by Ben Jones
Why do bad things happen to good people? That’s a simple version of the number one objection to God’s existence… How could a loving God allow so much evil and suffering in the world?
Establishing the Problem
This the number one objection to God/Christianity!
“Objections to theism come and go. Arguments many philosophers thought cogent twenty-five years ago have disappeared from view. A few other problems continue to get a sympathetic hearing from one constituency or another. But every philosopher I know believes that the most serious challenge to theism was, is, and will continue to be the problem of evil.”—Ronald Nash: 1988, 177.
“No! I will never say, ‘My son’s been murdered,’ and ‘God is good’ in the same sentence.”— Dianne Collard, after being reminded of the goodness of God by a friend at the funeral of her murdered son (“My Son Was Murdered,” Today’s Christian Woman: 2000, 42).
[song, story of Zosia]
Earthquake in Haiti, Earthquake in Japan, Tornadoes in Alabama The whole world asks the big question, not just you personally.
From all faiths people ask: Where was God in this unimaginable suffering?
Arch Bishop Canterbury (after Tsunamis killed nearly 300,000) stated that ‘this has made me question God’s existence.’
Some Christians, Jews, and Muslims said it is Divine Punishment. Reasons put forth for the great Tsunamis:
Hindus– Suffering for misdeeds in a previous life (reincarnation)
Some say that God cares and is just as heartbroken as we are, but he couldn’t stop it. Muslims– God caused it in order to kill non-Muslim vacationers on the beaches Buddhists– Nature is punishing people because they are not following the Lord Buddha
Catholics– One priest said, “This is a punishment and sign to all of mankind for sin and to show He is boss. In other words, people are so bad, that God is like, ‘to heck with it, let’s do some damage’
And then the poor fisherman from a devastated village says, “The mother has butchered her own children. Either there is no God, or God must be cruel to do this.”
Atheists- all the while, the atheist is saying, “Try to explain this one. Haven’t I said this all along? Let’s face reality- are you still gonna try to keep believing in an all-powerful, all-loving personal force who supposedly is in control and listens to your prayers? There is no God, and this only supports that fact.”
[ask for examples]
Or perhaps it’s not a devastating Tsunami on the other side of the world; perhaps it’s when you watch news about the rape and murder of a teenage girl. Or maybe it’s something in your own life that makes you ask, “What are you thinking, God?” “Why did you let that happen to her?” “Why did you let that happen to me?” “Are you punishing me?” “Are you punishing people around me, and I just happened to be there?” “Are you there?” “Do you care?” It will be personal.
This question will come up in your life, and in most every life you will come in contact with; that’s why it’s such an important topic to tackle. Is there any way to still believe in a good, great God, and then look at current reality and somehow come up with an answer that makes sense?
You’ll find that not only should evil and suffering not take the legs out from beneath your faith, but it will help substantiate what you have believed all along.
Before answering this question I would find out why it is being asked.
For someone going through suffering, the intellectual answer may seem dry, uncaring, and un- comforting. For someone contemplating it abstractly, the emotional answer may appear deficient as an explanation for evil. The intellectual answer would be concerned with a rational explanation. The emotional answer would be concerned with how to console those who are suffering and dissolve the emotional dislike of a God who would permit bad things to happen.
Intellectual- realm of the Philosopher
Emotional- realm of the Counselor
For instance, if someone was asking ‘why do bad things happen to good people’ because they were personally suffering, then I would be a friend and sympathetic listener and give an explanation such as this: I would show how God is not a distant, impersonal Being, but a loving God who shares our sufferings and hurts with us. If Christ has endured incomprehensible suffering for us to bring us salvation, surely we can endure the suffering that He asks us to bear in this life, as we await eternal joy in heaven. Think of what He endured out of love for you, and you will more easily trust Him when you walk the path of pain yourself.
For the intellectual questioner, here is the problem:
- God Exists
- God is all-knowing (omniscient)
- God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
- God is all-good, all-loving (omnibenevolent)
- Evil exists in the world
They don’t believe all of these could be true at the same time.
[Two assumptions are being made here:
- An all-powerful being can do absolutely everything.
- A good being would eliminate evil as as far as he can.]
They say that God either doesn’t know about the suffering and evil in the world, or He does not have the power to stop it, or He is not a good God. Or He doesn’t exist at all. In many minds, one of these points must be false.
