The Problem Of Evil & Suffering

It's an age old question: "If God, why evil?" If there is an all loving, all powerful God, why so much evil and suffering in the world? Is it really rational to believe in God when there’s so much suffering in the world?

*Free Will

First off, we must realize that God is not the cause of all the evil and suffering in the world. God did not make a world of suffering and evil. We did! God created the world originally free from pain and suffering for the human race. The Bible tells us in Genesis 1 that God created a paradise for mankind (starting with Adam and Eve) where all of their needs would be met (Genesis 1-2). The Garden of Eden was a paradise. Then Adam and Eve sinned against God and He cast them out of the garden (Genesis 3), out of the perfect paradise. And the sin nature that rose up in them through their actions was passed on from generation to generation (Romans 5). That was the first act of sin against God a human has ever committed, and we've been doing it ever since. Paradise was lost.

Afterwards, mankind continued to exercise their free will to bring horrific pain and suffering to their fellow human beings. Humans kill each other, rape one another, steal from another, they beat and torture each other. God is not to blame for these actions. God gave man free will; a choice between good and evil. If it weren’t for human beings’ evil actions, 90% of the suffering in the world wouldn’t exist. The vast majority of human suffering is either the direct or indirect result of the sinful actions of people. Looking back at my own suffering, I can honestly say that there have been very few instances in which my suffering wasn’t the result of sin. Most of the time it was either someone else’ sin that caused my suffering, or my own sin that caused my suffering (sometimes our own choices hurt ourselves).

The suffering would greatly decrease if it were not for us human beings choosing to do evil things to each other. If we all strived our hardest to obey every instruction The Bible tells us, we would still have sickness and death and natural disasters, but these things would be the only causes of suffering. Just imagine a world where everyone loved their neighbor as themselves and loved their enemies. Would anyone be homeless or would loving humans give people without a home a place to stay until they could get a place to live in?

What about hunger? Would anyone go hungry? Or would anyone give a starving person food? If we all behaved like Jesus, the natural suffering would still exist in this world (until God creates the new Heaven and New Earth) but it would also be filled with people comforting each other and providing for each others needs. And I think this is the message of Nickleback’s song “If Everyone Cared”, imagining what the world would be like if everyone exercised their freedom to help people instead of hurt people.

God did not create world full of evil and suffering. We did. Because of our choices to do what is evil and selfish. As I once said "The problem of evil and suffering is not an objection to CHRISTianity, it's an objection to HUManity" :)
Now, some may wonder “If free will is the cause of the vast majority of suffering in the world, why did God give men freedom to choose in the first place? “ --

God gave human beings free will because 1) He wanted our actions to have moral worth. 2) He wanted our love for each other to be genuine. 3) He wanted our love for Him to be genuine.

With free will in the world, you're likely to have evil. But without free will, true genuine love becomes impossible and moral actions become worthless. God wants us to love Him. He doesn’t need our love as The Bible says God lacks nothing (Acts 17:24-25), however He does desire our love for Him nonetheless. And He also desires that we love each other (see Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27). Without free will, that would be impossible.

If I were to program my computer to say that it loved me, would I feel loved? No. There would be no love there. I only programmed the computer to say it loved me. It really didn't have any other choice but to say that about me. Or think of this, if I programmed a robot to be nice to me and to take care of me, my family and even provide for the poor, would we find anything the robot does to be praiseworthy? Would we think the robot had genuine love? No. The only reason the robot is showing us affection, putting our needs and the needs of the poor above its own is because we programmed it to do such. We determined that the robot would be a loving humanitarian. It was impossible for the robot to do anything else.

Now, if humans are determined, then we're like those robots. We've been programmed to do the things that we do and to be the things that we are. How can I praise Mother Teresa for all her good actions if she was merely a puppet on a string? How could I condemn Hitler for killing 6 million Jews if he was likewise a puppet on a string? However, If have free will, this is completely different. If we have free will then that means there’s the possibility to do other than what we do. If the robot had free will, I would consider his love to be valuable because I knew that he didn’t have to be loving. He could just as well have treated those around him like scum. Mother Teresa likewise could have lived a very selfish and immoral life than the saintly life that she lived. Hitler could have been kind and compassionate as well instead of the monster he was. We rightly praise or condemn people based on their moral actions because we presuppose that they could have done otherwise. If they could not have done otherwise, then such praise or contempt is unjustified. You might as well get angry at a puppet who makes an inappropriate joke rather than the ventriloquist who made him say it.

