If God is Good, why do pain, evil, and suffering exist?
I was reading the newspaper one Tuesday evening in Beloit, Wisconsin. Here is a sampling of some of the stories:
A Milwaukee father shot his two sons after arguing over a basketball game. He claims his sons and wife never gave him respect. His older son died.
A rise in deaths by gunshots that summer in Milwaukee.
A Mom was guilty of throwing her kids out a window.
Dead bodies were found in suitcases in Walworth county.
A head-on collision in Rock County injured five people – ages 42, 17, 16, 12, 11.
3 firefighters were injured fighting a fire in Menomonee Falls.
College graduates are mired in financial struggles as they strive to find financial security.
The Ukraine ends cease fire, vowing to free country from Russia.
Iraqi militants declare Iraq an Islamic state, heightening tensions in an already volatile area.
Three teenagers kidnapped in Israel were found dead.
A young boy committed suicide after being bullied on an online site.
If you read, or watch, the news this evening, you will hear similar reports of death, violence, revolt, war, terrorism, and pain. We do not lack examples of suffering, pain and evil acts. The existence of pain, evil, and suffering is undeniable. We see the devastating effects all around us. You may have personally dealt with the death of a loved one, a family member diagnosed with terminal cancer, a horrible car accident caused by a drunk driver, or a miscarriage. In those difficult and depressing times, you may have even found yourself wondering: If God exists, why did this happen?
For some reason, people think the existence of pain, evil, and suffering is the nail in the coffin in the argument against God. Yet, it is absurd to jump to the conclusion that because evil exists God can’t be good, or even, God can not exist. Why does it seem that this accusation is especially directed toward Christianity? I do not know, because the truth is that all worldviews have to account for the existence of pain, evil, and suffering. The Mormons, the Ba’hai faith, the Muslims, the Hindu, the Buddhist, and the Atheist all have the problem of pain, evil, and suffering in the world.
Let me turn the question around; if God doesn’t exist, why is there pain, evil and suffering in the world? A number of Atheistic (or non-theist) thinkers flatly deny that evil needs to be defined, or they refuse to fully acknowledge its reality, which is very telling about the lack of explaining power of their worldview.
The fact is, no other belief system offers a solution for pain, evil, and suffering. If you take God out of the equation, you still have the problem. All you have accomplished is to rid yourself of the hope God brings.
Let’s deal with the second half of the question first. Why do pain, evil, and suffering exist?
Some of it arises as the consequence of our choices. Proclaimed Atheist Woody Allen asked, “How do you expect me to believe in God when only last week I got my tongue caught in the roller of my electric typewriter?” I am guessing that Mr. Allen was attempting to be whimsical, not serious. Otherwise – pardon my bluntness – that may be the stupidest argument for the non-existence of God that I have ever heard. My advice to Mr. Allen would be: don’t put your tongue near your typewriter – electric or otherwise.
If you smoke two packs of cigarettes a day and end up getting lung cancer, don’t shake your fist at God. If you eat fatty, fried foods five times a week and have a heart attack, don’t start to question God’s goodness. If you have sex outside of marriage and end up pregnant, don’t whine, “God, how could you let this happen to me? You knew I wasn’t planning for this!” There is a reason our parent’s teach us not to run with scissors – the consequences can be fatal! Sometimes pain, evil, and suffering happens because of our choices.
Sometimes pain, evil, and suffering happen because we are affected by the choices someone else makes. The gunman who shoots up a school is not just affecting himself. The terrorist who blows up a building brings consequences to several others. The parents who abandon their children are leaving behind children that will deal with those affects for years. The person irresponsibly weaving in and out of traffic in Chicago is putting other driver’s safety at risk. Unfortunately, sometime we reap the consequences of other people’s bad decisions.
