Harvest House Publishers
Many people see the seemingly pointless and unnecessary evils in the world and conclude that there is no God. Or perhaps there was a God at one time, but He has now died. As Alvin Plantinga put it, “Many believe that the existence of evil (or at least the amount and kinds of evil we actually find) makes belief in God unreasonable or rationally unacceptable.” Theologians William Hamilton and Thomas Altizer have flat out concluded that God is dead. Others believe that if there is a God, He certainly has no morally sufficient reasons for allowing such horrible evils to occur.
We have seen that the problem of evil is a conflict between three realities: God’s power, God’s goodness, and the presence of evil in the world. Common sense seems to tell us that all three cannot be true at the same time. Solutions to the problem of evil typically involve modifying one or more of these three options: Limit God’s power, limit God’s goodness, or modify the existence of evil (such as calling it an illusion).
Certainly if God made no claims to being good, the existence of evil would be easier to explain. But God does claim to be good. If God were limited in power and unable to withstand evil, the existence of evil would be easier to explain. But God does claim to be all-powerful. If evil were just an illusion that had no reality, the problem does not really exist in the first place. But evil is not an illusion. It is painfully real.
Today we face the reality of both moral evil (evil committed by free moral agents, including such things as war, crime, cruelty, class struggles, discrimination, slavery, ethnic cleansing, suicide bombings, and other injustices) and natural evil (including hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and the like). God is good, God is all-powerful, and yet evil exists. Because evil exists, and because this evil seemingly cannot be reconciled with a good and all-powerful God, many have chosen to simply reject belief in God altogether.
This includes such prominent thinkers as David Hume, H.G. Wells, and Bertrand Russell. Hume put it succinctly when he wrote this of God: “Is he 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?” If there is a God—and He is all-good and all-powerful—then, it is argued, such atrocities as Hitler’s murder of six million Jews should never have happened.
Certainly Christians agree that what Hitler did to the Jews was a horrendous, unconscionable crime. But categorizing Hitler’s actions as evil raises an important philosophical point. As many thinkers have noted, if one is going to claim there is evil in the world, one must ask by what criteria something is judged to be evil in the first place? How does one judge some things to be evil and other things not to be evil? What is the moral measuring stick by which people and events are morally appraised? Christian apologist Robert Morey put it this way:
How do you know evil when you see it? By what process do you identify evil?…My point is that, as Socrates demonstrated a long time ago, to make a distinction between particulars in which one is good and one is evil, you must have a universal or absolute [standard] to do it. Once you see this, then the ultimate result is that without an infinite reference point for “good,” no one can identify what is good or evil. God alone can exhaust the meaning of an infinite good. Thus without the existence of God, there is no “evil” or “good” in an absolute sense but everything is relative. The problem of evil does not negate the existence of God. It actually requires it.
The point is, then, that it is impossible to distinguish evil from good unless one has an infinite reference point that is absolutely good. Otherwise one would be like a person on a boat at sea on a cloudy night without a compass—that is, there would be no way to distinguish north from south. God is our reference point for determining good and evil.
Consider All the Evidence
While Christians recognize that the problem of evil is viewed by some as a rational argument against the existence of God, they suggest that the arguments for God’s existence far outweigh arguments against His existence. And the reality of evil, while obviously problematic, is nevertheless viewed as compatible with a Christian worldview (as this book will demonstrate). Christians thus argue that one should not focus sole attention on one narrow aspect of evidence (such as the existence of evil) but should consider all the evidence together, including the various arguments that have been suggested in favor of the existence of God through the centuries.
1. The Cosmological Argument. This argument says that every effect must have an adequate cause. The universe is an “effect.” Reason demands that whatever caused the universe must be greater than the universe. That cause is God (who Himself is the uncaused First Cause). As Hebrews 3:4 puts it, “Every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.”
2. The Teleological Argument. This argument highlights the obvious purposeful and intricate design of the world. If we found a watch in the sand, we would assume that someone created the watch because the parts obviously didn’t just jump together. Similarly, the perfect design of the universe argues for a Designer, and that Designer is God.
3. The Ontological Argument. This argument says that most human beings have an innate idea of a most perfect being. Where did this idea come from? Not from man, for man is an imperfect being. Some perfect being (God) must have planted the idea there. God can’t be conceived of as not existing, for then, one could conceive of an even greater being that did exist. Thus God must in fact exist.