I think the reason why Jesus commended the widow for putting her mite into the box (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4) is because she had the choice to do otherwise. That mite was all she had to live on, and yet she gave it up anyway. She didn't have to. She didn't have to, but she did anyway. I think we all share Jesus' feeling about her action. We commend her for this selfless act. But, if someone or something were controlling her, and made her do it without any possibility of the opposite action happening, I don't think it would have the worth and I don't think we'd have the same reaction. “Oh! She’s such a good person even though she was forced to do it by causes outside of herself! Isn’t she just a sweetheart?”

*God allows things to happen for a good reason.
And there are many examples I could give on how God can bring good out of a bad situation. I can see how it was for my good and even though I was confused and I wondered why God wouldn't stop my suffering, I know I wouldn't be where I am today.

“’For I know the plans I have for you’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a *good* future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

“For we know that God works all things for the good of those that love Him.” – Romans 8:28

Life is sometimes like a puzzle and God is putting it all together. We can only see the pieces of the puzzle, but once God is done putting it together, we can see the entire picture. A beautiful masterpiece.

An illustration of what God was saying in Jeremiah 29:11 & Romans 8:28 is the domino effect. You've seen fictional stories on time travel right? Like Back To The Future? Well, whenever somebody goes into the past and changes even the smallest thing, almost their entire future goes out of whack because that 1 thing that happened to them set a chain in motion to get them to where they were supposed to be.

God has revealed to me that the chain reaction is the means by which God can use a tragic event to bring about a much greater good. The chain reaction = God uses bad things in life to lead us to the right place we need to be. Here's an illustration: A soldier loses his leg in a war and he meets his true love (a nurse) at the hospital he goes to. They get married and have a child. That child grows up to be a doctor and saves many lives. One of the lives that doctor saved was a future scientist who would find the cure for cancer. If that soldier hadn't lost his leg in the war, he wouldn't have met the woman of his dreams, and they would not have given birth to the doctor, and that doctor would not have saved all those lives including the scientist who would discover the cure for cancer.

The chain reaction is the reason why going back in time was so dangerous in Back To Future. Because one thing that was changed, changed a wide variety of events that would happen after that BECAUSE of that one thing changed. Like when Marty's father was hit by that car. Being hit by a car is not a good thing, but it eventually hooked him up with Marty's mother and that lead to them getting married and giving birth to Marty. If Marty's father hadn't been hit by that car, Marty wouldn't exist.

God; who has infinite knowledge knows all possible scenarios that are the effects of certain events happening or choices made. God can try to direct us to His will by secondary influences and sometimes allowing something bad to happen can be one of those influences that drives us to where God really wants us to be....because it will benefit us the best.

We really can't understand completely why God lets bad things happen, but by using logic and reason, we can come up with possible situations how good can come from something bad. The Bible has a situation where God did indeed bring good out of suffering and that's the story of Jacob's son Joseph in Genesis 50. If God hadn't let Joseph's brothers sell him into slavery, Joseph would have never been able to interpret the Pharaoh's dreams and that would mean Pharaoh would not have saved up food in the 7 years of abundance so that they would have food to eat in the 7 years of famine coming. And if Pharoah didn’t store up food during the 7 years of famine, thousands of people would have died of starvation. As Joseph was being carried off to Egypt, He was probably wondering why God didn’t intervene to stop him from being sold into slavery. He might have been thinking “Why didn’t God stop my brothers from selling me into slavery? Now I’ll never see my father again!” But Joseph later realized God’s purpose behind his initial suffering. He himself said so when he saw his brothers again years later. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” – Genesis 50:20

In chapter 7 of his book “On Guard”, William Lane Craig addresses the problem of evil and makes the point that God can bring good out of situations involving suffering by means of 2 illustrations; 1 from science and the other from pop culture. In the first explanation, Craig describes chaos theory in which a single seemingly insignificant event can cause a change reaction that culminates in some huge event! The illustration he uses is a butterfly fluttering on a twig in Africa. Craig said that according to chaos theory, that little butterfly fluttering its wings on that branch can set off a chain reaction of events that culminates in a hurricane occurring over the Atlantic Ocean, but no ordinary person observing such a tiny butterfly on that branch would be able to predict such an outcome.

