Although this question has puzzled many people, the crucial answer is offered in the pages of the Bible.
[Gary Petty] Do you have some hard questions you would like to ask God? I know I do.
Unfortunately, many people have become disillusioned because of what appears to be inconsistencies with what the Bible teaches about God. They question how a loving God can allow children to starve or why He doesn’t stop senseless violence. Why does God allow evil?
The result of this spiritual disenchantment is that more and more people are deciding that the Bible is a myth, or even worse, a book filled with dangerous superstitions.
If we really want to understand the God of the Bible, we must be willing to honestly face these issues. Deal with the hard questions.
If you’ve become disillusioned because God seems unreachable, arbitrary, unfair, let’s reason together and look at “Hard Questions: Why Does God Allow Evil?”
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[Gary] We live in a world where complex news stories are condensed into thirty-second sound bites and multifaceted human issues are solved in a sixty-minute television drama. Real life is much more difficult—this is one reason why we like to escape into fantasy entertainment where all problems and mysteries are neatly wrapped up between the commercials.
Of course, the hard questions of life can’t be solved in thirty-second sound bites. In our pain, confusion and doubt, we cry out to God—and sometimes it feels like the answers never come.
How many times have you wished you could have a one-on-one conversation with God to answer all of your hard questions?
I’m reminded of something that happened a number of years ago. I had just conducted a funeral service. The crowd was mingling around, greeting each other and discussing the life of the deceased, and I noticed a little boy standing by my side intently looking at me. I said hello and with a steely-eyed intensity he asked, “Are you God?”
Well, he seemed a little disappointed when I said no, but we did have a conversation about some of the questions he had concerning the funeral. Like all of us, this little boy was hoping God had showed up to help him deal with the difficult thoughts and emotions he just couldn’t understand.
Well today, we’re going to look at one of the hard questions about God and discover some understanding of what He is actually doing in your life.
There is one overriding issue that is the foundation of many of the most difficult questions. Here’s what it is: “If God is all powerful, and loving, why does He allow evil? Why doesn’t He stop bad things from happening?”
You know, this question requires a little more than a few platitudes about how God is God and can do whatever He wants to do. Especially if you’re the one who’s brutally abused or you’re struggling with why did God allow a friend to commit suicide?
So why would the all-powerful Creator of life, revealed in the Bible to be merciful and loving, allow a senseless drive-by shooting or a terrorist to blow up a bus filled with children?
To get at the heart of this question, there’s a series of steps we must take in order to bring some clarity to a very emotional issue.
Now the first step in dealing with this dilemma is that you have to believe that God has a reason for creating humanity. Just because the human experience is confusing doesn’t mean that God is confused.
God’s purpose for humanity involves giving each person freedom of choice. We get to choose our actions. Now the problem is that every choice has consequences—some for good, some for evil.
Now God could fix this. He could stop all suffering by redesigning every one of us so that we have no freedom of choice. I mean, we could be just automatons that simply respond to our programming without conscious thoughts or emotions. We know this isn’t what God wants because the Bible tells us in the very first part of the Bible that God made human beings in His image.
We’re created to be conscious, creative, loving, emotional beings like He is. This requires that we have freedom to make decisions and choices.
Well I suppose there’s another option that God could carry out to stop all bad things from happening and that is just to stop bad consequences. You know, when the man robbing the convenience store pulls the trigger, the bullet always misses. When you begin to cheat on your income taxes, an angel takes control of your fingers and you type in the proper figures. This would be another way of controlling our choices, but we would still be thinking evil and let’s face it, most people would resent God for interfering.
Okay, so our first point in understanding why God allows evil:
1. God created human beings in His image and gave us freedom of choice.
All choices have consequences that can be both good or bad. Think about this: There are billions of human beings making decisions every day producing billions of consequences that lead to billions of more decisions. And we’re affected, not only by our choices, but by the choices of others. No wonder life can be so messy.
Knowing that freedom of choice produces evil doesn’t solve all of our problems. If this is the only answer to evil then the human experience is hopeless. So let’s look at the second point in understanding why God allows evil.