Referring to suffering in the world, Atheist Jerry Coyne remarked, “If God exists, I hope He has a good excuse.” Wait a minute! If God doesn’t exist, what is the explanation? The Atheist’s argument centers on two points. The first is to attack the existence of God. They appeal to the Epicurean Paradox, named for the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who philosophized:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?”
The Atheist’s reasoning goes through the following steps:
– A God that is all powerful would be able to prevent evil and suffering.
– A God that is all knowing would know that evil and suffering happen.
– A God that is all loving wouldn’t want evil and suffering to happen and would take needed action to stop it.
– Evil and suffering happen.
CONCLUSION: Since evil and/or suffering happen, these statements are contradictory. An all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God cannot exist while suffering continues.
Most of the Atheistic argument on the presence of evil, suffering, and pain centers on their belief that God doesn’t exist. That doesn’t exactly explain why it exists, though does it? When pressed to give an answer, their second argument basically consists of a shrug of the shoulders. One blogger answered, “It (pain, evil, and suffering) is simply not a problem for me in that I understand that it’s part of life…The best thing we can do is work to combat it, to make the human system better.” In other words, stuff happens. Make the most out of what you are given. Try to incite a change for the better.
There is not too much hope in a system (Atheism) that only exists to counter something else (religion) but offers no answers itself, even though its strongest criticism against the other side is that it doesn’t have any answers. Christianity does have answers. You may not like the answer, but we know why pain, evil, and suffering exist.
After God created everything, Genesis 1:31 says, “And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.“ After all of His creative acts, God reviewed His Creation and found it to be “very good.” There was no evil, pain, suffering, or death when God rested on the seventh day.
Genesis 2:8 states, “And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed.” God created Paradise and placed Adam and Eve within its boundaries. Many people reject this offhand because they think it sounds fictional. We often do that with things we don’t understand or can’t experience. However, your unwillingness to believe something doesn’t make it untrue. Some think the Big Bang Theory is the answer for our existence. I think it sounds like science fiction. One of us is true. One of us is wrong. Genesis is presented as a Book of History, not a collection of fiction.
Adam and Eve lived in the Paradise that God had created. We read of their instructions in Genesis 2:15-17. “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
They could eat of every tree except one. God even spells out the consequence of eating of that tree – death. If Adam ate of the tree, He would die a spiritual death, becoming depraved of the One Who is good. In addition, physical death, evil, pain, and suffering would pervert God’s “very good,” death-free, painless, evil-absent Creation.
We know what happens next. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6). With this willful act of disobedience, death entered God’s Creation. Death brought its friends pain, evil, and suffering. God’s warning was accurate.
Why is there pain, evil, and suffering in the world? One verse explains it for us:
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
The answer for why evil, suffering and pain, exists is that MAN chose to sin, bringing death to what God wanted to be good. We have the answer. We don’t have to shrug our shoulders. You may not like it, but it is there in black and white for you to know.
Now, we will address the first part of our question—how can God be good?
Why did He create the tree of knowledge of good and evil if He knew Adam was going to sin? Why not just take the option away? Well, the answer is that God is a good God. He has given you intellect, emotion, and will to make choices. He wanted people to use these tools in a relationship with Him. The funny thing about relationships is that they can’t be forced. They must be chosen. You make a decision to establish and cultivate relationships. You make choices that will benefit or harm that relationship.
Consider the relationships in your life. A husband choosing to spend time with his wife, instead of the countless other tasks he could be doing, brings appreciation to that relationship. A wife remaining faithful to her husband, despite all the other men she could have chosen, brings stability to that relationship. Your friends have chosen to share their lives with you out of all the other possible options.
Now, take away the choices. A husband forced to spend time with his wife. A wife threatened to be faithful. A friendship assigned to you. Would those relationships have any true meaning?
