If God is all-powerful, He would just wipe out all evil and suffering, wouldn’t He? If He is loving, He wouldn’t let the innocent suffer. If God cared about those who followed His Son, He would at least protect them, right? If He knows ahead of time, who is going to commit evil, He could just remove them before they go that far.
These are hard questions and somehow, the answer is even more difficult. Not because there isn’t an answer, but rather, because the answer is complex and still partially unanswerable. But, let me try…
YHWH created the heavens and the earth in the beginning of time. Genesis chapter one describes the many facets of His creation and at each point, He declares what He has created as good. Then, at the end of His creation phase, in vs. 31, He steps back and declares everything that He has created (the heavens and all in them, the earth, the moon, the sun, animals and mankind) as ‘very good’.
God didn’t create the heavens and the earth or the first human couple for evil and suffering. He created a perfect world, with perfect atmosphere, perfect animals and perfect humans. He created perfect angels to minister to His Kingdom in heaven and on earth. In fact, the entire theme of the Bible is how God’s plan is to bring a new heaven and new earth in place of this tainted world. “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (2 Peter 3:13)
So, how did everything that was originally ‘very good’, have such a devastating outcome as evil and suffering? What bridged the gap, so to speak?
"Evil is, good or truth misplaced." – Mohandas Gandhi
In order to understand what is evil, we must define good.
According to the Messiah, God is the only measure we have to define good. “And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.” (Luke 18:19) David also says this in Psalm 100:5, “For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.”
What are some of God’s qualities?
God is holy – Leviticus 11:44–45, 19:2; Isaiah 6:1-3; Ephesians 4:24
God is righteous – Romans 2:6-16; Psalm 119:40; Psalm 145:17
God is unchanging – Psalm 102:25-27; Hebrews 1:10-12, 13:8
God is truth – Psalm 31:5; John 14:6; John 17:3; Romans 3:4; Titus 1:1-2
God is love – Genesis 1:31; Psalm 145:9; Mark 10:18; John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:8
He is also eternal, omniscient, and omnipresent. (This list is by far a complete list of His qualities.)
Good then, is everything God encompasses. This definition subsequently directs us to the classification of evil. Evil is the absence or perversion of good. Or in other words, evil is the absence or perversion of God.
This takes us back to Genesis. In chapter three, the serpent (known later as Satan, Lucifer, the Devil) deceives Eve, by charging that God has lied. By charging that God was withholding something valuable. By claiming that Adam and Eve could be gods and that God was keeping them from that reality.
Both partake of the tree that God has explicitly told them not to eat from. Sin, missing the mark, separation from God and all that He is, was introduced through one man, Adam. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” (Romans 5:12) This leaves no doubt that we are born into sin. There is none innocent.
But, how could Adam and Eve have sinned in the first place? Because they were created with free will.
“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.” – Anne Frank
What is free will? Free will is “the power of making free choices unconstrained by external agencies” according to wordnetweb.princeton.edu. If we weren’t given this ability, then, God would have created puppets. Capable of never choosing Him over another way. Capable of never really being able to express love, because there is no choice. I, for one, am thankful He gave us this gift. However, this endowment carries with it awesome potential of great blessing or great devastation.
We must stop thinking of evil as an entity, but rather a symptom of man’s heart condition. We were completely separated through sin from YHWH when man chose to sin. Again, look at chapter three of Genesis. This choice, made by Adam, set wheels in motion. Not only was the serpent cursed, but Adam’s life would become full of sorrow, heavy labor and ultimately, death. Eve would bear pain in childbirth, she would have an unbalanced marriage relationship and she would also die.
Their choice was not solely a personal choice. Because of that choice, they handed down the curse of sin and death to every individual afterward. Wrong choices can lead to potentially devastating grand scale suffering, by corruption of ourselves, those around us, those who follow in the future and even natural law.
The three types of choice that bring evil and suffering are:
Wrong personal choices
The wrong choices of others
The wrong choices of past generations
We often make ourselves suffer by choices we make, like when we make bad financial decisions, we overeat, when we pursue someone else’s wife/husband, property or money, we smoke, we drink in excess, we lie or we steal. Ananias and Sapphira lost their lives over their decision to lie about their giving.
“But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.” (Acts 5:1-11)
We can suffer at the hands of others or make other suffer by choices we make. Some examples would be getting cancer due to second-hand smoke, losing our life or be seriously maimed because someone who drank in excess got behind the wheel of a car, suffering from a robbery or being cheated on or out of something.
Joseph was sold into slavery and was taken to Egypt at the hands of his brothers. “And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him. And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams. And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him. And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again. And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him; And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it. And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt. And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content. Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.” (Genesis 37:18-28)
We can suffer due to the wrong choices of past generations. For instance, the FDA continues to approve items that they list as food products or pharmaceuticals, that they know have harmful affects. War is always something that affects later generations. Thousands of lives lost, others maimed causing physical hardship in families, birth defects, mental and emotional anguish. Suffering from past generations has happened through environmental choices. Look too, at the financial state of the world and the US. The United States is over 14 trillion dollars in debt, only half of which built up over the first 200 years! And in the end (or rather, the beginning), we all suffer from the ultimate Adam and Eve’s choice.
To argue that God is either unloving or not all-powerful (or even to go so far as to say He doesn’t exist), we must make the following presuppositions:
All-powerful means, God can do anything, even outside His own laws.