The point he’s making is that any event that seems insignificant to us may in fact be very significant. God, having middle knowledge, would know the chain reaction of events that some event (let’s call it event X) would produce. Event X may cause hundreds or thousands of events that follow it, which culminates in Event Y, and if God intervened to prevent event X from coming about, then the chain reaction which resulted in Event Y never would have occurred. Getting event Y to be actualized may be worth the suffering endured in event X.

The second illustration Dr. William Lane Craig uses is the movie “Sliding Doors” starring Gweneth Paltrow. In this movie, a woman named Helen is rushing down the stairs to catch a subway train, and as she nears the train, the story line of the movie splits into two different story lines. Which of these 2 story lines would actually be real all depends on a single event. What is that event? I’m glad you asked; it’s getting through the subway doors. Whether or not Helen makes it through the subways doors or not will result in one or the other story lines becoming actualized. Now, in one story line Helen’s life is fulfilling, prosperous, and happy. In the other story line, she encounters failure, misery, and unhappiness. All because of one tiny event; making it or not making it through the subway doors. Moreover, whether or not Helen makes it through the sliding subway doors all depends on whether a little girl playing with a doll momentarily blocks her path or if her father yanks her out of the way. Craig says in his book that we have no idea what event led up to that event! Maybe the girl and her father were delayed leaving the house that morning because the little girl didn’t like the serial that her mother gave her for breakfast.

Now, here’s the really interesting part: in the happy successful story line, Helen is suddenly killed in an accident while in the other story line her life turns around. The story line with the suffering, failure, and unhappiness actually turned out to be the preferable timeline after all!

Now, let’s throw God into the mix. Let’s say God knew that although she would be happy and successful in life No. 1, He foreknew that she would be killed by an oncoming vehicle. Let’s say God doesn’t want that to happen; He isn’t ready for Helen to leave this world. This could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe Helen isn’t a Christian and being killed at that moment in time would result in God being forced to condemn her to Hell for all eternity. It may also be the case that after becoming a Christian, she starts a ministry and some people wouldn’t be saved if she left this life at that moment in time (perhaps Helen is at the right place at the right time in life number 2, and she witnesses to a person named Bob and that Bob is saved). Helen’s salvation and/or her future witness to Bob would not come about if He allowed her to make it through the sliding doors and live a happy and successful life. Life number 1 would result in damnation for Helen and perhaps several others. Obviously, God, being concerned for the eternal well being of these people, would allow Helen to endure all of the hardships she endured in order to keep her, Bob, and some others out of Hell.

The point in both of Dr. Craig’s illustrations is this; “Every event which occurs sends a ripple effect through history so that God’s morally sufficient reasons for permitting it might not emerge until hundreds of years from now or maybe in another country. Only an all-knowing God could comprehend the infinite complexities of directing a world of free people toward His ultimate ends for human history. Take any single historical event that you want to – say, the Allied victory at D-Day – and think of the innumerable, incomprehensible complexity of the preparations that had to go into that event’s transpiring. It is not at all improbable that there would be all sorts of suffering and difficulty and trial that would be required in order to get all of the free agents in those circumstances on the scene at the same time to bring about that event. I think it is hardly surprising that many events that occur in history would appear to us to be pointless and unnecessary, that we wouldn’t see the reason for which they occur, because we are simply overwhelmed by this kind of complexity.”

