Why Does God Allow Evil?: The Impact of Our Choices

The Problem of Evil is a profound dilemma that has sparked intense debate from the earliest memories of our history. The issue is rooted in the inherent tension between the existence of an all-powerful, perfectly benevolent God and the presence of evil and suffering in the world. It seems inevitable that every person will eventually grapple in one way or another with this paradoxical question: How could a benevolent God allow evil into the world?

The short answer to this dilemma is that God allowed evil into the world because He desired humans to be able to love. True love requires choice. God made humans in His own image, which includes giving humans individual agency to make moral choices. 

When God introduced moral choice into the world, He introduced the real potential for evil. God sufficiently masked His presence such that He did not, and continuously does not, impose Himself on humans. God has given humans the agency to make choices.

Simultaneously, God makes Himself abundantly obvious for anyone willing to see (Romans 1:20).

Therefore, God has constructed the world such that those willing to see can, and when they believe based on the good and sufficient evidence, they are given a complete reconciliation, that transpires through time:

  • Those who believe Jesus died on the cross for their sins are fully reconciled to God and placed into His forever-family (John 3:3, 14-16). 
  • Those who walk in faith that God’s ways are for our best and obey His commands, overcoming sin and temptation, are promised to be restored to the initial design for humans to steward the earth in harmony with God, nature, and one another (Revelation 3:21, Hebrews 2:9-10, Romans 8:17). 
  • All who believe will spend eternity in a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). 

The greater question, then, is arguably whether or not God tells us why it is in our best interest to endure suffering, rather than simply making all things right immediately. God gave choice to Adam and Eve, and they fell. God immediately promised to redeem their bad choice (Genesis 3:15). But why has God allowed many thousands of years to pass, and many billions of humans to endure suffering rather than resolving things immediately?

The Bible indicates that the ultimate answer to this is that it is greatly in our best interest to have the opportunity to know God and one another by faith. This is inferred throughout scripture by the manner in which God interacts with humans. 

But we are also told that angels, “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” are learning of God’s wisdom through watching the lives of those in the “church,” those who believe on Jesus (Ephesians 3:10). We are told that angels long to understand things being disclosed to humans (1 Peter 1:12). We are also told that God appointed humans, the “infants” of God’s created order to silence God’s enemies (Psalm 8:2). This is even though angels are superior creatures (Psalm 8:5). 

Separately, we are told that humans were appointed to rule over the earth as its stewards (Genesis 1:26). It appears that Satan gained authority over the earth when humans fell (John 14:30). But when Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, Satan was judged (John 16:11). Jesus restored the right for humans to have the “glory and honor” of serving as stewards over the earth through the “suffering of death” (Hebrews 2:7-9). 

Because Jesus was willing to learn obedience, even to death on the cross, His name was lifted above every name (Philippians 2:7-10). Jesus was given the reward of being the “Son” as a human, which came with the right to rule (Hebrews 1:5, 8, 13, Matthew 28:18). Jesus desires to bring “many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10)—these “sons” will be believers in Jesus who also choose the mindset Jesus chose, and learn obedience (Philippians 2:5-9). 

We can see from the example of Job that God allowed a man He highly esteemed to go through great difficulty in order to give Job the full knowledge of knowing Him by faith (Job 42:5-6). Jesus stated that “eternal life” comes through knowing God (John 17:3). 

“Eternal life” is used to describe both receiving the gift of being born into God’s family as well as gaining the prize of experiencing the greatest fulfillment from life. In John 17, Jesus prays for His followers, that they might know God, and gain the greatest fulfillment from life. Jesus told Thomas that those who know by faith will gain a greater blessing than will those who know by sight (John 20:29). Thus, it is inferred as well as stated overtly that coming to know by faith is our path to our greatest benefit for each one of us. 

We can see this from scripture, but God tells us that it is beyond our ability to fully comprehend just how amazing a benefit we can gain from following Him, loving Him by doing as He has commanded as we walk by faith:

“but just as it is written,
‘things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,
And which have not entered the heart of man,
All that God has prepared for those who love Him.’”
(1 Corinthians 2:9)  

We can gain insight into answering this question through the following observations:

The heart of this dilemma is the contrast between God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and omni-benevolence with the inescapable and observable existence of pain and malevolence in the world. How can both be true at the same time? Why would a benevolent God create a world that He has allowed to fill with evil?

One manifestation of the Problem of Evil argument asserts that the very existence of the question proves that there is no God. The argument runs something like this: 

“If God truly was perfectly good and completely powerful, then He would not let ________ (fill-in-the-blank-for-any-terrible-thing) happen. This (terrible-thing) happened. Therefore, it demonstrates that a perfectly good and completely powerful God who is absolutely worthy of our praise, does not exist.”

