to repent and be reconciled to him before his eternal wrath is made known (2 Peter 3:9). Evil still exists in the world because God is patient, giving evil people more time to turn to him and his forgiveness.
8) Trials Allow Us to Enter into Cosmic Warfare
God is allowing us to join him and to have a role in his battle against evil. Satan’s lie is that the only reason people follow God is because he bribes us with good things. When we chose God’s way in the midst of suffering, we prove Satan is a liar. We become God’s champions in the midst of suffering proclaiming “it is better to suffer following God’s goodness than to rule with Satan’s evil” (Book of Job).
9) Trials Allow Us to Bear Witness to Jesus
By following God and loving people in the midst of our suffering, we can be a witness for the gospel, leading people to salvation. We become examples of Jesus dying love which he gave to people in the midst of his suffering. (1 Peter 3:14-15)
10) Trials Help Us Learn Sympathy
Trials can give us the ability to sympathize with others in similar conditions. We can become a help to others going through a hard time because we understand their pain. When we do this we emulate the life of Christ who suffered so he could help us. (2 Cor 1:3-4)
The Problem of Evil As an Evidence FOR the Existence of God
There is a problem in using the problem of evil as an intellectual evidence against God’s existence. It actually provides evidence for God’s existence. If there were no God, there would be no standard by which we could determine whether something was good or bad. Suffering would just exist, and we wouldn’t complain because it would be the ultimate reality. When we complain that things are not the way they should be, we are appealing to some kind of higher standard by which we judge the current situation to be wrong, bad, evil. The only possible source for such a higher standard is God. Thus the fact that we complain against God in the problem of evil is actually evidence that God’s exists for we are holding him to a standard of goodness that only he can supply. If he didn’t exist, there would be no problem. Only his existence can make the problem of evil a real problem.
Beyond the Mind
We have been dealing with the intellectual aspects of the problem of evil, but for those who are really suffering, the issue transcends the mind. They are hurt and afraid and find it hard to trust other people much less God. Sometimes all the arguments listed above will fall on deaf ears because of the pain in a person’s soul. For such people, only “the final apologetic” will make any sense, and that is the actual daily love of Christians in friendship with them. Some people need the mental framework given above. Some people just need to experience the reality of love so they can learn to trust again. Some people need both. It is the job of Christians to love people so well that they learn that God can be trusted.