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Why Does God Allow Evil and Suffering?

Frequently Asked Questions

Introduction

The reasons why a loving God would allow so much evil in the world are a mystery and a stumbling block to faith for many people. Why do good people sometimes suffer terribly while evil people live lives of ease? These are very difficult things to understand, but the Bible does give some clues.

Physical Evil

Illness, pain, earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters are examples of physical evils. God may use physical evil to chastise individuals or nations and lead them to repent (Isaiah 45:7, Genesis 6:13, Acts 13:9-11). Some physical evil may be the result of the original sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:6, Romans 5:12-14).

God may use physical evil for a higher purpose: to test us and prepare us for glory (1 Peter 1:6-7, 5:10, 2 Corinthians 12:7-9), or to make us more compassionate (2 Corinthians 1:3-6). The suffering we endure now will be more than compensated by the glory of eternal life (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Philippians 1:21-23). Physical evil is one means God uses to accomplish His work on earth (John 9:1-3). It is very difficult to see any value in pain, suffering, loss of a loved one, disability, etc. However, these temporary evils are insignificant on the time scale of eternity, and they may just be a testing and preparation for better things to come.

Despite all this, the reason for most physical evil is simply unknown to us. Sometimes, we just have to put our trust in God and accept the fact that we can't understand why we have to suffer (Psalms 23:4, 31:7, Lamentations 3:31-33):

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts." (NAS, Isaiah 55:8-9 )

Moral Evil

Murder, aggression, terrorism, violence, theft, greed, bribery, hatred, racism, discrimination, revenge, lying, deceit, slander, gossip, adultery, rape and other sexual immorality are examples of moral evils (Exodus 20:12-17, Deuteronomy 16:19, 1 Chronicles 22:8, Isaiah 2:4, Mark 7:21-22, Romans 12:17-19). Moral evil is caused by our sinfulness and rebellion against God. It is the result of ignoring the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and Jesus' command to "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:35-40, Romans 13:9, James 2:8).

God gives all of us the free will to choose between good or evil, and many choose to follow the ways of evil (James 1:13-15). Unfortunately, when some people choose the path of evil, others may suffer as a result. However, in eternity, the righteous will be rewarded and the evildoers will be punished. (Luke 16:19-31, Romans 6:23).

At all costs we should avoid participating in moral evil (Luke 17:1-2, Mark 9:43-47). We must also avoid the temptation to retaliate or take revenge (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 5:43-48, 1 Peter 4:12-19, James 1:19-20).

We may also cause suffering to ourselves as the natural consequence of sinfulness and unwise actions (Proverbs 1:29-32, 6:9-11, 10:8-9, 11:27-30, 17:9, 23:21, 29:3, Romans 7:14-23, Galatians 6:7-9).

Evil Cannot Be Completely Eliminated

Jesus said He did not come to eliminate evil from the world, but so that the kingdom of God can grow amid the evil of the world until the time when all evil is destroyed (Matthew 10:34-36, 13:24-30, 13:36-43). We cannot eliminate all evil in the world, but we can and should do our best to minimize the suffering it causes (Matthew 5:7, Acts 20:35, Matthew 25:31-46, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Ephesians 4:32, 1 John 3:17-18).

Questions

Does Satan Cause Evil?

Satan is an evil being opposed to God and mankind. Satan is also called "the devil" (Matthew 4:1),"the ruler of this world" (John 14:30), "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4), "Beelzebub" (Matthew 12:24), and "the ruler of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2). 1 John 5:19 says, "the whole world lies under the power of the evil one."

Satan's primary methods are temptation (creating a desire  to do what is wrong) and deception (persuasion that wrong is actually right) (Matthew 4:3, John 8:44, 1 Thessalonians 3:4-5, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, 1 John 4:1). But Satan's power is limited by God. With faith, prayer and determination we can resist temptation (Matthew 6:13, 1 Corinthians 10:13, Ephesians 4:25-27, 6:11-12, 1 Peter 5:8-10).

Satan, with his powers of temptation and deception, may be indirectly responsible for moral evils. But that does not excuse those people who allow themselves to fall under Satan's influence (Matthew 18:7-9, 26:41, Mark 9:42-48, Luke 17:1-2). Satan may also cause some physical evils (Job 2:3-7).

Is Suffering God's Punishment for Sin?

It is wrong to assume that someone who suffers is being punished for his or her sins or those of an ancestor (Job 1:1, 1:13-22, John 9:1-3). In Biblical times, many people believed that someone who was poor or suffering was being punished by God for sins. Conversely, wealth was believed to be a sign of God's favor. But Jesus' Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) emphatically shows those beliefs to be wrong: The selfish rich man ended up in hell, but the poor beggar Lazarus ended up in heaven.

Did God Create Evil, or Does He Just Allow It?

Although God may sometimes use physical evils to accomplish His purposes, the Bible says that God does not cause sin or moral evils (James 1:13-15, 1 John 3:2-6, 2 Thessalonians 3:3). Jesus said the cause of sin is within the human mind:
... “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” (NLT, Mark 7:20-23)

Is it Good to Suffer?

We should expect some suffering in this life (John 16:33, 2 Timothy 3:12). Willingness to suffer for doing what is right is a demonstration of our faith (1 Peter 2:20-21). Through suffering, we learn many valuable lessons such as humility and dependence on God (Psalms 119:66-71, 2 Corinthians 12:7-9), empathy and concern for others who are suffering (2 Corinthians 1:3-5), endurance and good character (Romans 5:3-4, James 1:2-3) and righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).
... for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.” Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? (NRSV, Hebrews 12:6-7)

However, there is no value in suffering for its own sake. Although we should patiently endure suffering when it comes, nothing in the Bible says we should seek suffering or martyrdom (Psalms 16:11, Romans 15:13).

Living with Evil and Suffering

Although we cannot eliminate all evil and suffering, people who develop great faith in God often find an inner peace that simply overshadows the evils of the world and the suffering we endure (Psalms 4:8, 119:165, John 14:27, Matthew 5:4, 11:28-29, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, 1 Peter 5:6-11):

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (NKJV, Psalms 23:4)

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. (NRSV, Romans 8:18)

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (NRSV, Romans 8:28)

The Christian attitude is to thank and praise God for all the good things He has done rather than to blame Him for creating a world that we view as imperfect.

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