One of the questions I get asked all the time is “If there is a God why is there Evil?” If we have a God who is good and we have a God who is all powerful why does God all evil to exist and allow bad things to happen to good people?
If God, why the holocaust? If God why 911? If God exists, why Virginia Tech in 2007?There are three basic responses to the problem of evil. The pantheists (Pantheism is the belief that the universe (or nature) is identical with divinity.) Mary Baker Eddy affirmed that God exists but evil doesn't. Atheists affirm that evil exists and God doesn't.
Christians, what we are, we believe in one God. We believe in both God and evil. That's a problem. In fact that's a problem for all of the views. How do we explain an absolutely perfect God and the existence of evil?
Pantheists' explanation is unrealistic. In Science and Health with Key to the Scripture Mary Baker Eddy said, "God is all; therefore all that really exists is in and of God. Evil is but an illusion and has no real basis."
The problem with pantheism is it's not very realistic. If evil is not real then why does it seem so real? Why do death, sickness, cancer, and hatred feel so real? Where did the illusion come from? Why is it that everyone seems to have the same illusion? And why can't we make it go away if it's just an illusion?
As a matter of fact pantheism is unrealistic.
Atheism is ungrounded. C.S. Lewis was an atheist who said, "My argument was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? Man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that then my argument against God collapsed." There's no grounds for atheism. Because the statement that the world is not just demands that he knows what's just. But if there's a moral law that says be just, there must be a moral law giver.
Pantheism is unrealistic. Atheism is ungrounded. Evil cries out for God. It cries out for God in three ways.
First of all to explain how we know it's evil. Ravi Zacharias has a very effective way of saying this. When he gets a relativist in his group, he'll say to them, "Let me ask you this. Is there anything wrong anywhere? Because if there's anything wrong anywhere then there must be some standard of right. If there's some moral prescription then there must be a moral prescriber. So rather than crying out against God, evil cries out for God." What I often ask people is “What makes what Hitler did wrong?” If there's some moral prescription then there must be a moral prescriber.
Secondly, who's going to comfort you? Even Nietzsche bemoaned the fact. Nietzsche was the one, you remember, who said, "God is dead. Signed, Nietzsche." Then an invisible hand wrote under it, "Nietzsche is dead, signed God." Remember him? He said, "I don't have anyone to comfort me. Others believe in God, there's no one to comfort me."
The time that you're in evil and suffering is not the time to cry out against God. It's the time to cry out for God. Read the Psalms.
And who's going to give the victory over evil? Who’s going to make it possible for us to overcome the evil? Rather than cry out against God, evil cries out for God in three ways: To explain how we know it's evil, to comfort us in our sorrow over evil, and to give us victory over evil.
Here's the problem of evil for believers. We believe that God is all good and opposes evil. We believe that God is all knowing and he foreknew that evil was going to happen. Adam and Eve didn't catch him by surprise. Someone said, "It wasn't the apple on the tree it was the pair on the ground that got us in trouble." God knew that they were going to do that. He knew before it happened. He is all knowing. God is all powerful. He can defeat evil.
If you have an all good and all knowing and all powerful God then why does he permit evil? That's the problem for the Christian. In fact there are many problems of evil.
First of all the problem of the nature of evil. If God created all things and evil is something, then it would appear as though God created evil.
We can't say God didn't create all things. That would be giving up our theism (that God created all things) and some form of dualism that evil is there forever. We can't say evil isn't real because then we'd end up with pantheism. But it looks like if God created all things and evil is something, therefore God must have created evil.
The response to this was given by Saint Augustine around 400 A.D. in his book The Anti Manichean Writings. He said, "Evil is not a thing. Evil is a corruption of a good thing. God made only good things. Evil is a corruption of the good things that God has made."
Evil is like rot to a tree. You never have something that's totally rotten. A totally rotten tree is topsoil. A totally rotten tree doesn't exist. You have to have a tree for rot to exist in it. Evil is like rust to a car. You never have a totally rusted car. If it were totally rusted it'd be a brown spot on the pavement. You have to have iron to have rust in it. Evil is like moth holes in the cloth. You have to have a cloth there to have holes in it.
God made the good thing. Evil corrupted the good thing. You can't have a totally moth eaten garment. What would that be? A hanger in your closet. The problem of evil for theism, the response is this: God created only good things. Evil is not a thing. So God did not create evil.
