Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

EVIL

This article will present Biblical answers to the problem of evil. Why is there evil if a good and powerful God is in charge of the universe? As finite humans, we will not be able to comprehend God and His ways completely (Isaiah 55:9), but we can understand something.

The beginning of evil

God is good, and therefore He is not the originator of evil. In Genesis 1 and 2 of the Bible, we read about how God created a world without any evil, death or pain. He also made Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. God gave Adam and Eve a test. They were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They could either obey God or disobey Him. Unfortunately, they chose to disobey God. They became sinful beings. Now they would pass on their sinful nature to all their offspring. Everyone born since then has had a sinful nature, and has sinned (Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12).

Point 1: How much punishment does sinful man deserve?

Sin against an infinitely holy God is infinitely serious, and therefore calls for infinite punishment. Thus, every human being deserves infinite punishment from God. This sounds ominous, but there is a way out: The solution that God has provided

Point 2: Why didn't God insulate Adam and Eve from sin?

Here are a few reasons:-
  1. If God insulated Adam and Eve from sin, they would be like robots, serving Him by default and not out of their free will. God already has inanimate objects who obey his physical laws by default – He is not interested in any more puppets (and humans have no authority to insist that God be a puppeteer). God is interested in people who will choose to obey Him! So God gave Adam and Eve the opportunity to choose. Of course, we humans have no authority to insist that God be a puppeteer or deny Himself the voluntary fellowship of intelligent beings. The same argument applies for other wrong choices that God does not stop people from making even today (What was God doing when Hitler was unleashing his holocaust?)
  2. God's kindness and mercy would be absolutely hidden if Adam and Eve had not sinned. Because God allowed me to make my choices and then showed me a way out of the resulting mess, I know that God is not merely nice and powerful – He is amazingly merciful and loving, and His power consists not just in making galaxies and black holes, but in transforming the hearts of people - changing me from a sinful wretch into someone who reflects His glory. This display of God's love is so worthwhile that it more than compensates for the suffering brought in by Adam's fall.
  3. While God did not prevent Adam and Eve from sinning, He has also provided a solution for sin. So sinful humans can be redeemed, cleansed, and have loving, joyful fellowship with Him for eternity. The bliss that saved humans will enjoy in heaven again outweighs the evil that has resulted from Adam's Fall. It is arrogant for skeptics to insist that those who cooperate with God should miss out on all the fun for eternity because there are rebellious humans who insist on going to hell by rejecting God's offer of salvation!

Point 3: When does God mete out this punishment?

God allowed death to enter the world. Some of the punishment is meted out on earth by allowing us to suffer. After death, we will stand before God in judgment (Hebrews 9:27); he will send us to hell, where the remaining punishment will be meted out. If two people have sinned equally, the one who suffered more on earth will suffer less in hell. It will take infinite time for finite humans to bear their infinite punishment in hell. This sounds ominous, but there is a way out: The solution that God has provided

Point 4: How does God mete out the earthly component of the punishment?

God has made some changes in the world that make life hard:-

  1. God cursed and changed the ground so that it is not as luxuriant as it was before Adam sinned. The earth no longer produces enough fruit for man to eat "off-hand"; agriculture (or an equivalent means of livelihood) is now necessary.
  2. God changed the bodies of man and animals. As time passes, our body becomes more and more inefficient, and we eventually die.
  3. The female body was changed. Child-birth is now painful.
  4. God withdrew some of his sustaining power; this allows mutations (copying errors in DNA) to take place. This makes our bodies less efficient than those of our first parents. Thus, we suffer due to our defective bodies. Similarly, some benign micro-organisms lose their ability to survive on their own and they have to hijack another organism's resources. They thus become parasites and pathogens.
  5. God also changed the relationship between animals and humans. Now there is fear, hostility and confrontation.
  6. Tsunamis, volcanoes and radiation: When the human race became a crazy anarchy a few generations after Adam and Eve, God sent Noah's Flood. This changed the planet. The earth is less stable now, and prone to extreme climate, volcanoes, earthquakes, etc. The earth has lost at least some of its shielding against cancer-causing sun-rays.
  7. God continues to give humans freedom and responsibility. Some humans use their freedom to inflict suffering on others.

Note the following:-

  1. Earthly suffering exists because man has sinned, and is a punishment for sin, but the scales of justice will be balanced only in eternity. Thus there is no guarantee today that only the really bad guys will contract AIDS or die when there is a cyclone.  
  2. God acts not only in justice but also in love and mercy. God has taken steps to alleviating human suffering, both temporarily and permanently; thus God does not want us to sit back and relax as people suffer. He wants us to help others.

