2.1 What is evil, and where did it come from?
• Evil is, quite simply, the lack of good, the negation of good. It has been defined as the “lack of something that should be there in the relationship between good things.”1 Evil is not a substance or being; it is real, but not a real thing. God did not create evil, for we know that God made everything good. And things are not evil in their being: a knife or a gun, for example, is not evil in and of itself. Rather, it is the will or intent that causes disorder and corrupts what is good. Even Satan was good in his being, for as the Bible says, “You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you” (Ezek 28:15). To sin is to transgress the will of God, to fall short of his intention for us. Augustine called evil disordered love, or disordered will, a wrong relationship, or a lack of conformity between our will and God’s will. Therefore God did not create evil; his creature caused it.
2.2 If a good and all-powerful God exists, then how can he allow the existence of evil?
• Atheists argue that the existence of evil refutes the existence of God. Others argue that God is neither good nor evil, or that God must be limited. Some religions maintain that evil does not really exist, but is only an illusion of “unenlightened human consciousness.” But the Christian believes that God exists, is good and rules over all, but also affirms that evil exists. How can all four truths be reconciled?
• If God had created the world as it exists today, then indeed, God would not be good and worthy of worship. But God created all things good, and the goodness of his creation included freedom. Love must have an object; God created the universe to manifest his nature of Love. But true love can only exist with freedom, just as true righteousness can only exist with freedom. We cannot truly love if we are forced to do so against our will; we cannot be morally perfect if we do not choose to do good out of our own volition.
• God did not create a world of robots to mechanically serve his purposes. He shows us what is good: “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly” with him (Mic 6:8). He also gives us commandments so that we may understand the consequences of our choices (Rom 5:13). But he permits us the freedom to do as we will, and by allowing that freedom, he allows the possibility of evil. When Satan chose to rebel against God, he set the precedent for sin. Adam and Eve sinned because they failed to obey the command God had given them, despite their knowledge of the consequences. Their disobedience displayed a lack of faith in God and introduced the separation between God and man. Death, the price of sin, was the result.
• Evil exists, so long as there is freedom to choose evil. But this does not mean that God is powerless against evil or in any way subject to it. On the contrary, God has already defeated evil through Jesus Christ. He came into the world as Jesus and suffered life’s hardships with us. Jesus demonstrated that it is possible to have free will and not sin. He satisfied God’s requirement for justice and manifested God’s love on the cross by paying the the ultimate price for human evil: death and complete severance from God.
• Through faith in him, we can be justified, or made blameless, in the eyes of God once more—overcoming evil and its consequence of death. If we believe in Jesus, one day “he will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).
• Even today, he can give us the same victory and help each one of us through our sorrows in life. How do we know? Because Jesus resurrected. When we believe in Jesus, our old, weak, error-prone self dies with him and we are resurrected into a new life. Then we no longer fear suffering because Jesus strengthens us, comforts us, and gives us peace.
2.3 Why should we be held guilty for something Adam did?
• Romans 5:12 tells us that “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Because of Adam’s sin, mankind, having descended from Adam, exists in a fallen state and is alienated from God. Is that unfair? Consider it this way: if you were to discover that your grandfather was a murderer, you would probably feel shame, even though you had nothing to do with his crime. On the other hand, you would be proud to know if your grandfather was a hero who had saved many lives. Either way, we cannot deny our heredity or the way it shapes who we are, for we exist because our ancestors existed. As a race, all of humankind is related more or less. We share in the inheritance of our common ancestor, Adam. Just as a person whose parent was an alcoholic is predisposed to alcoholism, we are all predisposed to sin because Adam sinned. And we have all sinned, not because we lack the ability to choose righteousness, but because our will is inclined not towards God, but towards evil. We follow our strongest desires, and our strongest inclinations are usually away from God.
• God does not condemn us to this inheritance, however, for he has provided a way out. While we cannot change our physical heritage, we can receive a new spiritual one. When we choose, through faith, to be baptized in Jesus’ blood, we put to death the flesh that leads to sin, and are born again, freed from the guilt of our Adamic heritage (Rom 6:6-7). When we receive the Holy Spirit, we receive the “Spirit of adoption,” identifying us as the children of God and joint heirs with Christ (Rom 8:15-17).
2.4 Why does a good God allow suffering?
• Goodness is not equivalent to kindness, for “[i]f goodness meant only kindness, a God who tolerated pain in his creatures when he could abolish it would not be an all-good God.”2 Because his nature is perfectly good and just, however, God cannot tolerate sin. Having sinned and turned away from God, we are subject to his divine wrath. And since our souls are alienated from God, our bodies, too, are alienated and no longer under his protection. God gave humankind authority over nature (Gen 1:28), but when humanity rejected God’s authority, we rejected the authority he gives to us: “If you rebel against the king, his ministers will no longer serve you.”3 Therefore we suffer both physical evil from the natural world (disease, famine, earthquakes) as well as moral evil from the sins we commit (hatred, envy, deceit).
• Why, then, do the righteous suffer? We cannot always equate suffering with wrongdoing, as Job’s friends were too quick to do. When Jesus’ disciples asked why the man he healed was born blind, he replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (Jn 9:3). Suffering ultimately reveals to us God’s sovereign power. Through suffering, our faith in God grows, as we come to realize our limitations and learn to turn, instead, to him. Thus, God allows suffering for our own good, so that in the end, “the genuineness of [our] faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:7).
- Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1990) 61.
- Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994) 140.
- Ibid., 135.