By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
Quotation For Consideration
“If all that you can see is the Devil in your injustice or abuse, you will never be free from the power of your past. You must see God too—you must see Him as permitting the evil and intending to use the evil for some higher end. We can only move beyond our past when we can embrace it as part of a plan. And while others meant it for evil, we must see it as God intending it for our good. That gives us an entirely different perspective and enables us to give praise to God—not for the evil as such but for how God will use it in our lives.” (Erwin W. Lutzer, When You’ve Been Wronged: Overcoming Barriers To Reconciliation, 127 (Kindle Edition); Chicago; Moody Press)
Questions For Consideration
What is “evil?”
Is God responsible for evil?
Is freedom actually good?
In our study of the Book of Job, we have carefully examined several philosophies to try and make sense of the existence of evil, pain, and suffering in our universe.
We have learned that each of these belief systems are fundamentally flawed, and cannot account for the existence of evil, pain, and suffering.
Atheism. The belief system that states that there is no God does not adequately explain the existence of evil, pain, and suffering. Atheism is irrational in that the atheist must become God in order to prove that there is no God. Atheism is also unscientific in that the laws of science clearly demonstrate that there is an eternal Creator.
Sadism. The belief system which tries to explain the existence of evil, pain, and suffering in our universe due to God being evil is also shown to be flawed. The goodness of God is demonstrated in countless ways each day. His character and His response to man’s wickedness and blasphemies quickly defeats the notion that God is evil, as does the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary on behalf of God’s enemies.
Dualism. The idea of dualism (e.g., that there are two co-eternal “gods” locked in an eternal struggle, one good and one evil) is also unable to account for the existence of evil, pain, and suffering in our universe. Evil cannot be eternal, since it can only exist in what is first good, and because there must always be a standard of goodness prior to evil by which the evil is judged as such. Therefore, the devil cannot be eternal.
Karma. The ancient belief system of karma (which states that all suffering is a direct result of personal sin, committed either in this life or a previous life) is unable to account for the existence of evil, pain, and suffering in our universe. The idea of karma does not solve the problem of evil; it compounds it. Further, we know that karma is not true since Job did not suffer as a result of personal sin. Further, the doctrine of karma is not true because the notion of “past lives” (i.e., reincarnation and transmigration of souls) is shown to be false.
In this article, we will begin carefully investigating whether or not the Bible itself provides an adequate explanation for the existence of evil, pain, and suffering in our universe.
We will be studying especially about the relationship between Freedom And Evil, Pain, And Suffering.
What exactly is “evil?”
The Lord spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah and gives a good working definition of the word:
Jeremiah 18:9-10-And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, 10 if it DOES EVIL in My sight so that it DOES NOT OBEY MY VOICE, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.
Did you catch that? Evil is a failure to do what God commands.
In other words, “evil” is “sin.”
“Evil is, in reality, a parasite that cannot exist except as a hole in something that should be solid. In some cases, though, evil is more easily explained as a case of bad relationships. If I pick up a good gun, put in a good bullet, point it at my good head, put my good finger on the good trigger and give it a good pull … a bad relationship results. The things involved are not evil in themselves, but the relationship between the good things is definitely lacking something. In this case, the lack comes about because the things are not being used as they ought to be. Guns should not be used for indiscriminate killing, but are fine for recreation. My head was not meant to be used for target practice. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with strong winds moving in a circle, but a bad relationship arises when the funnel of wind goes through a mobile home park. Bad relation ships are bad because the relationship is lacking something, so our definition of evil still holds. Evil is a lack of something that should be there in the relationship between good things….But if Adam and Eve were perfect, how did they fall? Don’t blame it on the snake because that just backs the question up one step; didn’t God make the snake perfect too?…To be free we had to have not only the opportunity to choose good, but also the ability to choose evil. That was the risk God knowingly took. That doesn’t make Him responsible for evil. He created the fact of freedom; we perform the acts of freedom. He made evil possible; men made evil actual. Imperfection came through the abuse of our moral perfection as free creatures.”. (Norman Geisler & Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook On Christian Evidences, 61-62 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
Yet even this is not an adequate enough definition.
We must distinguish between “moral” evil (sin) and “natural” evil (what we might term suffering, earthquakes, sicknesses, death, etc.).
The Hebrew word ra (translated in several different ways in the Old Testament) carried all of these connotations in the word “evil.”