If we had the power only to help others but not harm them, we would not have any deep or meaningful responsibility for one another. You won’t know love without the choice to hate. Like a blind person will never truly know the difference between light and dark, we would never truly know good without evil. When I was a young boy, I could get loud, rowdy, and annoying at times but, for the most part, I was an obedient, believing child. It wasn’t until I made poor choices that I truly came to understand and experience the unlimited grace of God. None of this gives us permission to go out and get into trouble and cause discord. Paul answers the question, “Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1) with the emphatic, “God forbid!” (Rom. 6:2).
Just because the husband has other things to do, doesn’t mean he should neglect his wife. Just because the wife has other men to choose from does not mean she should cheat. Just because you have other people who could be your friend does not mean you should abandon the ones you have. Just because you can choose to go your way instead of God’s way doesn’t mean we should disobey Him.
Since pain, evil, and suffering exist, I can say God is good despite pain. We look at pain as a negative because…well, it hurts. Pain is a warning signal from nerves to the brain that something is wrong. Heat begins to hurt if it gets too intense, because your body needs to get away. Pain tells us something is wrong and needs fixed. God isn’t the cause of pain; the cause is the thing that is wrong. Pain is an unfortunate consequence of a sin-cursed world. Pain may not be a pleasant thing, but it is a good thing. Ask the diabetic if they would prefer to feel the pain of infection in their foot. In a world of infection, disease, and viruses, pain is a tool to combat these issues. Sure, in a sin-cursed world, there will always be faulty reasons for pain (e.g., allergies are your immune system overreacting to a stimulant), but it is also necessary for our health.
God is good despite suffering. Romans 5:3-5 tells us that we learn comfort, restraint, and temperance through suffering. We are also reminded how much God loves us through rough times. Appreciation grows in adversity. You have probably heard the adage, “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” Many a relationship bond was strengthened in times of suffering and adversity. Times of suffering will either break you or make you, but we must look to Christ who can bring something good out of something tragic. What hope do we have without Him? Suffering exists even in the Atheistic worldview. I suppose they just hope tomorrow is a better day and learn from their mistakes. It is true that much of the suffering we face comes from choices that we make or others make, but how does this get rid of God?
God is the standard of good. When we realize evil must have an opposite, we need to decide upon a standard. The Atheist will proudly state that he doesn’t have to define evil because it is different for individuals. Christians understand that good can only be understood through God. Evil is actually that which is contrary to God. To determine between God and evil, God has given us His standards in the Bible. The Bible teaches us about true love, peace, joy, charity, justice, and holiness. It also allows us to see the consequences of adultery, lying, cheating, and murder. God’s goodness is a standard that doesn’t change with society or the judiciary.
God is not pleased that evil exists. He is going to make all things new but, first, we get to experience His goodness despite pain, suffering and evil. Why doesn’t He just make things right now? Why does He put up with something against His desire? Christianity understands that sin and death mean that a person’s relationship with God needs reestablished, or reconciled. We are born into this world needing the righteousness of God and eternal life. God is good and is not willing that any should perish, so He provided deliverance for you through Jesus Christ. God puts up with evil and holds off on righting wrongs for your sake. He wants you to be promised a deliverance from evil, pain, and suffering one day, but you have to trust in Him.
Romans 3:24-26 says (with my explanation in parenthesis):
“Being justified [declared right] freely [no cost to you] by His grace [unmerited favor] through the redemption [ransom] that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [satisfied God’s anger against sin] through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission [forgiveness] of sins that are past, through the forbearance [tolerance] of God; To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, [right judgment] and the justifier [one who declares us right] of Him which believeth in Jesus.”
God is not going to force you to believe in Him. He will not force you to choose forgiveness and eternal life through His Son. Only you can make that decision. The Lord is good because He is patient. He puts up with evil in order to give you the opportunity to trust in Him.
Pain, evil, and suffering exist whether you are a Christian or not. The Christian has answers that follow a logical thought pattern. You have heard of the goodness of God. What have you chosen to do with it? Do you trust Him, “Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4)
God has given you a choice to do one of two things. Continue to be hardheartedly against Him, or turn to Him for eternal life and all the benefits it brings.