A famous author pointedly asked: "If God is infinitely good, and infinitely powerful too, why should evil exist at all?" That question is one we all want answered.
God reveals His purpose for permitting misery during the present era, when we must struggle against our destructive nature and reasoning. It is our free will—our freedom of choice, our free moral agency—that provides the key to understanding why God allows evil and suffering to exist.
What major choices did our first parents face?
"The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:9).
The first book of the Bible talks about two trees God created. One represented the way to life and abundant blessings, the other the way to suffering, anguish and death. He gave Adam and Eve a choice of the two trees. But He did not leave our first parents in the dark. He explained the consequences of the choices they could make and even commanded them not to make the wrong one (Genesis 2:15-17; compare Genesis 3:3).
What all-important decision did Adam and Eve make?
"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate" (Genesis 3:6).
Although man's Creator had clearly warned the first man not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He did not prevent Adam and Eve from making a wrong choice. God had created them both in His own image and gave them freedom to choose.
God is the epitome of holy, righteous character. He has chosen always to do what is wise and good. No power greater than He forces Him to be righteous. Righteousness has always been and always will be His way of life. His nature is love, the highest expression of His perfect character (1 John 4:8-16).
Because God wants us to be like Him, He did not make us as automatons. If He had done so, we could not build righteous character, the same character He has. He could not fashion us into His spiritual image. To build character, we must evaluate our choices and recognize their consequences. We must choose between right and wrong, wisdom and foolishness, carelessness and vigilance.
What happens when we make wrong choices?
"He who sows iniquity will reap sorrow . . ." (Proverbs 22:8).
Paul explained the principle of reaping what one sows in Galatians 6:7-8. The New International Version's rendering of this verse is especially clear: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life."
The biblical record shows that God rarely interferes with man's free ability to make choices. We find instances in the Bible in which God temporarily intervened to inhibit either a nation's or an individual's freedom to choose a course of action—in some cases to protect His servants, in others to fulfill prophecy.
On one occasion He caused King Saul to involuntary "prophesy" to protect His servant David. But soon Saul returned to his old ways.
God also intervened to protect Abraham's wife, Sarah, from the illicit intentions of a king. God has frequently intervened in human affairs to assist or protect His faithful servants.
In general, God's purpose is best served by His giving us freedom of choice—letting matters take their own course, even if our hasty and wrongheaded decisions sometimes bring on us enormous sufferings. Otherwise we would not learn the importance of righteous character, nor would we fully grasp the terrible consequences of sinful behavior.
For example, God does not prevent people from overindulging in alcohol. He does not take away their freedom of choice, nor does He prevent them from suffering the consequences of their choices. But, if an abuser of alcohol should earnestly seek spiritual power and help from God to combat his weakness, God is willing, through the intervention of Jesus Christ, to help him (Hebrews 2:16-18; Hebrews 4:14-16). God's ears are always open to the prayers of people who sincerely desire to obey His commands (1 Peter 3:12).