A dedicated personal worker was told, “I believe in God, but not in a god who lets bad things happen to innocent people.”
David Hume (Scottish historian and philosopher, 1711-1776) wrote that the existence of evil cancels either God’s goodness or his power. He repeated questions from Epicurus (Greek philosopher of 4th century B.C.):
Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil? (Hume Selections, p. 365).
The attempt to place God in a dilemma carries with it the assumption of having all the facts. Later Hume confessed he had overstepped human boundaries. In his answer to a question whether “in the contrivance of the universe” evil should have been eliminated, he replied: “This decision seems too presumptuous for creatures, so blind and ignorant” (Ibid., p. 380).
But there are non-presumptuous people who have honestly wrestled with the problem of evil, and do not understand how God could say, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I the LORD do all these things” (Isa. 45:7).
God is not the Cause of Evil Morals
Since God made man free, man has the choice of doing good or evil. In many passages, from Genesis to Revelation, the principle of “choose you” (Josh. 24:15) is given to human beings. There is no coercion. “See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil” (Deut. 30:15).
When man chooses evil, one can say that God has allowed it, but one cannot say that God is responsible. God did not cause Cain to kill Abel (Gen. 4:8). Evil morals God could have eliminated, but only by making man a machine, a puppet. The direct cause of evil morals then is man, not God.
“Evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnessings, and blasphemies come” not from God but from a man’s “heart,” and these “are the things which defile a man” (Matt. 15:19-20). Since man, not God, is responsible, the inspired author of the book of Proverbs advises, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life” (4:23). And the inspired Paul wrote:
God is not mocked, for a man will reap whatever he sows. He who sows to his flesh will reap ruin from the flesh; and he who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit (Gal. 6:7-8).
God is the Cause of Evil as a Penalty for Disobedience
No evil existed after the six days of creation, and “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). But after Eve and Adam disobeyed, God created evil as a penalty.
Adam’s “helper” (`ezer, Gen. 2:18) had acted independent of her husband, bringing the penalty of increased pain in child birth and man’s rule over her and on all her descendants (Gen. 3:16).
Because Adam listened to “the voice of” his wife, his potential life span “for ever” was terminated, and the whole of God’s perfect creation was cursed (Gen. 3:17, 22). Apparently the evil curse from God included not only toil and the growth of weeds and thistles, but also diseases, parasites, droughts, tornadoes, and earthquakes (Gen. 3:17-19).
As Eve’s penalty was passed down to all women, so Adams’s penalty of death was passed down to all mankind, “even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam’s transgression” (Rom. 5:12-14). Kinfolks suffer with kinfolks (Exod. 20:5), but kinfolks’ sin is not absorbed:
The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him (Ezek. 18:20).
The effect of sin is transmitted (Exod. 20:5), but not the guilt: “every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).
Many citations show that God has often created evil as a punishment for sins: Psalm 125:4-5; Isaiah 31:2; Jeremiah 25:29; 44:27; Daniel 9:14; Amos 3:6; 9:4; Micah 1:12; 2:3. “Is God evil in bringing wrath?”, asked Paul, and then he answered his own question: “No, indeed! In that case, how will God judge the world?” (Rom. 3:5-6).
God is the Cause of Evil as Discipline
Job had done nothing to deserve his boils, but, unknown to him, God had a providential purpose in allowing Satan to afflict him with ulcers “from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7). As good as Job was, “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1), refusing his wife’s advice to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9-10), and in his torment exercising a measure of patience (Jas. 5:11), yet God could see in Job egotism (Job 13:2) and rebellion (meri, Job 23:2), a lack of patience (Job 21:4), flashing (razam) eyes (Job 15:12), and a disposition to argue with his Maker (Job 13:3). Certainly he did not say,
Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him (Job 13:15, KJV).
Instead, self-righteousness showed itself, as he said,
See, he will kill me; I have no hope; but I will defend [argue, yakah] my ways to his face (Job 13:15, NRSV).
However, days of suffering humbled the man, and he listened to God’s rebuke, and repented “in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). He was a better man as a result of God’s disciplinary evil than ever he could have been without it.
Similarly, Paul had done nothing to cause a terminal torture, “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7), the last eleven years of his life (57-68 A.D). He prayed for relief until he learned that his unceasing pain, a “messenger of Satan” that God allowed, was the Father’s loving discipline to keep him humble, “so that I might not be arrogant” (2 Cor. 12:7).
Instead of Paul’s renouncing God, he was thankful, and he realized that “when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). Also, the inspired author of the book of Hebrews speaks of the necessity of evil in discipline:
No discipline at the time seems pleasant, but painful. However, later it produces the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).
The author of the book of Hebrews (5:7-10) cited Jesus as an example of one who, like the rest of us, had to learn (manthano) “obedience from the things which he suffered,” and in that way attained “maturity” (teleioo).
God is the Cause of Vicarious Evil
In the horrible agony that Jesus suffered, there was another purpose besides his attaining maturity: by the way of the cross, “he bore the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:12), being made to be “a sin offering in our behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He suffered evil vicariously.
A certain man was born blind, not because of parental sins, nor because of an alleged, impossible, hand-me-down sin from Adam (Ezekiel 18:20; Isaiah 59:2), nor because of his own sins (John 9:1-3), but for a providential purpose, “that God’s works might be seen in him” (John 9:3), that people “might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing” they “might have life in his name” (John 20:31). The man formerly blind testified: “It has never been reported that anyone opened the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God he could do nothing” (John 9:32).
O the depth of the richness of God’s wisdom and knowledge! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways untraceable! “Who has known the Lord’s mind, or who has become his adviser? Who has first given to him, and will not be repaid?” All things are from him and by him and to him! Glory is his forever! Amen! (Romans 11:33-36).
Conclusion to the Problem of Evil
Unless one has all the answers he is not yet ready to condemn Him
who does good, and sends rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons filling our hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:17).
The evidence for a good God outweighs the contrary:
Many, O Jehovah my God, are the wonderful works which you have done, and your thoughts for us: they cannot be set in order before you; if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered (Psalm 40:5).
“The mystery of evil in a world ruled by God is not so baffling as the mystery of goodness in a godless world” (Ralph W. Sockmann, How to Believe, p. 47). It is becoming for an honest man, considering all the evidence, to confess and pray, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). A haughty attitude never solves a problem, and it deserves Paul’s rebuke, “O man, who are you to reply against God?” (Romans 9:20).
When problems of evil appear completely unsolvable, when instances of purposelessness come into one’s life, happy is the man who keeps on believing that to them who love God he “works all things together for good” (Romans 8:28), and that “some things we are not supposed to understand” (a quotation from a man who had just buried the mother of his young children).
Happiness is believing that the universe and life are worthwhile. This means that one refuses to rebel when insurmountable problems arise, but he makes a mental adjustment, as did David:
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, nor are my eyes lofty, nor do I involve myself in great matters, in things beyond my understanding. I have calmed and quieted myself as a child weaned from his mother; my soul within me is like a weaned child (Psalm 131:1-2).