God and the Problem of Evil
One of the most difficult aspects of understanding God and the problem of evil is the amount of evil there is in the world. Atheists often suggest the amount of evil present throughout the world strongly argues against the presence of a loving God. They argue the intense suffering of so many people throughout the many thousands of years defies belief in any God they could rely upon or worship.
Innocent children die from cancer, terrible tragedies occur all the time, natural disasters wipe out thousands of people, wars consume the treasuries of countries, countless people starve every day while food rots in the warehouses or richer nations.
We shake our heads and wonder how a good God would allow such evil to occur.
God and the problem of evil throughout the world is the greatest difficulty for most people for believing in God. Everybody has known some evil in their lives, whether in their personal life or in the lives of their friends and family.
Senseless evil is so pervasive in this world that nobody escapes its icy clutches.
Is there an explanation for the evil which is everywhere?
Theologians ponder this question as evil continues to affect even the righteous as well as the evil.
This problem for the existence of God has been recognized for millennia. Epicurus (341 – 270 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher known today for his argument against the existence of any God worth knowing. Epicurus presents the following questions and propositions,
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither willing nor able? Then why call him God?
Can this problem of evil have any kind of solution?
Is a Good God Consistent with Existence of Great Evil
God and the problem of evil is a dilemma for both theologians and the common man. Because of this problem, atheists declare a loving God inconsistent with the amount of evil everywhere.
This objection also relates to the amount of evil in the natural world. This evil is seen in the death of innocent animals in the jaws of their predators. The evil also manifests in the death of innocent creatures to climate change and natural disasters.
Mankind produces great evil through the exercise of his free will. This free will can result in death of innocent children and the senseless slaughter of animals.
Theologians ponder whether God can be held responsible for the sins of people. Cannot an all-powerful God stop or at least mitigate the amount of evil?
But is the co-existence of God and natural evil really logically inconsistent? Can God have morally justifiable reasons to permit the great evil which he could stop?
Morally Justifiable Reasons
Agnostics question whether God may have morally justifiable reasons for permitting evil. For example, it is conceivable that God may use evil to bring about a greater good. One small example of good coming out of evil occurred when Cari Lightner was killed by a hit-and-run driver on May 3, 1980. The driver was eventually arrested and found to be drunk.
This tragedy led to the founding of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) which has changed public awareness regarding drinking and driving. This change enabled by MADD has undoubtedly saved many thousands of lives in the forty years since that tragedy.
Mankind Can Not Know the Outcome of Evil
We do not have the intelligence or insight to be able to know the probability that God has a morally sufficient reason for evil in the world. While God knows the end from the beginning and orders history so that his ends are accomplished, we do not have that insight.
Evils that appear to have no possible justification may have some justification in promoting God’s plan for humanity.
Christianity offers insights Into helping understand how this is even remotely possible,
The chief purpose of life is not happiness but the development of belief and trust in God. Growth of the “prosperity gospel” has convinced many Christians that God wishes for us to achieve happiness through material wealth even though Scripture does not support this understanding.
In fact, material wealth often convinces people they do not need God and that they can rely upon their own abilities to achieve happiness and fulfillment.
The Purpose for Suffering
God’s purpose for us in this life is to learn about our dependence on him, and not upon ourselves. It is the knowledge of God which produces true happiness. In this view, the many evils in life may convince us of our need for the Almighty.
Suffering provides an occasion for greater knowledge, dependency, and trust in God either from the sufferer or from those around them. Of course, many people who go through great suffering blame God rather than go toward him.
Whether we learn from these experiences largely depends on our response to evil. Responding to evil with bitterness and anger or with deeper understanding and trust of God’s purposes will help determine whether suffering may lead to a good outcome or be wasted.
We are living in an unusual part of human history. It has only been within the past one hundred years that many infectious diseases have been largely eradicated. Viral illnesses like smallpox, measles, and polio which used to destroy millions of people’s lives are now largely eradicated. Children as a rule no longer die in their youth from sinus infections, diphtheria, or pneumonia but live to adulthood. Families now are comfortable in having only one or two children because their children almost always survive into adulthood. This was not the case for most of mankind’s history.
The expectation that parents will outlive their children is something we are privileged to experience for the first time in human history. Previously, families used to have many more children to try to ensure that some would survive to adulthood.
It is also important to remember the obvious – none of us will live on earth forever; we will all die from something. The only question is when and from what.
Remembering these obvious facts helps us to keep certain tragedies in perspective.
Mankind is in State of Rebellion Against God
A simple viewing of the evening news or the morning paper gives ample proof that mankind is in rebellion against God.
People are alienated from God, groping in spiritual darkness, and trying to find happiness in material things and gods of their own making.
Many of the evils throughout the world are manifestations of this state of rebellion. Scriptures say God has given mankind over to the evil and sin it has chosen and does not interfere to stop it.
We get to choose many things in this life including how we live it. God will let us live out life in rebellion and away from him if that is our will.
An Eternal Perspective
The evil we experience here must also be weighed with an eternal perspective. Many in Scripture lived lives of terrible suffering including Paul who noted,
“We do not lose heart. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we took not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen, for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal
Paul is saying that our experience in heaven will be so great that it is incomprehensible and can not even be imagined here.
That is how Paul could call our afflictions and suffering here “a slight and momentary affliction.”
This is why God does not particularly care about our material happiness here but is far more concerned about our relationship with him. It is important to know the source of goodness and the meaning of our existence. To obtain that knowledge and experience that joy is the whole purpose of life – the suffering that may accompany our journey on earth is of little comparison to that.
That is how a Christian can say “God is Good” even under tremendous suffering and affliction.
Summary of God and the Problem of Evil
The pervasive nature of evil throughout the world and throughout history is the greatest challenge to Christianity.
Many have difficulty understanding how God could allow such suffering and death both for humans the animal world.
We need to remember the eternal nature of our existence. This means our suffering has to be taken into an eternal perspective. The meaning of our life is to know God. To enable this, God will do whatever is necessary to help us gain that perspective.
Those who do not have this perspective have difficulty understanding the Christian acceptance of suffering and evil in the world. That is certainly understandable for the amount of suffering throughout human history has been substantial.
We can only look forward to what is promised to be incomprehensible happiness that will alleviate our pain and suffering. The final passages of Scripture inform us that,
“the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.