Concerning the co-existence of an all-powerful, loving, and good God with worldwide wickedness, the ancient philosopher Epicurus once mused: “Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or He can, but does not want to; or He cannot and does not want to. If He wants to, but cannot, He is impotent. If He can, and does not want to, He is wicked. But, if God both can and wants to abolish evil, then how comes evil in the world?” (Strobel, p. 25).
Epicurus’ question was not uncommon in his day, and, indeed, has persisted to ours. How can evil exist in a world created by an all-good God? How can a good God have created this earth, and evils like those perpetrated by Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Osama bin Laden, exist and continue as they do? Doesn’t evil’s existence, what’s more it’s pre-eminence, prove that a good God didn’t create the world, and hence, does not exist? Or doesn’t it at least prove that if there is a God, He isn’t all good? Persistent, pernicious, and increasingly prevalent, these questions plague the minds of many. What can be said in defense of the faith?
Alongside these questions also persists the question of how pain and suffering (evil’s progeny) can exist if a loving God with the ability to eradicate them does, as well. In a recent survey in which a selected cross-section of adults was asked the question, “‘If you could ask God only one question and you knew he would answer, what would you ask?’” the number one response was “‘Why is there pain and suffering in the world?’” (Strobel, p. 29). This problem of pain, called by one writer, “the question mark turned like a fishhook in the human heart,” (p. 28) is quite possibly the most common objection offered by unbelievers to substantiate their rejection of the Christian faith. Again, what can be said in defense of the faith?
Concerning the question of the existence of evil, the Bible affirms that God did not create it. The all-good God (1 John 1:5) created a world that was good in every way, as Genesis records: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). What does that mean? It means that flawlessness was the order of the day: no death (Genesis 3:22-23); no weeds (Genesis 3:18); no sin (Genesis 3:5-7). Scripture also records what changed all that. It was not the Creator, but the created. Adam brought sin, and its consequences, into the world: “…death reigned from Adam…by the one man’s offense death reigned” (Romans 5:14,17).
But someone might say: “Didn’t God create a people with the propensity to sin? Didn’t He, in essence, create an imperfect system?” To this the only reasonable answer can be “no.” God created a system perfectly suited to allow perfect service. He created beings possessed of free will, created them good, gave them every reason to continue to be good, but let them decide whether or not they would be. This is love. God is in the business of drawing and leading, not coercing. After all, what loving parent could take pleasure in a child’s forced obedience?
Concerning the question of pain and suffering, it should be remembered that if the all-powerful, loving, and good God of the Bible exists, then He is of such a nature (infinite and perfect) that our nature (finite and imperfect) will, at times, find it challenging to grasp Him and/or His ways. He says of Himself: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9). And it is said of Him: “How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33). I would not expect to fully understand a Being great enough to make me.
With that in mind, the following question could reasonably be asked: “How can we, limited beings, know for sure that an unlimited God might not see purpose in permitting some ‘evils,’ such as short-term pain, in order to bring about long-term profit? Might not this be possible?” Consider the following interaction as a plausible parallel to our relations with God: “…imagine a bear in a trap and a hunter who, out of sympathy wants to liberate him. He tries to win the bear’s confidence, but he can’t do it, so he has to shoot the bear full of drugs. The bear, however, thinks this is an attack and that the hunter is trying to kill him. He doesn’t realize that this is being done out of compassion. Then in order to get the bear out of the trap, the hunter has to push him further into the trap to release the tension on the spring…at that point, [the bear] would be even more convinced that the hunter was his enemy who was out to cause him suffering and pain. But the bear would be wrong. He reaches this incorrect conclusion because he’s not a human being” (Strobel, p. 32, quoting Peter Kreeft). Might human beings reach incorrect conclusions by judging God by their own wisdom, forgetting that His transcends their own?
In conclusion, it should be remembered that though God has permitted evil and suffering for a time, the time is coming when He will right the wrong. Though justice is delayed, it will not be denied; evil, and those who practice it, will be removed from His sight (2 Thessalonians 1:9). On the same occasion, suffering will become a distant memory for the people of God: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
~ Strobel, L. (2000). The Case for Faith. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House