The weight of this topic requires a lengthy blog post. I recognize that this is much longer than most people care to read on a blog site, so for convenience I have provided 5 break points in the article that you can click on and come back and read at any time:
It is likely that since the beginning of time, every civilization has dealt with the same issue. Certainly since the beginning of written history, each succeeding generation resurrects one big question: Why is there pain and evil in the world? The question can take many forms; these variations almost always add God into the mix, something to the effect of “If God is all-good, and God is all-powerful, why does evil exist?”
In a post-modern era of no absolutes, attempts to respond to the “big questions” are now nothing but over-clichéd attempts to make people feel better about themselves. The Church should be a beacon of truth and light that provides a unique and Christian answer to the question.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
We have lost our way. The Church has blended worldly desires for cheap and quick solutions with a slight spiritual blend to offer nothing more than a sugar-coated shell that is hollow on the inside. We have fallen so far that we now answer the “Problem of Pain” with answers such as:
- “God just needed another angel in heaven” (Christianity does not teach that we become angels after death, so I have no idea why we allow this idea to fester).
- “Evil is just the absence of God” (so God is no longer big enough to be all-present?)
- “This [insert natural disaster, economic collapse, war] is God’s punishment on [insert people group] for doing [insert sin]” (OK, but seriously, when did everyone become a prophet? And show me a Biblical precedent for natural disasters being a routine punishment from God).
- “You didn’t have enough faith for good things to happen” (Riiiiight).
- “It is only pain and suffering in our eyes. You just need to change your perspective” (So is there no such thing as absolute evil or absolute good?)
- “God isn’t really ‘sovereign’, that is why we have free will to do what we want” (If you don’t believe in a god who can usurp man’s free will, you don’t believe in a god at all).
These are trite answers and only serve to undermine the riches of Christian faith.
So What Is the Problem?
The real issue being discussed is the existence of pain, evil and suffering in the world. We like the idea of a good and loving god, but often it is hard to reconcile that idea with everything we see in the world around us. What about all of the wars, people dying of starvation and natural disasters, sex trafficking, cancer, murder, disease? Why do bad things happen to good people? What about death?
The philosopher first credited with ‘debunking’ God because of the existence of evil, pain and suffering was a man named Epicurus (341-270 BC). A Greek philosopher by trade, Epicurus narrowed down the problem of reconciling evil with God in a simple argument, called the Epicurean Paradox:
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 able nor willing? Then why call him God?
The Epicurean Paradox could also be narrowed down into three easy steps, which I will refer to for the remainder of this article:
- God is all-powerful (omnipotent).
- God is all-good.
- Evil exists.
Because of point three, Epicurus would say, God is either not all-powerful or he is not all-good. This shouldn’t be an unfamiliar concept to anyone. Surely everyone has experienced some sort of pain, suffering, or evil that causes them to say “How could a good God exist?”
We Are Asking the Wrong Question
I am going to make the argument that the above questions are invalid, and here’s why:
There’s no such thing as a good person.
That’s right. None of us, no one, not one, is good. Jesus himself said, “…No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19b).
The Bible teaches that we are all inherently born with a sin nature. We all have a bend towards sin from the day we are come out of the womb. It is because of this sin nature that we are tainted and corrupt. The book of Romans has a lot to say about the existence of evil. Look at what its author Paul has to say:
None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
You might be reading this while saying to yourself, “This guy is off his rocker! He’s assuming I’m going to believe what the Bible says.” I’m not, because you already know in your heart that what this passage says is true.
Still fighting it? Then ask yourself the following questions: Who taught you how to lie? Who taught you how to covet something that wasn’t yours? Who taught you how to get angry and throw temper tantrums as a child? No one did. Those desires and sinful bends were in you since you were born.
All of this is to say that when we ask the question “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” we are asking the wrong question. It is a man-centered question which doesn’t put God first. This question must be asked in a theocentric (God-centered) manner, not an anthropocentric (man-centered) manner. Author and philosopher CS Lewis said it best when he said:
The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. “Thou hast created all things, and for they pleasure they are and were created.” We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’.
So why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? He doesn’t, because there are no good people. Let’s take a look at the second question to get a better understanding of why evil, pain and death exists in the first place.
Why is There Pain and Evil in the World?
