Events such as the Time Square car attack that occurred on Thursday, May 18, killing one and injuring more than 20, as well as the suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England following an Ariana Grande concert on Monday, May 22, killing 23 and injuring in excess of 120, remind us that we live in a fallen world that is susceptible to suffering and evil. Sometimes it can be difficult to reconcile the existence of God with the presence of evil. For centuries the question has been posed: if God is good and in control of this world then why does He allow so much evil and suffering to occur?
Reconciling the existence of God and the presence of evil is like driving a car down a curvy mountain road on a foggy night. In order to arrive at your destination, you have to stay between the known boundaries. Although you can’t see everything in front of you or in your peripheral view under such circumstances, you know that you can arrive at your destination if you stay between the yellow line on your left and the white line on your right. The same principle must apply to our investigation of the relationship between a good God and an evil world. So, as long as we stay between the boundaries of what we know about God and what we know about this world, then we can arrive at a destination that makes at least partial sense out of the presence of evil and suffering. So, let us examine some biblical truths that will serve as boundaries directing us toward a destination of understanding the why evil and suffering persist in this world.
The first boundary is the biblical truth that God is not the source of evil. In James 1:13, James says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one.” James’ primary point is that all temptation comes from a source other than God. God does not tempt anyone. But James doesn’t stop there. James says that “God cannot be tempted by evil,” meaning that God has no association with that which is evil. James can base such an assertion on what is said in Psalm 5:4, which says, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with You.” Then, in James 1:17, James writes, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Thus, James contends that God cannot be tempted or cause temptation because of His inherent goodness and immutability. Since God is the definition of goodness (Matthew 10:18) and that will never change (Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6) then we can conclude that He is not the source of evil. In fact, this understanding seems to have influenced what John wrote in 3 John 11, “do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” Did you catch that? What John is ultimately saying is that we are expected to do what is good and in order to do that we must imitate God because God is the standard of goodness. And if we don’t do what is good, we choose to do evil then we are ignorant of God, intentionally or unintentionally, because there is no relationship between God and evil.
The second boundary is the biblical truth that the evil problem is both a free will problem and a devil problem. First, we must acknowledge that God created human beings with free will. In other words, He created us with the ability to make choices. Why? Because He intended for us to have the potential to choose Him. But the creation of free will produced an unavoidable byproduct…the potential for evil. By giving us the freedom of choice God gave us the opportunity to choose evil. Now, this does not mean that God is the source of evil. As Peter Kreeft told Lee Strobel in The Case for Faith, “[God] created the possibility of evil; people actualized that potentiality. The source of evil is not God’s power but mankind’s freedom.” So, go back to the Garden of Eden and notice the impact that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil had on mankind. Mankind was unfamiliar with evil until Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was the fruit of this tree that God instructed them not to eat (Genesis 2:16-17). It was the fruit of this tree that the serpent said would open their eyes so that they would know good and evil (Genesis 3:5). It was the fruit of this tree that once eaten did in fact open the eyes of Adam and Eve so that they knew they were naked (Genesis 3:7). It was the fruit of this tree that once eaten caused mankind to become like God in their knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:22). Thus, it was the evil (i.e. disobedient) choice of humans to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that brought about the awareness and existence of evil in this world. Second, we must acknowledged the influence of the one who introduced mankind to evil? The serpent (Genesis 3:1-5), the one “who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” according to Revelation 12:9, is the one responsible for introducing mankind to an evil choice. Elsewhere in the Bible Satan is referred to as “the evil one” and we are told that “the whole world lies in [his] power” (1 John 5:19). As a result, Paul said that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
So, as we consider the relationship between God and the presence of evil we must stay between the biblical boundaries which indicate that God is not the source of evil but evil’s source lies in the influence of the devil and the evil decisions made as a result of man’s free will.