We notice the following features of the channels that God has used to bring suffering and death:-

Feature 1: Some suffering is heavily dependent on human capability: the holocaust would not have taken place if Hitler was not an able man.

Feature 2: Some suffering is heavily dependent on human choice: Whether you land up in a concentration camp depends on the choices that people like Hitler make.

Feature 3: Some suffering has a scientific reason: The laws of material science and gravity are the same whether a good or bad person steps on a banana peel. Diseases are caused by pathogens or chemical imbalance, and therefore can be treated using chemicals, other microorganisms or herbs.

Feature 4: Some suffering is placed strategically; childbirth, the process of entry into the world, is painful. Of all our body parts, we are most ashamed to expose our reproductive organs.

Feature 5: Some suffering is because of mechanisms that God has put inside our body. When your hand touched the hot oven, you wouldn't have felt any pain were it not for your nervous system.

Feature 6: Some suffering is due to having to work hard for one's living.

Point 5: Why has God chosen the above ways to bring death/suffering?

This can be understood from the features mentioned above:-

Feature 1:To reflect God's glory, man had to be made capable, intelligent, and free to choose. The goodness of God's ultimate purposes (a large number of humans reflecting his glory) outweighs the suffering that results when capable people set their hearts on evil.

Feature 2: God has set things up in such a way that choices have consequences. It is important to learn this because we all have an ultimate choice to make: whether to submit to God or not, and this choice will have an ultimate consequence: whether we spend eternity in hell or heaven.

Feature 3: God made the universe to run according to fixed scientific laws because they draw the honest thinker to Him. The existence of laws suggest that there exists a Law-giving and Law-enforcing God who is consistent and powerful – precisely what God wants us to know about Him! Disease reminds us how frail we really are – countless people have been arrogant when they were hale and hearty but humbled themselves before God when sickness brought reality home. Sudden deaths by accidents are a reminder (for those willing to listen) that the time to get right with God is now (2 Corinthians 6:2); you don't know when you will die and it will be too late (Hebrews 9:27).

Feature 4: Strategically placed suffering points observant humans to the fact that something has gone desperately wrong with the human race. Once a human acknowledges this, he is on the path to recognizing what the root of the problem is, and what its solution is. Thus, strategically placed suffering is one of the ways God draws people to Him.

Feature 5: If your hand didn't hurt when it touched the oven, you would continue touching it, and your hand would suffer permanent damage. In a fallen world, some pain is a useful alarm.

Feature 6: Because people have to work for their living, they are kept from being idle and doing wrong. 

Man being sinful, God's justice demands that He introduce death and suffering. But as we analyze the means that He has used we find that He has used precisely those means that will draw honest observant humans to Him and enable them to escape eternal suffering in hell. Thus, God's mercy shines even in His earthly punishments. Of course, this will not apply in hell. If you insist on rejecting God and going to hell, you will get precisely what you deserve for your sins: infinite punishment, no mercy.

Point 6: Human Responsibility

God created a world without suffering. It is only after Adam and Eve sinned that God introduced suffering because of His justice and also to put a check on man hurting man (see Feature 6). None of us is morally superior to Adam and Eve. Thus, we humans (and not God) are responsible for the entry of evil into the world. That is not all: most of the suffering in the world today is because humans insist on acting irresponsibly. A few examples:-

The Nazi holocaust took place because Hitler was not "nipped in the bud". This was because, during the 1920s and 1930s (when Hitler was gaining power), it was politically correct in Europe and America to deny the real nature of Nazism. Today the West bows to political correctness and refuses to acknowledge Islam for what it is, and I won't be surprised if a few centuries later atheists complain: "How could your loving God allow beautiful progressive Europe to become a sharia state governed by 7th century Arabian tribal principles?!" It is stupid and irresponsible to blame God for the mess we allow before our eyes!

Much concern has been voiced about the poverty in Asia and Africa. Westerners are made to feel guilty for their prosperity and made to send aid money, which is promptly pocketed by corrupt Asian/African politicians and officials. Most people refuse to face the basic question: what is the one thing that the West has had in its history that Asia and Africa did not have (at least to the same extent), that enabled the West to prosper? Answer: Biblical Christianity. A strong Christian influence means honest politicians, better planning/policies, suppression of racism/the caste system, honest business, more philanthropy, etc: all the factors needed to make a nation prosperous. Apart from a few honest exceptions, most policy makers refuse to acknowledge this. The problem is not just with policy makers, but with "the poor" as well. In most Asian villages, you will be beaten up, arrested or even killed if you openly tell others about Jesus Christ. No, God has not forsaken them. They have forsaken God, and continue to reject Him.

