The issue is rather complex if you get deeply into the various discussions, but for the average person in an average conversation it usually goes something like this:
“If God is all-knowing, loving and kind and He possesses all power and authority over all things and He is the creator then why is there evil?”
At the core of it is simply the question of evil and how does it coexist with God who hates evil?
The fancy word for this is “theodicy” which comes from two Greek words: one for God and one for justice. The idea is how is God truly just when there is evil in the world.
How to understand this issue:
First, it is a completely legitimate question to have.
Most who never wrestle with this have never experienced an unvarnished version of evil.
But to the one who has experienced evil in some terrible way this question is not uncommon.
There are many things that most people walk through life totally oblivious of that might trouble their minds greatly if they knew what was really going on.
Second, it is an issue that is commonly used to either reject God as a person believes the Bible reveals Him or change the God of the Bible into something altogether.
One viral video took place a few years ago of Stephen Fry, an English comedian and activist, where he is asked about his thoughts on suffering.
It is worth noting that he openly rejects the person of God but the question is framed that the bible is true, he has died and now he walks up to the pearly gates and you are confronted with God.
What would he say? Here are a few excerpts, “Bone cancer in children what's that about? How dare you! How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain. That's what I would say.”
He says more but this captures the basis of his complaint. This leads him to declare that this god is a maniac and he has no desire to serve him or be with him.
So many things could be said about the interview that reveal a very wrong grasp of himself and the person of God but we want to merely use it to illustrate how people use what they call evil as a weapon against God.
So how do we answer this?
First, there are many different ways that theologians and pastors will approach this and you only have to search YouTube to find examples.
Second, it is all boils down to two options.
One, you can approach it through the Bible and submit to its authority on the matter.
Two, you can approach it through some philosophical argument and then engage that argument with your own.
It is honestly as simple as that though we like to try to make it more complex.
Philosophical arguments are fine, but in the end they achieve very little. Even if they convince a person to a specific point of view, it only stands until a better argument arises. And so, as a result, philosophy possesses no authority in itself. In fact, the authority rests completely on a person’s own reason - something inside of them and their finite perspective of what seems reasonable at the time.
So the only other real option is to accept or reject the biblical statements about God and evil.
Again, these may not convince a person, but they are inherently authoritative and for a Christian there is no need to go any further.
Two basic realities from the bible: God exists. Evil exists. If God doesn’t exist then evil can’t exist because evil is defined only in light of God and His character and will.
The atheist is a thief because he tries to steal the concept and reality of evil without God. But this is meaningless.
If there is no god then we are the products of some sort of arbitrary evolution. And that, by its very definition, is amoral. In other words, true evil can’t exist in a universe without God.
In fact, this is one of the reasons for why the bible says that only a fool says that there is no God. They’re trying to make sense of things that are real, but they’re approaching it from a perspective that’s completely void that which defines reality-- God Himself.
Like all things connected to God we need to become comfortable with mystery and what is called “antinomy.”
Antimony is an apparent contradiction (apparent because it really is not) between two or more doctrines, laws or rules.
Psalm 50:18 talks about how we as humans have a very bad tendency to think that God is just like us, and He isn’t.
This is the most common issue you see when arguing with someone about God’s sovereignty, man’s free will, trinity, or the presence of evil. If you spend a decent amount of time on this subject of evil you will realize that there are limitations on how far we can go in understanding it.
So where does evil come from?
The simplest and most correct answer is that God created it. [pause for the uproar]
First, if we embrace that Scripture is totally true then we must embrace this. “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (Jn. 1:3) This is not hard to understand; rather, it is hard to accept.
Second, the bible explicitly says so in Isaiah 45:6-7, “That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun That there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.” Note the details here: God is saying this. God also says that there is no other god out there doing something, so everything that exists is part of His creation, and then to show the vastness of what He means He says that He makes like and darkness, peace (shalom) and evil. “I am YHWH who does all these.”
“If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?” (Amos 3:6)
Notice that it is not that He merely permits it. He actively is involved in it.
Some will try to argue that He does this through secondary means by way of permission or, perhaps, by not preventing.
But this does not satisfy someone who has experienced evil in one form or another. (Use illustration of truck killing a small child.)
The reality is that evil is part of the plan and purposes of God. And frankly when we push back against that fact we are really just pushing back against God.
The story of Job is the best illustration of God’s sovereign rule over and through even evil actions and evil persons.
Job is an upright man who fears God (OT way of saying that he was a believer).
1:6ff Satan comes before God in heaven and a discussion takes place which Job is oblivious of.
God points out Job to Satan. Satan argues that he is a faithful man because God protects and blesses him. If that were taken away then he would curse God. God says, do what you want just don’t touch him personally. Then we read of the Sabeans (third level of actors) taking the herds and killing the servants. Then fire “from God” killed all his flocks and those servants. Then Chaldeans steal the camels and kill those servants. Then a great wind knocks down a building and all his children are killed. (Try to get your heads around this!)