That doesn't mean evil isn't real. It's real. It's a real lack. Blindness is a real lack of sight. If you don’t think it's real then put a blindfold on and try to walk around for a day. It's a real handicap. It's a real lack. It's a real privation. Evil is real. But it's not a real thing.
You say, Where did the holes in the garment come from and the rust in the car and the rot in the tree? Where did evil come from? If God made only good things and evil is a privation of good things, where did the evil come from?
The answer to that is that God is absolutely perfect. God cannot create anything imperfect. And a perfect creature cannot do evil. If God created a perfect creature they wouldn't be able to do something that was imperfect. Therefore evil cannot arise in such a world.
That creates a serious problem for us. Because we can’t deny the first premise - God is absolutely perfect. We can't deny the second one that God cannot create anything imperfect. And how can a perfect creature do something imperfect?
Saint Augustine in the fourth century wrote several books on this. His answer was very much to the point. The response: God is absolutely perfect. No doubt. God cannot create anything imperfect. Absolutely true. A perfect creature cannot do evil, is false. A perfect creature can do evil because if a perfect creature is given certain perfections, evil is made possible.
Let me illustrate it, how a perfect creature can do evil.
In biblical terms we're talking about Lucifer the archangel; then later Adam. Lucifer is a perfect creature. No evil in his environment. No tempter. God created good things. He created one good thing that's called free will. He gave Lucifer free choice. He gave Adam free choice.
It's good to be free. Ever seen anyone march back to bondage? Down with freedom. I want to do everything my mother ever told me. Nobody ever marches like that. We march for freedom. Even if somebody did march against freedom he'd be freely doing it. So it'd be contradictory. One good thing that God created was free will.
Free will makes evil possible since it's the power to do otherwise. If you're free to love God you're also free to hate him. If you're free to praise God, you're also free to blaspheme him. Freedom is the ability to do otherwise.
To do otherwise than good is evil. Hence a perfect creature can do evil. There is no way that God can make a free creature that can't do evil. Because freedom means the ability to do otherwise.
He could make a robot, but they're not free to love. He could make an automaton, but they're not free to praise. God could make a puppet, but they're not free to enter into interpersonal relationships. A perfect creature that has free will can do evil.
So God made evil possible by giving us a good thing called free will. We make evil actual by misusing the good thing that he gave us.
Henry Ford mass-produced a car. He made a lot of evil possible. Every time you go on the road that evil is possible. But he's not responsible for every accident. He's not responsible for everyone who misuses the automobile. He is not responsible for drunk driving.
Problem one. How can one will evil when there is no evil to will?
Lucifer didn't have an evil nature. He didn't have an evil environment. There was no tempter there. There was an absolutely perfect God, an absolutely perfect environment. How can one do evil when there is no evil to will?
Response: Evil arose when a good creature, Lucifer, with a good power of freewill, willed the finite good of the creature over the infinite good of the creator. Evil doesn't have to have good out there in order for it to occur. One can create evil. No evil needs to exist in order to will evil. Willing a lesser good can be an evil.
Lucifer willed the lesser good of himself over the greater good of God and brought evil into this universe.
You say, then why didn't God stomp it out? Why didn't he nip it in the bud right there? That leads us to the third question. The persistence of evil.
Here's the problem. If God is all-good, he would defeat evil. If God is all-powerful, he could defeat evil. But evil is not defeated. Just look around. Look at the tv. Look in the newspaper. Look in the mirror. Evil is not defeated. Therefore no such God exists.
This is probably the most powerful argument atheists have ever devised. This one argument has led to more skepticism, atheism, agnosticism than anything that I know of. If God is all-good he would defeat evil. If he's all-powerful he could. Evil is not defeated. Therefore there is no such God.
How do we respond?
We agree with the first premise. If he's all-good, he would defeat evil. And we agree with the second premise. If God is all-powerful, he could defeat evil. We disagree with the third one because they forgot one word - yet. Evil is not yet defeated. Therefore it doesn't follow that evil will never be defeated. It might be defeated later this afternoon. Or tomorrow. Or next week.
The fact that evil isn't yet defeated doesn't prove that it won't be.
For example the fact that I'm in the middle of a sentence doesn't mean that I'm not going to finish it. Or if you're in the middle of a novel doesn't mean it's never going to have a proper ending. Wait and see. Therefore no such God exists does not follow.
No. This conclusion does not follow since evil might yet be defeated in the future. So the atheist argument, his best argument collapses, because he forgot the word "yet."
