People often have a tough time in understanding how evil can exist in the same universe with a good, loving God. After all, everyone has been affected by evil in one way or another and this often leads to questions that can be very difficult to answer. So this time around we’ll take a look at the problem of evil and see if we can come up with some good answers to this difficult question.
Let’s start by asking something obvious…
What Is Evil?
Perhaps the best way to start is to first ask, “what is evil?” If we go to the dictionary definition of the word “evil” we find that it says in part…
- The quality of being morally bad or wrong; wickedness.
- That which causes harm, misfortune, or destruction.
- An evil force, power, or personification.
- Something that is a cause or source of suffering, injury, or destruction. (1)
So we can see that evil can be a thing but this immediately presents a problem for people who believe in God. After all, God created everything, right? If evil is something, does this mean that God created evil too?
Well, while some people may believe that, the Bible tells us something very different. For example, James 1:13 says, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone…” (NIV) and 1st John 1:5 says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”
So how can we reconcile these things? If God is the creator of everything but God isn’t evil and isn’t responsible for evil, then how did it get here?
Well, there’s a good way of looking at evil that doesn’t deny it’s reality or incorrectly make God responsible for it. Here it is: Evil is the absence of something good that should exist. In other words, when something good should exist but doesn’t, then that is evil. For example, if you have nice clear skin without any blemishes then that’s certainly not evil because everyone should ideally have good clear skin. However if someone loses their eyesight or hearing then evil results because the good things that should be there (like the ability to hear and see) are missing.
If we want to apply this idea in a more up-to-date situation, let’s look at the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center that occurred in September, 2001. In looking at this event, we might say that compassion, mercy and kindness were all things that the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center should have had, but didn’t. That’s why their acts were evil.
How Did Evil Get Here?
Well, ok, so God isn’t responsible for evil. But we still can’t deny that evil still exists so how did it get here? This is a great question because it starts us down a twisting, turning road that ends with a very surprising destination.
Here’s the first twist: the answer to the question, “How did evil get here?” is locked within another question: “Why are we here in the first place?” Answering this second question first will help us unravel the mystery of how evil came to exist.
The reason for humanity’s existence is made very clear in the pages of the Scriptures. You see, the Bible tells us that the reason we are here is to love God and have a relationship with Him. Jesus talked about this in response to a question that was asked by a religious teacher of His day…
“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:35-38 NIV).
So Jesus said that our greatest responsibility is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. Jesus also said in Revelation 3:20 that He will come and have fellowship with anyone who opens the door to Him. So we can see that God desires that we love Him and have a relationship with Him. So far, so good, right?
Now here’s a funny thing about love: love involves choices. In any relationship, people must choose to love. Think about it- can you force someone else to love you? Can you threaten someone and make them love you? Of course not. Sure, you can make someone say that they love you. You might even get someone to act like they love you. But that isn’t real love. So one person cannot force another person to love- they must choose to do so.
Now God’s desire is that each of us would enjoy a loving relationship with Him but real love can’t be forced or compelled. Once someone tries to force another person to love them, then love immediately stops existing in that relationship. So just as we cannot force a boyfriend or a girlfriend or a parent to love us, so it also is with God and humanity.
Now let’s stop for a moment and think this through. Remember that love involves choices, so in order for people to love God and really have it mean something, then people must be able to choose to do so. But having a choice means that people must also have the equal ability to choose not to love God too. If we didn’t have the ability to choose not to love God then there really is no choice at all, is there? It would be like the person who tells you that you can choose any ice cream flavor you want as long as your choice is vanilla. Well, that’s really no choice at all, is it? In order for your choice to really mean something, you must have the ability to choose from more than one ice cream flavor.
In a similar way, God also allows for the possibility that some people would choose not to love Him in giving us this ability to return His love for us. In order to really love, we must have the ability to choose to love God but also the ability to choose not to love God. Unfortunately, having a free choice also makes it possible to make a bad choice- like rejecting God.
So let’s tie it all together. It should go without saying that all people should love the God who created them and is responsible for their very existence. But it’s equally true that many people don’t really care about God at all. This is where our earlier definition of evil (the absence of something good that should be there) comes back into play. When love for God is absent, then evil will result because something good (love for God) that should exist doesn’t.
This explains why we have the existence of evil- in order to have the freedom to choose to love, there must also be the freedom to choose not to love. In the end, this is what is ultimately responsible for the existence of evil.
If God Is All-Powerful Then Why Doesn’t He Just Stop Evil?
Some people believe that God should just get rid of all evil right now and be done with it. Actually, this brings up a pretty good question: why doesn’t God just blow away all the bad guys right now so we won’t have any more evil? Of course there are other people who say, “Well, maybe God isn’t powerful enough to stop evil.” These people believe that if God really is good and really is all-powerful then He could certainly destroy all evil. But the fact is that evil still exists, so therefore, God must not be all-good or all-powerful, right?
You see, there’s a problem with simply just pulling the plug on all evil. As we said earlier, love involves choices. This means that we are free to choose the path of love or the path of evil. If that choice is eliminated then the ability to love is also eliminated. This means that if we eliminate evil then we must also eliminate the possibility of love. And if the freedom to choose love no longer exists, then that itself becomes evil. So you can see that simply eliminating evil is not as easy as it sounds.
Well, why doesn’t God just blow away all the bad people so we won’t have any more evil? Well that might sound good on the surface but the truth is that evil isn’t just limited to bank robbers, terrorists and car thieves, you know. As we said earlier, evil is the absence of something good that should be there, right? Well, is there anyone who can truthfully say that they have always been good, all of the time? Is there anyone who can truthfully claim that they have never, ever done anything evil- not even once? The reality is that none of us can claim those things. This means that all of us have been “bad people” to one extent or another.
With that in mind, let’s now imagine that God has decided to wipe out all evil everywhere. If so, then God would be responsible to include anyone who has ever committed evil, right? Unfortunately, this means that once evil is wiped out, everyone who has ever been responsible for even the smallest amount of evil would also be wiped out too. Is that really what you’d like to see happen? Probably not.
So what does this mean? Does this mean that we’re stuck with evil and that’s just the way it is? Well, not exactly. You see, just because God hasn’t put an end to evil doesn’t mean that He won’t put an end to evil. Listen, we haven’t reached the final chapter in God’s book of humanity yet. We still haven’t reached the end where God will put everything right. Make no mistake- there will come a time when God will do away with evil in all its forms.
Rest assured that evil will be eliminated one day but it’s going to happen in God’s way and in God’s time. Remember, just because God hasn’t put an end to evil yet doesn’t mean that He won’t put an end to evil. It’s only a matter of time.
(1) American Heritage Dictionary Of The English Language, Third Edition