In last week’s lesson we rid ourselves of the notion that God is the cause of all things that happen in this world. The scriptures remind us that Satan is very active in this world, working now in the disobedient. We also rid ourselves of the idea that everything happens for a reason. The scriptures tell us that time and chance are factors in this world. Therefore, there is such a thing as being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Finally, we also noted that the scriptures tell us that bad things can happen when we make bad decisions. Ultimately, we see that the scriptures teach that God is not the cause of suffering and evil.
Rather than looking at evil as evidence that there is not a God, we must recognize that evil is actually proof for God. By recognizing evil we must assume there is an objective standard upon which this assessment is made. For example, if one student receives a 90 and another student receives an 80, what can we assume the standard is? 100. In the same way, evil presupposes a supreme good so that we can define what is good and what is evil. Therefore, there is a supreme good and that supreme good who set the standard for good and evil is God.
But now the question that bothers us most: Why does God allow evil to take place? Why does God allow the innocent to suffer? The atheist syllogism looks like this: (1) God exists, (2) God is all good, (3) God is all powerful, (4) God is all knowing, (5) Evil exists. All of these statements seem to be accurate. If God is all-powerful, he can do anything. If God is all-good, he wants only good. If God is all-knowing, he knows what is good. If all of these beliefs are true, then no evil can exist. Yet evil does exist. So we need to examine our assumed characteristics of God to see that we have some false premises.
God Is All-Powerful, But That Means There Are Certain Limitations
We have to realize that because God is all-powerful there are certain things God cannot do. God cannot make himself cease to exist. Hebrews 6:18 tells us that it is impossible for God to lie. God cannot make mistakes. The point is that God is not all-powerful in an absolute sense because there are certain limitations in effect because he is all-powerful. By being all-powerful, he cannot stop existing. God is all-powerful, but he is also limited by his character. Thus, God cannot lie because he is all-good. This addresses the ridiculous atheist question: can God make a rock that he cannot lift? No, God cannot make something he cannot lift because he is all-powerful. This is not a contradiction once we realize that being an all-powerful God has certain limitations.
This is where the problem of free will begins. God did not create evil nor cause evil. But by giving people the ability to choose, the possibility of evil was created. An all-powerful God could not have created a world in which people have the freedom to make life decisions, yet there not be the possibility of sin and evil. God must allow evil if he is going to allow free will and choice. If I cannot choose to do evil or if God intervenes every time I commit evil, then I really do not have free will. God could have made the world without free will. But we see that God wanted us to choose to love him. We want our spouse to love us because they have the free choice to do so, not because they are forced to be with us against their will. God did not want to force us. God wanted there to be a choice to love him. So we read about the tree in the garden of Eden that Adam and Eve were not to touch because this was free will. If there is no tree of knowledge of good and evil, then there is not free will and there is not the ability to choose. God created a world where people were free to choose and yet there was no sin. Humans have ruined this because we have decided to sin. The blame is not on God but on us. As we speculated last week, much suffering would end if everyone did what God said. But even more, there would be no evil if everyone always obeyed God. The choice to commit evil would exist but there would be no evil actions if we did not sin. People choose evil and suffering is the result.
God Is All-Knowing, Which Means God Can Tolerate Horrible Things
God knows not only the present but also has the ability to know the future. God knows not only the present good and evil but also can know the future good and evil. God’s wisdom is far beyond our knowledge because of this. Therefore, we must accept the possibility that God can tolerate horrible acts because God knows that the future will be better for people. Now on the surface, this sounds difficult, yet the point is easily proven by God himself.
God has demonstrated how the very worst thing that ever happened in the history of the world ended up resulting in the very best things that ever happened in the history of the world. The death of God on the cross. At the time, no one could see how anything good could ever result from such a horrible situation. But God knew that the result would be the forgiveness of sins and heaven being offered to humans. If the ultimate evil can result in the ultimate good, then we must accept that it is still possible elsewhere, even in our own lives. Did God cause the evil? No, people made the evil choice. Why did God allow it to happen? First, as we pointed out already, if God intervenes then he is removing free will from humans. But the second reason this suffering was allowed was because God knew suffering would result in a better result for humans.
It is important to realize that at the time of suffering, no one comprehends that there could be a good result from such evil. But we must concede the possibility proven through the death of God on the cross. You may be able to see this truth in your own life. I told you last week my background. One of my life’s trials was the divorce of my parents at 10 years old. As I already mentioned, the impact that divorce has on children is immeasurable. Psychologists consider divorce to be more difficult than death to deal with. But where would my life be if that event had not occurred. I know that I would not have gone to Florida College but would have stayed in San Diego. I would not have met April, would not have been married, and not had these three children. I would not have become a preacher. A completely different course would have been determined in my life. Why did not God intervene? First, God cannot intervene, make sin not happen, and still allow free will. Second, could God look and see the end result for my life would be better now because of the suffering then? An all-knowing God can tolerate our evil because the event causes a change of life’s direction leading to a better future than existed before. I do not want to pretend to say that every bad thing will turn out to be good. The scriptures do not make this promise. The scriptures ask us to trust God because he is all-knowing and God has the ABILITY to still bring us blessings and goodness DESPITE the disasters we endure.
