“The God who made this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac.” – Stephen Fry
It is likely that you have thought or spoken something similar to the idea expressed by Stephen Fry in the quote above. How a good and loving God can allow evil is a question that has been asked for a long time. While this issue is considered to have a sound explanation in the professional academic and philosophical worlds, it is still a difficult subject to address and, for many people, this issue has been the reason they will deny God and the Bible. In a world that experiences as much pain as ours, we need to have answers. The Bible gives us answers to this. To be sure, the Bible does not seek to provide explanations for every instance of suffering: why a particular person suffers at that particular time in that particular way. But God’s Word does tell us why we suffer.
To begin with, we live in a world that is fallen because of sin. If we never suffered because of something specific to us, we would still suffer. This is because the world does not function like it did originally, before sin entered into the world through man.
Second, the Bible tells us that God uses suffering to produce godly character in His children (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-3; 1 Peter 1:6-7). In this context, we have reason to rejoice in our suffering! Why? Because God is using the suffering to make us more like Christ, and if our ultimate purpose is bringing God glory, then we know that becoming more like Christ will result in god receiving more glory. Therefore, we rejoice through the suffering, though not in the suffering itself necessarily.
However, the “suffering” that God uses to produce godly character is specifically what Scripture calls “trials,” and is not necessarily the emotional and physical suffering people usually find inconsistent with God’s character (though God can and does use emotional and physical pain). The type of suffering that causes people to question God’s goodness and His love and His justice is usually within the context of global suffering and moral injustice. Children die of cancer. Murderers go free with seemingly no consequences. Corruption is everywhere. There is emotional pain in life on every level. These are the things that make people question, and it is this “problem of evil” that I will deal with here.
I wrote this a while ago for a small Bible study group that I’m a part of. Because this is such an important topic that many struggle with, I thought it would be good to post it on the site so anyone who visits can see it.
Theodicy is “the vindication of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil.” The goal of this document is to biblically address what is commonly called “the problem of evil.” Apologist Gregory E. Ganssle states it well: “‘The problem of evil’ is a family of arguments from the existence or nature of evil to the conclusion that God does not or probably does not exist.” It seeks to show that it is inconsistent for such a God to be real in light of so much that is obviously contrary to His character. There is physical, emotional and mental pain everywhere and in all different forms and to incredibly high degrees. It is not adequate if someone asks how God can be loving and yet there be so much evil to say, “I don’t really know, I just have to take it by faith.” That is an acceptable answer if someone asks you to comprehensively explain the Trinity in a way they can understand it, not when they ask this and other related questions. Many answers have been given to this question (some even try to deny the existence of evil altogether). If unbelievers are left to themselves, they will conclude that the Bible is in error or the God of the Bible does not exist. If we do not uphold the truth in this situation (and many others) we are turning a blind eye to the consequences of their conclusions and the decisions that flow out of those conclusions.
However, addressing this issue is not just so we can know how to speak to people who may ask us this question or struggle with some of the concepts represented by it. It is for believers as well. Whether we like to admit it or not, we sometimes question God’s justice, His love, His goodness, His faithfulness and His truthfulness, all of which are called into question by asking how God and evil can exist at the same time.
The Bible provides adequate answers, and it does so without compromising either the existence of God or evil.
Assessing the Problem
To address the issue, it would be helpful to understand the issue. The commonly stated argument from the problem of evil can be summarized as follows: (1) an all-loving God would want to stop evil; (2) an all-powerful God could stop evil; (3) evil still exists; (4) therefore, no such God can exist.
To understand what the Bible says about this, we need to go back to the creation account in Genesis.
Evil Did Not Always Exist
The Bible teaches very clearly that evil has not always existed. God is good (Psalm 100:5). Genesis chapter 1 says seven different times that God’s creation was good. There was a world that was beautiful, without flaw, and intended for human beings to govern under the loving kingship of the creator God. There were no murders committed daily, no children who suffer of disease and hunger, no death or suffering at all. God created the world for good purposes, desiring to do good for all of the creatures He placed on it. The opening chapters of Genesis tell us how the events happened. God created all things and gave man the task of populating and exercising control over the rest of creation. They had perfect fellowship with God and enjoyed a relationship with Him and had everything provided for them that they could have needed, and only had one restriction. They chose to step outside of God’s boundaries and along with it came the fall.