Atheists are clever. So they sometimes say this: "If God is all good, he would defeat evil, if he was all powerful, he could. Evil never will be defeated. Therefore there is no such God." Good argument.
Problem, premise number 3 or C, that evil never will be defeated. There's no way that anyone could know that unless he were God. Because how do you know? You'd have to be omniscient. You'd have to know all future states of affairs to know that evil never will be defeated. So in order for the atheist to defeat God, he'd have to be God. Which is self-destructive. There is no way for the objector to know this unless he is God, an all-knowing being.
The persistence of evil, I think, is the most important question that we can face here and the most important answer we can give to it is look carefully again at the very premises. We agree that if God is all-good he would. We agree that if he was all-powerful he could defeat evil. We agree that evil is not yet defeated. But what follows rationally from those three premises is this: therefore evil one day will be defeated.
How do I know? The nature of a theistic God. The nature of the God of the Bible guarantees it. Because He's all-powerful and can do it. And He's all-good and wants to do it. So hang on. It’s coming. He will do it.
The proof that he will do it is the very nature of the God they're attacking: The God of the Bible, an all powerful and all good God.
How can God defeat evil? How can he possibly do it? He allows everyone to freely choose their destiny so freedom is preserved. He doesn't have to make robots, automatons, puppets. He allows everyone to be free and they choose which way they want to go. So freedom is preserved.
And he defeats evil by… one, someday separating good from evil. You know what bothers good people - evil. You know what bothers evil people - good.
I used to work at Cameron’s Lumber Yard when I was growing up. I can tell you right there, there are just good and evil people. There's nobody in between. You know what bothered me? The evil people swearing, cursing, telling filthy stories, blowing their smoke in my face. You know what bothered them? Me. Reading my bible, praying, and not joining them in their behavior.
There's a solution to that. In eternity there's going to be a smoking section and a non-smoking section. You can guess which is which. No one is going to be able to blow smoke in your face. They're going to be able to smoke as long as they want to. Separating evil from good forever.
The Bible says that in terms of the sheep and the goats, the good fish and the bad fish. Separating good from evil, by quarantining evil forever.
You know what we do with contagious diseases? We quarantine the people. You know what we do with people who are violent criminals? We quarantine them from society. We put them in a separate place.
There has to be a hell or there's no solution to the problem of evil. As long as somebody wants to do evil and as long as evil disrupts good people then there has to be a place where it's separated.
Think of it. Heaven is a place where they'll be no more evil to frustrate good people. Nobody swearing, nobody cursing, nobody doing anything evil to me. Praising God forever.
Hell is the place where there is no more good to frustrate evil people. Where the hounds of heaven stop barking. And where when the last scroll of time is rolled up and the last candle is extinguished, people will forever be in exactly the place where they want to be. By punishing evil and rewarding good, if there's no reward for good and no punishment for evil then the solution to the problem has not occurred. God will defeat evil by defeating death and Satan.
What is the great evil? The great and last evil is death. It has to be defeated or there is no solution. It's called the resurrection. The devil is always going to be around unless he is separated from us forever and banished from the presence of God so there's no more temptation. They'll never be able to say, "The devil made me do it."
According to the Bible this was officially done when Christ came the first time. And according to the Bible this is going to be actually accomplished when Christ comes the second time.
Let's look at the official defeat of evil. Colossians 2 "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us which was contrary to us and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross and having despoiled principalities and powers he made a show of them openly triumphing over them in it." Jesus paid it all, all to him we owe. Sin has left a crimson stain; his blood has washed it white as snow. He officially defeated evil on the cross. "For as much then as the children are partakers," Hebrews 2, "of flesh and blood he also himself likewise took part of the same that through death he might destroy him that has the power of death, that is the devil. And deliver them who through the fear of death for all their life time subject to bondage."
The devil was officially defeated. He was declawed and defanged at the cross. He's got a bark but no bite because Jesus took the bite away from him.
When is it going to actually happen? At the second coming, Revelation 19. "I saw heaven open. Behold a white horse and he that sat upon it was called faithful and true and in righteousness he judged and made war. The armies which were in heaven followed him on white horses clothed in fine linen white and clean. Out of his mouth goes a sharp sword. With it he should smite the nations. He shall rule them with a rod of iron. He treads the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God almighty." Revelation 21 says, "I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth were passed away and there was no more sea. God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes and there shall be no more death or the sound of crying. Neither shall there be any more pain for the former things have passed away."