On a similar note: despite the enormous contribution of foreign missionaries to healthcare in India, they are now banned. The Indian government would rather have thousands of Indians languish without healthcare, and remain illiterate, low-caste Hindus, than for them to get healthcare, education and possibly become Christians when they contrast kind missionaries with upper caste Hindus. Will you blame God when you see the poor, languishing Indians?

Food and water are scarce/expensive in the desert Arab countries. Just next door lies Israel, the world's leader in growing crops and harvesting water in arid land, desperate for peace and business opportunity. But will Arab governments allow the Israelis to help them? No. They claim that Israel is the "great Satan"; Jews are descended from pigs and apes; blood drinking cannibals who must be annihilated (see the Arab children's cartoon on the right). So do you think the God of the Bible is to be blamed when Arab children go hungry? 

In January 2005, India and Sri Lanka refused tsunami aid from Israel. So who is to be blamed for Indians and Sri Lankans who did not get aid? 

“All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.”  – Noah Webster

Point 7: Why is suffering lopsided?

It would be comforting if on earth, good things always happened to the relatively good people and vice versa. But they don't. This is because:-

Justice and fairness do not demand it. See Point 3 above.

Some of the lopsidedness is due to the requirement of Feature 3: For us to make sense of the world around us, it should function according to fixed physical laws. If God suspended the laws of nature every time a "good" person stepped on a banana peel or happened to be in a hurricane, science would not work. But God wants science to work, because it points to a God who is consistent and logical.

Some of the lopsidedness is macroscopic. Macroscopic patterns of suffering also point us to God. For instance, Western countries that have honored the Bible (at least in the past) are far better places to live in than the rest of the world, where honor for the God of the Bible has been scant. This points us to God. (I'm not trying to be racist here - I'm Asian). Similarly, the Jews have been ruthlessly persecuted and at the same time extraordinarily resilient just as the Bible predicted thousands of years ago. This again points us to the God of the Bible.

Point 8: Why is suffering so intense?

The intensity of individual suffering often seems far in excess of what a person deserves. For instance, a child is brutally abused by his or her parents, or a responsible parent meets with an accident and loses a limb. However, look at Points 2 and 3 above. It follows from them that no matter how much a person suffers on earth, it is not in excess of what he or she deserves. I know this sounds outrageous - because we are so used to thinking in terms of our standards. But this is God's universe in which His standards are applicable. But also consider this: in the darkness of the absolutely horrifying penalty of sin demanded by God's justice, His solution to sin shines even brighter. When we realize the immensity of the punishment that we deserve, we cannot but be overwhelmed by God's grace and mercy in providing a way out!

Point 9: If God is almighty, why do even His own followers suffer?

First, I need to make a clarification. Not every one who claims to be a follower of God really is! See How to distinguish between true and false Christianity? Having said that, it is also true that God’s followers suffer. There’s no need to be surprised about it, since God did not promise a hunky dory life for those who’d obey Him. Why do His followers suffer?
  • They still live in a world which has viruses, terrorists and so on. God does not take people out of this world when they decide to follow Him.
  • Sometimes God uses the suffering of an individual as a test – to show everyone concerned just how genuine his/her faith is (see 1 Peter 1:7).
  • God sometimes uses difficulty to teach spiritual lessons to His disciples (2 Corinthians 12:7)
My suffering hardly gives me license to complain. God has saved me from what I really deserve: infinite suffering in hell and is instead giving me a blissful, eternal future. I have no right to protest to Him if He allows some suffering in my present life.

Point 10: If God is almighty, why is Satan roaming freely today?

According to the Bible, Satan is the leader of the angels that have rebelled against God (more details here).
 
The God of the Bible is a Person who values and delights in the genuine love and fellowship of other persons. So He created human beings and angels. Since love is genuine only if it voluntary, God gave humans and angels free will - the choice to obey or rebel against God. Satan and other angels have chosen to rebel against God.

God desires more than mere love and interaction from humans. He wants absolute, faithful allegiance. As an analogy, a man desires mere friendship from women in general, but he wants absolute loyalty and devotion from his wife. Suppose a man intends to marry a woman. He kidnaps her and does not allow her to so much as look at another man, but he is convinced that she loves him and will be a good wife. But there is another man who allows his prospective wife to interact with other men – he gives her the chance to choose between him and them. She meets many men and evaluates them. Only when she makes it clear that she has chosen him over all the other men does he agree to marry her. Is it not obvious that the woman's love in the first marriage is questionable? On the other hand, the woman's love in the second case is genuine.