Job will not curse God.
Again Satan and God talk and again permission is given by God but limits Satan to harm Job but not kill him. Terrible boils.
Job shows greater wisdom and knowledge of God than many theologians and pastors today.
Hear the words he gives to his wife, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10)
Notice he sees that both good and evil (adversity) is from God.
He doesn’t bother dwelling on secondary and tertiary causes. Notice also that it does not prevent him from mourning and aching but it also does not free him to be bitter and resentful.
But what is most important here is that in vs 10 it says that “in all this Job did not sin with his lips/words.” If what he said was a false statement it would be sin. But it was true so no sin occurred.
What do we do with this?
We must see that God is still good and yet uses evil for His good purposes.
Joseph is the next illustration of this. (Give basic story)
In Genesis 45:4ff he tells his brothers that he understood that God had done these things so that he would be able to preserve his family, which would become the nation Israel.
Then in Genesis 50:20 we read, “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
Here we see a bit more information. Evil intentions were in the hearts of his brothers. But that very evil was good in the hands of God. And if a person can get comfortable with this then a lot of mental anguish and foolish talk will stop regarding God.
If the listeners want to do an interesting and short study they should search their bible for the phrase “evil spirit.” Seven times that phrase comes up in the Old Testament and it always is an evil spirit sent out from the midst/presence of YHWH to do something.
The final illustration is in Acts 2 where the question, “Who killed Jesus on the Cross?” is answered.
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know–this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” (Acts 2:22-23)
The Romans killed Jesus. The Jewish leaders and people killed Jesus.
But in the ultimate sense God delivered His Son to be killed.
Evil and good in the same act.
This is where understanding God decretive will and His revealed will help us out (so listen to that podcast).
We can’t know what God decreed except through hindsight.
We are called to live in light of what He has revealed and to submit and embrace in faithful trust what comes by His decretive will.
There are many folks out there like Leighton Flowers or Greg Boyd, who will bend over backwards to try to deny explicit statements like these in the bible.
They do not help in the long run; rather they create new problems that can’t be answered because their starting point was fatally flawed.
The moment you make evil something that is occurring outside of God’s sovereign control and will you make a god in our image and a false god at that.
It is wrong. It is unbiblical and it is to be rejected.
So what should be our response in light of this?
Luke 13:1-5 gives us a helpful place to begin. In fact, this is Jesus’ own response to the problem of evil.
"Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And He answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? 3 "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 "Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
So Jesus, here, addresses two separate realities when it comes to the problem of evil:
Natural evil/disasters (v. 4) - the tower.
Human evil (vss. 1-2) - Pilate’s execution of these worshipping Galileans.
So it begins with some people coming to Jesus asking for his perspective on why this evil happened.
What’s interesting is that Jesus doesn’t launch into some complicated philosophical explanation.
He doesn’t even event try do defend God in any of this.
Rather, He takes it a comply different way by using the evil as an opportunity to call them to repentance.
He says, unless you repent, you will likewise perish.
And what he means by “likewise,” is that he’s picking up on the absolute suddenness in which these calamities happened.
Notice, the Galileans were worshipping like every other day.
The people in the tower were just going about their business like every other day. (Think of 9/11-- no one in the planes, or towers, on those days were expecting to die). Yet it came with such suddenness.
So the point of Jesus then, is that we ought not to be shocked that evil happens, or even, that it happens so suddenly. That’s not what we ought to be shocked at.
Rather, what we ought to be shocked at is that we weren’t in the planes, or in one of the towers on 9/11. What we ought to be shocked at is the pure grace that God has granted us yet another day of life and breath.
And so, why has he given us another day (according to Jesus?) - Well so that we might repent!
The point, then, is that while everyone using evil as a justification for not wanting to turn to God… (because they think an all-loving God shouldn't allow these things), Jesus’ only response is you have no business trying to figure out why.
Rather, our only business is to be busy repenting.
So anytime we see evil, the only thing that we should think about is that God is using it as a means to call all people to repentance.
If you’re a believer and you hear of some form of evil that took place (i.e., shooting, tsunami, etc), you should pray that when unbelievers see that, that they’ll see it and repent.
If you’re not a believer and hear of those things, you should be amazed that God has still given you breath, and you should turn to Him.
That’s the point to understand.
Why evil exists is not for us to know right now. We’re finite and can’t know it.
But what we can know (and the only thing we’re responsible for) is what we must do in light of it.
And according to Jesus it’s something very clear - repent.
John Goldingay once said: “The problem of theodicy is not the justification of a holy God in the face of suffering humanity, but the justification of sinful humanity in the face of a holy God.”