Yes, evil has already been defeated officially at the cross. It'll be defeated actually at the second coming.
How do we know there's going to be a second coming? There were almost one hundred predictions in the Old Testament about the first coming and they were all literally fulfilled. What city he'd be born in. When he would die. How he would die. How he would be born. How he would suffer. All there. If a hundred percent of the predictions about his first coming were fulfilled, you can bet on it, a hundred percent of the ones of the second coming will be fulfilled as well.
What will Jesus say when we see him? "I never said it would be easy. I only said it'd be worth it." Yeah, evil is tough. Suffering is tough. But it's going to be worth it all.
Which leads us to our last question: the purpose of evil. Why did God permit evil?
The problem is this: An all-good God must have a good purpose for everything. But there is no good purpose for some suffering. Useless or innocent suffering. What's the purpose of a little child getting cancer? Hence there cannot be an all-good God. That's a very painful - pun intended - problem. Because if God is all-good he has to have a good purpose for everything. But we all know things for which there is no good purpose. Hence there cannot be an all-good God. There is either a finite God that doesn't have enough power to do it. Or no God at all.
Response: Just because we don't know a good purpose for evil doesn't mean there isn't one.
The atheist assumes that because we don't know something no one could know it. The problem is if God is all knowing, he knows it. And if the atheist doesn't know it, that doesn’t prove that God is dead. It just proves he's dumb and doesn't know what the answer is. Just because we don't know a good purpose for evil doesn't mean there is none.
An all-good, all knowing God knows a good purpose for everything. Some evil seems to us to have no good purpose. But an all-good God has a good purpose for everything. Even what seems to us not to have a good purpose. So even evil has a good purpose. I just don't always know what it is.
We do not know all things. We don't know the end of all things. But God does. He knows the end of all things and he knows all things.
There are a couple of verses to tuck away in your memory here. Deuteronomy 29:29 "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but to us and to our children the things that are revealed." I don't know why some things happen to me. And I don't know why some things happen to you but I know why I don't know why. Because I'm finite. Because I'm a little microbe on a speck of cosmic dust up in a far flung corner of the universe. And God is all-knowing.
Who do you think is going to know the answer to the problem: secret things belong to the Lord our God.
Romans 11:33 "His ways are unsearchable and his judgments are past finding out." Yes, there is a purpose for evil. No, I don't always know what that purpose is. But I know that an all-good God has a good purpose and does know it and will bring good out of evil.
Paul Harvey became famous for what is known as the rest of the story. He went to visit a young man whose life was being nipped in the bud by cancer. He went to encourage him. He came away encouraged himself because the young man looked up at Paul Harvey and said, "I do not believe that the divine architect of the universe ever builds a staircase that leads to nowhere. And I do not believe that the God whose purpose is revealed in nature, whose purpose is revealed in creation, whose purpose is revealed in scripture; I do not believe that the divine architect of the universe has staircases that lead to nowhere. You may think they aren't going anywhere because you don't see very far and you don't see very much. But God sees as far as can be seen. The end from the beginning, Isaiah 46:10, and he knows all things.
The divine architect of the universe has a good plan.
What we know about suffering. God hasn't left us in the dark. We do know some purposes for some evil. Some pain has a good purpose. For example, warning pain. You get a toothache. It's got a good purpose. You better go to the dentist or you're going to be feeling down in the mouth!
Another good pain: a pain in the chest. If you get a sharp pain in your chest you'd better go to the doctor. It may be a heart attack.
Another good pain. A pain in the lower right side. You get an acute pain there your appendix may have burst.
There are a lot of good pains. They're called warning pains.
Secondly, we know from experience that we learn more through pain that we do through pleasure. How many of you have learned an enduring lesson in life through pleasure? Not many. How many of you have learned an enduring lesson in life through pain? Lots I bet.
There is the point. Why does God permit pain? C.S. Lewis in his book The Problem with Pain says it beautifully: "God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain. It's God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world."
God will not tie a rope around the donkey's head and bring him screaming and kicking in the kingdom against his will. God works only persuasively, not forcibly. But God will knock the donkey on the head with a two by four. Some of you know that. The ones that are laughing all know that.
Put some images here. God whispers in our pleasure. Lying on the beach and the breeze is blowing through the palms and you say, "It's great to be alive." God whispers in our pleasure.