Here are a few possible answers:
- We live in a fallen world. Let’s start at the beginning. Turn to Gen. 1:1. Here we find out what God is like, because He created the earth just the way He wanted it. Read Gen 1: 1-4, 9-10, 12, 21, 25, 27-28, 31. When God created this earth, He had it just the way He wanted it; it was all GOOD, and even VERY good when humans came into the picture. And it was exactly the way we know it ought to be now. So what happened?? How did evil creep into the world? Where did it come from? You know, none of your children are going to have to be taught how to lie. Why is that? Why can’t people just behave? Why can’t countries just get along?
- Ask yourself this question first: How do we know things aren’t as they should be? How do we know this is good and this is not good? Where did that knowledge come from? Why do we know that the wind blowing over all the new trees you worked so hard to plant is different than hundreds killed in tornadoes? I mean, it’s all just nature- just accept it and move on. How come one makes you question your faith, and one doesn’t?
- Let’s say your church plans a huge outdoor event. Lots of time, effort, and planning goes into it, but it’s rained out at the last minute. Let’s say the coordinator comes up to you and says, “I can no longer believe in God.” You ask, “Why?” She responds, “Because if God were good, He would not have allowed it to rain out this great, even worshipful, event that we planned for all these people.” You’d think she was being silly. But how come we just know this is different from the questioning that comes from devastation, suffering, and death around the world?
- This is huge. Why do all of us, no matter your background, religion, or faith, is able to reach outside ourselves to some general universal sense of right and wrong and say that the Japanese Earthquake and the raping of that little girl was BAD? Where did that standard come from? I didn’t make it up, you didn’t make it up. We just know intuitively that some things shouldn’t happen. You say, ‘I just know.’ But how do you know?
- This may not be emotionally satisfying, but as I said, it doesn’t take the legs out from beneath your faith if you are a Christian. Scripture gives a clear explanation for it. When God put Adam and Eve in the garden, He said ‘everything’s good.’ Sure, its good, everything is good, but of course, they had nothing to compare it to, but then God said, “But I have one rule.” He said, “Don’t eat from the fruit of that tree.” They asked, “Why?” And listen to the reason: He says, ‘on the day you eat of that tree, the day you choose to disobey me, you’ll gain something you’ll wish you never gained.’ ‘You will gain the knowledge of good and evil.’ On the day you eat of that fruit, you will have something that will drive you crazy for the rest of your life, the knowledge of good and evil.’ You know what that means? That’s why we are so aware of how things could be and should be, but it drives us crazy that they aren’t ever that way. Gen. 3:5. That’s the knowledge of good and evil.
- I know that people shouldn’t abuse children, but they abuse them anyway. If I didn’t know they shouldn’t, then it wouldn’t bother me that they do. It’s why everyone in the world knows that these horrific disasters of hurricanes and tsunamis are bad things, because we live with the knowledge of good and evil. And the way evil came into this world was through sin and with it the knowledge that frustrates us so much.
- We live in a fallen world. When God made man in His image, He gave him the ability to choose, or ‘free will.’ We see this throughout Scripture from beginning to end- man having the choice to obey or disobey God, to worship or blaspheme. We see this in how God treated the Israelites in the OT and how Jesus talked in the NT (Matt. 23:37) For love to be real and genuine, there must be a choice to reject God, or else we would simply be puppets or robots. What pleasure, glory, or satisfaction would the Lord receive from that?
- God cannot do logical impossibilities. You can’t have a married bachelor or a square circle- they are directly contradictory. It is a logical impossibility for God to make someone freely do something; it is not logically possible for God to create free creatures without the possibility of moral evil. In other words, some (not all) would argue that man has the free will to do bad things to people, and God cannot stop it directly unless He trumps man’s free will.
- However, man chose to disobey God. Satan is the ruler of this fallen world where man has chosen himself rather than God. Evil and suffering is in the world because of man, not God.
Because of man’s sin. As a result, bad things happen… to everyone. Sin affects everyone, not just the person who commits it. In fact, in a world where man is in a state of rebellion against God the Creator, Christians should expect there to be evil and suffering in the world.
· The notion of evil requires the existence of God. What are “bad” things? What is evil?
- Evil is defined as [ask]
- “The lack or corruption of goodness”: presupposes a standard of goodness (just as detecting an error is only possible if you know what is correct [me])
- “profound immorality” (Webster’s): presupposes a moral standard
- “a departure from the way things ought to be”: presupposes a design-plan. Under atheism, the world just is. Everything has happened due to forces beyond our control, and there cannot be a way things ought/should be
- All definitions point us to God- the very standard of goodness, or morality, and the Designer of the universe
- There can be no objective evil without a standard of what is good. The only possible standard of good is God Himself. The alternative view of God’s existence is atheism. How on atheism are certain things evil?