2. God wants us to learn how to choose good.
Listen to what the apostle Peter wrote towards the end of the New Testament period: “He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil?” (1 Peter 3:10-12 1 Peter 3:10-12 10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:
11 Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
American King James Version×).
Peter is actually quoting from various passages in the Old Testament book of Psalms. His point is clear—if you love life and want good consequences then “turn from evil and do good.” At the same time, we see that “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12 1 Peter 3:12For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
American King James Version×).
God withdraws from us when we do evil. When you and I reject God’s standards of good and evil, we find ourselves alone and cut off from His presence.
You see, one of the reasons why we have difficulty with the idea that God withdraws from us when we do something He defines as bad is because we don’t understand his reaction to evil. We’re always concerned with what we think and feel but we seldom consider what does God think and feel.
It is written in the book of Proverbs: “These six things the Lord hates…” You may have never thought of God hating something, but there are human actions and even thoughts that God hates.
The passage continues, “Yes, seven are an abomination to Him.”
Abomination is a strong word in Hebrew. It means despicable. The following list are things God finds despicable. It says, “A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren” (Proverbs 16:16-19 Proverbs 16:16-19 16 How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!
17 The highway of the upright is to depart from evil: he that keeps his way preserves his soul.
18 Pride goes before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
19 Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.
American King James Version×).
God allows evil because He’s given us freedom of choice. He also hates evil and withdraws from those who practice evil. God is saddened, God suffers, because of our evil. This is one reason why we don’t see God’s involvement in so many human endeavors. There is no human society that reflects God’s intended purpose for His children.
Now, this doesn’t mean that God is totally withdrawn from humanity. He touches our lives in profound and loving ways in spite of our rejection of His good. And He is intimately involved in the lives of those who wish to turn to Him and choose good.
This explains the problem—but we’re still left with how can we experience God’s presence in an evil world? And why does God allow evil to happen to good people?
Before we tackle the next steps in search for clarity on why does God allow evil, let me tell you about our free study guide: Why Does God Allow Suffering?
You and I live in a world of evil and suffering. Bad things happen to good people. This uncomfortable fact makes it difficult for many who desire a relationship with God to trust in His fairness or justice.
So, what should we do? Where can we turn for answers?
Our free Bible study aid, Why Does God Allow Suffering? will help you discover the answers to these questions and help you make sense of what may seem senseless. To order a free copy, please call us at 1-888-886-8632. That’s 1-888-886-8632. Or you can write to us at the address on your screen or visit BeyondToday.tv to read or download a copy right now [Beyond Today, PO Box 541027, Cincinnati, OH 45254].
Today we’re talking about a question that has plagued human beings for thousands of years: “Why would an all-powerful, loving God allow evil?”
Well so far, we’ve looked at two important points in answering this question. One is that God created human beings in His image and gave us free choice. All choices have consequences for good or bad. And two, God wants us to learn to choose good.
We’re still left with why doesn’t a loving God intervene and stop all of the suffering caused by evil? Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?
The biblical book of Genesis records the story of the family of Abraham who lived almost 4,000 years ago. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, had 12 sons. Like so many families, there was sibling rivalry between the brothers. Joseph, one of the younger brothers, was the center of the family conflict because he was favored by his father.
One day, some of the brothers conspired to sell Joseph as a slave to a group of nomads. Of course, Joseph was dismayed as he found himself carted off to Egypt where he was sold again into a household of a wealthy and prominent Egyptian. Now the Egyptian man’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, but he did what is right and refused. The result was that Joseph was falsely accused and thrown into prison. He suffered because he did good.
For a number of years Joseph languished in prison. He had been betrayed by his family, humiliated as a slave, falsely accused and now he seemed to have no future. Still, in his suffering, abuse, and despair, Joseph continued to see God as the solution to his life’s problems.
When you read the book of Genesis you find that God intervened in Joseph’s life and through a series of events, he became a very powerful man in Egyptian government and saved his family from catastrophe. Joseph knew that God was working out something good in his life, even in the midst of all the abuse, suffering and evil that was perpetrated upon him. Instead of becoming bitter, or using his misfortune as an excuse to commit crimes or abuse others, he was a happy, productive person in spite of the evil that happened to him.
