Question: “If God is real, and He is good, then why does He allow evil to exist in the world?” P in Virginia.
My Answer: This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions in the fields of philosophy or theology. It is a major obstacle to many people in their seeking after religious truth. It is an argument often used by skeptics, agnostics and atheists to question the goodness and/or reality of God Himself. Why is there is evil? And how can a good God allow it?
This is not a question that can be answered fully in this short space. However, we can give a partial answer that will hopefully offer some insight to anyone wrestling with this issue.
Christianity offers two explanations for this question. First of all, from a biblical perspective there is a rationale behind suffering. Evil and suffering can actually accomplish something. God in His sovereignty can use suffering, pain, evil and even sin to achieve a higher and better purpose. There is in Christianity a definite theology or philosophy of suffering. We will not take the time to delve into this explanation right now. Perhaps we can return to it at another time. However, the reader will understand that this is one rationale. Perhaps you can research this some on your own.
It is the second explanation that I want to explore for just a bit. Christian truth affirms that evil is the direct result of free will. Christianity and biblical revelation teach us that evil, suffering, pain and hardship were not designed by God as part of His original created order. They entered the world through the choices of His creation. It was the choice of an angel to rebel and launch sin and evil into the universe. Under his influence, it was a human couple, Adam and Eve, who chose to disobey God and His commands and bring sin about as a reality of the human condition. Evil is the byproduct of bad, very bad, human initiative.
Now some would say this begs the question. If God is good, and wants the best for His creation, as Christianity does assert, why would the Deity allow this choice in the first place. The answer is pretty straightforward. He loves us. And love allows for freedom. It is a tyrant who dominates and controls, who removes freedom and choice. It is a loving parent/friend/companion who allows us to choose. Would it be true love if God made us automatons, psychological robots with no ability to choose? No. Love necessitates that the beloved be allowed choice, even to choosing wrongly.
But could not God have given us free will but also only allowed one option—i.e., goodness and only goodness, with no possibility of evil. No. For then this would not really be a genuine choice. This would be only a pretense at offering free will. For there to be choice, the choosing must be real.
Okay. But what about mitigating the free will of certain individuals? Does offering free will really mean that we must allow for Hitlers and Ted Bundys, child molesters and rapists, drug dealers and murderers? Why does God not selectively allow free will? Couldn’t He have made it so the bombers in Boston did not have the freedom to choose to make and detonate bombs?
Let me ask you a question. Examine your own heart. Be honest about your own life. Have you ever sinned? Have you have done anything wrong? How about lying. Have you ever told a lie? Or malice. Have you ever, through word or deed, hurt someone purposefully? Or dishonesty? Ever cheated… at all? Never even cheated on a test at school? Ever? Have you ever felt envy? Or lust? Or hatred? Or greed? Or selfishness? Ever been unkind? Or wrathful? Or mean? Have you ever gossiped? Or stolen? Or been disrespectful of others? Disrespectful of authority? Blasphemed God? Disobeyed His commands?
If you are honest you will admit that you have a good many of these things. Maybe all of them. Now would you want God to so completely control your life that you could not have a choice in the matter? You could not make any moral decisions in your life? Would you want Him to control you to the point that never again would you do anything wrong? Do you really want to give up the ability to choose? Would you abandon free will?
I don’t think so. We all want to be free moral agents. But how we can we claim this capacity for ourselves, and yet deny it to any human being? That is narcissistic and selfish to the extreme. I trust that you have not done the moral evil of a Hitler or a Bundy. But that does not negate the awful significance of your own sin. The difference you (and me) and mass murderers and serial killers is really one of degree, not kind. You and I are sinners, just like they are. And we sin because we choose to. And in spite of it all, we want to be able to choose to.
That is why a good God allows evil. He loves each one He created, and He loves them truly enough to allow them to make moral choices.
So when I hear about tragic events, like the bombings in Boston, my immediate thought is not “God what is wrong with You that this happened?” but rather “Lord, how fallen we are! What a messed up and sad world WE have created! God help US!”