Every week I go to a local secondary school and join three other people for ministry to the students there. A few weeks ago we were planning the lessons for the next school term and we asked the students this question:
“If God were here and you could ask Him a question then what would you ask Him?”
The title of this post is one of the questions they wanted God to answer.
First, the correct title for an answer to this question is a Theodicy. Theodicies are attempts to explain the presence of evil, suffering and pain in the world. These theodicies are important because they attempt to answer one of life’s greatest dilemmas. People all over the world ask “Why?” in the face of suffering, pain and gratuitous evil.
In particular, there seems to be a conflict between God’s goodness and omnipotence and the existence of evil in the world. The problem can be stated like this:
- A totally good God would not want evil to exist.
- An all-powerful God could eradicate the existence of evil.
- Evil exists.
- Therefore, an all-powerful, totally good God does not exist.
Not everyone will care about this problem. For some people, life has never been full of tragedy or harm and so they feel no problems. Others are content to take a simple approach and simply hold on to a faith in God’s ability to make everything work out great at the end.
Recently, some friends of mine experienced a very tragic loss. One of their friends committed suicide. These friends of mine are Christians and had been trying to help their friend to become a Christian and thus find salvation for his soul. Sadly, before they were able to help him, this man killed himself. For my friends the tragedy is not just the loss of a friend in a very, very sad manner but is also the awareness of this man’s likely destination: Hell. Of course we maintain faith in the grace and mercy of God and so there is a faint glimmer of hope. However, by any standard we choose to use, this man had rejected God in his lifetime and it is very difficult to imagine him being saved if the Bible remains true.
In the face of these circumstances, we grieve and we cry out alongside my friends, “God, why?”
There are no easy answers to this question but I will provide some guidelines by which we can live.
- The evil and suffering in the world are not God’s fault. When God had finished creating the world, He looked at all He had made and it was very good. There was no evil, no suffering and no pain. God has never done evil and God can never be tempted to do evil. God is totally good and everything He does is totally good.
- People are less than God. Adam and Eve failed to be as good as God when they disobeyed His command. By doing so they gained the knowledge of good and evil. Humanity has never gained a more devastating piece of information in all of our learning. What did Adam and Eve gain when they gained this knowledge? They gained the knowledge of the “less than.” Before, everything was perfect. When they sinned they gained the knowledge of things less than perfection. We carry on with Adam and Eve’s sins and we fail to be good like God. Much human suffering and certainly all of what we would label evil is caused by people being less than perfect. Sometimes people are less than perfect in small ways and so only small evils and suffering occur. Yet other times people are dramatically less than perfect and great, gratuitous evils occur. Still, the cause is the same. Evil is caused by people harming other people.
- Often, at this point, people ask why God does not simply stop the evil. The answer is He could. God could eradicate all people everywhere. Would this be less evil? Perhaps, one might say, God could only eradicate the evil people and leave the rest of humanity alone. However, this solution does not address the problem. People are less than God and will always commit acts which are less than perfect. God could eradicate the problem of evil only by removing all of the things which are less than perfect from creation. The fact that He has not done so already is a sign of His mercy.
- Finally, we look ahead to a day when God will eradicate suffering and evil. At the very end of the Bible, the Apostle John was given the privilege of seeing the end of all things in a vision. In this vision, John saw God judge every creature. Any creature which was not perfect was cast into the lake of burning fire and condemned to be punished there for all of eternity. The creatures which were perfect were admitted into the presence of God where there is no suffering, no pain and all tears are wiped away.
This, then, is the grand picture of good and evil being displayed in humanity. God did not create evil. Instead, people commit evil acts against each other. God is patient with this evil just now so people who are willing to repent of their evil can turn to Him and find salvation. Yet a day will come when God’s justice requires judgement. In that day of judgement evil will be removed from Creation and the evil creatures will be put into the place of punishment.
Why is there evil? People cause evil and God will remedy this problem soon.