If God is real and he truly is all powerful and all-knowing, why is there evil in the world? Simply put, why does God allow suffering?
Aside from the whether or not Jesus was real, this is easily the most often-asked question about the existence and goodness of God.
It’s a valid question. I get how it can be puzzling to see all of the violence and perversion going on and yet put your faith in a loving God.
First, it’s worth noting that at least part of the issue is the fact that the evil in life is now amplified through social media and news coverage. Drama sells, and media companies know that very well. That’s not to villainize the media – most of them are just doing what they’re told to do.
But the result ends up being that we are inundated with evil, and we’re left to wonder, “Where is this good and powerful God that we hear about?”
How can we say on one hand that God is with us and he cares for us, yet on the other hand it seems as if he has abandoned us?
The obvious conclusion that most people are led to believe is that God is either not there, or if he is there, he certainly isn’t good.
But consider this:
Why God Might Allow Suffering
Imagine you have a daughter whom you love very much. You give this daughter of yours everything you have to offer. When she gets old enough to move out, you help her get her own place to live and you equip her with everything she needs to be successful in life.
However, with your daughter’s new found freedom, she decides that she wants to have a good time – a better time than the one you as her parent can provide her with.
So she goes out and begins to party with new friends. In addition to partying, she also picks up a drug habit. It starts innocently at first, and then scales into something she can no longer control until she’s on the brink of death.
Her situation is dire, and you have to figure something out. You have two options:
Option #1: You can go physically restrain her and lock her up in your home.
This may sound like a decent idea, and it would definitely be the safest idea, but in the end you are robbing her of her freedom.
Now, some might say that the situation calls for the removal of her freedom. But how long can you keep her locked away?
Anyone who’s ever dealt with a drug addict can tell you that people will not change until they’re ready to change, so at what point does taking a person’s freedom become inhumane treatment? At what point does it become slavery?
The removal of personal freedom isn’t an effective long-term solution.
Option #2: You can remind her of your love and give her a choice.
The other option is to show your daughter how much you love her by showing her grace and compassion like she’s never imagined possible.
You could start by going to her and reminding her of your love with a grand gesture. If she rejects you, then you continue to offer your love every day and you pursue her no matter where she goes or what she does.
You’re only “ask” is that she chooses you back and chooses to lay down the drugs in exchange for a loving relationship with you, her parent.
Which of those two options do you think would be most effective?
I get it. As humans, in our frustration, we’re tempted to think that we need to take control of a situation like that. We’re tempted to believe that the only way to fix that type of situation would be to force our will on them.
But let me ask you this: if you were to take your daughter’s freedom, how could she ever truly choose to love you?
Sure, she might be safe and secure, but long-term you would essentially turn her into a prisoner. At that point, with no freedom with which to choose, even if she wanted to restore her relationship with you, she wouldn’t rightfully be able to because she doesn’t have the freedom and the opportunity to do so. All of her decisions would be filtered through the lense of a restricted ability to choose.
Any effort the daughter might make in that situation to restore her relationship with you would be tainted by the fact that she is blinded by her lack of freedom and would do anything to simply get away from the captive situation.
But there’s another path that God takes us down instead…
Suffering Can Serve a Purpose
As parents of people living perpetually destructive lifestyles will tell you, the only way to affect real change in the life of another human being is to guide them along a loving path, clear the way for them, then show them that the choice to change is worth making.
Of course, this path requires humility. This path requires that the individual reach the end of themselves and simultaneously see the love and goodness of the parent in order for them to reach out and choose to allow them to help.
This path, the path of freedom, is the path that God takes with us. Could he force us against our will to stop doing evil? Sure. But then he would have to take all freedom from us in the process.
The reality is this:
God created human beings for love. You don’t have to be a Christian to see that. We crave love and love drives us. It’s the common thread through everything we do and it defines our very existence regardless of our religious beliefs.
But love can only exist where there is free will, because the absence of free will is slavery.