- Upon atheism, there’s nothing special about humans. We are simply accidental by-products of nature that have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust called planet Earth, lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe, and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time. (quote from famous atheist, Richard Dawkins) “There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference… we are simply machines for propagating DNA… it is every living object’s sole reason for being.”
- Address this false doctrine: God is the origin of evil. (This is a belief of some Calvinists. Calvinists who believe this think themselves normal Calvinists. Calvinists who don’t believe this particular doctrine normally call those who do, ‘hyper-Calvinists’)
- Evil stemmed from man’s free choice to disobey God (or in Satan’s case, and angel’s free choice)
- God cannot do anything against His nature- James 1:13
- Evil is the very thing that separated us from God and a relationship with Him, and also the reason we need to be saved by the redemptive blood of Christ. (To say evil originates with our perfectly holy and righteous God is not only blasphemous, but illogical)
- What about when verses that say things like “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart”?
- God has set up certain natural rules, like gravity. Let’s say you are standing on the edge of a cliff and you decide to jump off the cliff for the thrill, and you break both your legs. Who is to blame? Let’s say someone pushes you off the cliff, who is to blame? [ask] [Yes, the force of gravity broke your legs, but obviously you would blame the person who pushed you and not gravity.]
- What about if you don’t wear any sunscreen at the beach on a hot, sunny day? When you get a terrible sunburn, is it the sun’s fault or yours? [ask]
- When you reject God, a heart can be hardened. Yes, God does it, but it’s because of a decision that person has made.
- Think of evil this way: Cold is simply the absence of heat, dark is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good. And good can exist without evil, but evil cannot exist without good.
You don’t see just rust- you see rust on things. You must have clean things for there to be dirty things.
- In the Garden of Eden, everything was perfect before man’s choice to sin. Think about money: You can’t have counterfeit bills without there being genuine currency. But you can have genuine currency without counterfeit bills in circulation. You have to be able to compare the counterfeit bill to the real thing in order to recognize that it is counterfeit. Evil is simply the degradation, or corruption, of that which is perfect and pure.
- What can you think of that God created as good, but we corrupted? [ask] [i.e. sex]
- If objective moral values exist, God (most likely) exists.
- Evil exists.
- Evil is an objective (negative) moral value.
- God (most likely) exists.
· Suffering can be a result of God’s discipline and judgment
- Many of us might think of an example such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
- When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, He did what any good and great God would do- He judged sin. We may think that He over-judged or overreacted, but to do anything less would not have shown Himself to be a good, just, and great God.
- Think about some wild children running around in a grocery store, screaming, pulling on your legs and being disruptive. Every now and then, the mother comes around to give them some more candy and then leaves. Would you say this is a good mother? What about a teenager that talks back and disrespects his father and the father does nothing? What would you think about a God whose prize creation disobeyed the ONE rule and He did not do anything about it. He cast them out of the Garden. Read Gen. 3:22-24 (This was also merciful, as had Adam and Eve stayed in the Garden, they would have continued to eat from the tree of life and live forever in a world now contaminated by sin………………………………………………….. living forever in a sinful and painful world of sickness, degeneration, suffering, and infirmity. God provided for them in the new environment, made salvation available through the promise of Christ, and went on to create a perfect environment for them in heaven) Judgment is in Gen. 3:16. For a woman, part of the curse is pain in childbirth. For man, part of the curse is the ground. You gonna curse the ground? God cursed everything under man’s authority- the earth, the ground, the weather. This is why you never have to plant, water, and fertilize a weed. This is one of the reasons we have natural disaster.
- See, we overestimate our ‘good.’ We ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But who are ‘good people’? Is anyone really ‘good’? All have sinned. All have selfish motives at some point. Is there any objective way of saying this person is ‘good’ and this person is ‘bad?’ We all have a sinful nature, and it could be argued that no one is actually ‘good.’ Isaiah says our good works, righteous deeds, are like filthy rags to God. (Isaiah 64:6) On the same token, we underestimate the significance of sin in the face of a perfectly holy and righteous God. A God who loved humanity enough to create a perfect environment, then the free will to mess it up, which we did.