We simply have no idea….the ripple effect that each of our actions and circumstances can cause. So when bad things happen to me, I wonder why God allows it to happen. I trust in Him that what’s happening to me, that He is allowing for my ultimate benefit and I run to Him for shelter and comfort until the hard times pass (see Psalm 9:9, Psalm 32:7, Psalm 61:2-3, Matthew 11:28). From Helen’s perspective, whether or not she got through the sliding doors didn’t seem like such a life changing event to her, but if you’re an omniscient Being with middle knowledge, whether a certain event happens or not can have radical effects on future events that take place after that, if you want a certain event in the future to occur, you’ll have to allow a certain event in the present to occur. If A doesn’t happen, then B won’t happen, if not B, then not C, if C doesn’t happen, then D won’t happen, if D doesn’t happen, then E won’t happen. In order to get E to happen, you’ll have to allow A through D to happen.

God, allowing us to suffer a certain unpleasant event can set in motion quite a number of other events (maybe some good and some bad) in order to bring about something good and if He did not allow us to suffer that thing, than the good thing would never come about. It’s all about cause and effect.

*We know how many times God doesn't intervene, but what about all of the times that He does?

And think of this; we know how many times God does not intervene to prevent something bad from happening but we have no idea how many times He does intervene to stop bad things from happening. For example, if God caused me to have trouble finding my car keys in order to make me late for work, yes I might get in trouble with my boss if I'm late for work, but....God might have caused or allowed me to lose my keys so that I would be delayed from getting on the road and being in a precise moment where I would be in fatal car crash. Actually, my car broke down just the other day and this very thought occurred to me. Therefore, in that example, it's possible that by getting me to be late for work, God ended up saving my life.

The reason we don’t know is because they didn’t happen to us. Do you remember that old cartoon with the sleepwalking character that was always headed for impending doom? Another character was always trying to manage the situation to prevent this character from sleepwalking to his death. The sleepwalker walks into traffic and nearly gets hit by cars but miraculously makes it to the other side (much to the sleepwalker’s friend’s relief). He would then be walking into a hole filled with cement at a construction site until the character saved the sleepwalker by moving a crane holding a steel beam over to him. The sleepwalker would then be walking across the steel beam. Of course he’s about to fall off which makes it important for our frantic hero to move the steal beam over to the unfinished building so he can have more footing. This goes and on and on until finally the sleepwalker makes it back home in one piece, wakes up and doesn’t know all that his friend went through to keep him from dying.

In an analogous way, we have no idea how many times God has stepped in and prevented disaster from befalling us. He prevents some things while permitting others because if he did not prevent some things we would not benefit and He did not allow others, we would not benefit. If God allows suffering, scripture teaches us that it isn’t gratuitous, that is to say, pointless. If a certain instance of suffering would be pointless, I’m convinced God would prevent it from occurring. In fact, God said so (see Isaiah 66:9).

The following example shows just what I’m talking about. It’s a fictional conversation between a person and God. In the conversation, you hear God’s reasons for allowing the things that He allowed. Normally God doesn’t tell us why He allows the things He does because He wants us to trust in Him. He wants us to have faith that He’s got our backs and that He’s working everything for our ultimate benefit. I did not make this conversation up. I actually saw someone else post it on Facebook. I saved it because I thought it very nicely demonstrated the point I was making, about us not knowing how many times God has intervened in our lives to prevent bad things from happening to us, causing us to suffer. The fictional conversation was titled “My Conversation With God”.

 Me: God, can I ask You a question?
 God: Sure

 Me: Promise You won't get mad
 God: I promise

 Me: Why did You let so much stuff happen to me today?
 God: What do you mean?

 Me: Well, I woke up late
 God: Yes

 Me: My car took forever to start
 God: Okay

 Me: at lunch they made my sandwich wrong & I had to wait
 God: Huummm !!!

 Me: On the way home, my phone went DEAD, just as I picked up a call
 God: All right

 Me: And on top of it all off, when I got home ~I just want to soak my feet in my new foot massager & relax. BUT it wouldn't work!!! Nothing went right today! Why did You do that?
God: Let me see, the death angel was at your bed this morning & I had to send one of My Angels to battle him for your life. I let you sleep through that

 Me (humbled): OH
 GOD: I didn't let your car start because there was a drunk driver on your route that would have hit you if you were on the road.