4. The Moral Argument. This argument says that every human being has an innate sense of “oughtness” or moral obligation. Where did this come from? It must come from God. The existence of a moral law in our hearts demands the existence of a moral Lawgiver (see Romans 1:19-32).
5. The Anthropological Argument. This argument says that man has a personality (mind, emotions, and will). Since that which is personal cannot derive from the impersonal, there must be a personal cause—and that personal cause is God (see Genesis 1:26-27).
Of course, some people, even when aware of some of these arguments, still reject belief in God. Perhaps Reformer John Calvin was right when he said that the unregenerate person sees these evidences for God in the universe with blurred vision. It is only when one puts on the “eyeglasses” of faith and belief in the Bible that these evidences for God’s existence come into clear focus and become convincing.
If Calvin is right, then Christians do well to offer not only evidences for God’s existence but also evidences that demonstrate the reliability of the Bible. I am convinced that if we add to the above philosophical arguments the overwhelming historical and archaeological support for the reliability of the Bible, the historical support for Jesus Christ (including the resurrection), the pinpoint accuracy of biblical prophecies, and the testimony of innumerable Christians down through the centuries, we can make a very strong case for the existence of God to any reasonable person.
Termites and the Architect
The universe designed by God is like a house designed by an architect. Just as the presence of termites in a house does not disprove the existence of the architect, so the existence of sin and evil in the universe does not disprove the existence of the divine architect. Before we pursue this line of thinking, however, we need to take a brief detour to address the question, What is evil? Once we have properly answered this question, the architect analogy becomes a helpful way of understanding God and His relationship to a fallen universe.
What is evil? From a philosophical perspective, evil is not something that has an existence all its own; rather, it is a corruption of that which already exists. Evil is the absence or privation of something good. Rot, for example, can only exist as long as the tree exists. Tooth decay can only exist as long as the tooth exists. Rust on a car, a decaying carcass, blind eyes, and deaf ears illustrate the same point. Evil exists as a corruption of something good; it is a privation and does not have essence by itself. Norman Geisler tells us, “Evil is like a wound in an arm or moth-holes in a garment. It exists only in another but not in itself.” < Intelligent design theorist William Dembski puts it this way:
Evil always parasitizes good. Indeed all our words for evil presuppose a good that has been perverted. Impurities presuppose purity, unrighteousness presupposes righteousness, deviation presupposes a way (i.e., a via) from which we’ve departed, sin…presupposes a target that was missed, and so on.
Actually, we can be a little more precise. Evil involves the absence of something good that ought to be there. When good that should be in something is not in that something, that is evil. For example, health ought to be in a human body, but sometimes people get cancer. That is evil. Hearing ought to be in an ear, but sometimes people go deaf. That is evil. Sight ought to be in an eye, but sometimes people go blind. That is evil. Notice, by contrast, that the tree in my front lawn cannot see, but that is not evil because my tree was never supposed to see. Likewise, if my nose is missing a wart, that is not evil, because a wart was never supposed to be on my nose to begin with. So evil involves the absence of something good that ought to be there, like sight in an eye, or hearing in an ear, or health in a body.
I could illustrate this meaning of evil with many real-life people and events. For example, when former president Ronald Reagan can no longer remember certain things due to Alzheimer’s disease, that is evil because something good that ought to be there (memory) is missing. When a man succumbs to looking at pornography, that is evil because something good that ought to be true of him (personal purity) is missing. When a Southern California mountain biker is attacked and killed by a mountain lion, that is evil because something good that ought to be in the biker (life) is missing. On a larger scale, when terrorists fly airplanes into the Twin Towers, that is evil because something good that ought to be there (life in humans, buildings with structural integrity) is missing. Evil is a corruption or privation of something good that ought to be there.
This brings me to the primary point I want to make. When God originally created the universe as the divine Architect, it was perfectly good in every way. Indeed, as Genesis 1:31 tells us, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Nothing was wrong. There was no evil. There was no situation in the universe of which it could be said that something good ought to have been there but was missing. Everything was good.
