The problem of evil
This is the most difficult of all the apologetic questions to deal with. The question comes in a number of forms. "Why does God allow natural disasters?". "Why doesn't he stop bad things happening?" Why does God stand by and allow wars, personal calamities, disease, etc?"
Analysis of the question
Quite often behind these questions there is a more personal question such as "why did God let my father get run over by a car?" etc. Therefore we must be careful to look for the personal situation that may lie behind the question and answer accordingly.
The question often serves as a strong attack upon God. ie. it implies that God doesn't exist, or if he does, that he is an evil petulant tyrant whom we should keep clear of.
The question may be provoked from a genuine concern that the existence of evil seems to oppose all that God stands for. If there is no God, and therefore no good and evil, then there is no problem, but if God does exist, how is righteousness and goodness served in our present state of pain? Of course, many times the question is just put on for a stir.
The Bible does not systematically or exhaustively deal with the problem of evil. However, that is not to say that the problem is not raised or dealt with. The Bible recognizes the problem and existence of evil and certainly has a lot to say about its place in God's purpose and plans, and our relationship to it. That we have more questions than answers must not be denied, but we must not be too afraid of the problem to notice the many answers which we do possess.
The central problem for us lies in the fact that the Bible does not answer questions about the source or creation or evolution of evil, but rather deals only with its present effects, its future, what we are to do about it and what God has done about it. Speculations about the source of evil may be tantalizing, but basically time wasting as there is no answer given in the Bible. Much of what is debated philosophically is outside the scope of the Bible and we must just admit ignorance. Yet the questions which come from life's experience are dealt with in the Bible and so we must read, learn, mark and inwardly digest:
i] God is the Lord of heaven and earth, the creator and maker, who can rightly be described as almighty, Gen.1, Job.38-41, Matt.11:25.
ii] Evil is opposed to God's character, Ps.5:4, Heb.2:13.
iii] Evil does exist both in things that are wrong and as personified in forces of evil, Eph.2:1-4, 6, 12.
iv] However, evil can be ambiguous. That is, what from one aspect is evil, from another can be good. Consequently, God can bring out of what is evil, good things, eg. the death of Jesus, Joseph's slavery, Gen.45:4, 5, 50:18-20.
v] Evils have many purposes in the hand of God.
to change the course of history, eg. the ten plagues;
to punish wickedness, eg. Sodom and Gomorrah, Gen.9:5,6;
to warn people of the consequences of their action, 1Cor.10:1-13;
to correct and strengthen people, 1Pet.1:6-8, Jam.1:2-4, Rom.5:3-5.
vi] This is not to say that God initiates and directs evil or is unsympathetic to our trials and suffering, Heb.2:18, 4:14-16, Ezk.18:32, 1Pet.3:9.
vii] Nor is it to imply that the Bible writers do not appreciate the great difficulties associated with suffering, pain and evil, Job, Ps.22, Heb.10:33f, 11:35-38, 2Cor.11:23-29. They also appreciate the theological difficulties involved in God not stopping their suffering, and the seeming injustice of the wicked rewarded and the righteous suffering, Ps.73:1-17, Job.21:7-15.
viii] Mankind is seen in the Bible as responsible for sin and for the consequences of such sin, Ex.20:5, Gen.3:1, 1Cor.10:13, Jam.4:1-4.
ix] The effects of human sinfulness invades the very character of the world, Gen.3:14-24, Rom.8:18-25.
x] Thus pain, trouble, suffering, disorder and evil become part and parcel of human life and experience, Rev.21:1-4, Rom.8:18-25.
xi] However, whether affected by the fall or not, the world as we know it is orderly and not chaotic, Isa.45:18, and has certain rules and patterns into which we can collide, 1Pet.1:24, Isa.40:6-9.
xii] The Bible is antagonistic to simplistic answers concerning the problem of evil, Lk.13:1-5, Jn.9:1-3, Job.
xiii] However, God will overthrow evil and recreate a new heaven and new earth free from the agonies of this system, 2Pet.3:7-10, Rev.21:1-4, Rom.8:18-25.
xiv] God is delaying this action out of love, giving humanity the opportunity for repentance, 2Pet.3:9, Rom.2:3-5.
