The Challenge of Death and Suffering
As Christians, we believe in a good God who is all-powerful and all-loving. Yet, we cannot escape the reality of evil and suffering in the world. Many people reject belief in God because they can’t imagine a world in which God and evil both exist. It is a good thing to take evil seriously and to find it abhorrent. It would be far more disconcerting to talk with a person who finds no problem with the existence of evil (though a consistent atheist would have to say so).
Many people reject faith in God because of the existence of suffering. This issue is the number one objection to biblical faith. Christians have an obligation to give an answer to this and other objections to faith.
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear (1 Pet 3:15).
The gospel is based on truth-true historical events and true spiritual realities. Therefore, the gospel is defensible and we must “always be ready to give a defense.”
The Reality of Death and Suffering
Many people questioned faith in God after the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster of December 2004. Over 225,000 are believed to have perished because of the tsunami.
Death is all around us:
- In 2002 160,000 people died in America from “unintentional injuries”/vehicle accidents.
- An average of 57 million die each year around the world.
- About 150,000 every day, about 3 people every 2 seconds.
We see this as somehow “natural”, yet humanly speaking, what’s fair about that, either?
- In fact, what’s “fair” about any death? If God prevented all deaths except the death of one solitary person, that one death would also be “unfair”-perhaps even more so.
- And we must remember that had they not died in the tsunami, everyone of those people would have eventually died from some other cause.
So the question becomes not just “why 9/11” or “why the tsunami tragedy”-it becomes one of “why is there any death and suffering at all?” This question has to be faced head-on by Christians. We must show that answers to the ultimate questions of life are found in God’s Word.
The Problem of Evil
The issue we are discussing has come to be known as “the problem of evil.” The 18th century Scottish philosopher and skeptic David Hume summarized the problem of evil by saying: “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”
What he is arguing for is that the Christian understanding of God is not logical, it is incoherent, and therefore cannot be true because its premises are inconsistent with each other, given the evil in the world. The existence of evil is incompatible with the idea of a good and omnipotent God.
We can summarize the problem of evil this way:
- 1. If God were all powerful he could prevent evil and suffering.
- 2. If He were all-loving, He would want to prevent them.
- 3. Evil and suffering exist.
- 4. God is therefore impotent, loveless, or non-existent.
The Christian philosopher Alvin Plantiga calls this “the only argument against God that deserves to be taken seriously.” The reason is because it is a serious charge of incoherence (logical inconsistency) and it is a genuine stumbling block to many people to believe in the God of the Bible.
The Unbeliever and the Problem of Evil
For the unbeliever to reject belief in God and Christianity in particular, he must be in a position to admit the reality of evil in the world; because if evil doesn’t exist then there’s no problem of evil.
What is evil? Evil is not a thing. As darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence or perversion of good. So you cannot have evil without good. So the unbeliever must define good and give an account for the existence of good. What is the standard for measuring good? (so that evil can thus be defined or identified.)
Is “good” defined by whatever evokes public approval? Well then we could never call a riot that results in complete mayhem, destruction, and murder as being evil since it had the approval of a large crowd. We could also never call the holocaust evil. So it’s not our approval that makes something good, but rather something that is inherently good can often evoke our approval.
What if we say something is good (or evil) if it possesses instrumental or consequential goodness (or evil)? For example, a thing is good if it achieves a certain end, like the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
Well, how would you measure happiness and how would you know if it resulted in the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people? Our finite minds cannot compute all of the possible consequences of a given action or trait.
Even more devastating to this line of reasoning is the observation that good may be taken to be whatever promotes general happiness only if it is an established fact that generalized happiness is itself “good.” In other words, who says it’s good to aim for general happiness? Radical environmentalists would likely think man’s search for happiness is the main problem in the world.
One cannot have a purely instrumental view of goodness that doesn’t have any basis in intrinsic goodness. In other words, there must be a sense of “oughtness” to something being a good goal to shoot for.
So, philosophically speaking, the problem of evil turns out to be a problem for the unbeliever himself. In order to use the argument from evil against the Christian worldview, he must first be able to show that his judgments about the existence of evil are meaningful-which is precisely what the unbeliever is unable to do.
The Risk of Freedom
Someone might say, “But why did God allow for the possibility of evil?” Apparently He understood the risks and felt they were worth taking anyway.
An analogy might help. Raising children is risky. We want them to turn out good, but we know there’s a chance they could end up being criminals or junkies or whatever. So what do we do? Having no children is an option. Keeping them locked in our homes is another. But why do we avoid these extremes? Because something in us affirms the value of having children and that letting them be their own individual to make their own choices in life should be respected. It’s a risk we take because we desire love and joy and the alternatives are unthinkable and cruel.
