Life’s a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A mixture of good and bad. Of treats and terrors; happiness and horror; pleasure and pain.
We call the bad “evil.” Sometimes it’s particularly bad. Think, for example, of victims of terrorism, pedophilia, or a drunk driver.
When particularly bad evil happens a question rises, demanding an answer as insistently as a White House journalist at a Presidential press conference. You know the question. Heard it a thousand times. Probably asked it yourself once or twice.
How can a good God allow evil?
It’s an important question. We need to know how to answer it for our own and others’ sakes. It’ll take several posts to gather all that the Bible says but the time will be worth it.
4 Answers to an Important Question
A good place to begin is by considering the four basic answers to this question.
- The atheist’s answer: Evil is present because no God exists to prevent it.
It’s a Wonderful Life is a movie about a small town do-gooder named George Bailey. As a kid George saves his younger brother Harry from drowning. Harry later saves a ship’s crew from death by shooting down an enemy fighter plane about to fire on them. Later in the movie, after a crisis, the angel Clarence grants George’s wish never to have lived. Soon after this George is shown that this means those men weren’t saved by Harry. Why? Clarence tells him, “Harry wasn’t there to save those men, George, because you weren’t there to save Harry.”
George’s non-existence explained Harry’s experience of evil. Similarly, many argue that the presence of evil is due to the absence of God. Evil exists because there’s no God to prevent it. Obviously, this answer will no more appeal to a believer than an Outback steak to a Vegan.
- The theist’s answer: Evil is present because the God Who exists can’t prevent it.
Rabbi Harold Kushner is a well-known theist. He believes in God. But the “God” he believes in, according to his New York Times bestseller When Bad Things Happen to Good People, isn’t much of a God. In fact, He’s a virtual Barney Fife of a deity, as kindhearted yet impotent as Mayberry’s deputy sheriff. Kushner’s God is good and wants to keep evil from vandalizing His world. But He’s weak as Superman before its kryptonite.
So, evil’s here because God can’t stop it. Speaking for myself alone, I find this cure worse than the disease. In many ways this God needs us more than we need Him!
- The standard Christian answer: Evil is present but the God who exists leaves us in the dark about it.
In his book The Grand Demonstration Jay Adams talks about an FBI agent who had an in-depth conversation with a famous Christian theologian about the presence of evil and how God can plan evil yet blame Satan and people for what they do. The theologian gave the agent the paradox placebo: God’s left us in the dark about such things and calls us to trust Him.
Specifically, God doesn’t answer the “Why?” question: why has He included evil in His plan? Now, there are E-MC2 mechanics about God and evil that the smartest of us will no more understand than a kindergartner will grasp nuclear physics. Because of that, even when we get a handle on what God does tell us we’ll need to listen to Proverb’s counsel, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (3:5-6).
Still, I believe God has answered the “Why?” question. And I believe His answer gives believers reason to be optimistic about Him in the presence of evil’s worse nightmares.
- The Bible’s answer: Evil is present because God has included it in His plan for the purpose of glorifying Himself.
The Bible boldly declares that evil isn’t an off-the-reservation rogue agent with Jason Bourne-like skill, lethality, and elusiveness, wreaking havoc while God helplessly watches. Just the opposite.
When the Bible tells us that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11) it’s assuring us that even evil could no more exist than a match flame in a hurricane had God not planned it and did God not allow it to function. And—stunningly, indeed, shockingly—the Bible tells us that evil exists for one reason: God’s plan to glorify Himself by being good to His people: “Surely the wrath of man shall praise you; the remnant of wrath you will put on like a belt” (Psalm 76:10).
The Bible’s message about God’s purpose for evil will be as offensive to unbelievers as the message of the cross. But it’s this message alone that assures Christians that even in an experience of evil’s evilest evil we have reason to be optimistic about God. And it’s this message alone that gives us the optimism about God we need to cope Christianly with the presence of evil.
To be continued, Lord willing