Recent tragedies such as the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting or the Las Vegas massacre refocus the issue of evil in a vivid way. If there is a loving God, then why does He permit heinous crimes like this? Why doesn’t He intervene? The Christian cannot accept the claims of some that God “is not perfect and there are some things God does not control.”
My wife, Barb, and I suffered the tragic loss of our daughter Rhoda a few years ago. We know that such pain never really goes away. Yet, one thing is certain: The existence of evil does not eliminate God. Rather, it cries out for Him. In his book Mere Christianity, former atheist C.S. Lewis noted, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”
This is where the argument of evil as evidence against God’s existence boomerangs into an argument for His existence. If there is an ultimate moral standard or law of justice, then there must be an ultimate moral Law Giver. Without His moral law we would not even know what evil really is. And without His spiritual comfort we would not be able to endure evil—at least not with any realistic hope and comfort.
As the Apostle Paul said, we sorrow but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). And without His great power and love we would have no hope of ever getting a better world. Only a God who can bring good out of evil can solve this world’s problems.
Amid the world’s evils, we can cry out to God for comfort. Had it not been for all the Scripture I had committed to memory, such as Psalm 23; Isaiah 26:3, 40:31; John 14:1-6; Philippians 4:4-6; 2 Corinthians 4:17 and others, I don’t know what I would have done when our daughter died. I’ll never forget the trip from Asheville, N.C., to Charlotte after hearing of her untimely death. It was the longest two-hour trip I have ever taken. It felt like I was in a submarine, peering out through an ocean of tears. Nonetheless, I was able to cry out to God like Job: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21, KJV).
Heaven Will Not Be Like This
We can be sure that the world to come is not going to be like this one. This one is full of disaster, destruction and death. The next one will have none of these. John said it best: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away. … And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:1, 4, KJV).
We know that God is not the author of evil. After the final day of creation, God declared, “It is very good” (Cf. Genesis 1:31). Adam and Eve were put into a sinless paradise, but they rebelled against God in a deliberate and unprovoked act of disobedience and were expelled from Paradise. They died spiritually at the moment of their disobedience (Ephesians 2:1), and eventually they died physically.
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world and death through sin, and thus sin spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12, NKJV). Solomon said, “Truly, this only have I found: That God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Ecclesiastes 7:29, NKJV).
But if God made the world perfect, and the Paradise lost will become the Paradise regained, how did this one get so messed up? Why didn’t God make the first world and its people more perfect and skip this messed-up version in between?
The Purpose of Evil
The answer is two-fold. For one thing, God could have made a world with no evil in it. However, it would have been one of robots and puppets—creatures who could not love Him or anyone else. Love is possible only for free moral creatures; forced love is a contradiction. So, in order for the world to be morally good, it must be morally free. And free creatures are capable of free choices that bring disease, disaster and death. This is the world in which we live.
In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis explains a second point about suffering. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” The painful truth is that God is more interested in our holiness than in our happiness. He is more interested in our character than in our comfort.
More than a half-century of Christian experience has led me to the conviction that few enduring lessons in life come through pleasure. All of mine have come through pain. Yet, I have joyfully learned that the poet was right when he said that God is “good when He gives, supremely good; Nor less when He denies: Afflictions, from His sovereign hand, Are blessings in disguise.” For the lessons of life reveal that “tribulation worketh patience” (Romans 5:4, KJV), and “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17, KJV).
God Will Make Everything Right
Further, God is going to fix it up, but He hasn’t done it yet.
Here is the age-old dilemma: If God is all-good, as the Bible says, then He would want to get rid of evil. If He is all-powerful, then He could do it. But even a casual look at the evening news, to say nothing of mass violence, informs us that He has not defeated evil. Hence, the argument goes, there cannot be an all-good and all-powerful God.
While this logic sounds tight and painful, it is not faultless. Because God has not yet defeated all evil does not mean that He never will defeat it. Indeed, both good logic and the Bible declare that He will yet do away with evil. How so?
First, if God is all-powerful then He can do it, and if He is all-loving, then He wants to do it. And whatever He can and wants to do, He will do (Psalm 135:6). His very nature as an omnipotent and omni-benevolent being demands that evil will be vanquished.
Second, God already has done something about evil. He sent His only Son into the world to die for the world and to defeat evil. Evil was defeated officially at Christ’s first coming through His death and resurrection (Colossians 2:14, Hebrews 2:14, Ephesians 4:7-12). His victory over sin and the grave ensured Satan’s eventual defeat. The same Bible that accurately predicted Christ’s first coming through nearly 100 fulfilled prophecies promises that Christ will come again and will completely defeat evil.
Meanwhile, What Do We Do?
Jesus answered this in one word—repent. In Luke 13, Jesus hears the story of the Galileans “whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.” He asks if this happened to them because they were worse sinners than those who had not suffered such a tragic death. His answer was instructive: “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, NKJV). In short, in a free and fallen world, tragedies happen to people who are no more sinners than those to whom such events do not happen.
We are all sinners and we all need to repent and “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved” (Cf. Acts 16:31). Life is brief. You can never be sure how long it will last. We all should be prepared. ©2017 Norman L. Geisler
Norman L. Geisler is a prolific writer, Christian apologist and theologian who has authored and coauthored more than 96 books, including If God, Why Evil? He serves as a distinguished professor of theology and apologetics at both Southern Evangelical Seminary and Veritas Seminary.