So in allowing for human freedom God allowed for the possibility of evil. But the fact that God created humans to be free moral agents doesn’t make Him responsible for the evil acts of men and the entrance of sin in general. God created the fact of freedom; we perform the acts of freedom. He made evil possible; humans made evil actual. Evil came about through the abuse of our moral freedom. It was man’s rebellion against God’s preceptive will (as in God’s precepts or commands) that brought about evil in the world. But God, in His decretive will (as in His decree, or sovereign will), permitted evil to come into being for His own sovereign purposes. We will discuss this in more detail later.
Though the unbeliever is unable to give an account for the evil in the world, the problem of evil can be resolved by the believer.
The Problem of Evil Resolved
- 1. God is all-good.
- 2. God is all-powerful.
- 3. Evil exists.
- 4. God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists.
God is never unjust or unrighteous. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25). Was the crucifixion of Christ an evil act? Yes! Did God have a morally sufficient reason for it? Definitely!
We instinctively want to ask “Why?” when bad things happen. Unbelievers do too. But God doesn’t always provide us with explanations this side of eternity.
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deut 29:29).
We might not be able to understand God’s wise and mysterious ways even if He told us.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts (Isa 55:9).
The Bible simply calls us to trust that God is good and has a morally sufficient reason for the evil in the world.
For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).
The unbeliever finds this intolerable to his pride, feelings, or rationality. He refuses to trust God. He wants to be in a position to examine and assess the reason for the evil himself. In other words, he wants to be God. He wants God to answer to him. He wants to trade places with God.
The problem of evil comes down to the question of whether a person should have faith in God and His Word or rather place faith in his own fallen, human thinking and values. It finally becomes a question of ultimate authority within a person’s life. A person’s struggle with evil is really a fight against his own creatureliness. And this is the continuation of the way evil entered the world in the first place-Adam and eve refused to have faith in God’s Word simply on His say-so.
The problem is unchanged today. Will we trust the goodness of God and recognize His rightful authority over us as our Creator? Or, will we fall for Satan’s deceptive challenge of God’s goodness and truthfulness? Unbelievers who refuse to trust God because they feel they cannot resolve the problem of evil are actually part of the problem themselves.
The Role of Presuppositions
We all have the same facts about the world, the only difference is our interpretation of those facts. The major determiner in our interpretations is our presuppositions, or the unacknowledged assumptions, that we have about reality.
We can view the world through the lens of the Bible or through humanistic reasoning that is independent of the revelation of God.
As Christians, we must allow God’s Word to interpret the world around us. When it comes to understanding death and suffering, we will come to drastically different conclusions based on our presuppositions.
If we have an a priori commitment to independence from God and believe in naturalism, and its corollary belief in evolution, then we must have a very different view of death and suffering.
According to evolution, death and suffering are perfectly normal and acceptable realities.
Therefore, an evolutionist cannot have an intellectual problem with death, killing, and suffering since his worldview says that this is “just the way it is.”
On the other hand, Bible-believing Christians can say that death and suffering are not normal and acceptable realities. Death and suffering are “normal” as part of a fallen, sin-cursed world, but these are things that were not part of the original creation of God. So it is justifiable to view death and suffering as negative intruders into God’s “good” universe (see Gen 1:31). Also, death and suffering will not be part of the “new heavens and new earth” that is yet to come (Rev 21:1-4).
So we have two views of the history of the world and, correspondingly, two views of death and suffering.
These two histories of death result in two different worldviews and two different value systems.
The Bible’s Explanation of Death and Suffering
The book of Genesis is the key to understanding the origin of evil, death, and suffering. There we learn that God created everything and He declared that it was “good.”
Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good (Gen 1:31).
And the Lord God commanded the man saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:16-17).
In Genesis chapter three, we find the Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s simple command and brought death, corruption, and suffering into the world.
Sin is the violation of God’s will and it is sin that brought about death and suffering in the world. We can know what sin is by knowing God’s commands or laws. These laws are summarized in the Ten Commandments (Exod 20). The New Testament also teaches that sin is violating God’s law: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).
In essence, sin is rebelling against God and His law. Sin is the desire to live autonomously, or independently of God’s rule over us.
God would be perfectly just to judge and condemn every sinner to eternal death. But God is also merciful and loving. Therefore, He has made provision for man’s sin.
God provided animal skins as a covering for the sins of the first man and woman by slaying an animal (Gen 3:21).
God promised to send a Redeemer (Gen 3:15) and eventually the Redeemer came in Jesus who shed His blood to pay the death penalty for our sins.