Every person can fill in the blank with their own unique experience. Accordingly, this dilemma quickly moves beyond a mere academic debate in philosophical and theological schools and becomes uniquely personal. This is because no one person’s suffering is exactly the same as another’s. 

The Problem of Evil can be raised from two basic positions or postures. The two positions are Pride and Humility. This can also be described as trust in self or trust in God. 

Which position we adopt is determined by which option we choose from among the second of the three things we can control. God gave each person stewardship of these three things which we can individually control: 

  1. Our Perspective
  2. Who We Trust
  3. Our Actions, including a choice of How We Respond 

How we understand the Problem of Evil (our perspective/position) entirely depends on who we trust. Who we trust dramatically shapes how we understand the nature of this problem and it informs how we grapple with the existence of evil in the world. Consequently, the resolutions and outcomes a person postured in pride will seek regarding the evil they encounter will be entirely different from the humble person’s. When dealing with the reality of evil, proud people and humble people will have equally different attitudes toward life. They will take equally different actions.

One perspective (pride) is false and leads to further evil. The other perspective (humility) is true and leads to life. 

The posture of pride is to adopt a perspective that “I am the center of existence and all things must bend to my will.” The Bible calls this being “proud.” The essence of pride is an inherent trust in self. 

The attitude of humility is a commitment to see things as they are. It is readily observable that we are in fact not the center of all things; did not create the world; and do not have the right, power, or wisdom to judge the world. 

We can observe that each person is a limited being. It is also readily observable that there is only room for one person on earth to be the center of all things. If everyone claims to be the center, then no one can be the center. Scripture consistently contrasts faith in self (pride) with faith in God (faith). An example is the following Old Testament verse that is quoted three times in the New Testament:

“Behold, as for the proud one,
His soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by his faith.”
(Habakkuk 2:4) 

Here “righteous” describes one who walks consistently with God’s (good) design, believing it is for their best. “Proud” describes someone who insists that their way is superior. This is an echo and extension of the original sin, where humans chose their own way over God’s way (Genesis 3:3-6). 

If we trust ourselves or something other than God in our choices, we are operating out of pride. If we recognize that God is our Creator, and therefore knows what is best for us, and trust in His ways, we are operating out of faith and humility. 

Again, the proud-postured Problem of Evil argument runs something like: 

“If God truly was perfectly good and completely powerful, then He would not let this evil happen. This evil did happen. Therefore, this evil demonstrates that a perfectly good and completely powerful God does not exist.”

Superficially, this may seem to be a compelling argument, especially for someone who is in the throes of suffering. However, this is only compelling if we begin with the prideful premise that “I have the right to know and to be the center of all things.” 

A Prideful Approach to The Problem of Evil is based on at least five untrue presuppositions: 

  1. It falsely presumes that we understand reality, and what is good, better than God does. Upon reflection this is obviously untrue.
    (Job 40:3-14, Isaiah 14:13-15)
  2. It falsely presumes that we, and by extension our circumstances, are the center of all. The consequences of life debunk this presumption for anyone willing to see.
    (Proverbs 3:5-6, 25:6, Luke 14:11, Romans 12:3, James 4:6)
  3. It falsely underestimates the severity of human sin. The actual Problem of Evil lies with humans rather than God.
    (Lamentations 3:39-40)
  4. It falsely disbelieves God’s goodness. It accuses Him of being unjust based on a premise that we are the center and have the right to decree and judge what is just.
    (Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 89:14, Hebrews 6:10-12)
  5. It disbelieves God’s ability to use the present circumstance for the best possible outcome. We could also state this as elevating the present moment above the ultimate outcome.
    (Genesis 50:20, Matthew 10:38-42, Romans 8:28, 2 Corinthians 4:16-17, Philippians 1:6, James 1:2-4)

The Problem of Evil understood from the posture of pride foolishly presumes to trust one’s finite wisdom above God’s perfect wisdom. Or to say this in logical terms, all of these false premises arise from one or more erroneous definitions of God, goodness, or evil. 

Elevating one’s wisdom above God’s and placing oneself in the center of the universe will lead to further evil and suffering. Running in defiance of reality inevitably results in one’s own ruin (Romans 1:18, 21-32). Moreover, pride leads to conflict; each proud individual tramples over others when their authority is challenged; proud individuals demand the universe bow to their desires, leading to unending fights for power (Galatians 5:15, 19-21). Thus, pride justifies one’s own selfish exploitation of others—which is itself an act of evil and cause of unjust suffering. 

