The Bible says that God is awesome. Experience says that life is awful. How can these two things be reconciled? If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good why is there suffering and evil? Many people have debated this point and even written books to try to resolve it. In Habakkuk 1:12 (ESV), we are reminded that God is good, not evil, and that He has set a day when He will right all wrongs, saying,
Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O
LORD, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established
them for reproof.
It is helpful to consider these five things about evil and its relation to God:
Five Distinctions About Evil
- It is difficult to call something evil unless one starts with an understanding that there is a God who is good.
The Bible says that God is good, that God made the world good, and that we know something about good and evil because of the conscience that God placed within us. Without some standard – such as God – above and beyond the world, it is difficult to have any grounds upon which to appeal to and judge behavior by.
- Evil is not something that exists independently from good.
Since the early church father Augustine, Christian philosophers have referred to evil as a privation. What they mean is that God makes things good and that Satan and sin corrupt them. Similarly, it is said that blindness is not a thing in and of itself, but rather a lack of sight. Practically, this means that apart from God and the good, there would be no evil, since evil can only corrupt in the same way that rust cannot exist without metal.
- Not all suffering is evil.
Some suffering is in fact good because it warns us, thereby preventing greater harm. For example, when a surgeon causes pain to cut cancer out of someone’s body, the patient experiences suffering, but it is for good, as it is to prevent greater harm or even death.
- Love requires a choice.
When we choose to love someone, it has to be from the heart. For us to truly love God and others, there has to be a real choice to choose otherwise. This is what is commonly referred to as free will. Without it, we may not have sin, folly, or evil, but we also may not have love and real relationship. That would not be a better world.
- Perhaps none of us truly wants God to deal with all evil immediately and justly.
If He did, we would all be sent to hell immediately to serve our eternal sentence. Instead, we want God to be patient and kind with us and the people we love; at the same time we want Him not to be so nice to the people we don’t love. Thankfully, God is patient and loving toward all while still remaining just. As 2 Peter 3: 9–10 (ESV) says,
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient
toward you not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away
with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth
and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
How have you seen God’s patience at work in your life?