Jesus reversed the sin curse:
For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection from the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive (1 Cor 15:21-22).
God now promises a new universe without sin and death:
Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Pet 3:13).
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away (Rev 21:4).
The last enemy that will be destroyed is death (1 Cor 15:26).
God promises to one day do away with evil and recreate a perfect universe free from sin and evil (see illustration above).
God’s Purpose in the Existence of Evil
According to Scripture, we currently live in a world characterized by evil.
3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Gal 1:3-5, emphasis added).
But God is allowing evil to run its course for His own good and holy purposes.
11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory (Eph 1:11-12, emphasis added).
God’s purpose in history is described as His “decree.” Louis Berkhof, in his Manual of Christian Doctrine, defined God’s decree this way: “The decree of God is His eternal plan or purpose, in which He has foreordained all things that come to pass.”
The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 7, defines the decree of God similarly: “The decrees of God are, His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for His own glory, He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”
The Westminster Confession of Faith (ch. 3:1) explains a bit further about God’s decree saying:
God from all eternity did by the most and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
The Westminster Standards carefully assert that God is not the author of sin. The origin of sin was neither in God, nor from His decree in any productive or efficient way. God simply permits sin and at the same time bounds and controls it for His wise and holy ends, even though these ends are inscrutable to men. Similarly, the free agency of the creature is not violated by the purpose of God. Men are free agents and the will of any man is not subject to any sort of coercion by the Creator, even though the acts of men as free agents, fully foreknown by God, can and do accomplish God’s purpose and are therefore certain.
The reality of second causes, with their dependent efficiency, is not destroyed, but rather established by the eternal purpose. The reason for this is that God’s plan includes means and ends in their relation to each other, so that both are alike related to the divine decree, and the result shall surely come to pass.
So God has a purpose in history and that purpose is designed to inspire worship and praise. Even the reality of evil, though God hates it in itself, serves the ultimate purpose of glorifying God.
11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory (Eph 1:11-12, emphasis added).
God rules over all events in history, including evil, for our good and His glory. John Piper says that God is not like a firefighter who gets calls to show up at calamities when the damage is already happening. He is more like the surgeon who plans the cutting he must do and plans it for good purposes. God rules over the beginning of our troubles as well as their end.
But to believe this takes genuine trust in God’s power and goodness. It forces one to come to grips with the Creator/creature distinction. The apostle Paul helps us to realize our place in God’s universe:
14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” 18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? 22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? (Romans 9:14-24).
Why has God decreed the entrance of sin and evil? According to Paul, God has a double purpose: First, to reveal His wrath against sin; second, to reveal the wealth of His grace as He saves “vessels of mercy.”
What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory (Rom 9:22-23).
More of God is known by the entrance of sin and how He deals with it than would have been possible without the entrance of sin. We must come to accept the fact that God always acts in His own interest. God is the most God-centered person in the universe. Everything He does in history is to magnify and display His glory. You and I exist for God’s purposes, not for ourselves.
Fallen man loves to question God. In Romans 9, Paul gives a stern rebuke to those who do so. In this evil age, men give no thought to their creaturely status and their just condemnation before God. They arrogantly question God’s right to ordain events and to judge.
This kind of back-talk by the creature to his Creator is as absurd as a clay pot arguing with the potter. God has absolute sovereignty over His works. He answers to no one. The unbeliever falsely calls this fatalism. Such a charge displays one’s ignorance. For man’s acts are free acts. Men act out of who and what they are. Men are not robots. God does not compel or coerce them against their desires. Every choice man makes is a free choice (of course, one that is limited by his nature and therefore, fallen man cannot freely choose righteousness apart from the new birth).
The universe was made for God. He filled it with angelic beings to be an audience to His work in history. The angels are witness to all of God’s activity in the creation, fall, and redemption of man. Each stage in God’s redemptive plan is part of this “grand demonstration.” The salvation of God’s elect astonishes the angels.
10 Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven-things which angels desire to look into (1 Pet 1:10-12, emphasis added).
This presents a very humbling view of man’s significance. Man exists for God’s glory and pleasure. God is making His wisdom known to the angelic hosts through His redemptive work with the church.
8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph 3:8-11, emphasis added).
It seems, from this passage of Scripture, that God has a point to make to the angels and this lesson is an additional feature of God’s plan to manifest and magnify His glory.
God’s Three “Wills”
It is helpful when thinking about the existence of evil and suffering to be acquainted with the three aspects of God’s will.
