The headlines scream at us, invoking fear, loathing, anger or pity. It matters little what the headline reads, the feelings produced are palpable. We hear of those hurt, or those who did the hurting. Other headlines portray a world where nature itself seems to oppose mankind. Natural disasters and catastrophes abound. For centuries people have asked the Question of Evil: why does a loving, all powerful, good God allow bad things to happen? Christians must come to grips with this question if we are to provide answers to a hurting world.
This question gets asked enough to make one want to scream. Many o history’s most outspoken atheists came to their religion (Yes, Atheism is a religion, requiring as much faith as Christianity.) through this question. Seeing suffering and injustice—the poor starving, the greedy prospering, the innocent hurt and the criminal unpunished—many conclude that if God exists he must be an uncaring or capricious ogre unworthy of worship. From Bertrand Russell and Charles Darwin, to Stephen Hawking the question of evil has been pervasive and influential, causing many to reject faith in God.
If God is loving and all-powerful, it stands to reason that such a powerful being could stop evil and such a loving being would choose to do so. This makes sense, but like most things there is more below the surface. Before we consider an answer to the question, let’s dig into the question itself a bit.
The Christian God is defined as personal, loving, active, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. With such a God it is assumed that no evil should befall man. Since it is obvious that bad things happen several assumptions are made by the skeptic:
God is not loving because he doesn’t care to act;
God is not active because he chooses to sit back rather than act;
God is not omnipotent because he can’t act;
God is not omnipresent because he is not present to act; or
God is not omniscient because he is unaware action is needed.
Acceptance of any of these is a rejection of the traditionally held view of God and often leads to a total rejection of Theism.
I have taken the usual arguments and expanded them giving the skeptic the benefit. As you read these, notice one similarity—all considered options assume God is deficient. All responsibility for evil and the stopping of it is placed solely on God. No responsibility is placed on wayward man and none will be because the idea of personal responsibility and judgment scares the atheist more than a prayer meeting. Also notice that the skeptic here makes a straw-man out of God: redefining him from the imagination of the skeptic until he is easily knocked over.
One of these is the Achilles heel for either faith or disbelief. Most assume the ability to act and only question the motive for not acting. Can a God who allows these evils truly be called loving? If so, why does he allow evil to happen? There are usually two contexts in which this discussion comes up: harm befalling a perceived innocent (moral evil) and natural disaster (natural evil).
The most common example of moral evil, because they are the most heart-rending, are children hurt by wayward adults. Our hearts break for the hurt child and our blood boils for the animal that hurt them. It is natural to assume a loving God would, should, must step in to stop this from happening. If he doesn’t love enough to stop this then does he love at all, or does he even exist?
There are two sides to consider—the one (s) hurt and one (s) doing the hurting—deliverance and justice. As I write this understand that I worked two years as a prison guard where a majority of inmates were sexual offenders. These people were convicted of horrible, unspeakable acts, often perpetrated on children. I say this to alleviate any idea that I am what we used to call a “hug-a-thug.” I have for years been a supporter of forced castration for sexual predators and have no problem expanding the death penalty to include the most notorious of these.
With that said, I must ask, who is innocent? According to scripture no one, not even children are innocent. Children are not accountable for their sin, but they are still born in sin. Every person born is a sinner who needs the grace of God through Christ to be saved. A loving God would impartially love the victim and the perpetrator. This is not to say that God sees the child as morally equivalent to the predator, or that the child deserves to be hurt, but that he sees neither as beyond his love. God loves the victim, the perpetrator and everyone involved in both sides of the case. While the way we would handle the event is based on vengeance the way he handles it is motivated by love—just like everything else he does.
As an all-knowing being God sees much more than the event. He sees the unfolding drama around it: parents and the impact it will have on them, the results in the perpetrator’s life when caught, etc. God acts out of love and knows what will result from stopping the action and from permitting it to play out. Don’t overlook the fact that many children in harm’s way are found before the harm is done. If we are to blame God for the bad we must thank him for the good. Omnipotence, among other things includes the power to bring good from evil. It also includes the right to decide if evil is to be permitted in order to bring out good, or if the evil must be restrained.