 Me: (ashamed)
 God: The first person who made your sandwich today was sick & I didn't want you to catch what they have, I knew you couldn't afford to miss work.

 Me (embarrassed):Okay
 God: Your phone went dead because the person that was calling was going to give false witness about what you said on that call, I didn't even let you talk to them so you would be covered.

 Me (softly): I see God
 God: Oh and that foot massager, it had a shortage that was going to throw out all of the power in your house tonight. I didn't think you wanted to be in the dark.

 Me: I'm Sorry God
 God: Don't be sorry, just learn to Trust Me.... in All things , the Good & the bad.

 Me: I will trust You.
 God: And don't doubt that My plan for your day is Always Better than your plan.

 Me: I won't God. And let me just tell you God, Thank You for Everything today.
 God: You're welcome child. It was just another day being your God and I Love looking after My Children...
In the conversation, you can see that God allowed some inconveniences in order to prohibit greater suffering from occurring.

*God allows some people to suffer to bring them to repentance.

Sometimes God allows suffering to occur in order to bring about the salvation of certain individuals. I remember back when I wasn’t living for The Lord, my teenage years were a living Hell, but I see how that road of hardship lead me to Christ. I don't have space to go through my testimony right now, but after I came to Christ, my circumstances improved all around me. I prayed to God not to fix my circumstances (I had already given up hope that they were going to get any better), I just wanted God to improve my character and to rescue me from the highway to Hell that I realized I was traveling down. The improved circumstances just happened to come along with them. That lead me, in retrospect, to conclude that God’s reason for permitting those particular instances of suffering was to bring me to a place of brokenness so that I would cry out to Him for help and consequentially also ask Him to be my Savior, and therefore be saved from the fires of Hell. God saw that allowing me to suffer a finite amount in this life in order to get me saved…would be better than allowing me to have a good and happy life in this physical world…and end up going to Hell to suffer for eternity. God knew that if I didn’t come to that place of brokenness, I would not have repented and if I had not repented, I wouldn’t have been saved and if I died in that unrepentant state, I would have gone to Hell to be eternally separated from Him. This is why some of the most devout Christians you’ll meet will have testimonies which involve an intense amount of suffering prior to their conversion.

As C.S Lewis once put it, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world”

And as venerable archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said “Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them.”

Actually, this brokenness-to-repentance process is metaphorically described in Jesus’ “Parable Of The Prodigal Son” in Luke 15:11-32.

The prodigal son didn’t return home to his father until he had lost everything and became so hungry that even the pig’s food looked appealing to him. What brings me to tears about that account every time I read it is verse 20 of the parable in Luke’s account which says “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” The father of the man was so eager, so longing to see his son again that he couldn’t sit and wait for his son to come to him. He got up himself and ran and met him half way. God was chasing ME down. It wasn’t merely that the father forgave his son and received Him back, he rejoiced at his return and celebrated with a feast. Since the father in the parable represents God, this means that God rejoices and celebrates when he manages to get people to return to Him.

I believe God's reasons for allowing those specific things to happen to me was in order to get me to bow my knee. I believe God has different reasons for allowing me to suffer now...because I'm already saved. I like to compare it to my mother taking me to the doctor when I was 3 years old to get a flu shot. For some reason, shots hurt a lot more when you're a little kid. I don't know if it's a placebo effect (we see the sharp needle so we strongly believe it's going to be painful) or if children just have a lesser threshold for pain than adults. In any case, I remember getting it and I remember that it hurt. I cried all the way to the car. Now, was my mother unloving for taking me to get the flu shot? No. She knew it was better for me to get a flu shot and not get the flu. Even though the shot hurt, it would be a lot less painful and less dangerous than getting influenza. In the same way, is God unloving for letting people suffer if that suffering leads them to eternal life? No. In fact, it would unloving if He didn't.

"My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees." - Psalm 119:71

*God feels compassion towards you when you suffer.