- So when we shake our fist at God and say, ‘you didn’t handle this right’, we are actually saying, ‘I don’t fully trust you.’ But isn’t this the exact same thing that got Adam and Eve kicked out of the garden? Adam said, “I know you said not to, but I’m gonna do it anyway because I’m not sure you are telling me the whole story.”
- [Sunscreen analogy: The sun, a good thing in and of itself (as life on earth could not exist without it), bears down and burns all people on Earth. We are all subject to it. As sinners, we are all subject to a just God’s punishment for sin. A just and righteous God must punish all sin… just as the sun bears down on all people. ‘All have fallen short of the glory of God.’ ‘No man is righteous, no not one.’ (Rom. 3:10-12) But He loved us so much that He provided a shield for us, Someone to take the ‘heat’ of punishment for us. God provided us sunscreen, should we choose to use it. The sunscreen of salvation. So suffering can be righteous judgment; and hell is simply eternal separation from God. Sin automatically separates us from God, but hell is also part of the righteous judgment of God. Yes, God can bring suffering about, but it’s because of our choice to sin. And in the case of hell, people go there because they rejected the offer of salvation. They are burned by the sun because they rejected the sunscreen.]
- [Note: Is God glorified by the people who are sent to Hell? Yes. God is glorified directly by those who choose to accept His grace and mercy and go on to serve and worship Him. Or He is also glorified more indirectly through His righteous and just wrath imposed on deserving sinners. But it is our choice how we will choose to glorify God.]
- Another example: The 10th plague of Egypt [ask]… the Angel of Death went throughout Egypt killing all the firstborn, but the Israelites who had blood on their doors were spared. Direct parallel to Christ’s blood sparing us from eternal punishment for our sins.
- We need to change our thinking. We are all deserving of judgment and hell. Our daily prayer should be: “God, thank you for one more day of allowing me to be the exception to the rule. You are a good and great God, and today you’ve reminded me that you are a merciful God because you gave me exactly what I don’t deserve.”
- God’s Discipline- Read Hebrews 12:5-11
- Moral is: God IS great. God IS good. If only we had been. So when we don’t understand some great suffering in the world or in our lives, its because we don’t understand just how good and how great He is. He could not turn a blind eye to sin.
· God works good things OUT of bad things.
- Clarification! There is a difference between:
- God causes evil in order to produce a good result.
- God allows evil, and can work good from it.
- The primary way that we grow as Christians is to endure trials and suffering. God allowing pain is like a doctor using a needle. These things force us to rely on the only One who will never leave us and who will always see us through. (Ask for examples) Hardship builds character. Think of what a disaster it would be if only good things ever happened to good people. We would be immature, spoiled children instead of strong men and women of God. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; 1 Peter 1:6-7; Romans 5:3-4; James 1:2-4)
- What about Job? Everything and more was added back to him. His faith was tested and he was stronger for it. And do you think he appreciated what he had more afterwards or before he had it taken away?
- God may have good reason to allow evil and suffering.
- We can’t see the big picture. Sometimes God will allow seemingly terrible things to happen in our lives, but ends up working great things out of them. For instance, an aunt dies of cancer, but 20 people come to saving faith in Christ at the Christian funeral where the plan of salvation is told.
- Story of Joseph [ask]– sold into slavery, falsely accused, falsely imprisoned for 12 years, BUT was elevated to great authority, saved countless lives from starving in the famine, including his family! (Gen. 50:20)
- [Holocaust? Worst evil in recent history. What if it was the only way for the nations to freely choose to establish the modern state of Israel (which plays a central role in the End Times)]
- What is the greatest evil in all of history? [ask] How about the crucifixion of the Son of God? Jesus may have willingly gone to the cross, but men are still responsible for this greatest of evils. God did not crucify Christ; He allowed Jews and Romans to use free choice to condemn and crucify Christ. However, God used it for His purposes and brought out of it salvation for all mankind and a restored relationship to Him. The greatest good came out of the greatest evil.
- Choas Theory, Butterfly Effect (one small event may have a large and unforeseen effect)
- Knowing the past, present, and future, God’s perspective is far broader than ours as finite humans. How could we possibly presume to know if God has reasons to allow certain evils? Who are we to decide whether His reasons are valid? Isaiah 55:9; Romans 8:28
- God Can Use Evil and Suffering to Point People to Him
- The Bible says that after Jesus died, there was an incredible earthquake and storm. And when it subsided, the centurion who had just crucified Christ stood there or knelt there, looked up, and said “Truly, this was the Son of God”
- Egyptian Plagues- ended with Pharaoh saying, “Who is your God?” “He is the One True God”
▪ John 9:1-7
- Sometimes it’s up to us how we respond to suffering and whether or not ‘good’ comes out of it. After a tragic event happens, it causes one person to become bitter, hard, angry, and reject God, while someone else may choose to turn to God, trust Him, and become more loving, understanding, and compassionate towards others who are in pain. In some circumstances, the choice we make determines what good comes out of suffering.