Now this brings us to our third point in understanding how God can allow evil.
3. God can bring good from suffering caused by evil.
As long as you blame God for allowing evil, you can’t turn to God as the solution to evil.
Joseph’s story is inspiring because he refused to allow the wrong actions of others to define his life. He accepted that he lived in a world of both good and evil and he choose to dwell on the goodness of God instead of being obsessed by his suffering caused by others.
The willingness to see God’s goodness in the confusion, and unfairness and “bad things happening to good people” reality of life is one of the greatest keys to personal happiness.
Let’s face it, some suffering seems senseless. We have limited control to stop evil and suffering. Even when we try to do good sometimes we produce more suffering.
Once I was sitting with a family whose teenage son was dying. I was particularly touched by the concern of the family doctor. I walked out into the hallway are some point in this to find him leaning against the wall—obviously despondent. He lamented how his medical knowledge and medication couldn’t save the boy—only delay his dying. He was struggling with the feeling that all of his efforts had done nothing more than prolong the family’s suffering as they watched their son die.
You know, this boy’s sickness wasn’t because he had done evil. And the doctor, he was just trying his best to alleviate suffering, but he felt hopeless in the face of this, what seemed like senseless suffering.
Here was a doctor who was trying to do good and he felt weak. He felt hopeless. In the face of senseless death, he could find no answers. I wish I could have convinced this doctor that life isn’t hopeless. The boy’s life had a purpose and a future, that God was there in that hospital then, and that the boy’s health crisis was not the end of his ultimate story.
Life isn’t hopeless even when we can’t control the events. God can turn your life around in the present by bringing good from suffering caused by evil and He promises you a better future, even if we can’t understand it right now, even if we feel lost right now. And this leads us to our final point in understanding why God allows evil.
4. God will only allow evil, and suffering, to exist for a time. He promises a better future for those who trust in Him.
Earlier, I talked about God’s purpose for creating human beings. The apostle Paul unites the concept of the consequences of evil and God’s purpose in his letter to the Romans, in Romans 8—one of the great chapters in the entire Bible. Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:18-19 Romans 8:18-19 18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waits for the manifestation of the sons of God.
American King James Version×).
Over two thousand years ago, Paul lived in a world of evil and suffering just like ours today. The book of Acts records how Paul suffered terribly because of the abuse of other people—evil done upon him! People tried to stone him to death; he was beaten and unjustly thrown in jail—all because he was a Christian.
Paul saw this suffering caused by evil to be inconsequential to the future God had planned for him as a “son of God.”
It’s easy to give in to the feeling that God is unfair because He allows evil and suffering. I mean, how could He understand what we’re suffering? But God does understand our suffering. Think about this: Jesus Christ, the Son of God was sent by God to suffer all the hate and abuse evil can produce.
In our suffering to learn to choose good—in our confusion and despair because we can’t always make sense of God’s decisions and what He’s doing—we can see His purpose for us in the work of Jesus Christ. Peter wrote, “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps…” (1 Peter 2:21 1 Peter 2:21For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps:
American King James Version×).
Through your suffering because of evil, you can learn to follow the example of Jesus and serve God—doing good to others and trusting in God’s purpose for your life. God will then help you see beyond the difficulties of the present and help you anticipate the time when Christ returns to establish God’s Kingdom on this earth.
When you request our free Bible study aid, Why Does God Allow Suffering? we’ll also send you a free subscription to our bi-monthly Beyond Today magazine. In this free, 40-page magazine you will find help for your life today and hope for your future. Beyond Today magazine not only helps you sort out what is happening in our upset, present, chaotic world, but offers an astonishing vision of a positive and gratifying future that lies ahead for you and all humanity.
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We’ve been discussing the question that has beleaguered people for thousands of years, “Why does an all-powerful, loving God allow evil?”
Well we’re now joined by fellow Beyond Today presenters: Darris McNeely, Steve Myers.
And you know, we’ve all had this conversation with people. We’ve struggled with it ourselves. How do we answer when people ask us why does God allow evil?