Similarly, God wants only those humans who will be genuinely devoted to him. Such devotion has to be demonstrated by choosing God when other alternatives are also available. Satan wants to usurp God's position (see Isaiah 14:14), and thus wants the worship and devotion of humans – that actually belongs to God. Even if people do not directly worship him, Satan is happy if they do not worship God.

Thus, God has allowed Satan to roam freely and allowed him to seduce humans; this tests which human beings truly want to follow God, and which humans are willing to ignore Him if given the chance. God wants worshipers by choice, not default. (Note that Satan can only do what God allows Him to do).

This raises another question: Even without setting up "tests", God knows which humans would choose Him, and which humans wouldn't, so why doesn't God just pick the right humans Himself?

Answer: If God did this, He would come across as arbitrary. It is God's policy to demonstrate His righteousness to those involved. So God won't put you into hell saying: "Oh, I know you'll reject or ignore me if I were to give you the chance". You will only go to hell after you have demonstrated to yourself and to others (with your choices) that you prefer Satan's illusions instead of the true God. That is why hell is a place of "wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:50), not protests of innocence.

Point 11: Animal Suffering

God made animals for man's welfare – they would be part of the same food chain and hence have bodies similar to humans. The same laws of science that allow microorganisms to become pathogens to sinful humans would allow microorganisms to become pathogens to animals as well.
 
For science to be possible (this is a worthy objective because as stated above, science draws honest minds to God), the laws of gravity or floatation cannot be suspended every time an animal encounters a flood or earthquake.  Thus, animals will suffer in them. As explained above, earthquakes and volcanoes happen due to a ruptured, unstable crust – a relic of Noah's Flood, which God had to bring to put an end to the violent, berserk anarchy that the pre-Flood human race chose to be.
 
Mr Smith, a rich businessman from UK decided to shift to Somalia and become a peasant there. He cannot live without his children, so he took them along. His children, who used to enjoy good education and facilities in the UK are now suffering poverty and all its ill effects in Somalia. The father's decision has an effect on the children, because the children are under the father. It is not possible that while the father is toiling on his Somalian field, his daughter will be enjoying piano lessons at the Trinity college of music. God made man to be over His creation, which included the animals. When man fell, he dragged down the rest of God's creation, just like Mr Smith dragged his children down to the Somalian standard of living.
 
Some animal suffering takes place because after the Fall, God endowed the animals with violent instincts (while still retaining much of the beauty in the animal world). This beauty coupled with violence conveys an important message: the beauty in the animal world reminds man that a loving God has created the world. The violence is a reminder that something has gone horribly wrong, and we ought to look for a solution. Thus, the violence that God has allowed in the animal kingdom is part of His making an opportunity for us to come back to Him - something of infinitely good value. See Romans 8:20-22. Atheists who complain about carnivorous behavior should prove that earth's food chain
 
So God is not to be blamed for animal suffering. We are. When Christ takes over the earth during the Millennium, there will be no animal suffering.

Conclusion

Thus, the observed suffering in the world does not disprove God's love, but it illustrates the incredibly high standards of His holiness and wisdom. If you study the vastness of our universe, and the intricacy of scientific laws and nature, you get some idea of how powerful and intelligent God is. His holiness is also way up there. So is His love! If there is anything that eclipses God's justice, it is His love and mercy (James 2:13). It is better to light a candle than to curse the dark. Similarly, it is better to avail of God's plan for a world devoid of suffering than to blame God for the consequences of our poor choices. The problem of evil is an old one; many before you and me have grappled with it and found answers. In the Bible, Habakkuk begins by wrestling with this problem and complaining to God. He ends by singing for joy. You have no right to complain about evil if you reject God's solution to it.
 
Also see:
  1. Is the God of the Bible ethical?
  2. Atheism provides no basis for morality
  3. Atheist ethics is self-contradictory
  4. Human suffering
If you wish to debate me on this topic, please first respond to points 2 and 3 and also explain in detail how you expect a loving, powerful God to deal with His world.
 
Further reading:
  • Lewis, C. S. 1978. The Problem of Pain. New York, NY: Macmillan Company
  • Myres, Edward P. 1978. The Problem of Evil and Suffering. Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press.
  • Wilder-Smith, A.E. 1960. Why does God allow it? San Diego, CA: Creation-Life.
  • Clarkson, E. Margaret. 1972. Grace grows best in winter. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House