“Evil” is one of those words you almost don’t have to define. We all see it. We all feel it. When you hear names like Hitler, Bin Laden, Manson, and Dahmer, you cringe a bit, thinking of how real and present evil is. In our culture, war, sex trafficking, slavery, terrorism, and violence on a massive scale are sadly all too common. The existence of this kind of evil poses a serious threat to Christianity.
Our world and our lives are riddled with evil, pain, and suffering. All of us struggle through much of life and are regularly overwhelmed by what we see around us. That’s why so many have said the problem of evil is the greatest theological problem and potentially the greatest threat to Christianity.
What’s the problem?
So, what exactly do we mean by “the problem of evil?” The Greek philosopher Epicurus originated the argument when he asked, “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 problem of evil revolves around three biblical claims about God: The Scriptures teach that:
- God is all-powerful (Neh. 9:6; Ps. 33:9; Isa. 44:24; Rom. 1:20; Col. 1:6-7)
- God is all-good (Ps. 100:5; Ps. 145:17; Nah. 1:7; Mark 10:18; John 3:16)
- God is all-wise (Job 12:13; Prov. 2:6-7; Dan. 2:20; Rom. 16:27; James 1:5).
If those things are true, then why is there evil? The presence of evil has to challenge one of these claims. It doesn’t deny the existence of God formally, but it does functionally.
Maybe the most appropriate way to state the problem is in the way we most commonly express it, “Why, God?” You see, the problem of evil isn’t just a logical question that needs to be rationally answered; it’s also an emotional challenge that crowds God out of our hearts as much as our minds when we hurt.
How we should think about evil
Let’s start with the logical problem. We have this impasse: a God who claims to be powerful, good, and wise. And yet, inside his creation, there exists rampant evil. How do these fit together? Is there a way to resolve the tension?
There have been several answers posed, but we have to be content with the fact that, while there are some answers to the challenge of a sovereign God who allows evil, there will never be a fully satisfying answer logically or emotionally for the experience of evil and suffering in our lives.
The reality of evil
The Bible is very clear on the presence and problem of evil. Some religions and several cults attempt to deal with the problem of evil by saying evil doesn’t exist, that suffering is merely an illusion. The Bible makes no such claims. The Bible sees sin, evil, and suffering as not only realities but as enemies under the sovereign control of God.
From the beginning, immediately after the fall of Genesis 3, God promised that evil was on a time clock and will be dealt with in God’s timing. Since the fall, the Lord has consistently taken the side of those who are marginalized and weak in the Scriptures (Deut. 10:17-18; Deut. 27:19; Zech. 7:9-10). The Lord always defends the weak and eventually exercises judgment on the wicked.
Could God eradicate all evil in the world immediately? Absolutely, but that would mean destroying all of us, because we are all fallen and sinners (Rom. 3:10-12; Rom. 3:23; Rom. 14:1-3; Ps. 53:1-3; Is. 53:6). God has chosen to allow evil to exist in order to show his glory, power, and love.
In fact, we see in Scripture that God is able to take painful and evil events and use them for good (Gen. 50:20; Prov. 16:4; Rom. 8:28). The point being that, unlike so many religions and philosophies, the Bible is clear that evil is real, that it has a purpose, and that God is in control, despite what we feel.
The work of Jesus
There is a problem of evil, but only from our experience, not from God’s perspective. Everything is happening just as He planned, proving him worthy of glory, honor, and power (Rev. 4:11). God has not yet eradicated evil, but He has dealt it its final blow through the work of Jesus.
The Bible says God got involved in our suffering by sending Jesus.
The Son of God stepped out of eternity to live as a human and to die as a divine sacrifice. His death had nothing to do with His sins (since He was sinless) and in fact, we are told that our sins were placed on Him. He suffered in our place so that God could forgive and redeem His creation.
In the greatest act of evil in the history of the world, Jesus was killed. God the Father accepted His sacrifice and three days later Jesus rose from the grave, ascending to heaven where He sits enthroned.
Jesus has in fact dealt with evil in that greatest act of evil. The Scripture tells us that while Christ has redeemed His people, God is being gracious to allow more time for more people to hear what Christ has done for them before he ends evil in an ultimate act of justice (2 Pet. 3:8-10).
The meta-narrative of the Scripture is that God is not taking us back to Eden but to a New Creation, one where there is no sin, suffering, evil, or potential for them ever again. The Bible sees the completed work of Christ not being solely his death, resurrection, and ascension but also his return, reign, and re–creating of all things (Eph. 1:7-10).