▪ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
- God is concerned with the state of our soul and whether we will spend eternity with Him, rather than making sure we are able to enjoy the pleasures of our earthly life. It is not God’s purpose to create a comfortable environment for His human pets. We are not God’s pets and our chief purpose in life is not happiness, but knowledge of God and salvation, which will bring ultimate happiness. Many evils may occur in life which seem pointless with respect to producing happiness, but they may not be pointless with respect to producing a deeper knowledge of God. The goodness of salvation and an eternal relationship with Him so far outweighs the suffering of our short time on earth, that even the worst trial should seem insignificant in comparison. (Romans 8:18; 2 Cor 4:16-18)
· Where would God draw the line?
- Would you ask him to stop part of the evil, or all of it? This would lead to God controlling everyone’s actions, including ours, in order to stop all suffering and evil. You say, well, he could stop MORE of it! How do you know he hasn’t? How do you know how many times God may have protected you or your loved ones from harm and you never knew about it?
- There is arguably still more good in the world than evil. Generally, people find life worth living. Otherwise, everyone would commit suicide. When things get bad, most people look to the future in the hopes that it will get better. God could very well have created a world which has the most ‘good’ possible, given human freedom.
· What about contradictory prayers?
- This might be best shown in an example, though I recognize this is a little more extreme. Let’s say a group of people are praying for someone’s safety on the road. Another group of people are praying for a rare heart transplant for their son. If the first person dies in a car wreck, the heart will be used to save the dying son. If the person does not get in a wreck, the son dies because an appropriate heart is never found. In some circumstances, two peoples’ different prayers cannot both be answered, and inevitably something bad happens to a good person.
· Some ask, If God has the power to eradicate evil and suffering, why doesn’t He do it?
- Just because He hasn’t yet, doesn’t mean He won’t. The Bible says that He will wipe every tear from our eyes, that there will be no more sickness and pain, and that all people will be held accountable for the evil they’ve committed. So why hasn’t He done it!? Because of them… those people out there who don’t believe yet. Maybe because of some of you. He is delaying His righteous wrath, judgment, and consummation of history in anticipation that some of them, some of you, may still put your trust in Him. He’s delaying everything out of His love for us. (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9)
What about suffering as a result of natural disaster? (hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes)
- Many of the points made above still apply to suffering as a result of natural disaster.
- There is a valid argument to be made that the earth reflects the fallen state of mankind. The state of the earth has grown more tumultuous as mankind has continued to disobey God and degenerate in sin. (The trend of more severe and more frequent natural disaster is blatantly stated in the Gospels and in Revelation as a sign we are nearing the End Times)
- From the young earth view, climatic natural disaster can be seen as an even more direct result of man’s sin. Under this view, there was a water canopy surrounding the earth at the beginning of time. This provided a stable, tropical climate for the entire earth. The water canopy precipitated upon the earth in Noah’s Flood, which was a punishment from God as a result of man’s sinfulness. Without this canopy which served as a sort of ‘hyperbaric chamber,’ not only did humans not live as long, but the earth was more susceptible to climatic natural disaster (hurricanes, tornados, etc). See Creation Study
- If it were not for mankind’s sin, the suffering from natural disaster would be drastically reduced. If they had built the levees better in New Orleans, there would not have been all the flooding. Consider the earthquake in Haiti or the tsunamis that have affected third-world countries in Asia. If their governments were not corrupt, or if every person on Earth was completely selfless, then the poor in these countries would not have been forced to live in unsafe housing. Their shelters may not have been so poorly built that they collapsed under the stress of an earthquake or monsoon. The money would have been there; the aid would have been more quickly available and in greater force. Can you imagine if the whole world (especially the USA) was focused on helping others rather than gaining power and living luxuriant lifestyles? A world where every person and business entity gave up all unnecessary dollars to help their fellow man? There is no doubt that there would be much less suffering in this world.
- The same natural event that is a curse for one may be a blessing for another. Some things are necessary for the ecosystem. Forest fires kill many forms of life, but also are essential for the continued survival of other species.
End with one of my favorite verses: John 16:33