- Preceptive willThis is God’s conditional purpose (depends on man’s obedience) and comes with His pleasure. It is most often broken. This aspect of God’s will is related to man’s responsibility. “Preceptive” has to do with God’s precepts or commands and instructions directed to His creatures (man) and the fulfillment of which is conditioned upon man’s obedience. This is sometimes referred to as God’s “will of command” or His “revealed will.”We see in Scripture that it is sometimes possible that God’s will is not accomplished.
But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him (Luke 7:30).
This is easily seen in the fact that God’s commands, such as the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:1-17) are consistently violated.
Is this God’s only will? If so, we would be faced with the following problems:
- 1. God could not predict the future. A parent gives commands or responsibilities to his or her children, but can a parent infallibly predict what course of action the child will take? No. The government can create laws, but can public officials know how the citizens will react to them? No. So, if God only had a preceptive will, then he would not be able to determine and foreknow the future.
- 2. Any redemptive plan of God could possibly fail. If God’s only activity in the universe was to instruct men of their duty, without willing to accomplish any definite result, His government might fall into chaos and collapse. It would be possible that God’s will could be thwarted in every case and He would not be able to control His creation.
- 3. Righteous people would live in uncertainty, fear, and doubt because evil might eventually triumph. They would be serving a God who either could not or would not ensure a victorious outcome in history.
- 2. Decretive willThis aspect of God’s will fulfills His unconditional purpose with pleasure and is never broken. God has determined the ultimate outcome. God’s decretive will has to do with His “decrees” or direct ordering of certain events in time. This is not conditioned upon man’s obedience since God’s decree has to do with things that shall infallibly come to pass because God directly wills it into being. Again, Louis Berkhof’s definition of God’s decree is helpful at this point: “The decree of God is His eternal plan or purpose, in which He has foreordained all things that come to pass.” This aspect of God’s will is sometimes called His “sovereign will” or “secret will.”This aspect of God’s will is to be distinguished from His “permissive will” (see the third aspect of God’s will) in which He permits sinful men to do evil acts. God’s decretive will can be described as His “efficient” will, that is to say, His willing something to come to pass directly puts it into effect. God may decree evil acts, like the crucifixion of Christ, even though He is not directly effecting the act, but rather permitting sinful men to accomplish it (see Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28). But even this can fall under God’s decretive will. See the following for Scriptural support: Isa 14:24-27; Dan 4:35; Luke 1:37; Eph 3:11; Eph 1:10.
Examples of God’s decretive will are: Creation, inspiration of the Bible, the work of Christ (incarnation, atonement, second coming), salvation (election, regeneration, preservation), future conversion of Israel (Zech 12:10-11; Rom 11).
- 3. Permissive willThis last aspect of God’s will is also fulfilled conditionally (by man’s agency) but with God’s displeasure. God allows evil and sin to come through the efficient agency of sinful men. See Ps 81:12; Acts 14:16; Rom 1:24.God is utterly holy and cannot even look upon sin (Hab 1:13). God tempts no man (Jas 1:13). At times, God chooses not to interfere with the sinful intentions of His creatures. Evil is the absence or perversion of good. So all that is needed for evil to occur is for God to withdraw from the sinner and permit it to come to pass (God’s judgment upon the unrepentant Gentiles is His “giving them over” to their sinfulness in Rom 1). God is never the active agent in evil. To ascribe such to God is blasphemy. An analogy: The sun brings light and warmth by its essential nature. Darkness and cold exist only in the absence of the sun. So too, God is the source of all goodness and beauty. Evil exists only in the absence of God’s direct influence.
The objective of God’s will (preceptive, decretive, permissive) is the manifestation of His glory (the beauty of His divine perfections). All history is moving to this end:
Providence is the term used to describe the outworking in history of the three wills of God. “Providence” is the capital of the state of Rhode Island. In 1636 Roger Williams, banished from Boston by the Massachusetts Bay Company because of his religious and political beliefs, established Providence as a haven for those who shared his view of religious liberty. In 1636 he purchased land from the Narragansett Indians. Together with a few companions he established the settlement of Providence and the colony of Rhode Island, naming the settlement in gratitude “for God’s merciful providence unto me in my distress.”
The American Heritage Dictionary defines providence as:
1. Care or preparation in advance; foresight.
2. Prudent management; economy.
3. The care, guardianship, and control exercised by a deity; divine direction: ASome sought the key to history in the working of divine providence@ (William Ebenstein).
Reformed Theologian Louis Berkhof defined providence as: “that work of God by which He preserves all His creatures, is active in all that transpires in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.” He further explained that this definition indicates that there are three elements in divine providence, namely, preservation, concurrence or cooperation, and government. The first has reference primarily to being, the second to activity, and the third to the guidance of all things.