How can you love someone when you’re not given the opportunity to choose? Even if you wanted to love a person, if you’re forced against your will to have a relationship with them, then you never even have the opportunity to choose love. Therefore, you can’t give love freely.
Maybe that’s why God gives us free will. He gives us the freedom to choose.
Of course, the byproduct of free will is evil. Where people have a choice, there will always be those who choose to refuse goodness. Any time light shines on an object there must be darkness in the shadows. In the same way, where there’s free will, there will always be evil.
God Overcomes Suffering With Love
God made a grand gesture, among all his other gestures in creation, to show his love.
He came to the earth in human form, in the form of his son Jesus Christ. His sole purpose in coming to the earth was to show us that he genuinely loves us, and therefore we can freely choose him, trust him with our lives, and follow him knowing that we’re in good hands.
While he was here on earth, he performed miracles that changed the world. And when people murdered him for being different, he rose from the dead to further prove his love for us.
God intended for that grand gesture of love to remind us of his love, acceptance, and forgiveness.
His intention was for us to always remember the time that God came to earth, performed miracles, taught the people, loved and served, died for us, and rose from the dead. He did all of that so that we could give up the pride and selfishness that leads us to emptiness.
He did this so that when we see his love and give up the path we’ve been on, we could embrace him and move forward connected to the God of the universe, our Father.
It’s that renewed connection with God through what he did in Jesus Christ that we can walk in power and hope and love knowing – based on evidence and confidence from our experiences – that God does love us and he is with us and all things will work for our good.
Is suffering God’s will?
Suffering is not God’s will. We know that because the Bible tells us that God’s will is “good, pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) It also says that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change.” (James 1:17)
Then Paul wrote in the book of Romans that God’s Spirit intercedes for his people “in accordance with the will of God.” He goes on to say, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…” (Romans 8:27-28)
So we can know this about God’s character:
- God’s will is good, perfect, and pleasing
- Every good thing comes from God
- God is light and there is no darkness in him at all
- He never tempts us and therefore never participates in evil
- He works all things – all the evil and suffering – for good for those who love him
- God never changes
Even if you don’t believe the Bible, you can look around at life happening despite all the odds stacked against it. You can see for yourself that God is good and he’s working a redemptive process in the midst of brokenness.
What did God say about suffering?
Very early in human history, God said this to humanity: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7)
God knew from the beginning of time that free will would lead to suffering, but he gave a promise. He said we’ll be accepted if we’ll do what is right – if we follow God through the good, bad, and brokenness. Acceptance overcomes imperfection because grace is more powerful than judgment.
That was God’s intention all along – acceptance of us through grace.
Then, much later in history, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Jesus reiterated what Scripture had said much earlier – that sin and suffering were inevitable, but God’s will is the exact opposite. And because he is more powerful than anything we face, we can have hope in the midst of pain.
Why Suffering Doesn’t Disprove God’s Existence – It Reminds Us He’s Real
So you see, evil doesn’t raise a problem for the idea of a loving God. In fact, the presence of evil actually communicates the goodness of God. Because he loves us so much that he refuses to make us slaves even when it means we will choose to not choose him. That’s true love.
Consider this. Delegation is the ultimate expression of power. Therefore, the most powerful people on earth are the ones who can effectively delegate power and accept the responsibility of what may come from poor decisions. That’s the essence of freedom.
God does the same thing by delegating his power to us in the form of free will and accepting the responsibility of our poor decisions through forgiveness of our sins in Jesus Christ.
So the bad news is, yes, evil exists which means suffering exists.
The good news is, the very fact that suffering exists actually points to the goodness of a freedom-giving and forgiving God.
And now we can look at Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and have hope that God is real. We can know that he loves us, and we can run back to him with open arms. And we can trust him with our lives every day going forward.
That is eternal life – knowing God and walking with him. It doesn’t erase suffering or evil, but it does give us hope in the midst of it all.