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”Genesis 2:16-17 …
… “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”Genesis 3:6
It is important to start here, with recognizing that man willfully decided to reject God and His rule over them. This is the definition of sin: rejection of God’s design and commands. Adam and Eve rejected both when they ate the fruit, and we have the same sinful nature they had. The Bible is very clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Man is hostile to God, desiring to pursue his own will and purposes instead of God’s. The sin that Adam committed made the world fallen, not good like God created it. All sin leads to destruction and, ultimately, death (Romans 6:23). Destruction and death are the only possible outcomes of sin.
In understanding how the Bible answers the problem of evil, this is the critical first point. God is good and created the world good, and we acted in an evil manner when in pride we put ourselves on God’s throne and rejected Him. Any belief that says God is in any way the source of or an enforcer of evil is wrong. God is good and all-wise, and any decisions made outside of His will and purpose will bring destruction. All suffering, no matter what form or degree, is the result of sin.
So Why Did God Allow Adam and Eve to Sin? Why Does God Allow People to Make Sinful Choices?
Some have asked, “why, if such acts of disobedience lead to destruction and death, did God allow Adam and Eve to sin? Why did He put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Eden in the first place?” The answer to this question is found in the fact that God loves us. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). How is it loving for God to give us the choice to sin?
If God made us with absolutely no ability to make choices, then we would not be able to truly love Him. God could have created man as a robot and programmed us to worship Him. This is a relationship, but it is not a loving one. Because being in a loving relationship with God is where our greatest good and greatest satisfaction is found, because we were created to love and worship Him, it would be unloving of God if He did not give us a choice to love Him.
Speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Scripture says:
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”Colossians 1:16
One might say that if loving God is our greatest good then it would be supremely loving of God to force us to love Him, because then we would only ever be taking part in something where our greatest good is found.
However, that objection does not have a well-reasoned foundation. Everybody knows at least one thing to be true of relationships: you do not want someone to love you because they have to. You want someone to love you because they want to. If you tried to force someone in your family or a friend of yours to love you, it would not work. It is by choosing for themselves to love you that they experience the true wonders of the relationship. If they were forced, then they would not be relating to you, they would be fulfilling an obligation, completely detached from any personal experience and not actually expressing love and affection, or really having any capacity to do so. Personal will is necessary for a truly loving relationship to exist.
This is how it is with our relationship with God. He desires us to worship Him and have a relationship with Him, not fulfill a duty. God did not cause Adam and Eve to sin or to love Him. He did give them freewill, which they used to sin against Him. If they did not have the ability to choose to disobey God, then they would not have had the ability to choose to worship God, and so experience a loving relationship with Him, which is their greatest good. In other words, the most loving thing God could have done was give the command to love and worship Him, and also give Adam and Eve the ability to choose to do that. Therefore, a relationship with God based on love necessitates the ability to reject God, which is by definition evil.
What About the Evil That Continues?
I have talked about what evil is and where it comes from. God is good and created all things good, but we decide to reject Him, thus choosing evil and ushering in the fall. However, that does not explain why evil is allowed to continue on. Adam and Eve sinned a long time ago. What about all of the evil and suffering that has come since then? It would be easy to tell somebody that in the beginning all was good and then evil came, but then why has an all-good and all-loving God allowed it to continue for so long? The answer is that God is extending His grace.
God desires everyone to have a relationship with Him. When He comes back to punish sin, as He has promised to do, then everyone who has not accepted Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life will be eternally separated from Him in Hell. In a very undeserved act of grace, God is still sustaining the world and asking, even commanding, that every human being repent and turn to Him.
God is a patient God that does not desire anyone to perish:
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”Psalm 103:8
“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” …I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”Ezekiel 18:23, 32
“God… desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:3-4
At the point when sin is judged, all sin will be judged. People are quick to point at suffering and evil and ask why God does not readily execute judgment on it, but their tone would probably change if they were faced with the idea that if God were to judge the act or situation they want Him to, then He must also judge and execute wrath on their sin as well.