The work of Jesus is not only God’s answer to the problem of evil, it is our only hope and help as those who are evil and do evil things.
So, the Bible is not silent when it comes to the logical problem of evil. God has a purpose, one that we see is producing something bigger than any of us can imagine. Evil has a timeframe, one where it is allowed to exist because it is part of a greater good and a better story. This may leave us with tension and questions, but the Bible is OK with that.
As Tim Keller said, “Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one.” God has a reason and a plan, and we have to trust Him. While the Bible gives us some substance to lean on, it also leaves us with a lot of room to question, cry out, and pray. It’s impossible to know the mind of God and to understand the bigger picture when we are only a small part in God’s great story. We can rest in the fact that God is sovereign, He loves us, and that in time all things will become clear (1 Cor. 13:12).
How should we feel about evil?
The Bible doesn’t just tell us how to think about these things, it also helps us know how to feel when we experience suffering and evil. One prime source for this guidance is the book of Job. Job operates as a salve for those who are hurting and struggling with the problem of evil. It’s the story of a man who deals with natural evil and moral evil on a level few of us can comprehend.
In Job, while we learn a lot about life, suffering, and God, there are few logically satisfying answers for the problem of evil. Yet Job’s book is given to those who suffer to help them suffer well.
Let’s consider Job.
There are things above us we don’t know
The opening chapter of Job gives us one of the most interesting scenes in all of the Bible. In Heaven, God is on the throne and, somehow, Satan enters the scene. God allows Satan to test Job through suffering. There is so much about this scene that is puzzling. The point we’re supposed to take away is that there are things above us that we won’t understand on this side of heaven. Job teaches us that there is a reason for seemingly senseless suffering, but it may be above us.
There are things around us we don’t understand
As Satan exits the heavenly court in Job 1, the suffering begins. Job 1:13–2:10 is hard to read. It’s hard to read because it feels like real life in a painful way. There are four reports, two of natural evil (evil that results not from human beings but from nature as a result of the fall), and two from moral evil (evil that results from human activity). On top of that, there is Job’s personal suffering in his body, mind, and spirit. It’s a comprehensive glimpse of evil in the experience of one man.
Things happen around us in our lives that we have no way of understanding. As Job got report after report, the confusion, bewilderment, and anguish sank deeper and deeper. One tragedy is perplexing enough, but suffering on this scale is incomprehensible. Job teaches that there is a reason, but our experience in this life may be beyond comprehension.
There are things in us we can’t process
Job 3-37 can be difficult reading. Job’s friends initially rally around their hurting friend. Yet, as we read and hear from Job’s friends, we hear some interesting comments. You see, in the mind of Job’s friends, there is no explanation for suffering on this level apart from God’s judgment on Job for some sin. They don’t have the vantage point that we have as readers. They haven’t seen what’s above.
Job’s suffering isn’t a consequence of his sin; it’s the result of living in a fallen world. But his friends don’t know that and can’t see that. Job teaches us there is a reason, but we often can’t process what’s happening inside our own sinful hearts.
There are things ahead of us we can’t comprehend
Outside of the initial chapters of Job, we don’t hear from God until chapters 38-41. When God begins to speak, everything else goes silent. Then in Job 42 we read something that felt impossible in Job 3: that God had a plan for Job’s good.
In Job 42, the Lord restores, blesses, and brings beauty from ashes (Isa. 61:3). Suffering is deafening. Pain is blinding. Evil is overwhelming. Yet, God has a future for his children that is greater than we could ever begin to imagine. Job teaches us that there is a reason, but we can’t even begin to imagine what it is or how great things ahead of us could be.
The point of the book of Job is that we cannot trust what we feel or see, but we can trust God. While unbearable pain defined Job’s life, God was there and in control.
One takeaway from the book of Job is that our suffering will always be a mystery to us, but there is comfort in knowing that God is always in control and always accomplishing something through our suffering. We have to trust God because, despite our questions, our pain, and our confusion, evil is not a problem for Him. We can trust God because He is all powerful, all good, and all wise. We can trust God, even when we hurt.
The above post is taken from Standing for Truth: A Student’s Guide to Apologetics, introduces students to arguments for the Bible’s reliability and God’s existence while providing outlines of how to engage the culture. Standing for Truth is published by Crossings Camps in Louisville, Kentucky. Visit gocrossings.org to learn more about Crossings Gospel-intensive camps that are packed with unforgettable fun. A free PDF download of Standing for Truth is available at gocrossings.org/s4tbook.
Published March 31, 2019