Randy Alcorn explains:
“Most people today understand evil as anything that causes harm. The Bible uses the word evil in a broader way to describe anything that violates God’s moral will and therefore displeases him. Evil is more than merely the absence of good; it’s the corruption of good, like rust on metal or cancer in the cells of a living body. The first human sin, when Eve and Adam disobeyed God (see Genesis 3), initiated sweeping consequences, including a curse on the natural world. That initial moral evil loosed ever-expanding suffering. So suffering follows evil as a caboose follows an engine. We can therefore think of moral wrongdoing as primary evil and suffering as secondary evil. Secondary evils are things that happen to us that we don’t like; they’re caused by primary evils, which are things we do that God doesn’t like.”. (Randy Alcorn, If God Is Good, Why Do We Hurt? 11-12 (Kindle Edition): MultNomah Books)
We see this demonstrated in the very beginning of human history, in the Book of Genesis. Suffering and death in the Creation were introduced into the world by the choice of Adam and Eve to commit evil (Genesis 2:15-17; Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 8:18-22).
Since sin is the choice to violate the commandments of God, then we need to better understand the nature of freewill.
Is Freedom Good?
According to Scripture, freedom is a “good thing.”
The Bible teaches that when God created the universe, He declared that everything which He had made was “very good” (Genesis 1:31-literally, the best it could be).
Yet one of the things which God endowed within His creation was freedom of choice (Genesis 1:26-27; 2:15-17).
Therefore, the ability to freely choose is “very good.”
“The fact is, it’s good to be free. No one ever marches against freedom, chanting, “Down with liberty! Back to bondage! I want to do only what the government tells me to do!” Even if someone attempted to speak against freedom, he would be speaking for it, since he believes it’s good to be free to express that view. That freedom is good is literally undeniable. But if it is good to be free, then evil is possible. Freedom means the power to choose otherwise. So in this present world if one is free to do good, he is also free to do evil. If one is free to love, he also is free to hate. If we are free to praise God, then we must be free to curse God. The very nature of our divinely given freedom makes evil possible. Any alleged “freedom” not to choose evil rather than good is not really freedom for a moral creature.”. (Norman L. Geisler, If God, Why Evil? A New Way To Think About The Question, 29-30 (Kindle Edition); Minneapolis, Minnesota; Bethany House Publishers)
Is God Responsible For Evil?
Throughout the Book of Job, we see that God is the One Who allows Job to suffer.
Yes, Satan is the one who does the actual attacking; but it is at the permissive will of God Himself that Satan is allowed to do so! For example, we are told:
Job 1:8-12 (CEV)-8 Then the LORD asked, “What do you think of my servant Job? No one on earth is like him—he is a truly good person, who respects me and refuses to do evil.”
9 “Why shouldn’t he respect you?” Satan remarked.
10 “You are like a wall protecting not only him, but his entire family and all his property. You make him successful in whatever he does, and his flocks and herds are everywhere.
11 Try taking away everything he owns, and he will curse you to your face.”
12 The LORD replied, “All right, Satan, do what you want with anything that belongs to him, but don’t harm Job.” Then Satan left.
Job 2:3-6 (CEV)-3 Then the LORD asked, “What do you think of my servant Job? No one on earth is like him—he is a truly good person, who respects me and refuses to do evil. And he hasn’t changed, even though you persuaded me to destroy him for no reason.”
4 Satan answered, “There’s no pain like your own. People will do anything to stay alive.
5 Try striking Job’s own body with pain, and he will curse you to your face.”
6 “All right!” the LORD replied. “Make Job suffer as much as you want, but just don’t kill him.”
The Bible is clear that God Himself does not do anything which is morally evil (cf. Genesis 18:25; Deuteronomy 32:4; 2 Chronicles 19:7), and we can be certain from the perfectly good Nature of God that He can never do anything wicked (Psalm 92:15; James 1:13-17; 1 John 1:5; Acts 14:17).
While God cannot be held accountable for the wickedness of mankind, there is a sense in which He is indirectly responsible for evil.
Commenting on Isaiah 45:7, two authors write:
“Further, there is an indirect sense in which God is the author of moral evil. God created moral beings with free choice, and free choice is the origin of moral evil in the universe. So, ultimately God is responsible for making moral creatures who are responsible for moral evil. God made evil possible by creating free creatures, but the free creatures made evil actual. Of course, the possibility of evil (i.e., free choice) is itself a good thing. So, God created only good things, one of which was the power of free choice, and moral creatures produced the evil. However, God is the author of a moral universe and in this indirect and ultimate sense is the author of the possibility of evil. Of course, God only permitted evil, but does not promote it, and He will ultimately produce a greater good through it (cf. Gen. 50:20 ; Rev. 21–22 ).”. (Norman Geisler & Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook On Bible Difficulties, 4059-4065 (Kindle Edition); Victor Books)
In describing the ways in which freewill and the nature of God are compatible in the face of evil, pain, and suffering, Powell points out:
“Very simply stated, the free will defense suggests the possibility that: An all-knowing, all-powerful, all-benevolent God created human beings as free moral agents. This entails the ability to choose evil as well as good. Because God is all-knowing, He knew evil would result; because He is all-powerful, He could create the world in alternate ways; and because He is all-benevolent and morally perfect, He could only have good reasons for making the world in this way. As a result, God may have created the potential for evil, but human beings, because they have chosen evil things, made it actual. But this actualizing of evil was not news to God. Thus, ultimately, there is evil in the world because God has a good reason for its existence.”. (Doug Powell, Holman Quicksource Guide To Christian Apologetics: A Clear And Concise Overview, 4331-4337 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Holman Reference)
Freedom Without Consequence?