Today, however, everything is not good. In fact, a great deal of evil now exists in the universe that was once entirely good. That can mean only one thing. Something dreadful has happened between then and now to cause the change. A colossal perversion of the good has occurred. As a house may suffer a massive termite invasion, the universe has suffered a massive invasion of sin. Jimmy H. Davis and Harry L. Poe, in their book Designer Universe: Intelligent Design and the Existence of God, suggest that the existence of evil in our universe does not disprove the existence of God any more than termites in a house disprove the existence of an architect:
The fact that ugliness, thorns, death, pain, suffering, and chaos are present in the world does not disprove design. Infestation by termites does not prove the house did not have an architect. Vandalism does not prove the house did not have an architect. Arson does not prove the house did not have an architect. Sloppy homeowners who do not paint or carry out the garbage do not prove the house did not have an architect. These matters simply raise questions about the situation of the house since it was built.
Theologically, the Bible is clear that God exists and that He created the universe in a perfectly good state. The Bible is also clear that things have changed dramatically since God created the world. I will talk more about man’s fall and his sin problem later in the book. At this juncture, it is enough to note that because of sin, things are not now as they were created to be. God’s original design has been corrupted by an intruder—the intruder of sin. God’s good universe is no longer good.
God Is Not Dead
In view of the above, it seems like sheer folly to suggest that God is dead merely because of the presence of certain forms of evil in the world. Ever since man’s fall, God has been alive and active in this fallen world. Theologians Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest make a keen observation in this regard:
Had Altizer and Hamilton [the two theologians who say God is dead] lived at the time of the Flood, they might have concluded that God had died in their time. But God was there in righteous judgment on the incorrigibly wicked and in matchless grace for Noah and his family. Had they been pursued by King Saul as was David, the Lord’s anointed, they might well have concluded that God was dead. But God was there, and at the appointed time David became king. If any of us had been present when Israel and then Judah were taken into captivity, we might have concluded that God was dead. But God was there in just judgment on evil without respect of persons and he was there in grace, sending prophet after prophet to call his people back to significant fellowship and service.
While we may be tempted to think that God is not in control or that He is not involved in our lives, the reality is that He is actually still with us, working behind the scenes to bring about His sovereign purposes, all the while remaining perfectly good, just, righteous, and holy. At the end of human history, when we are with God in heaven, we will all no doubt revel in God’s brilliance in bringing about His purposes on a fallen planet without compromising a single of His perfect attributes. While some of His actions may seem incomprehensible to us in the present, it is really no different from a young child might not comprehend why his parents would allow something so dreadful as a visit to the dentist. Just as human parents operate according to a higher wisdom than children do, so God operates according to an infinitely higher wisdom than we do.
God Is Among Us
Contrary to the idea that God is either dead or inactive among His people, the Bible often refers to God as “the living God” (Deuteronomy 5:26; 1 Samuel 17:26,36; Psalm 84:2). The living God is truly among His people (Joshua 3:10). This is illustrated in one of my favorite Old Testament passages: Daniel 6, which records Daniel being thrown into the lions’ den.
The backdrop is that even though King Darius personally liked Daniel, other governmental leaders despised him. These unscrupulous men tricked the king into signing an irrevocable edict that decreed that no one could pray to any god or man besides Darius for the next 30 days. Undaunted, Daniel continued his practice of praying three times a day to the true God. Upon being discovered by the scheming governmental leaders, Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den overnight. Due to the irrevocable nature of the edict, Darius could not intervene, but the king admonished Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” (Daniel 6:16).
The next morning, the king ran to the den and shouted,“Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” Daniel affirmed that yes indeed, the living God had rescued him. The king quickly had Daniel removed from the den and issued a decree that all the people in his kingdom must fear and reverence the God of Daniel, for He is “the living God” who endures forever and who performs signs and wonders (Daniel 6:19-27).
In his wonderful little book The Living God, Bible scholar R.T. France explains how the ancients viewed God:
Watch the hand of this living God intervening, in answer to His people’s prayers, working miracles, converting thousands, opening prison doors, and raising the dead, guiding His messengers to people and places they had never thought of, supervising the whole operation and every figure in it so as to work out His purpose in the end. Is it any wonder they prayed, constantly, not in vague generalities, but in daring specific requests? To them, God was real; to them He was the living God.
But who is this living God among us? Because the existence of evil in the world often compels unbelievers to level false charges against God, we do well to remember what God is really like.
God Is Loving
God isn’t just characterized by love. He is the very personification of love (1 John 4:8). Love permeates His being. And God’s love is not dependent upon the lovability of the objects (human beings). God loves us despite the fact that we are fallen in sin (John 3:16). (God loves the sinner, though He hates the sin.)
This is important for us to remember, especially during those times when we’re acutely aware of our own failures. Sometimes we feel guilty and unworthy of God’s love. In fact, we might feel like worms before God because of our personal evil. But this feeling is not rooted in God’s feelings toward us. He loves us even when we are unlovable.