You're screaming down the highway at seventy-five in a fifty-five zone and you see a red light in the mirror and you feel a knot in your stomach. It's called conscience. God's speaking a little louder.
You're lying in the hospital, dying. You're wound up like a mummy. God's shouting to you in your pain. I know. I've been there. I was lying in the hospital dying of hepatitis. The guy next to me was dying of a heart attack. The radio comes on and a senator died of hepatitis. Believe me! God was speaking to me through pain. I had all my sins confessed. I was ready to go. Why? Because pain is God's megaphone to rouse a morally deaf world.
Joseph said to his brothers who left him for dead "You intended to harm me but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is being done, namely the saving of many lives."
It may happen from an evil person but God has a good purpose for it. Because our disappointments are often God's appointments. What someone else did to you by intentionally harming you, God was doing something in you to intentionally help you. "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on however it produces a harvest of righteousness." Hebrews 12:11. "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." If you suffer pain from birth to death for seventy years, how much is that in light of eternity? It's not even a pinch. "Our momentary troubles are yielding for us an eternal weight of glory."
Someone put it this way. "Said the robin to the sparrow, 'I should really like to know, why these anxious human beings rush about and worry so.' Said the sparrow to the robin, 'Friend, I think that it must be, that they have no heavenly father such as cares for you and me.'"
I was sent that poem while I was dying of hepatitis and I memorized it on the spot. God has graciously allowed me to pass it on.
This is not the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire was right in his book Candide but it may be the best way to the best world. Evil has to be permitted to be defeated. You can't defeat the champion unless you get in the ring with him. God had to permit evil to destroy evil. Permitting evil is necessary to produce higher good. No courage without danger. You can't produce patience without tribulation.
I remember a fella telling me once "JD, you need to pray for patience." So one day I did. I had three flat tires and the transmission fell out of the car that day. That's the last time I prayed for patience.
You don't get patience without tribulation. No character without adversity. No pain, no gain. God permits evil to produce a greater good.
No forgiveness without sin. To whom much is forgiven much is appreciated. The best way to the best world. This is not the best world possible. But God is the best being possible.
The best being possible must accomplish the best end possible. This world is the best way to the best end. Therefore making this world was the best way to achieve the best world possible. God knew that we would never get to the Promised Land without first going through the wilderness. God knew that Christians would be like tea. Their real strength comes out when they get in hot water. God gives us the hot water. God knew that you can't get the imperfections to the surface unless you put the heat on the gold and the imperfections surface. The heat of this world and the heat of suffering and pain is what makes the imperfections surface.
This is the best: that free creatures are free to choose their own destiny. God can't force free creatures to choose heaven. That's a contradiction in terms. C.S. Lewis saw this very clearly. "This is why everyone won't be in heaven. When one says, 'All will be saved,' my reason retorts, 'Without their will or with it? If I say without their will, I one perceive a contradiction. How can the supreme voluntary act of self-surrender be involuntary? If I say with their will, my reason replies, 'How, if they will not give in?'"
You see, God is love and love always works persuasively never coercively. Forced love is a contradiction in terms. The reason there's a hell is not simply that God is just and must punish evil. But because he's so loving he won't force people against their will.
If you can't stand being in church for one hour praising God and loving Jesus how would you feel if you had to go to church forever? It'd be hell, right? Heaven would be hell for an unbeliever who doesn't love Jesus. Whose heart is not changed. Who didn't respond to his grace.
You can't force people into heaven. Jesus said, "Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you were not willing."
If you're not a believer, God loves you. Christ died for you. He rose from the dead and he wants you to be part of his family. But you know what? He can't force you into the fold. It's contrary to his very nature to force his love upon you.
C.S. Lewis put it this way in his great book on hell: "There are only two kinds of people in the end. Those who say to God 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says in the end 'Thy will be done.' All that are in hell choose it. Without that self choice there could be no hell."
There are only two kinds of people in this room. Those who have said "Thy will be done," to God. And those who if they don't change their mind someday God will say to them, "Have it your way. Thy will be done."
Milton in Paradise Lost puts in the mouth of Satan these words: "Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven." And I added God's word - you've got it.
Father, I pray that there would be nobody here who will ever say that: Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven. I pray that there would be no one here who will hear God say to them someday, "Have it your way. Thy will be done." But that today they'll yield in love their heart to the one who loves them and sent his Son to die for them. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.