Eliminating evil and suffering immediately would result in good, without repercussion.
God is the ruler of this world.
God isn’t doing anything and is letting evil and suffering go unchecked.
“The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe. When a man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil that is in man.” Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ
The first presupposition is a difficult one to understand, because we’ve always been taught that all-powerful means the ability for God to do whatever He wants. However, while omnipotent (all-powerful) means having unlimited power, God chooses how to use that power.
Atheists and agnostics scrabble and complain, tearing at “all-powerful” as if it meant God, who is the God of order, not chaos, would use His power without responsibility. YHWH does not use His power in ways that would contradict His character. They are not willing to accept this, because that would mean they’re wrong and from those I’ve personally spoken with, their hearts are hard. “But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;” (Romans 2:5)
"Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering…. The love of God did not protect His own Son…. He will not necessarily protect us – not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process." – Elisabeth Elliot
The second assumes that God should simply eliminate evil and suffering immediately and that doing so could only result in a good outcome without ramifications. And He could stop what’s going on right now, at this very moment, but to stop evil and suffering immediately, He has to wipe out all evil. Even evil thoughts. Remember what Jesus said in Mark 10:18, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.” In order to stop evil immediately, He would have to eliminate everyone not saved through His Son, right this minute or eliminate free will, for no one walks about without at least one evil thought.
If YHWH eliminated free will, He has only puppets, not willing on their own to love and serve their master, but rather incapable of anything else. There would be no joy in His people. There would be no delight, no honor, no devotion from them to Him. He created us to commune with Him. He sought out Adam and Eve in the garden and walked with them. “And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8) He created us to love us. He created us because of who He is, not because of who we are or what we do. He also created mankind in His image, so that we could love Him and love others.
The spirit of love is to give. (1 Corinthians 13:1-10)
God is love. (1 John 4:8, 16)
God bestows upon us love, the most excellent of gifts. (John 3:16)
"Sometimes God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves." – Joni Eareckson Tada (The God I Love)
When faced with the third assumption, we are not paying attention to the words of the Bible. We are not listening to Yeshua himself who said, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” (John 18:36).
Revelation 12:9 says, “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Yeshua confirms this in Luke 10:18.
“In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not…” (2 Corinthians 4:4a)
Ephesians 2:2, “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:”
1 John 5:19b says, “and the whole world lieth in wickedness.”
Satan, ‘that old serpent’, offered Yeshua the nations of the world, if only He would bow down to him. Never once does Yeshua argue that Satan had no right to offer what was not his.
In other words, this world of wickedness, evil and suffering is not God’s but Satan’s. Man and the earth are completely separated from God. There are things that must be accomplished before God will once and for all do away with him and this world Satan has created. And he will be destroyed! “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10)
Lastly, making the statement that God is allowing evil and suffering to wildly wreak havoc completely unchecked, is without foundation. The Holy Spirit is here to restrain evil.
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-11)
2 Thessalonians 2:7, speaking of the Holy Spirit, says, “For the mystery of lawlessness (that hidden principle of rebellion against constituted authority) is already at work in the world, [but it is] restrained only until he who restrains is taken out of the way.” (Amplified Bible)
Many times, throughout history, God has limited evil and suffering in some form or other. The flood. (Genesis chapters 6-8) The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Genesis 19:1-29) Israel’s exodus from Egypt. (Exodus chapters 1-14) Salvation of the nation through Esther. (Esther chapters 1-10) Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. (Daniel 3:13-29)
He also limited both by providing us with His written instruction on how to live a life for Him. And made whole and complete by the Holy Spirit, written on our hearts, if we have accepted His Son as Lord of our lives. (Deuteronomy 30:15-18; Ephesians 6:10, 11; Philippians 4:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:15-22; 2 Corinthians 3:3)
These are only a few listed in scripture, however, YHWH’s plan from the beginning was to send His Son, Yeshua, to die on the cross, thereby “freeing us from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2)
What it boils down to, is that man thinks he can do better than God. He thinks he is god and therefore, doesn’t have to answer to YHWH. Nor does he believe he must follow the rules that God has provided to guide our lives. Everything is about self, rather than about Him. But, breaking God’s laws leads to sin and lawlessness, misery and ultimately, death. (Genesis 2:17, 3:11-24; Deuteronomy 28:15; Daniel 9:11)
We must remember that we were created by Him and it is not our place to direct our own steps. This only leads to the destructive course we’re now facing! “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4)
Jeremiah 10:23 says, “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”
“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)
God deserves to be worshipped and adored. He is worthy of our honor, praise and love. We must strive to be more and more like His Son, who did only His Father’s will.
“We must see good in that, in which other men can see none. We must pass by those injuries that other men would revenge. We must show we have grace, and that we are made to bear what other men are not acquainted with. Many of our graces are kept alive, by those very things that are the death of other men’s souls…” John Bunyan
In the final analysis, even having laid out all that we have discussed here, we must be willing to admit that we will not have a full and complete answer until we meet with the Lord face to face. First Corinthians 13:12, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
There are some who will never accept this final portion. Why? Because this requires faith. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). See also Romans 8:4 and 2 Corinthians 4:18.
God is bigger than we are. He is smarter than we are, as Brad Scott of Wild Branch Ministries likes to say often. If we are going to understand even a smidgen of His viewpoint, we must have faith that God will take care of everything in His timing.
Revelation 21:4 gives us hope, saying, “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.”