xv] Accepting Christ's mastery over our life does not remove the trials and tribulations of this life:
Timothy still needed wine, Paul had his thorn;
Persecution is added to our problems, 2Tim.3:12;
Only those who believe in an almighty and loving God have the intellectual problem of evil.
xvi] We, as the clay in the potter's hands, are in no position to judge the fairness, equity, or goodness of God's actions, Rom.9:19-23, Job.38-41, Isa.45:9-13. Rather we are encouraged to do that which is right and trust him who is our creator, 1Pet.4:17.
xvii] The ungodly person's response to suffering is to curse God and turn away from him. The godly person trusts God, accepting that he is ultimately in control, Rev.6-8.
A planned answer
In answering the question I intend to take God seriously. I do not believe that God has ever acted unjustly. He would never do anything that's wrong. His intentions for us are completely loving. I may see and experience great pain and suffering about me. My troubles may have nothing to do with my own actions, yet in all of it God is not out to hurt me. In fact, in my own personal hurts and pains, I know that his love for me is unconditional. I know this because he has promised to love broken humanity in and through the person of Jesus Christ. I also understand that I do not necessarily see or experience things the way they really are. This world is, in many ways, not substantial. We can never possess it. It is, as it were, "someone else's property." We but pass through it, from "dust to dust". Yet we may, through Jesus, pass through it to possess a "property of our own", "true riches". So God's love for us is not necessarily denied in the difficulties of this present "shadow land".
Starting from this point, let us examine the question. What is being suggested is that God should stop wrong things from happening. Of course, if we wish him to stop things going wrong, we must expect him to stop us going wrong, along with the natural order and evil people. It would be quite illogical for him to restrain nature and then let us run amuck. If this world is his, and he is to keep it running perfectly, that obviously means us as well as nature. Luckily he doesn't run it that way as we would have been stomped out years ago.
There are two interesting facts in the Bible that give us insight into this problem:
1. God has created a free world
God created humanity as a free agent responsible for our actions. We may do what we like; serve the creator or serve ourselves. Nature too functions freely. Clearly we see something is wrong, it doesn't work right. I like to put it this way - freedom has gone haywire. We have used freedom to pursue our own ends, at times with great cruelty. Nature too seems to mirror the madness of humanity. The Bible tells us that the reason for nature's turmoil is a direct result of human rebellion against God. Just as humanity destroys nature directly through the abuse of freedom (polluted rivers etc.), so also indirectly we destroy nature through our rebellion against God.
The point is a simple one, we are free beings. and even though we misuse our freedom to destroy ourselves and nature, God does not remove our freedom. We might argue that God could help out a bit, but then any intervention on his part is an intrusion into freedom. For example, think of the situation where a person fires a bullet at a bloke and kills him. God could act in three possible ways:
i] He could stop the person firing the bullet. Farewell freedom! We are no longer free to love or hate or obey.... Farewell humanity, welcome robot.
ii] He could deflect the bullet from its target. A mere facade of freedom. It would be farewell laws of nature, ie. bullets travel in straight lines except when aimed at humans.
iii] He could undo the injury inflicted. We are left with the same illogical problem. Humans are no longer responsible for their actions.
So the first point I make is that we live in a totally free world affected by our own selfishness.
2. God will step in one day
From time to time God has intervened in our world to straighten things out. Usually these interventions have to do with God revealing something to us about our present condition and about the coming new age. Sometimes the intervention is a stage in the dawning of God's new age, of his coming Kingdom, of heaven. Jesus' life, death and resurrection was just such an intervention. So this is God's world and we are his, and there will come a day when God will act to put all things right.
The point I make is this. Nature will not always be as it is. There will come a day when it will be perfectly restored. At the moment nature groans and trembles awaiting its release. We too, at that time, will face God's restoring hand. This will involve judgement and everlasting destruction for the rebellious and blessing and everlasting life for those who have turned from their rebellion to follow Jesus.
Therefore, to the question, "why doesn't God stop natural calamities, etc?" In the present moment we live in a totally free environment disjointed by our own rebellion, but God will not always leave it so. Soon he will act to put right all wrong. Pity help us if we are in the wrong when he sets about to put things right.
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