HOW COULD A GOOD GOD ALLOW EVIL AND SUFFERING?
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Never Again. Ending War, Democide & Famine Through Democratic Freedom. R.J. Rummel. Llumina Press, 2005.
Documenting Number of Victims of the Holocaust and Nazi Persecution. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Holocaust Encyclopedia, 2019. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/documenting-numbers-of-victims-of-the-holocaust-and-nazi-persecution
My Journey as a Holocaust Survivor. Robert Krell. https://www.un.org/en/holocaustremembrance/docs/pdf/chapter9.pdf
Epicurus Quotes. AZQuotes. https://www.azquotes.com/author/4529-Epicurus
How Can God Allow So Much Evil and Suffering? Robert Velarde. Focus on the Family, 2009. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/faith/how-can-god-allow-so-much-evil-and-suffering
Can We Be Good without God? William Lane Craig. Reasonable Faith. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/existence-nature-of-god/can-we-be-good-without-god
River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life. Richard Dawkins. Basic Books, 1995.
What Does the Bible Say about Suffering? GotQuestions.org. https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-suffering.html
The Problem of Pain. C.S. Lewis. Macmillan, 1944.
Why Suffering? Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense. Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale. FaithWords, 2014.
What Is Evil & Where Did It Come From? R.C. Sproul. Tough Questions Christians Face: 2010 National Conference. YouTube, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ir6pKEV0RQ
Why Does God Allow So Much Suffering and Evil? John MacArthur. Tough Questions Christians Face: 2008 West Coast Conference. YouTube, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LFzk1afiD8
The Problem of Pain. R.C. Sproul. Ligonier Ministries. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/problem-pain
The Loud Absence - Where is God in Suffering? John Lennox at Harvard Medical School. YouTube, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPm6Y-pANYI
The Hiding Place. Corrie Ten Boom. Chosen Books, 1971.
Corrie ten Boom. Holocaust Encyclopedia. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/corrie-ten-boom
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HOW COULD A GOOD GOD ALLOW EVIL AND SUFFERING?
Approximately 250 million people died from government-sanctioned genocide and mass murder in the 20th century. To put that in perspective, if these bodies were laid head to toe, with the average height being 5 feet tall, they would circle the earth ten times. One of the most notorious examples of this is the holocaust, in which millions of Jews, civilians, prisoners of war, people with disabilities, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals—were brutally exterminated.
In My Journey as a Holocaust Survivor, Dr. Robert Krell writes:
“Throughout the Holocaust, children were burned alive in pits. They, along with their families, were driven into wooden synagogues and set on fire. Others were buried alive. Babies were killed in ways too brutal for words, words that I cannot speak.”
It is with a sober and heavy heart that we introduce the topic of today’s video… how could a good God allow evil and suffering?
[Title Screen: Christianity Engaged presents How Could a Good God Allow Evil and Suffering?]
Evil has been called the “Achilles’ heel” of the Christian faith. To paraphrase the ancient philosopher, Epicurus:
“If God is willing to prevent evil, but not able, then he is not all-powerful.
If he is able, but not willing, then he is not good.
If he is both able and willing, why does evil exist?
And if he is neither able nor willing, why call him God?”
Evil and suffering is a very difficult topic, and not just for Christians. Even atheists have a hard time with the concept of evil because without God, there is no logical basis for a definitive moral code. If you take God out of the equation, right and wrong are completely subjective and absolute values for good and evil don’t exist.
According to evolutionary biologist and pronounced atheist, Richard Dawkins, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
The atheist worldview doesn’t have any foundation to condemn war, oppression or crime as evil. Someone may believe the holocaust was wrong, but their opinion isn’t more valid than the Nazi soldier’s belief that it was good. “Survival of the fittest” doesn’t condemn such behavior.
Sometimes atheists use evil and suffering as proof of God’s nonexistence without realizing their worldview doesn’t account for evil and by validating the idea of an inherent moral code, they would actually be supporting God’s existence, not the other way around.
Just as darkness is defined as the absence of light, evil is the opposite or absence of good. In Biblical terms, it is often defined as unrighteousness, injustice and ungodliness. And because real beings act out real evil, evil is very real, and its effects are devastating.
So, if God is good, why does He allow evil and suffering? Before we answer this, consider the difference between how a doctor will approach the topic of cancer compared to a patient who was just told they have less than six months to live.
In the same way, we can look at this topic from a philosophical, theological and intellectual point of view, but at some point in our lives, we will all face this topic like the patient in the midst of deep-rooted personal pain.
And in that moment, let’s be honest, there is no answer to this question that will be truly satisfying because knowledge won’t heal the hurt. We believe the Christian worldview provides the most hope, but no worldview will shield you from the pain.
So why does God allow it?
The Bible teaches God created human beings in His image. [Genesis 1:27] This is where we get our inherent value and why we cringe at heinous crimes. Actions like rape, murder and child abuse are not just socially unproductive behaviors—they are moral abominations not subject to interpretation.
