Evil and Suffering

GravesOne of the most difficult problems in Christian theology is the problem of theodicy: the problem of evil and suffering. The philosopher David Hume summarized the problem; “Is he (God) willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?” Christians believe God is all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient), all good (Omnibenevolent), and present everywhere at once (omnipresent). So Hume’s question goes like this; if God is all powerful and there is evil in the world, then God must not be good; however, if God is all good and there is evil in the world, then God must not be all powerful. What God can not be is all powerful and good because there is such a thing as evil. But Christians say that God is all powerful and good; so why is there evil in the world?

There are some who have suggested that God's power is limited and evil exists only because God didn't know that human's world rebel and bring evil into the world. Greg Boyd, a pastor at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, writes the following about the problem of evil,

“If God foreknew that Adolf Hitler would send six million Jews to their death, why did he go ahead and create a man like that?” and “If hell is worse than never being born, as Jesus suggests (Matt. 26:24), wouldn't an all-loving God refrain from creating people he is certain will end up there? If God doesn't want "any to perish" (2 Peter 3:9), why does he create people he is certain will do just that?”1

What Boyd is getting at is a question many of us have already asked ourselves. If God knew that Adam and Eve would sin and bring pain, suffering, death, and the damnation of many souls into hell, then why would He do it? Surely a good God wouldn't do such an evil thing. Is God like the demented child who enjoys burning ants with a magnifying glass? Is God a megalomaniac? As a solution Greg Boyd and other open theists suggest that God doesn't actually know the future so He created humans with free will and hoped they would not rebel and fall into sin. Boyd’s view is plagued with conflicting Bible passages and problems like explaining how a God who doesn't know and determine the future can reveal prophecy about the future. Is his solution the only one that gets God off the hook for pain and suffering? No, the open theist view cripples God to the point of Him not being God at all. It brings God down to our level and makes him as human as possible in an attempt to understand Him - but God cannot be fully understood (Isaiah 55:8-9, Deuteronomy 29:29, Psalm 139:4, 16).

The God of the Bible knows and planned the future, and just because we can not think of a good reason for God allowing evil in the world, does not mean that there isn't a good reason. Embracing strong human rationalism cripples our view of God. Though we cannot know why God allows suffering and pain, Christianity tells us one reason that it can’t be; it can’t be because God is indifferent to our suffering, it can’t be because He doesn’t care.

In his book The Reason for God, Tim Keller writes,

“Christianity alone among the world religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, and imprisonment. On the cross he went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as his knowledge and power excels ours. In his death, God suffers in love, identifying with the abandoned and godforsaken. Why did he do it? The Bible says that Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us. … If we again ask the question: ‘Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?’ and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is. However, we know what the answer isn’t. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he is indifferent or detached from our condition. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself”2

God evidently believes that suffering and evil serve a purpose, and just because we don't know that purpose doesn't mean we shouldn't trust Him. The cross of Jesus Christ proves that we can trust Him. 

Some argue that it would have been better if God had created humans who could not have sinned, but again, that is invoking strong human rationalism based on very limited information. However, even with limited information we still can speculate possible reasons for why God did as He did.

C. S. Lewis writes,

“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can't. If a thing is free to be good it's also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they've got to be free. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk ... If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying."3

Lewis is not saying that God merely rolled the dice with humanity and hoped that we would chose Him. He realized that divine soveriengty and human choice are not at odds with one another and that we simply do not have all of the information necessary to understand how they fit together. God does know the future and is all powerful and all good, and just because we finite human beings cannot figure out why an infinite God has allowed evil and suffering does not mean there isn't a good reason for it. By looking to the cross we see that we can trust God and know that He cares about us. So for Christians the problem of evil and suffering is not really a problem at all. It is the non-theists (non-Christians I would even dare say) who have the real difficulty explaining the problem of evil and suffering. God is good all the time, all the time God is good.


Key take away:  Though we do not know the reason why God allows suffering and evil, the cross shows us one reason it's not; it isn't because He doesn't care. 


1. Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible: a Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000), 10

2. Timothy Keller, The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York City: Dutton, 2008) 47.

3.  C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2001), 47.





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