Of course, we have to ask if God is then liable. If I saw a child being harmed and decided not to help or intercede I would expect to be prosecuted. Does this mean that we can prosecute God? Of course not! If I fail to act it is through cowardice, apathy, or weakness. God on the other hand works in our lives through everything including the worst evils. He is active healing wounded bodies and minds. God continues to work behind the scenes to bring good out of the evil that a sick twisted individual decided to do.
Couldn’t God have taken action to stop this person? Yes, and as I said before at times he does. But the hard fact is that sometimes he does not. If he chose he could strike the perpetrator dead. Face it! This is what we all want to see when asking this question. We want to see bolts of lightning falling on sexual offenders even before victim is hurt. To be honest, I’d pay money to see that and so would you. We know we are sinners and the wonderful part of the gospel is that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” God is not going to strike someone dead for looking at porn. He is not going to strike someone dead for cheating on their taxes, or lying to get out of a ticket. These are just a few of the many possible sins that God forgives and saves us from when we come to Christ.
People asking the question of evil when a child gets hurt are not thinking that God should strike the perpetrator down after the action, but want God to intercede and strike this person before the action. What would life be like if God had a practice of striking us dead before sin? Remember, sin is sin. Scripture equates murder, adultery and cheating as equal sins rightfully condemned by God and deserving of death. Perhaps God would say of you: “Someday you are going to cheat on your taxes, so I am going to strike you dead now to prevent it.” He would be within his rights as God to do so. He could wipe every man, woman and child off the earth and been perfectly justified. When looking from this view we should all thank God that he doesn’t take such preemptive action. God mercifully allows the vilest persons to make decisions while lovingly reaching out to them. Should God have stopped the action? Should God have struck this person dead? Since you and I are on this side of omniscience we can’t know the answer. We have to trust his decision to be the most loving and the most just.
What about natural disasters? When Florida underwent a terrible hurricane season with terrible destruction many were asking why a loving God did not stop this from happening. One evangelist muddied the waters blaming the catastrophe on state support for homosexuality. Do you want to know why Florida gets hit with hurricanes? It sticks out into the ocean—nothing more scientific or prophetic than that. Do you want to know why hurricanes do so much damage there? The whole state sits only a few feet above sea level. When you choose to build on the beach you end up swimming in your living room eventually. No divine judgment needed—its cause is human misjudgment. Was New Orleans so damaged by Katrina because of Mardis Gras? Actually it so badly damaged because so much of the city sits below sea level. Should God be blamed for Florida or New Orleans?
So why doesn’t God stop hurricanes from happening? Hurricanes have an important function; like forest fires they are part of the system of renewal. As forests get thicker they start to choke out some important plants and the whole ecosystem can be thrown out of whack. Only a fire (or logging) can clear these areas out to allow those plants to come back and the ecosystem to balance out. You either remove the trees or nature does. The same happens along the shore lines. Junk piles up on the beach—from the land and the sea. Hurricanes come through and wipe everything away leaving a clean slate—shorelines are altered, new habitat created and old habitat rejuvenated.
If you know hurricanes are going to happen and it’s just a matter of time till the big one, then aren’t people to blame when they put themselves in harm’s way. Must God reorder creation to suit man’s speculative endeavors? Does your desire for a beach front house trump God’s plan for creation? Stop blaming God when a hurricane knocks your windows out—move.
God is a loving God. He is also just and sovereign. He has the right to decide how to mete out justice and when to be merciful and gracious. He is not to be blamed when a person does a senseless act or when people act foolishly and put themselves in harm’s way. The question of evil is really an effort to redefine God in our own image. If God is as good and loving as me then he should agree with my priorities. Get over yourself, you are not God!