A Biblical Statement of the Problem
Now get ready for a paradox: God is the Sovereign Creator of absolutely everything, including evil! In Isaiah 45:7, God says, “I make peace and create evil.” Job says, in Job 2:10, “What? shall we receive good from God,and shall we not receive evil?” Isaiah 31:2 says God will bring evil against evildoers. God even made hell for the wicked to inhabit one day. The devil exists because God sustains his existence. The devil simply wouldn’t exist if God didn’t sustain his existence.
This does not imply that God takes pleasure in evil; He doesn’t. Psalm 5:4 says, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil.” But sometimes it seems almost as if God doesn’t care when evil strikes us. King David said, Psalm 10:1, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” It does seem like that sometimes. God has His reasons, which hopefully will become clear as we go along.
God let the devil hurt Job. In fact, God brought Job to the devil’s attention! Job 42:11 says that the Lord indeed brought trouble upon Job, even though the Lord Himself says that Job was blameless and upright (Job 2:3). Job responded to his wife’s bitter demand that he curse God and die by replying, in Job 2:10, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not evil?” So Job recognized, rightly, that God was the original source of his calamities. (By the way, there are different Hebrew words, all of which are translated “evil” in the King James. In Job 2:10, “evil” means “trouble,” “the bad,” “trials,” “hurt.”)
Therefore we can’t deny, as we look at the example of Job, that God brings trouble on the righteous. He brought it on Job. And Job was blameless and upright, fearing God and shunning the doing of evil to others. Yet he “got it”.
Jesus is another example. Jesus was completely righteous; yet God deliberately brought trouble on His own Son. Isaiah 53:9-10 says, “though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth…yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer….”
At one point, God even abandoned Jesus. We all remember that Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Now, we can accept that God brings evil on the wicked and the sinful. But why does He allow evil to strike the righteous; or worse, why does He strike them Himself with evil? How could He punish His own perfectly sinless Son and leave Him on the cross? How can this be fair or just or right? That is the question before us – why do the righteous suffer? And, more particularly, why am I suffering? Why are those I love suffering if they don’t deserve it? And finally, what is the meaning of life in which evil seems to roam free? How can God be pure love and yet allow to exist all the wicked people and the evil they do?
Biblical Hints at the Answer
Jesus, according to Hebrews 5:8, even though He was a perfect Son, still had to suffer in order that He might learn obedience. Earlier, the author of Hebrews says, in Hebrews 2:10, that “it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.” So we get from these verses two reasons for Jesus’ suffering: 1) to make Him obedient, and 2) to make Him perfect. It is almost as if suffering is necessary, like tempering steel, to make Jesus useful or complete. It sounds like it has absolutely nothing to do with punishment, but rather with maturity.
We get the idea in a number of other scriptures that God treats us the same way as He treats Jesus. Hebrews 12:6 says “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” The next verse says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.” The thought is concluded in verse 10, which reads: “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” Something about suffering hardship, or loving victims, or caring about others’ suffering, sets us apart, making us holy, and is for our own good. It makes us like our heavenly Father, to suffer – for He certainly suffers from evil just the same as we do.
This is very hard to understand or accept, yet Paul certainly backs this up when he says, Romans 8:18-19, “we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” He adds, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Like Paul, Peter concludes, I Peter 4:19, as though suffering were the easiest thing in the world, “So then those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
These men seemed to have no trouble at all accepting suffering and hardship as God’s will for them. And listen to James in James 1:2, who says: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
No, these biblical authors seem to have no pity for us. They seem to think, like the nurse holding the syringe with the big long needle in her hand, that suffering is good for us. But maybe, just maybe, they are not saying these things unconcernedly or casually. Maybe they have been through some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, and are closer to God for it, and have something to tell us that is very important.
Suffering is supposed to drive us deeper into the arms of God. King David says in Psalm 119:67, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” King David also quotes God as saying, Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor Me.” Yet we know perfectly well that the biblical authors had their moments of real doubt and pain. King David also wrote, with a lot more anguish in Psalm 10:1, to God: “Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Job, in Job 16:12, says: “All was well with me, but he shattered me; he seized me by the neck and crushed me. He has made me his target….”! It is all very well that we know the “correct” biblical answer to the question of suffering – that it is for our own good and we must endure it and turn to God; but this answer may not be very satisfying. Hearing another person say, “Come on in, the water’s fine!” may not encourage us at all to jump in the water. We know good and well that it’s cold. The nurse with the syringe says, “This won’t hurt!”; and we say, “Sure! Right!” and cringe. We see someone we care about being tortured or injured past recovery, and it makes us confused. The Bible answers our question – godly suffering is good for you – but the answer seems unreal somehow. So let us consider the problem of pain and evil a bit more philosophically. Let us unpack what we already know about God and evil. Then we will look at the Bible’s answer and see if it gives any more comfort or sheds more light.
God Made the Best Possible Universe, and That Includes the Possibility of Evil
Let us consider the existence of evil again. We said that God created evil along with everything else. Remember our verse: Isaiah 45:7, “I… create evil.” Yet we note that on the day of creation “God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:9). In fact God saw that it was all good, very good. Yet evil was created as well, along with the good. When God gave us the mighty gift of free will, that included the ability to choose to hurt or bless others. And thus creating the great good of free will resulted in the possibility of evil. Eve chose to believe Satan’s lie and eat the forbidden fruit. And evil entered into the world – as a consequence of the gift of free will.
How can this be? Let us suppose that you are the inventor of electricity. You are faced with a dilemma, because as soon as you invent electricity, with its great capacity for good, you create along with it the possibility of people being electrocuted by hair dryers falling into their bathtubs. The evil comes into existence parasitically on the coattails of the good.
In other words, if you will have airplanes then you must have airplane crashes; if you have gravity to keep us attached to the earth, then you must have death by falling from a cliff. If you are to have an orderly universe with natural laws of space and time, cause and effect, up and down, with all its inherent good, then you have to recognize that along with the good you create the risk of evil, evil in the sense of painful consequences from wrong choices. Evil, in other words, is a logical corollary of the existence of good. When you create the one, you create the other by default. When you create marriage and sex, babies and families, a very good thing, you create the possibility of the wrong choices of adultery and divorce; when you create life, you create the possibility of death and the wrong choice of murder; when you create possessions, you create the possibility of people choosing theft, and so on. So let us let God off the hook for having created evil. This is still the best possible universe. In order for the good of free will to exist, then its logical opposite, evil, in the sense of people choosing to do wrong, has to come into existence too.
Never forget what a courageous thing God did when He gave us free choice. He made it possible for Himself to get hurt, just so He could give us that best of gifts, free will. Free will is what exalts us so highly and is why God cares so much about us.
God Made Us In His Own Image and That’s Part of the Problem
God was in fact so courageous and bold as to make us in His own image. He gave us free will. We could choose between good and evil, right and wrong. God also chose to make the universe a place of cause and effect, a place in which there would be real consequences; otherwise there could only be stasis, sameness. However, when He created something good He necessarily along with it made it possible for things to go wrong and evil to exist and have real consequences. You know the story of the garden of Eden…
So would it have been better for evil never to have existed at all? Would it have been better that we be robots in a static, nonmoving and unchanging universe where neither good nor evil, pleasure nor pain was possible? God obviously didn’t think so. God is a daredevil. He is also one super dreamer and artist. God is a big God. He decided to go right ahead and create the whole universe. He flung the stars and made the moon, the earth, Adam and Eve! (And He made good more powerful than evil, whether we think so or not.) Nevertheless, we humans got into trouble right away, as we recall, in the Garden of Eden. Next we will look at God’s will regarding suffering.