42109 Why Does God Permit Evil to Exist?

In a nationally televised debate about the existence of God, CNN host, Larry King publicly denied his belief in the God of his ancestors because of the death of six million fellow Jews during the Holocaust.

King argued that if God is truly good, he would have prevented the Holocaust as well as all other sufferings in this life. He concluded that the biblical God of unlimited power either doesn’t exist or isn’t good.

Like King, many wonder how a good God would permit evil to exist. Why does he let innocent people suffer? Why didn’t he prevent the Holocaust? Why does he tolerate wars, rapes, and murders? 

So, does God not care about our suffering and pain? Or is there some other reason why he does not intervene and prevent suffering?

Perhaps the answer to that question begins with an understanding of what God is really like. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God revealed, 

I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. (Jeremiah 9:24 NLT)

In this passage, God reveals these attributes of his nature,

  • He is a God of unfailing love
  • He is a God of justice
  • He is a God of righteousness

If God has unfailing love, he certainly should care about our suffering. If he is just, he would presumably judge those who commit evil. And if he is a God of righteousness, we must believe good will ultimately prevail over evil.

Yet, we live in a world where we see evil all around us. We experience pain, suffering, and death.  We are caught between questioning God and remaining hopeful for a better future.  Even those who trust in God’s unfailing love, justice, and righteousness are often driven to ask, “Why?” 

Bible teacher Dr. J. Vernon McGee speaks of the pain of losing his young daughter. He recalls,

“I stood by a little white casket holding my firstborn daughter and asked, ‘Why did You let this happen to me?’” 

Sadly, McGee’s daughter would never see a beautiful sunset, watch the surf swirl on a sandy beach, or experience the pleasure of romantic love. Nor would he ever see his daughter’s smile while walking her down the aisle on her wedding day.  

Although McGee believed in God’s unfailing love, he still wept bitterly at the tragic loss of his daughter, asking him, “Why?” 

The years passed, but God never gave McGee the answer to his question of why. Yet he did believe that God was worthy of his trust. In reflection, he wrote, 

“I do not have the answer to this day. But I want to say this to you, I shall wait. I am trusting the one who has the answer.”

McGee’s faith in God gave him hope, comfort, and healing from the pain of losing his daughter. He believed God has a plan for our lives regardless of any suffering or evil that exists in this life.

He also believed God’s plan ultimately brings about good from human pain and suffering, even though it is beyond our understanding. Speaking through Isaiah, God tells us,

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8,9)

King was unwilling to believe in a God whom he couldn’t understand. Yet, others don’t limit God’s ways. Jewish filmmaker, Menachem Daum, whose parents were both Holocaust survivors, quotes a Hasidic master who argues, 

“A God who limits himself to actions that we humans can understand couldn’t possibly be God.” 

So why do Evil and Suffering exist?

Is it possible that God permits evil and suffering in order to accomplish a higher purpose than strictly our personal comfort? And could it be that like light shines brightest in the darkness, God’s unfailing love, justice, and righteousness are most meaningful to us in a world of evil and suffering?  

According to the Scriptures, God’s higher purpose for our lives is to “adopt” us as his children. Paul, who had been a leading Pharisee and enemy of Jesus and Christians, learned this amazing truth when he encountered the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus. Later as Christianity’s greatest apostle, Paul marvels at God’s plan for us in his letter to the Ephesians,

For consider what he has done—He planned, in his purpose of love, that we should be adopted as his own children through Jesus Christ. (Ephesians1:3-6, J. B. Phillips)

Think of it: The God of all creation wants to be our loving heavenly Father!

But as Paul writes, God’s plan requires us to be “holy and blameless” like him. Throughout the Bible (nearly 600 times), God is spoken of as “holy.” His character is morally pure in every way—unblemished. 

So, if God wants us to be holy and blameless like himself, why didn’t he just create us to be that way? He certainly could have. However, it is God’s desire that we choose to trust him and follow his ways without coercion. He didn’t want to force his love upon us or force us to love and obey him. 

So that we could love and obey him of our own volition, he gave human beings free will. That freedom opened the door to our moral choices. We were given the opportunity to do good to one another—or to do evil. 

We might stop right here and ask, “What if we didn’t have free will?” What is the alternative? In other words, what would our world be like if we were robotically programmed like Siri or Alexa? 

Such a disastrous world was depicted in the movie, Stepford Wives. In the movie, weak, lying, greedy and murderous men engineered submissive, obedient robots to replace their liberated wives who they considered threats. The wives were programmed to always obey and please their husbands. 

Without the freedom to make our own choices, we would be robotic. We wouldn’t be human at all. Like it or not, our free will can cause pain and sufferings to others. The Holocaust, child molestation, and bombing of innocent civilians are examples of how horrible such suffering can be. 

