[The author explains how evil can be reconciled with the existence of God]
Charles Templeton, a well-known evangelist and friend of Billy Graham, renounced his faith. While interviewing him for his book The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel asked him if there was any particular thing that caused him to lose his faith in God. “It was a photo of a woman in Northern Africa (which was then experiencing a drought)”, said Templeton. “She was holding her dead baby in her arms and looking to heaven with a most forlorn expression. I thought, ‘Is it possible to believe that there is a loving and caring Creator when all this woman needed was rain?’” The existence of evil and suffering in the world is a prime reason that atheists give for refusing to believe in the existence of God. In this article, we shall attempt to give a Biblical response to the problem of evil.
The knowledge or experience of any single human is a mere speck compared to the entire spectrum of human experience, and also minuscule compared to God (even those who question God’s existence will agree that if He exists, He must be big!). Therefore, it must not surprise us if we find it difficult to reconcile everything, we observe with our core beliefs. God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). In Job chapters 38 and 39, we are reminded that we did not create this universe and we don’t sustain it. As Creator and Sustainer, God knows what He is doing or allowing, even if it stretches our mind. At the same time, God reveals what He does to His prophets (Amos 3:7) and through Jesus Christ. Therefore, we can understand something of God’s ways, including why He has permitted evil.
The Origin of Evil We learn from Genesis 1-3 that when God created the first man and woman, He gave them a commandment. However, they chose to disobey God. They became alienated from God and acquired a tendency to do wrong, which they passed to all their descendants. God judged Adam and Eve just as He had warned them. They would now experience toil, disease, and death. The whole of nature was also cursed when man fell.
Why did God make humans at all?
(So much suffering would be avoided if He didn’t make us) Answer: Because He had a redemption plan that will make the goodness in eternity outweigh the evil.
Why did God give a test to the first humans (and thus allow the possibility of evil)?
There are at least two reasons: One: Without a test, the obedience of our first parents would be “by default”. They would love God only because there was no other alternative. But such love is not true! A truly meaningful, loving relationship is possible only when it is voluntary, that is, the option of rejection is available. God wanted a meaningful relationship with intelligent beings because it brings joy – robots and puppets do not. The same principle also answers the question as to why God does not prevent human evil. If God struck Hitler and Mao dead or manipulated their minds when they were planning the murders, they would be puppets.
Two: The depth of a relationship depends on the extent to which the parties know each other. God’s wonderful attributes such as His grace and transforming power would be completely unknown if there was no evil.
If we accept that God did not deliberately bring evil on earth (Adam and Eve did so) but He only allowed it, we still have to deal with present evil. Perhaps three of the most troubling features of present evil are: 2. The creation seems evil and seems to point to an evil creator – the cancer-causing sun that God has made, the earth’s crust that quakes and erupts, and the cruel animals that God made. 3. People seem to be suffering more than they deserve – the person who gets burnt alive in a car accident, the good doctor who dies in a plane crash, etc.
Let us address each of these concerns:
- An automated factory is more sophisticated than a factory where everything is done manually on an ad hoc basis. To display His greatness, God has made the universe “automated”. It runs according to fixed laws that He has decreed. The law of gravity will not change when a good person steps on a banana peel, nor will the weather change because there is a sudden need. The processes that make the sun send warm rays to the earth also produce harmful radiation. This constancy of the laws of nature points to God’s consistency and unchanging nature.
- After Adam and Eve procreated and the population increased rapidly, people refused to follow their conscience and treat each other well. The whole earth was filled with violence. To prevent the rest of human history from becoming violent anarchy, God had to bring a worldwide flood and start afresh. The earth’s crust cracked open to release water that had been stored beneath it. The cracked crust is now prone to earthquakes and volcanoes. The flood also affected the atmosphere and magnetic field of the earth. Some of the shielding mechanisms that the earth had against harmful sun rays are gone now, and the earth is now more prone to drought. It was not God’s original plan for lions to have brutal fights over territory. Adam and Eve were made the head of the creation. When they fell, creation fell too. On the cursed, post-Flood (and less luxuriant) earth, survival would be more difficult and nature would become cruel. Thus, evil in creation is a distortion due to man’s rebellion, and not God’s original work.
- How much do people deserve to suffer? The Bible says that the redemption of a soul is infinitely costly (Psalm 49:7-8). Why? God is infinitely great, holy and good. Therefore, sin against Him is infinitely serious, and thus calls for infinite punishment. This is shocking and frightening, and we are tempted to protest that it is not so. But think about it: how bad would it be to insult an ordinary person? Wouldn’t it be worse to insult the king? Wouldn’t it be worse to insult a good king than a bad king? Now extrapolate this to God! Thus, while our suffering seems great, it is less than what we deserve. When God metes out punishment after we die, He will take into account the suffering we had during our earthly life (Luke 16:25). Thus, the intense suffering on earth does not violate God’s justice.
Mercy in suffering
Here are some more observations we make about some of our sufferings:
- Childbirth is painful. Although human life is beautiful, it begins with great anguish. Strategically placed suffering like this suggests to the thoughtful person that although life is wonderful, something has gone wrong and needs to be rectified.
Earning one’s living is often hard and painful: In a world where people have a propensity to do evil, work keeps people occupied and thus reduces evil.
We hurt when we touch something hot or sharp: In a world where things go wrong, this kind of pain is a helpful warning signal. Our bodies would be permanently damaged if we couldn’t sense this type of pain. · The quality of life is generally better in countries that have had a deep and lasting influence of the Bible in their heritage. Again, this shows, for those willing to accept it, that the God of the Bible is true, and thus helps them approach Him for their good.
In all the above examples, we see that God’s mercy and grace shine even amid our suffering. He intends to use suffering for our good, drawing us to Him.
According to SOS-USA, a relief organization, 226 million Africans are starving. Among the causes for the situation are unfair trading practices, corruption and mismanagement of resources, and armed conflict. According to the Drinks Business magazine, in 2018, Americans spent $254 billion on alcohol, and in 2016, $117 billion on tobacco (according to a Wall Street Journal article dated April 23rd, 2017). This means if Americans would give to Africans instead of smoking and drinking, each poor African would get more than $1500 a year – more than enough to come out of starvation. “If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” – Proverbs 24:12. So dear friend, God wants to help the starving children– through you.
According to Patent Pilot, Israel filed 155 (USA: 129) patent applications per million citizens in 2015, which was more than five times the world average.
The Nazis killed six million Jews in World War 2 and Americans aborted more than 46 million babies from 1970 to 2017 (Centers for Disease Control, counting only voluntary reporting). Thus, humans have chosen to kill the most innovative members of their race. So, is God to be blamed because the world has so many unsolved problems? Examples like these can be multiplied. They prove that when we want to blame someone for the evil around us, we should look around, not up.
God has not just sat back and watched humans do evil. He has sent Jesus Christ to the world as a Savior. Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, bearing the punishment that was due for us. If anyone turns around from their rebellion against God and believes in Christ, God will forgive him, and transform him so that he can become part of new heaven and earth in which there will be no evil!
If a person openly preaches Jesus Christ in an Asian village, he will probably be driven away, assaulted or lynched. In the light of such hatred towards God, we should not be surprised that God allows evil, but that He allows good!
To summarize, God created a universe running according to fixed laws and gave man the freedom of choice. Man has brought evil into the world and continues to do evil. Although God has allowed evil, He will judge it. Evildoers will get what they deserve according to His strict standards. The existence of evil does not preclude the existence of a good and powerful God.
By Johnny Varghese