[Steve] It is a challenge I think knowing difficulties, suffering, challenges, evil in this world is a reminder that this isn’t God’s world. That there is an evil force that’s out here as well. That the god of this age is Satan the Devil. And yes, suffering happens even to the best of people, and yet it points us, hopefully, that there is a time coming that it will be God’s world. And so, on the throne of this age, at this time is Satan the Devil and there’s coming a time when he will be replaced. And so, it certainly focuses us to that very time that God will replace him and it will be a totally different world.
[Gary] Something a lot of people struggle with is that—and I know I do, if I turn on, pull up on my computer all the headlines going on, and we have terrorism, and people dying and senseless crimes and it just gets overwhelming. How do we deal with all this negative, just constant input of evil into our lives?
[Darris] Well, the first step is maybe turn off some of it. We are bombarded with it and we cannot do anything about a lot of it in this world. But, where it may come and impact us, I think we have to be anchored in a meaning and a purpose of life. You brought up the example of the biblical patriarch Joseph, who had an injustice done to him. He kept his eyes focused on God and that got him through. He recognized God was guiding his life even when bad things happened to him. Probably our best modern example is that of Viktor Frankl, who was the Austrian psychoanalyst who was taken into the concentration camps of the Holocaust; wrote the book, Man’s Search for Meaning . He got himself through that ordeal by understanding that he still had a meaning and a purpose yet to accomplish in his life. And it’s one of the most profound insights for us all to come to but you’ve got to have that meaning, it has got to be the right meaning and the right purpose that God has for each one of us.
[Steve] One of the songs my dad used to sing was, “accentuate the positive…” and you’re supposed to eliminate Mr. Negative. And that, yeah, it may be saying put a smiley face on things but I think when you think of it spiritually, God tells us to think on positive things. Think about the things of good rapport; think about the things that are good; that ultimately, God has a plan and evil is not a part of that plan. And so, Psalms tells us there, the wicked might prosper right now. There might be a lot of evil things going on right now, but ultimately, God’s purpose is to take care of that and it will be eliminated. And so ultimately, we can focus on that and our relationship with God. It can change at least our perspective today.
[Gary] You know, I’ve sat with people going through horrible things that have happened to them because of what other people did. I mean, they are literally suffering from evil and been inspired by the fact that they take that attitude. They say, no, God is doing something here. They see a positiveness in God and it keeps them moving and they are actually helping others while they are suffering. And every time I see that, I am amazed at what we do when we respond to God and let Him work us through these problems. Which brings us really to another question and, how do we—very quickly—deal with all this evil? We’re not supposed to be passive as Christians. So how do we confront evil in the world?
[Darris] There is a well-known saying, and I’ll paraphrase it, that evil will prevail when good men do nothing. And when it does come to us and we are confronted with it, we do have to resist it. We have to stand up to it. We have to call it out. Where it’s impacting us or we have that opportunity to do something about it. We cannot be passive. And I think that that is expected of us.
[Steve] It’s always easy to judge others, but what about us. Start with your own self. Recognize the challenges you’ve faced, eliminate that and do things God’s way.
[Gary] We don’t like to think about evil in ourselves, but all of us are a mixture of good and evil. And God wants us, if we are going to choose good, we have to learn to look at ourselves and we have to learn to choose good in ourselves first. Then you have God’s help to deal with the world.
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[Steve] Hi, I’m Steve Myers. I’m the pastor here at the United Church of God Cincinnati East congregation. I’d like to welcome you to come and join us on this great spiritual journey. We have hundreds of congregations around the United States and across the world. Click on the “Congregations” tab to find a church near you. We’re committed to growing in our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ as well as fellowshipping with each other.
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[Gary] Well, we’ve looked at four points that can help us grapple with the question, why does God allow evil?
First, God created human beings in His image and gave us freedom of choice. All choices have consequences that can be both good and bad.
Two, God wants us to learn how to choose good.
Three, God can bring good from suffering caused by evil.
And four, God will only allow evil and suffering to exist for a time. He promises a better future to those who trust in Him.
Join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the gospel of the Kingdom. We also invite you to join us in praying, “Thy Kingdom come.” For Beyond Today I’m Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.
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