Our free will made it possible for us either to obey or to disobey God. The Bible identifies our disobedience to God as a sin. When the first man, Adam, disobeyed God, sin entered our world. According to the Bible, all people have inherited that sin nature passed on from Adam.

Sin causes the severing of all relationships: the human race severed from its environment (alienation), individuals severed from themselves (guilt and shame), people severed from other people (war, murder), and people severed from God (spiritual death). 

Sin is therefore the great obstacle separating us from a holy God. The Bible says our sin has separated us from God’s love. Sin is an affront to God’s holiness and must be judged. God imposed the penalty of death for our sin—not just physical death, but eternal separation from God.

God’s Redemptive Plan

However, in an incredible display of grace and mercy, God made a way for us to be forgiven. The message of the Bible is that God himself became a man and suffered a horrible death on the cross—for us. The Apostle Paul explains God’s solution to our sin problem.

The proof of God’s amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, J. B. Phillips)

Since we were guilty before a holy God, we needed a Savior who could take our punishment upon himself. But our Savior needed to be a man like us, yet morally perfect in every way.

Jesus was the only one qualified because as God he was perfectly righteous, and as man, he could become our substitute.

The author of the New Testament Book of Hebrews explains how Jesus is the only person qualified to be our sin sacrifice.

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying…he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. (Portions of Hebrews 2:14–18, NLT)

This redemptive plan of God was not just revealed in the New Testament. He announced his plan to send a Savior as far back as in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 3:15). 

Moreover, seven centuries before the birth of Jesus (Yeshua), God revealed through the prophet Isaiah that the Messiah would be born as a child. Yet in the same passage, the prophet tells us that he is to be called “Mighty God.”

To us a child is born, to us a son is given.…And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6, NIV)

Isaiah also foretold Messiah’s intense suffering and painful death for sin. For example, here are portions of his descriptive prophecy in the 53rd chapter:

He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins….We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. (Portions of Isaiah 53)

God’s goodness was demonstrated by his sending his Son as the Savior for our sins. Those who say God is uncaring fail to acknowledge the amazing depth of his love for us expressed by Jesus on the cross.

God’s perfect justice is completely satisfied by the death of his Son, Jesus Christ. He took the penalty for our sin upon himself. The curse of sin brought on by the first man, Adam, was nullified by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

All of our sins—no matter how bad they are or have been—are completely paid for by the blood of Christ. And we are cleansed by his blood, and able to enter the presence of God as his holy and blameless children. Paul writes,

Yet now he has brought you back as his friends…through his death on the cross in his own human body. As a result, he has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. (Colossians 1:22a NLT)

Many wonder why an all-powerful, loving God can’t just forgive us without judging our sins. Why does he demand justice?

Imagine entering a courtroom and you are guilty of murder. As you approach the bench, you realize that the judge is your father. Knowing that he loves you, you immediately begin to plead, “Dad, just let me go!”

With tears in his eyes, he responds, “I love you, son, but I’m a judge. I can’t simply let you go.”

Presenting the evidence against you, he bangs the gavel down and declares you guilty. Justice cannot be compromised, at least not by a judge. But because he loves you, he steps down from the bench, takes off the robe, and offers to pay the penalty for you. And in fact, he takes your place in the electric chair.

This is the picture painted by the New Testament. God stepped down into human history, in the person of Jesus Christ, and was crucified on the cross for us. Jesus is not a third-party whipping boy being punished for our sins, but rather he is God himself. God had two choices: to punish us for our sin, or to receive the punishment himself. In Christ, he chose the latter.

Did Jesus Defeat Death?

When Jesus died on the cross, his Roman and Jewish enemies thought they had prevailed. It certainly looked that way. In fact, even his followers fled and scattered, fearing they would be the next victims of Jesus’ accusers.

Before his crucifixion, Jesus had promised his followers that he would rise again on the third day. He said he would overcome evil and defeat death itself. But after the cross, those words seemed so far from reality.

But three days later something happened that launched a movement that ultimately changed our world. According to a New York Times article,

“Shortly after Jesus was executed, his followers were suddenly galvanized from a baffled and cowering group into people whose message about a living Jesus and a coming kingdom, preached at the risk of their lives, eventually changed an empire. Something happened … But exactly what?” 

A Skeptic Investigates Jesus’ Resurrection

One person who wanted to know what happened was an English journalist and skeptic, Frank Morison, who began research for a book to prove that Jesus’ resurrection was a myth. However, as he examined the evidence, Morison’s views changed as well as the theme of his book. What was it that changed Morison’s mind as well as his book?

Morison discovered Jesus’ death was verified by both Jewish and Roman historians.

Morison then wondered if the disciples had conspired a plot to make it appear Jesus had risen. However, there are three main problems with that theory:

First, the tomb was secured by a large stone and a 24-hour trained Roman guard. It would have been impossible for the disciples to roll the stone away and remove Jesus’ body without notice.