God Is Everywhere-Present
The Scriptures tell us that God is everywhere-present (Psalm 139:7-8; see also 1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 2:6; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Acts 17:27-28). How comforting to know that no matter where we go, we will never escape the presence of our beloved God. Like a good shepherd never leaves his sheep, so God never leaves His children alone (Psalm 23). We will always know the blessing of walking with Him in every trial and circumstance of life.
God Is Holy, Righteous, and Just
God’s holiness means not just that He is entirely separate from all evil but also that He is absolutely righteous (Leviticus 19:2). He is pure in every way. God is separate from all that is morally imperfect. The Scriptures lay great stress upon this attribute of God:
A key ramification of such verses is that if we want to fellowship with God, we have to take personal holiness seriously. Walking in daily fellowship with God necessarily involves living in a way that is pleasing to Him. God can’t fellowship with those openly involved in evil.
God is also singularly righteous, with no hint of unrighteousness (unlike the concept of God in some other world religions). We read, “LORD, God of Israel, you are righteous!” (Ezra 9:15). “You are always righteous, O LORD” (Jeremiah 12:1). “For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice” (Psalm 11:7). “The LORD loves righteousness and justice” (Psalm 33:5).“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne” (Psalm 89:14).
That God is just means He carries out His righteous standards justly and with equity. There is never any partiality or unfairness in God’s dealings with people (Zephaniah 3:5; Romans 3:26). His justness is proclaimed emphatically in both the Old and New Testaments (see, for example, Genesis 18:25; John 17:25; Hebrews 6:10). The fact that God is just is both a comfort and a warning. It is a comfort for those who have suffered abuse. They can rest assured that God will right all wrongs in the end. But it is a warning for those who think they have been getting away with evil. Justice will prevail in the end! (See the Appendix.)
God Is Compassionate
God has tender compassion for His people. In Psalm 103:13 we read, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” Psalm 135:14 affirms, “the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.” Psalm 34:18 tells us, “The LORD is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” In Isaiah 49:15 God proclaims, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”
When God must discipline His disobedient children, He is always compassionate after the discipline has taken place. God affirms, “After I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to his own inheritance and his own country” (Jeremiah 12:15; see also Isaiah 54:7-8). Note that God’s discipline itself is a sign of His love and compassion, for God loves His children too much to let them harm themselves by remaining in sin (Hebrews 12:6).
We can get a firsthand glimpse of the compassion of God by observing the life of Christ. When we witness Jesus, we witness the very heart of God. (Jesus Himself said that when we see Jesus, we see the Father—John 14:9.) Examples of Jesus’ compassion abound in the New Testament. Recall that after spending some time alone in a boat, Jesus went ashore and saw a great multitude and “had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14). Later, a crowd of 4000 people became hungry as they listened to Jesus teach. Jesus called His disciples and said to them, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way” (Matthew 15:32). So Jesus multiplied seven loaves of bread and a few small fish so that everyone had plenty to eat (verses 35-39).
Still later, when two blind men pleaded for mercy from Jesus, He did not need to be coerced to help them. “Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him” (Matthew 20:34).
The wonderful mercy and compassion of Jesus prompted this exhortation from the writer of Hebrews:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).
Whenever you are tempted to wonder about God’s goodness or His compassion, reflect on the Jesus of the gospels, for this will give you an accurate picture of God’s heart. By observing Jesus’ compassion in the gospels, we can see God’s compassion in action.
Does this compassion of God mean that you will never suffer in life? No, it does not. Obviously, the pages of the Bible are filled with examples of suffering. The apostle Paul is a good example. Here is a man who served God full-time, and was acutely aware of the compassion of the God he served. Yet, we read this in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
Bad things do happen to good people. Yet, all the while, God is with us, walking with us side by side as we limp our way toward heaven. God does not exempt us from suffering, but He is always with us in our suffering just as He was in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) and the lions’ den (Daniel 6).
God Is Sovereign
Divine sovereignty means that God is the absolute Ruler of the universe. He may utilize various means to accomplish His ends, but He is always in control. Nothing can happen in this universe that is beyond His reach. All forms of existence are within the scope of His absolute dominion.