One thing that brings me comfort is knowing that whenever I suffer, God suffers with me. When you hurt, God hurts. God feels pain in His heart to see you hurting even though He's allowing you to hurt for a reason and it's all part of His divine plan. When Martha was weeping over the death of Lazarus (see John 11), Jesus didn't sit back coolly observing her suffering. No, Jesus wept when Lazarus was dead (John 11:35). I believe He was crying because He sensed the pain inside of Martha and Mary's hearts. I don’t agree with the common interpretation that Jesus was weeping over Lazarus’ death. I mean, look, Jesus knew for a fact that He was about to raise Lazarus back to life and everything was going to be ok, in fact He said that was the reason He took so long to get there. He said “Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him” (John 11:14-15). Jesus said He was glad that it happened so that He could raise Lazarus from the dead and confirm his messianic status even further. He knew ahead of time He was going to raise Lazarus. That’s why he let him die. He knew Lazarus was going to come back to life. So why would He weep over Lazarus’ death? That’d be like mourning over your friend taking a nap. You know he’s going to wake up soon, so why fret?

But Jesus loves Martha so it hurt Him to see her in so much pain. Martha and Mary didn’t know that that was Jesus’ plan. So they really were mourning Lazarus’ passing. Jesus had no reason to be mourning over the death of Lazarus because he knew in advance that He was going to bring Him back from the dead. So I'm absolutely convinced that His tears were from seeing Martha and Mary hurt. He was hurting because they were hurting.

Since Jesus IS God (John 1:1-4, John 1:14, John 10:30, Isaiah 9:6, Colossians 1:15-17), I know that God The Father is that same way when we're in pain. He knows the future and knows that we'll be smiling again (Psalm 30:5) and that these things are happening for a good reason, but He hates having to see us hurting. Just as my mother didn't like to see me crying from a flu vaccine, yet allowed it to happen anyway for my good.

*Evil Will Not Have The Last Word

In order for God to rid the world of evil (and consequently, the majority of suffering) God would have to do one of two things. He would have to either deprive us of free will and force us to do everything He wants us to do, or He would have to destroy all evil people (like He did the Caananites). One or the other; Control us or destroy us. God wants to do neither of those things. He doesn’t want to control us because, as I said, that would render our “love” for Him and each other to be not really love at all. Our love would be no more valuable then that of a puppet. Our praise to God would be no more valuable than making a puppet tell you what a kind and compassionate person you are. But He also doesn’t want to destroy us. God loves the whole world (John 3:16) and does not want any to perish (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, God lets human depravity exist and cause its negative effects in the world. He’s holding back judgment in hopes to get as many people to repent and be saved as He possibly can. God knows who will get saved and who won’t so He holds back judgment for their sake. He knows that if He lets the world spin a little longer, then those who aren’t saved now will eventually get saved. For example, God knows that X isn’t saved in the present time. But He knows that X will become a Christian in the year 2020. So, He will let the world spin until 2020 for the sake of that person. If there’s a person who’s unsaved in 2020, but will get saved in 2030. Then God will let the world spin until 2030.

However, God will get of all of the evil in the world some day by destruction. God’s longsuffering doesn’t last forever. 

Evil will not win in the end.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’" (Revelation 21:4,5).

There will be a day when God destroys all those who do evil and cast each one into the fiery pits of Hell. Many are already there (such as Hitler). But the day will come that instead of damning evil individuals, God will wipe the slate completely clean! He will create a new universe and a new Earth. This new Universe and Earth will be even better than the one before it. No evil, no sorrow, no pain, no death. The reason why God doesn’t do this now is because He’s waiting for the full number of people to get saved. God holds back his judgment on evil doers for their sake.

When God does unleash His end times judgment, the world will probably be so depraved that they’re beyond redemption. Their hearts will be so hardened that repentance will no longer be possible (without God overriding their freedom of course). It may be at that point that God brings an end to it. As I pointed out in “Is God Evil For Ordering The Destruction Of Nations In The OT”, God always waits until depravity hits its maximum level before unleashing judgment upon people in this earthly life. That’s the biblical pattern.

I wish I could say more on this topic. But This post is already pretty long as it is. I’ll have to cut it off here.