God gives us the freedom to do both good and evil. [Romans 12:21] He created us with the capacity, but not the obligation, to do both. [Psalm 34:14] He has given clear instructions on how we should live [2 Timothy 3:16], and it pains Him to see us bring destruction on ourselves and others when we violate His rules. [Genesis 6:5-6]
Many opponents to the Christian faith claim that because life of earth isn’t heaven on earth, God must not exist. But the Bible never teaches this life will be perfect. In fact, Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” [John 16:33 NIV]
The truth is, we may not always understand why God allows people to suffer. But the Bible promises “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” [Romans 8:28]
Sometimes, God may allow us to suffer to test the genuineness of our faith. [1 Peter 1:6-7]
Other times like with the thief on the cross, our suffering is our own fault. [Luke 23:41]
Sometimes, God may stand ready to heal if you would only ask Him in faith. [Matthew 8:5-13, Matthew 9:20-22]
Other times, He may not heal your suffering directly, but instead provide supernatural comfort and peace, [John 16:33] or show you kindness and compassion through someone else. [2 Corinthians 7:6, Ephesians 4:32]
Sometimes, like Job in the Old Testament, we may never fully understand the specific reasons for our suffering until we get to heaven. [The Book of Job]
Other times, like Joseph in the book of Genesis, we may see God’s good purposes for our suffering in our lifetime. Joseph told his brothers who sold him into slavery, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” [Genesis 50:20]
And then there are times when we can’t possibly fathom what God is doing. In Psalm 22, King David penned the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Psalm 22:1] He was in agony and he didn’t understand why God didn’t save him from his anguish. About 1,000 years later, one of his descendants uttered those same words while he died on a cross, identifying with David’s suffering. [Matthew 27:46] How could David have possibly known that his pain would foreshadow the most significant event in human history?
They say, “when the plane is going down, all the passengers begin to pray.” Sometimes God may use suffering as an opportunity for you to turn to Him. C.S. Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Perhaps a more important question than “how could a good God allow evil and suffering?” is this:
“Did God make any provision for the existence of evil and can we trust Him in our suffering?”
And to answer this, I point you to the cross where Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, suffered and died. [Hebrews 12:2] He lived a perfect life, and yet, paid the ultimate penalty for all the evils of mankind. [2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 3:18] You see, God isn’t distant from us in our human suffering as some would say. At the cross, he became a part of it. The God of the Bible walked this earth and endured temptation, suffering, betrayal and torture. He can sympathize with us in every way, yet without sin. [Hebrews 4:15]
The Bible teaches one day God will completely eliminate evil and suffering from the presence of his children forever. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, and evil and suffering will pass away. [Revelation 21:1-5] There will be a final judgement one day, and there will be justice for everyone who suffered at the hands of evil men. [Acts 17:31]
Mathematician and Christian apologist, John Lennox, once said, “This world is going to be judged totally fairly and justice will be done. This gives me something that atheism can never give, and that is hope.”
We may never understand all of God’s reasons for allowing evil and suffering to exist in this life, or what His specific good purposes are for our pain. It takes faith to trust in His goodness, even if doesn’t make perfect sense to us.
Victory isn’t the absence of suffering; it’s trusting God in the midst of it.
Nobody enjoys suffering at the time. If there is something inside of you that feels it shouldn’t be this way—you’re absolutely right! But the story isn’t over yet! And in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away. [Revelation 21:4]
You were made for more! You were made to be in close, personal relationship with God. [John 17:3] And in the presence of God, you are not alone… now and forevermore… no matter what you’re going through—you are not alone! [Philippians 4:9]
In your suffering, I encourage you to turn to Him. [Acts 3:19] He really does want to heal you from the hurt and transform you from the inside out. [2 Corinthians 5:17] The Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6] offers eternal peace, and you can receive His perfect peace even in midst of your pain. [Philippians 4:6-7, John 14:27]
The Bible has a lot to say about suffering and it’s not all bad. It produces perseverance, builds our character and increases our hope, [Romans 5:3-5] which is why we are actually encouraged to rejoice in the face of hardships [James 1:2-3] knowing that our present sufferings aren’t even worth comparing with the future glory that will be revealed in us. [Romans 8:18]
We may not have all the answers, but we do have each other. There is something about deep, loving relationships with other people that, quite honestly, are impossible to fully experience without pain. We were meant to carry each other’s burdens. [Galatians 6:2]
Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
And this is especially true if someone you know is hurting, be there for them. We all need human connection. You don’t have to give advice. You don’t need the perfect words of encouragement. In fact, you don’t have to say anything at all. [Job 2:13] All they really need is to feel your presence, your support and your love.
I’d like to close with an incredible true story. During World War II, Cornelia Arnolda Johanna ten Boom, also known as Corrie ten Boom, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust by hiding them in her home. In February 1944, Corrie and her family were thrown into prison, where her father died shortly after.
Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were eventually transferred to Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany, where Betsie died due to starvation and lack of medical care. Shortly after her sister’s death, Corrie was released from the camp and after the war, she became a renowned Christian leader who often spoke on the topic of God’s forgiveness. In 1947, she traveled back to Germany and she was speaking at a church in Munich when after her message, a man began to approach her from the crowd. He was one of the Nazi guards at Ravensbruck concentration camp. He didn’t recognize her. To him she was one of a thousand women. But she instantly recognized him and was flooded with memories of the harsh treatment and her sister’s death.
He came up to her and he told her that after the war he had placed his faith in Jesus and became a Christian. He went on to say that God has forgiven him for all of his cruel actions. And then, he held out his hand and he asked for her forgiveness. She froze for what she said seemed like an eternity and I want to read to you what she wrote about the experience:
"And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘Jesus, help me!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’ And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’ For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”
That’s an amazing story of God’s redemptive power. I hope this video was helpful to you. God bless you all.