Second, the resurrection plot would have died out as soon as someone discovered Jesus’ body, yet that never happened.

Third, the disciples changed from being cowards into men who were willing to be tortured and martyred for proclaiming the risen Jesus.

It was the dramatic transformation in the disciples’ behavior that convinced Morison the resurrection really happened. He documents the evidence that changed his mind in his book, Who Moved The Stone.

What Would a Jury Decide?

Another scholar who wrote about evidence for Jesus’ resurrection was Dr. Simon Greenleaf, founder of the Harvard Law School. Greenleaf wrote the rules of evidence still used in our legal system today. 

Applying those rules to the events surrounding Jesus’ death, Greenleaf concluded that any honest jury would render a verdict that Jesus’ resurrection really happened. As with Morison, it was the sudden change in the disciples’ behavior that persuaded him. He writes,

“It would have been impossible for the disciples to persist with their conviction that Jesus had risen if they hadn’t actually seen the risen Christ.”

Jesus’ resurrection convinced his disciples that he was the Messiah who had died for our sins. He was “the only way to God,” and “the resurrection and the life.”

They now knew Jesus alone had the power over life and death, and they gave their lives proclaiming him as the risen Lord.

What does Jesus’ resurrection mean to you and me today?

The apostle Paul, who had also initially been a skeptic of Jesus’ resurrection, explains its impact on our lives.

For Christ has completely abolished death, and has now, through the Gospel, opened to us men the shining possibilities of the life that is eternal. (2 Timothy 1:10, J. B.Phillips)

The Gift of Heaven

But wait a minute, you say, “Don’t I have to do good deeds to go to heaven?”

Since eternal life is a gift from God, you and I can’t do anything to earn our way into heaven. Paul explains God’s amazing grace in his letter to the Ephesians.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)

For a gift to be ours, we need to actually receive it. Like any gift, you can choose to accept or reject Jesus Christ’s pardon for the penalty for your sins. This was made clear by the apostle John.

This is what God told us: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life, but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12, NCV)

It’s Your Choice

To become a Christian and be forgiven you must place your faith in Jesus’ death for your sins on the cross, and trust in his resurrection for your eternal life. It is a choice that you alone must make. No one else can do it for you.

You must honestly admit you have sinned and want the forgiveness Jesus Christ offers you. The apostle John tells us that,

If we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable—he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil. (1 John 1:9, J. B. Phillips)

John tells us that whoever receives Jesus Christ becomes his child.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12, NIV)

You can receive Jesus right now by asking him to come into your life and forgive your sins.

If you haven’t ever invited Jesus into your life, simply pray the following words. But remember, it’s not the words you say but the attitude of your heart that is important.

“Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for dying for all my sins—past, present, and future. Thank you for giving me eternal life. I receive you as my Savior by faith, and desire you to be Lord of my life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be.”

A New Life

If you have made this commitment to Jesus Christ, he actually entered your life as the Holy Spirit who will reside in you forever. God has created a future world for those who trust in Jesus Christ where there will be no pain, suffering, or death.

Yes, God could have made a world without evil and suffering. But his unfailing love, justice, and righteousness were all demonstrated by his redemptive plan to include us in his family for all eternity. In that future world, God’s Word says,

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4, NIV)

Here on earth suffering and evil exist. However, God is able to use our suffering to accomplish his purposes in our lives and in others.  

Many have discovered that as we turn our lives and our will over to Christ’s care, he fills our hearts with peace that surpasses all understanding.  He guarantees he will be our forever companion empowering us to handle life’s challenges together.

Such was the case with Joni Eareckson.

Joni was a beautiful seventeen-year-old athletic teenager who had been enjoying a summer day with friends at a lake. Standing on the edge of her raft, Joni dove into a shallow part of the lake. The sudden jolt in her head severed her spinal cord, and Joni instantly became a quadriplegic. 

One year earlier, Joni had asked God to help her go deeper in her relationship with Him. Now that all her hopes and dreams suddenly vanished, she wondered, “Was this God’s answer?” 

Joni prayed intensely for healing, but she remained wheelchair-bound, a quadriplegic who would never be able to use her hands or legs again.

As the years went by, Joni began asking God to use her to help others suffering from disabilities. Today, Joni runs an international ministry that has helped bring hope and guidance to thousands of disabled people.

Not only has Joni accepted her disability as God’s will for her, but she embraces it. She says her understanding of suffering is captured in the following words: “God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”

In other words, God uses the suffering and evil we experience in this world to draw us closer to himself and make us more like Christ. He also uses it so we can help and encourage others going through trials.

When we commit our lives to Christ, his Holy Spirit comforts and encourages us in our suffering and trials. He also brings meaning and purpose to our lives, along with the power to overcome sin and live for him.