Psalm 50:1 makes reference to God as the Mighty One who “speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.” Psalm 66:7 affirms that “He rules forever by his power.” We are assured in Psalm 93:1 that “the LORD reigns” and “is armed with strength.” Job affirmed to God, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Isaiah 40:15 tells us that by comparison, “surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.” Indeed, “Before him all the nations are as nothing” (Isaiah 40:17). God asserts, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:10). God assures us, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand” (Isaiah 14:24). God is said to be “the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15). Proverbs 16:9 tells us,“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” In Proverbs 21:30 we read, “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.” Ecclesiastes 7:13 instructs, “Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked?” Lamentations 3:37 affirms, “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?”
James Montgomery Boice, in his excellent book The Sovereign God, speaks of the many ways God showed His sovereign control in biblical times:
God showed his sovereignty over nature in dividing the Red Sea so the children of Israel could pass over from Egypt into the wilderness and then by returning the waters to destroy the pursuing Egyptian soldiers. He showed his sovereignty in sending manna to feed the people while they were in the wilderness. On another occasion he sent quails into the camp for meat. God divided the waters of the Jordan River so the people could pass over into Canaan. He caused the walls of Jericho to fall. He stopped the sun in the days of Joshua at Gibeon so that Israel might gain a full victory over her fleeing enemies. In the days of Jesus, God’s sovereignty was seen in the feeding of the four and five thousand from a few small loaves and fish, in acts of healing the sick and raising the dead. Eventually, it was seen in the events connected with the crucifixion of Christ and the resurrection.
What does God’s sovereignty mean to you and me and our struggle with “bad things”? We can rest assured that all such things are subject to God, and nothing can touch us unless God in His wisdom allows it. When He allows it, we can be sure that He does so for our own good. Anyone who doubts that God has the ability to sovereignly weave events in daily life for our utmost good should read the book of Esther in the Bible. In this book, we find God sovereignly, providentially, and relentlessly working behind the scenes on behalf of His people. He does the same for us. Often, though, we do not recognize that God is at work. Jerry Bridges agrees:
From our limited vantage point, our lives are marked by an endless series of contingencies. We frequently find ourselves, instead of acting as we planned, reacting to an unexpected turn of events. We make plans but are often forced to change those plans. But there are no contingencies with God. Our unexpected, forced change of plans is a part of His plan. God is never surprised; never caught off guard; never frustrated by unexpected developments. God does as He pleases and that which pleases Him is always for His glory and our good.
The hard thing for us is that God does not sit us down and say, “Okay, listen, I’m going to allow some bad stuff to happen this next week, but I’m in control, and I’m using this event to bring about a great good. So don’t worry about it. Everything’s fine.”
Certainly God did not sit down and explain to Job why he suffered so terribly. Judy Salisbury offers this explanation:
It was as if God was saying to Job, “Job, this is huge, this is bigger than you. It has to do with My eternal plan. You’re temporal, Job, and you think that way. I am infinite, you are finite—and if I even began to explain it to you, you couldn’t handle it, Job. I am not going to give you every answer, but know this—not a sparrow falls to the ground that I don’t know about. So how much more do you think I am concerned about those who bear My image?”
You and I are given the privilege of going behind the scenes in Job’s life by reading the book of Job. But we are not able to go behind the scenes and discern the mysterious ways that God works in our lives. That’s why we have to trust Him. We usually are not aware of why God engineers our circumstances the way He does. But we may always rest assured that He continually has our best interests at heart.
I think Chuck Swindoll is right when he says,“The sovereignty of God relieves me from anxiety. It doesn’t take away my questions. It takes away my anxiety. When I rest in it, I am relieved of the worry.” Indeed, he says, “The sovereignty of God frees me from explanation. I don’t have to have all the answers. I find ease in saying to certain individuals at critical times,‘You know, I don’t know. I can’t unravel His full plan in this.’”
I know that some of my readers may have endured significant suffering and been tempted to conclude that God does not exist, or that perhaps He does not care. I hope I’ve convinced you otherwise in this chapter.
Please allow me to offer a nugget of truth that has always helped me when life throws me a punch: When you do not understand why certain things have happened in your life, that is the time to anchor yourself on the things you do understand. I mentioned this principle earlier when I spoke of delivering a eulogy at my nephew Greg’s funeral. It is a powerfully helpful principle.
Here are a few of the truths from this chapter you may want to anchor yourself to:
Excerpted from Why Do Bad Things Happen If God Is Good By Ron Rhodes. Copyright © 2004 by Harvest House Publishers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.