If God is loving, why is the world so evil? I often hear this question from those who have been victims of domestic violence. For some, having experienced evil that God did not prevent has made them doubt God exists.
I am currently getting a master’s degree in Christian counseling. The question of evil came up in an assignment in my theology class. I thought I would share what I am learning.
Theologians have wrestled with this question for centuries. As Christians, we believe God is good, and that there is no evil in him. If that is true, why is there so much evil in the world? Maniacs go into schools and begin shooting children, women and men are trafficked and forced to “service” 10 – 20 men a day, a husband* who has promised to “love, honor and cherish” his wife treats her with contempt – she lives in fear of him. How can any of these things be considered “good”?
Theologian Michael Bird** points out that
in order to call something “evil,” we have to believe in an absolute standard, and the absolute standard must originate with God. Tweet This
In other words, how can we know what is evil if someone does not tell us what is right or wrong? He points out that without the absolute standard of a good sovereign God, we would not be able to define any action as morally good or evil. He uses this example to make his point:
If there were no God telling us that humans have inherent worth, and that therefore, murder is wrong, then helping an old lady across the street would be no better morally than pushing her in front of a bus. It would truly be everyone “doing what is right in their own eyes,” (Judges 17:6, ESV). We would have no moral compass.
I have always believed in what theologians call the “free-will defense.” In other words, God gave us free-will so that we could freely choose whether to love him or not. If he had not given us free-will, then our “love” for him would not have been love at all. We would be more like puppets, being pulled along by the strings God moves. Therefore, since God’s ultimate purpose is to love us, and be loved in return, he had to allow us the choice to choose right or wrong. I believe that God can use the evil people do for his good purposes, (see what happened to Joseph in Genesis 50:20). To me, people choose evil, then God works circumstances to come out for the ultimate good, (Romans 8:28).
I believe God is good, and that he is sovereign. Sovereignty has to do with kingship. There is absolutely nothing that happens in the universe that is outside of God’s influence and authority. As King of kings and Lord of lords, God has no limitations. Isaiah 55:9 says that, God’s “ways are higher than <our> ways and <his> thoughts <are greater> than <our> thoughts.” God is also omniscient. This means that he knows what will happen in the future as easily as he knows what happened in the past. Therefore, God understands the true meaning of an action, whether it is good or evil, because he knows what will ultimately come out of the action. Because we are not able to see into the future, we don’t know what the outcome of an action will be. It is highly possible that something that feels evil to us will bring about incredible good in our future, or in the future of others.
I will give an example from my own life. My first husband treated me with contempt and abuse. I struggled for years to try to understand why God would allow my “Christian” husband to behave in such an evil way. I finally had to seek a divorce before I lost my mind or my life. For years, I could only see the evil in that situation. Years later, God brought me my current, amazing, loving, godly husband. Since we married, we have mended the broken hearts of our combined children, served at an orphanage for several years, supported countless missionaries and organizations, and fed the homeless. We are both now studying to become counselors to help others who are in pain. In my own personal life, God has brought beauty from ashes, (Isaiah 61:3). If my first husband had not abused me, I would have never divorced him, nor met and married my amazing husband. I wouldn’t have experienced terrible pain and sadness, but I would also not have experienced the incredible joy of sharing my life and working to help others with my second husband.
God designed our world to be good. He created it with beauty, and infinite complexity. One tree has thousands of leaves, and there are millions of trees in the world. Every snowflake that falls to earth is beautiful and unique. He gave us mountains and oceans, with all the plants and animals found in each. It is mind-blowing. God also created humans in his image – a high honor. We have the capability for great good, but also for great evil.
God created everything that exists. He sustains everything in the earth – moving the sun and moon in perfect rotation, and giving each living being breath. While it is possible for God to personally supernaturally intervene in our lives, he rarely works that way. Most of the time, God uses humans to bring about his purposes. An example of this would be a surgeon taking a tumor from someone’s body. No, God did not reach down and personally remove the tumor, but he did give the surgeon the skill and ability to do it. Another example would be how he uses counselors to help people heal their broken hearts. Yes, he could snap his fingers and have all their pain disappear, but he chooses to let others invest in that healing.
Though God does not often personally intervene in our lives, he is not sitting up in the sky, indifferent to what happens on earth. God is intimately involved with us. He loves us and cares about what happens to us. This is sometimes difficult to feel or believe. If God really cared for us, and is all-powerful and all-knowing, couldn’t he have prevented our pain? Yes, of course he could have. So why did he allow it? This is a really good question. I will answer this in next week’s blog.
Question: Have you ever doubted God’s existence, his goodness or his power?
Psalm 139:1 – 6 says:
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
May you feel God’s presence today,
*Abusers and their victims can be male or female. For simplicity, in this blog, I use “he” for the abuser and “she for the victim.”
**Michael Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.