For a lost person, they will most likely pridefully step back in either fear or anger (or both) at the idea that God would not immediately execute justice because of grace and that He will at some point pour out wrath on them as well.
This leads into the next point.
God Will Punish All Evil
None of the points above answer the obvious problem of there being evil going on that is not being punished. We answered why God allows evil to continue, we have not dealt with how God is still a just God in the midst of all of this. This really is the problem people have. So, what does the Bible say about that? I mentioned it in the previous point: God will punish sin when He comes back.
There are two points at which God has promised to punish sin and make right the wrongs and administer His perfect, righteous judgment. The Bible teaches that at the point of death, we stand before God and are judged (Hebrews 9:27, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Ecclesiastes 12:14). The other time is when He returns. The Lord Jesus Christ came to Earth the first time as its beautiful Savior, God taking the form of a man and serving us and living a perfect life for us. He promised to return. When He does, He will judge all sin.
The Bible is full of passages that affirm God’s hatred of sin, His perfect holiness, and His justice and wrath:
“At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity.3 When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah4 I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’ and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn;5 do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with haughty neck.’”6 For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,7 but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.8 For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.”Psalm 75:2-8
“He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.” Romans 2:6-11
There is a truth taught in Scripture that we need to be aware of and live out, and it is the truth that God extends grace and offers forgiveness to every person in infinite supply, but there is coming a day when His extending and offering will cease. Every day God is calling people to repentance, desiring them to surrender to Him and put their faith in His Son’s atoning work on the cross. But God will not offer forever, and He will be completely just after such a long and enduring period of sin and rebellion against Him, though He showed them kindness and grace all along, to punish them and condemn them to eternity in Hell. The offer is up either when they die and stand before Him or when He comes back. They were given the opportunity, and they have no excuses for not taking it.
God is very personal with His creation and is interested and involved in the events happening in it. God’s hatred of sin is evident throughout the entirety of Scripture. God does not overlook evil, He does not turn a blind eye to suffering of any kind, and He will render each act and thought its proper treatment. While evil does not always seem to go punished in this life, we can be sure that God will bring about justice. God’s holiness, righteousness, and, as difficult as it may be for some to reason, His love, demand that evil be punished.
God has not fully consummated His kingdom and we still see and experience the effects of sin such as death, injustice, hurt, broken relationships, cancer and other diseases, famine, abuse (physically and emotionally), poverty, natural disasters, war, and whatever else we can fit into this category. But God, the all-powerful, all-good and all-loving God, has already won the final and ultimate victory. God demonstrated His holiness and justice by sending His Son to bear His wrath that man’s sins deserve, and He achieved victory by resurrecting Christ from the dead. God will bring into judgment every evil act and thought, and He has promised that one day there will be no more sin or the consequences that come from it for everyone who has placed their trust in Christ, and they will experience eternal life in His presence.
The biblical worldview teaches that God is sovereign, and that evil is only possible as the twisting, distorting, and depraving of His good creation. God is the author of human liberty to choose, but wrong human choice has warped and corrupted that liberty. Evil, in this view, is not caused directly by God but is also not possible apart from God. Evil is parasitic, depending on God’s good creation as the masterpiece it disfigures. Sinful human beings have no independent existence or power, so their determination to do evil is a corruption of the power of self-determination that God gives humanity. God is not responsible for evil, but evil does not have an existence outside of God’s sovereign control, and He can use evil to accomplish His good purposes. In fact, God can achieve a greater good by allowing and using evil than would have otherwise come about had evil not been in existence.
It should be noted that Christianity does not claim to provide answers to all of the intellectual conflicts we may have. We do not always understand why the types of evil and the depths of evil that take place are allowed by God. But we can cling to what we know to be true, and God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).
I used a few different sources for this, but it is difficult to make a proper works cited page for this website. Dr. Norman L. Geisler’s Systematic Theology, the CSB Apologetics Study Bible, the ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible, and the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary were all used at some point or another in this document.
All Scripture references are from the English Standard Version.