Addressing the Problem of Evil with a proud outlook frames the issue in a manner that presumes the outcome. It should be restated, “Since God is obligated to serve my demands and He is not serving my demands, then I will refuse to believe He exists.” 

A genuine atheist would be completely indifferent to such questions. In practice, adamant atheists are evangelists for this basic belief that “I deserve my way.” 

Considering the Problem of Evil from a posture of humility/reality approaches the question with the opposite premise of pride. And it leads to opposite outcomes.

The humble position presumes that an omni-benevolent God would have a rationale for His actions and seeks God’s perspective on the evil that is being suffered. It acknowledges the short-sightedness and finite limitations of the questioner. Rather than leaning on his own limited understanding, the humble person wisely chooses to trust the Lord with all his circumstances (Proverbs 3:5-7).

A humble/faith posture regarding our suffering leads to life, wisdom, and all manner of good (Psalm 25:9-10, Proverbs 3:8, Galatians 6:8-10, 1 Peter 5:5-7). It places us into reality, allowing us to have peace of mind and hope amidst suffering that surpasses the common understanding of the proud (Philippians 4:7). 

When the humble person encounters evil, instead of trying to reconcile its existence with God’s love, he seeks to reconcile his limited perspective with God’s infinite perspective and considers what God may be trying to accomplish through the effects of evil.  

This is what David was doing when he wrote: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). And it is what Jesus was doing when He repeated David’s question (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34) while He suffered terribly on the cross.

Whenever the humble person who trusts God encounters evil, the “problem” then is not God’s goodness. His goodness is unassailable and beyond reasonable argument (Psalm 106:1). It is rather a problem of sin, and the fall of humanity. This is exacerbated by the reality of one’s own incomplete understanding. 

Said another way, “the Problem” in “the Problem of Evil” is not a problem of God’s love or power, rather it is a matter of our own choices and our own limitations. The humble often encounter and even suffer evil without understanding God’s purposes to redeem it. 

The humble might also struggle to see the good that God seeks to make through suffering and injustice. These experiences baffle the humble for a time, as they do anyone. But instead of doubting God or raising their fist at Him, they pour out their griefs to Him and ask things like: “Lord, how long will You look on?” (Psalm 35:17). 

But when we do not understand why we suffer or see the good God seeks to birth through it, God in His love is there to help us, to grow us, to teach us, and to perfect us.

James begins his epistle instructing his readers to “Consider it all joy [whenever they] encounter various trials” (James 1:2) This includes trials of suffering the effects of evil. This indicates that choosing a position of humility is a matter of one’s choice. 

The reason James tells us to consider trials of suffering evil to be “all joy” is because these experiences test and grow our faith and perfect us (James 1:3-4). James calls adopting this attitude of humility “wisdom.”

Whenever we fail to choose a perspective that our pain, loss, grief, unjust suffering, etc. perfects us (i.e. whenever we encounter the Problem of Evil) we can ask God to help us see our suffering through His perspective. And the Bible tells us that God will generously give us wisdom.

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
(James 1:5)

But we must ask in faith, trusting God’s goodness, lest we drown in the waves of our own duplicity (James 1:6-7). This tells us that if we choose to seek wisdom after choosing a true perspective, we will be given wisdom. 

If we seek and adopt God’s perspective through our suffering, we shall, as Peter says, “entrust [our] souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Peter 4:19).

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”
(1 Peter 5:6-7)

Once again, we see that how we understand the nature of the Problem of Evil, and how we seek to resolve its tensions, and the outcomes our approaches produce, all result from who we trust—God or self—and what perspective we choose in viewing our circumstances.

Our great opportunity is to choose to view every trial and experience of suffering as a path toward greater life with God. To choose otherwise is to rely on self, which inevitably leads to some form of death (separation from God’s good design). 

The choice of life and death was the basic proposition offered humanity in the Garden of Eden.  We have suffered death, and evil, as a result of that choice. When God made a covenant/treaty with Israel, He also framed it to them as a choice between good and evil, life and death, blessing/benefit and cursing/destruction:

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live…”
(Deuteronomy 30:15)

In like manner, Jesus also framed the basic choice of life as being between life and death:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
(John 5:24)

It is arguable to say that the true Problem of Evil is not rooted in our need to comprehend, but rather in our choice. We can choose to judge God in our limited understanding or choose to trust God in working all things together for what is good (Romans 8:28). 

Each person now has the ability to choose to overcome evil with good through the agency of Jesus Christ. This begins by receiving the gift of eternal life through faith (John 3:14-16). It then becomes a lived reality of experience through walking by faith, believing in God’s benevolence, and following His ways. 

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