Many believe that God could have created a world in which freedom existed, and not consequence.
In other words, they believe that God should have endowed mankind with freedom, and yet made the world in such a way that there were no negative consequences for mankind’s actions.
However, a little consideration will show the impossibility of this line of reasoning.
What good can be accomplished from a world where there are no consequences for wrongdoing?
If a child is allowed to do as he wishes and break any rule which he wishes, what will the fate be of that child?
Will the child grow and mature?
Or will it continue to behave as a spoiled child, even long after he has reached adulthood?
Consequences for wrongdoing are necessary for growth to take place.
How is either God or mankind benefited from a world bereft of consequence?
As early as the Garden of Eden, we see that mankind needed this power to choose and to suffer consequence for wrongdoing.
Speaking in the context of the horrible Virginia Tech shooting, Jim Pace discussed these deep insights:
“I used to be very angry with God about that tree. Tempting them like that? It was only a matter of time before they wouldn’t be able to restrain themselves. And then what? He blames them ? How long did God expect they would make it before, to their ears, the “you can eat everything but that one tree” became “you can eat everything but that one tree”?…I have come to appreciate the risk of that tree for God— and the necessity of that tree for us. Simply put, that tree made us real: it gave us choice. God wasn’t looking to make some complicated hamsters that he could set up in a sweet cage. He created us for real relationship with him. Real relationship simply cannot exist if you cannot choose something else other than that relationship. We pity a woman whose husband or boyfriend keeps her locked in their house, monitors the few phone calls he allows her to have, and keeps even her family at arm’s length. No one would call that love. Had God not offered the tree and with it the opportunity to rebel against him, he would have been that guy. Love that isn’t chosen is forced. In giving us that tree and making the warning very clear, he gave us choice, even the option to reject his guidance and companionship. He knew very well that decision would cost him dearly, but it was what was best for us.” (Jim Pace, Should We Fire God? Finding Hope In God When We Don’t Understand, 829-842 (Kindle Edition); New York, NY; FaithWords Hachette Book Group)
Indirect Consequences Of Sin
The decision of mankind to rebel against God brought catastrophic consequences to our world. While suffering is sometimes the result of personal sin (Galatians 6:7-8), this is not always the case (such as Job and the teachings of the rest of the Bible prove).
Sometimes, we suffer for the consequences of others’ sins. This is powerfully demonstrated in the Fall of Mankind in the Garden of Eden:
“To help understand Creation and the Fall, the image of three iron rings suspended from a magnet is helpful. The magnet symbolizes God; the first ring, the soul; the middle ring, the body; and the bottom ring, nature. As long as the soul stays in touch with God, the magnetic life keeps flowing through the whole chain, from divine life to soul life, body life and nature life. The three rings stay harmonized, united, magnetized. But when the soul freely declares its independence from God, when the first iron ring separates from the magnet, the inevitable consequence is that the whole chain of rings is demagnetized and falls apart. When the soul is separated from God, the body is separated from the soul-that is, it dies-and also from nature-that is, it suffers. For the soul’s authority over the body is a delegated authority, as is humanity’s authority over nature. When God the delegator is rejected, so is the authority he delegated. If you rebel against the king, his ministers will no longer serve you. Thus both suffering and sin are traced to man, not God.” (Peter Kreeft & Ronald Kitacelli, Handbook Of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds Of Answers To Crucial Questions, 135 (Kindle Edition); Downers Grove, Illinois; InterVarsity Press)
We have noticed that the Bible teaches that pain and suffering in our universe are a result (directly and/or indirectly) of sin against God. Evil is the decision of free moral against to rebel against the Word of God. Such evil produces suffering in our world.
While God is indirectly responsible for sin (in that He endowed His Creation with the good blessing of freewill), it is the created beings (of mankind and of angelkind) who are responsible for actually bringing evil into the world.
In our next lesson, we will carefully study about the teaching of the Bible and the existence of evil, pain, and suffering.
In particular, we will investigate the questions of angels and freewill, and how such an understanding helps us better understand why the universe is in such a state as it is today.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.