God Is All-Good, But That Does Not Exclude Pain and Suffering
God is all-good, but that does not mean that no pain or suffering should ever come to us. God can still be all-good while allowing us to suffer. The dentist is doing good for us by removing plaque and tarter, but it hurts when he uses the tools to remove it. Good does not exclude pain and suffering. Am I not a good parent because I let Grace fall down when she is walking? Should I intervene because I do not want to see her get hurt? While my reaction is to prevent every fall and prevent every injury, I know that she has to get hurt to learn to walk. When we first were trying to get her to stand us for balance, we would catch her when she started to teeter backward. She learned that we would catch her every time and would intentional try to fall back. We had to let her fall for her to learn that she needs to keep her balance. She cannot learn to walk without falling down otherwise she has no incentive to keep her balance. The point is that I do allow suffering to happen to my children because I want them to learn a lesson. This does not mean I am not a good parent. In fact, I am a good parent because I allow the suffering so that they will learn rather than insulating them from the true world.
This is our third reason for why God allows suffering. Through suffering we learn. Moral character is formed through hardships. Suffering teaches us how to be strong and how to endure. We learn and grow from difficult, painful experiences not from constant good times. This is such a mistake parents are making today, giving their children whatever they request. We don’t want them to cry, so we do not discipline and do not say no. But they do not learn anything about life by being sheltered from reality. Rather, they grow up to be spoiled people who expect everyone to do things for them (already sounds like our world). If God intervened to prevent every bit of potential suffering in our lives, we would also be spoiled brats and would not have the character that is required of us to live with God. But, worse, if God prevented all evil and suffering, then he would take away our freedom. To prevent all evil and all suffering, all freedom must be removed, reducing us to puppets who cannot choose anything in life.
Addressing Some Final Issues
Are evil people getting away with hurting others? No, just because the justice of God is delayed does not mean that justice will not come. Remember, if a person believes that there is no God, then one must believe that people are getting away with hurting others and that there is no justice in this world. This leaves us in a very depressing condition. However, God will bring justice and has promised a judgment. Justice is delayed to give opportunity for everyone to return to God before this judgment (2 Peter 3).
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
Compassionate God. It is interesting that we do not have a God who is unaware about suffering that is taking place in this world. We act as if God has no idea the amount of suffering there is and has no idea how horrible the suffering is. But God did not remove himself from the evil and suffering of this world, which he had every right to do. Rather, God came to this world of evil and suffering.
Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. (Hebrews 2:17-18)
God called you to endure suffering because Christ suffered for you. He left you an example so that you could follow in his footsteps. Christ never committed any sin. He never spoke deceitfully. Christ never verbally abused those who verbally abused him. When he suffered, he didn’t make any threats but left everything to the one who judges fairly. (1 Peter 2:21-23)
Jesus did not have immediate justice either for those who killed him. He was innocent. He did not deserve the suffering he endure. He did not deserve the evil done against him. What did Jesus do? He trusted in God who will judge. God knows our suffering and he knows the evil we endure. He has suffered also. Justice will come.
But this leads us to one other interesting point. The goal is to become like God in our attitude and actions. We are to lead a life like Jesus. But to be like Jesus means that we have to suffer. To have an attitude like God and act like God means we have to suffer because they suffered.
And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:17-18)
God allows suffering and evil because he wants a world where there is free will to choice to love him. We desire the same thing and understand that we want people to choose to love us. To intervene against evil would remove free will from people. Therefore, suffering is a product of our evil acts and the evil acts of others. Satan is at work in this world. But God has put boundaries and limits on what can happen. In creating a world that operates with free will, he also must create a world where time and chance have an effect. We can choose to do what we want, and therefore we can put ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The world has natural laws that are necessary for its existence. Earthquakes have a reason: the plates in the earth shifted. Tornados have a reason: weather patterns of cold air meeting warm air. Yet this very weather gives us all that we know: the necessary sun, heat, cold, snow, etc. God has created a marvelous place.
Diseases are also a time and chance, though some disease are contracted by our evil actions or the evil actions of others. There was a 1 in 10,000 chance with what happened to Grace. Things happen randomly in life. Our geneticist expressed surprise that there are not more problems that take place at conception because there are so many factors at work. Yet diseases and syndromes are rare and are not the norm.
Ultimately, we must remember that God cannot have the earth perfect because then we would not desire to be with God. We would see where we are as enough and would never want to leave. Suffering is what draws us closer to God and makes us yearn for perfection with him. Perfection would leave me without a desire to be with God. Jesus came and suffered for us, the ultimate proof of his love for us. We also must suffer, but God is with us and will bring justice at judgment.