- 1. The relation of God’s foreknowledge and purpose. Foreknowledge is not to be equated with mere foresight. Rather, God’s foreknowledge of events is based on His pre-determination and is designed with a view to His eternal purpose to display the fullness of His glory.
- 2. God’s will and secondary means or causes. All God’s plans include secondary causes and the free choices of men. God planned to destroy the island city of Tyre (Ezek 26), but He used the army of Alexander the Great to accomplish it.
- 3. The use and abuse of predestination. God’s sovereign control over all the events of history should comfort the people of God. But it should never be used as an excuse to neglect our duties before God. The truth of divine sovereignty should be kept in balance with the biblical truth of human responsibility (see
- ). The doctrine of God’s decree is no excuse for anyone to not believe the gospel on the basis that God has predetermined all things.
- 4. What about free will? We don’t have absolute freedom, we have relative freedom. Our wills are limited by our sin nature, our upbringing, our circumstances, our mental/physical states, other people, demonic spirits, and God Himself.
- 5. Is God the author of Sin? As concerns sin, God is not the author of sin, He is the author of relatively free, moral beings who are themselves the authors of sin. God is not efficiently the cause of sin, but permits it for His good and holy purposes.
- 5. We must humbly believe this doctrine. We are not to reason apart from Scripture and concoct false views of God. We must hold the doctrines of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in balance.
- 6. We should give our attention to God’s preceptive will rather than what He has secretly decreed. What He has decreed is His concern, what He commands and promises us is our concern (
- 7. We can have confidence that God is guiding all of the affairs of the world and even the details of our own life for His glory and our good. God is always on His throne and He allows everything that happens because He loves us and wants to make us find the greatest pleasure that can be had.
Why Then Does God Permit Evil?
God permits evil but it is not because he delights in evil as evil. Rather, in the words of Jonathan Edwards, He “wills that evil come to pass . . . that good may come of it.” What good? And how does the existence of evil serve this good end? Here is Jonathan Edwards’ stunning answer:
It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all. . . .Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired. . . .
So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect.
God is more glorious for having conceived and created and governed a world like this with all its evil.
If God obliterated Satan, demons, and sin from the universe right now, His sheer power would be seen as glorious, but His superior beauty and worth would not shine so brightly as when God’s people renounce the empty promises of Satan and sin, and instead trust in Christ’s promises. God is more glorified when His people take pleasure in the greater glory of Jesus over Satan and sin.
This means that our treasuring Christ above all the promises of sin and Satan is part of the triumph that God designs for this age. This doesn’t mean it won’t be costly. To truly delight in Christ and share His love with this fallen world will entail suffering on our part. But when we willingly endure suffering for the glory of Christ, He is seen as even more glorious. One of the greatest blows against the power of darkness comes from the blood of the martyrs:
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death (Rev 12:11).
So when you experience suffering, how does God want you to view it? As Christians, we are appointed to suffering for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world. God intends to present the afflictions of Christ to the world through the afflictions of His people.
John Piper wrote, “In the pursuit of joy through suffering, we magnify the all-satisfying worth of the Source of our joy.” In other words, when we continue to seek first the kingdom of God because of the joy to be gained in doing so, even at the expense of personal suffering, we demonstrate that God is infinitely desirable and worthy of our relentless allegiance. This is so because what we gain in Him is immeasurably beyond comparison any personal sacrifice we suffer as a result.
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Cor 4:17).
It is a true statement: Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. So what should be the focus of our lives here on earth? The apostle Paul gives us a proper perspective:
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed- 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor 15:51-58).
Common Questions Concerning God’s Response to Evil
1. Why doesn’t God intervene to prevent the evil acts of men?
If God were to do this consistently, He would end up having to control our every act and even our thoughts. This would render us without any freedom of choice and we would end up being mere puppets in the hands of God.
2. Why didn’t God just make us morally perfect so that we wouldn’t choose evil?
God already did that. He created Satan as a holy angel, but he willingly rebelled against God. God created Adam and Eve without a sinful nature and they willingly disobeyed God’s command and brought about sin and evil in the world.
3. Why doesn’t God do something about the evil and suffering in the world?
He already has! He sent Jesus to die in our place to provide forgiveness and redemption from sin. God promises to resurrect us in glorified bodies free from sin and He will recreate the world to be free from the curse of sin.
So rather than shaking a fist at God for the pain and suffering in life, we should fall on our knees, confess our sinful rebellion against Him, and thankfully receive His free gift of salvation in Christ.
He who believes in the Son shall has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36).