As for the latter question, why does God allow evil to exist? Simply put, because we do not exist in a vacuum. Were God to simply eradicate evil, we would not exist. Evil cannot go unpunished, and as Scripture puts it, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). This isn’t just a physical death. This is the death of all things that are good and right. The world is no longer the way it was supposed to be. Why does evil continue to exist? Because we have chosen it. As contributors in the human race we have all chosen to go our own way, to turn from God, and to give in to our own desires. Our anger, lust and pride mixes and stirs into one giant blue and green sphere of hostility, hatred and death floating in space.
Here’s the kicker: we’re all guilty. Every single one of us has contributed to the evil, pain and suffering that exists in the world. We have at one time wounded, ignored, and hurt others in ways they’ll never forget. We all lust after and covet things that we shouldn’t have, which causes us to chase after all of the wrong things. No one is exempt from the curse of sin and death – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). All. Not some. All. Me, you, everyone.
So How Should Christians Respond?
With the above foundations fueling our understanding of the questions at hand, I further suggest that in reality there is no “Problem of Evil” at all. The Epicurean Paradox is a paradox itself, because there is no paradox. Properly understood, a good, loving and all-powerful God is perfectly reconcilable with the existence of pain and evil.
And this is why I have a problem, a bone to pick if you will. So many Church members today are completely misinformed, to the point that we don’t even understand that the answer is sitting right in front of us.
The Christian faith does not teach that you need to believe good things can happen in order for them to happen, that we become angels after death, or that God is unable to prevent evil. The Christian faith does not teach that God is malevolent, likes to watch us suffer, or is generally uninvolved with our lives.
On the contrary, the Christian faith teaches that God is SO good, SO loving, that he can bring the best good from the worst evil. As the early church thinker St. Augustine said,
Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.
There are examples of this all over the Bible. God is a redemptive God, and we consistently see him turning evil into good in the lives of people like Joseph, David and Paul. But what better place to see this take place than on the work of Christ on the cross! It is with the death and subsequent resurrection of Christ that we see the ultimate example of good coming out of evil. What the world intended to use to destroy God, God intended to use to purchase salvation for all of those who would believe in him for life. How can one conceive of a higher good than that!? As condemned sinners, who brought evil and death upon ourselves, God still looked upon us and said “This will not do!”
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:6-8
Properly understood, there is no “Problem of Evil.” The questions we often use to asses this so-called problem are the wrong questions because they focused on men rather than God. We presuppose that we deserve good things to happen to us, when really we all deserve death.
We began by looking at the Epicurean Paradox, which we summarized as follows:
- God is all-powerful (omnipotent).
- God is all-good.
- Evil exists.
When we stop at point 3, our first inclination is to think that point 3 would contradict point 1 or 2. However, point 3 is not the end of the story. As author and apologist Dr. Greg Bahnsen points out, we must continue on to a point 4:
4. God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists.
Christianity teaches that God is so immensely good, so far beyond our comprehension, that He can produce good from even the worst and most tragic of evils. Now, let me be clear; this isn’t to say that we are always going to know the exact reason for individual circumstances of pain and evil. We can’t always know why someone has cancer, or why our friends would be killed, or why terrorists would kill hundreds of people. We can’t always know why we’d lose our job, or someone would choose to cause us immense pain and hurt.
But we can be sure of two things.
The first is that the consequence of our sin is death and suffering. All of us have sinned, and we have all contributed to the pain and hurt we see in the world. What is the meaning of all of this death and suffering in the world? The consequences of sin are outrageous.
Second, we have an amazing, sacrificial and loving Savior. We have a God who does not desire us to eternally face the consequence of our sin, but wants to reconcile us and redeem us, allowing us to experience the grace and mercy that only the perfect Creator can give. We can have confidence that even though we have trouble in this life, Jesus has overcome the world.
I know there will be plenty of non-Christians who read this. And I know every one of you have gone or are currently going through some kind of hurt and some kind of pain that causes you to be angry and bitter with the idea of a loving and all-powerful God. Come, taste and see. The Lord is good. I invite you to send me a message. Let’s talk about it. There is hope, there are answers, and they’re found in Jesus.
Christians, we have a better answer than what the world can provide. It just is. When you feel hurt or pain, when you see evil in the world, cling to the cross. Rejoice in our Savior. And then go help someone else who can’t reconcile pain and evil with the idea of a loving God. We have the answer for reconciling pain and evil, for bringing hope to a dark world, and for restoring hurting people with a loving God. Don’t give in to cheap, worldly answers.
The gospel changes everything.