I was initially hesitant about including this section because there are so many who have experienced pain through various circumstances and also through the malicious actions of others. This pain, particularly pain caused by the malicious acts of other people, seems to be best labeled as Evil. I sincerely hope that if you have experienced pain in your life, that after reading this you will realize that my intent is not to cause you to re-live this pain. If through including it I have caused painful memories to resurface, I am truly sorry and hope that you will forgive me.
The reason I have added this section is because the Existence of Evil is considered one of the strongest challenges to the existence of God. I believe that after reading this section you will see the existence of evil in a way that you hadn't previously, and that the existence of evil is actually one of the best proofs for the existence of God rather than being a strong challenge to God’s existence. I realize that this probably won’t provide you much consolation for the pain you have suffered and I’m sorry again if this section causes you any pain.
It seems almost impossible at times to make sense of the meaningless violence, unprovoked assaults, and other very senseless events we see every day on the news. These events have caused people to question God as to why a circumstance has happened to them or a friend or loved one, and then caused them to question if God actually exists because of the circumstance. I can only make an attempt to understand what someone has going through who have experienced this kind of pain. If you have experienced evil in your life, my prayers are with you and I hope this section provides you with some understanding which you might not have had before.
While this section is not intended to make sense of the evil that people experience due to another’s actions or because of events like disasters, it is included to provide a greater understanding as to the challenge made that the existence of Evil proves that God does not exist and provide an answer to that challenge. I may not understand what you are going through but I hope the included links will help to bring you some understanding and comfort.
If you are experiencing grief or know someone who is, I hope the following links can be a help to you:
7 Things Not to Say to a Grieving Person
What not to say to those who are suffering
More things not to say to those who are suffering
10 Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person
10 Things You "Should" Say to a Grieving Person
5 Ways to Minister to Someone Who Is Grieving
How to Minister to the Grieving
Ministering to Those in Grief
Below I cover the logical aspect of the problem of evil and suffering in light of a God indicated by the Bible as all-loving and all-powerful.
Many who don't believe that God exists believe this because of the existence of evil. Essentially, their logic is as follows:
If God is all-loving, He would want there to be no evil.
If God is all-powerful, He would be able to eliminate evil.
Since evil exists, God either lacks the will to save us from evil or the ability to save us from evil.
If He lacks the will, He is not all-loving.
If He lacks the ability, He is not all-powerful.
Therefore, the existence of evil stands as evidence that God cannot be both all-loving and all-powerful, or it is evidence that God doesn't exist at all.
This argument seems very logical and convincing at first. This is because the only options considered as proof or disproof of the existence of God in reference to evil are the ones given. What if there is another option in the way to look at the issue of evil?
Greg Koukl, (www.str.org) gives insight into this subject. When you look at the above references to evil the underlying assumption in the statements is that evil is an actual thing, that it is a substance that has material properties which can be measured. The statements are valid if evil is an actual thing. But that is the question. Is evil a thing?
Let’s look at a few illustrations which should answer the question. One of Greg Koukl’s illustrations for the concept of evil is hot and cold. When we say that something is cold, are we using the description of cold to indicate an actual substance or property of something? No. To say something is cold we are not referring to cold as a substance in and of itself, but as a description of a lack of heat energy. Heat energy can be measured, but there is not a measurement for cold energy because there is no such thing as cold energy. Essentially, cold is not a thing, it is the absence of heat.
Another illustration he uses is Light and Dark. The same is true with the concept of dark as the concept of cold. Dark doesn't exist in and of itself. Darkness is a description of the absence of something, the absence of light. You can measure light but you can’t measure dark.
My favorite illustration from Greg Koukl is that of a donut. Think about a regular glazed donut with the opening in the center. What is the opening is called? A doughnut hole, right? Now think. Have you ever eaten a donut hole? Now I'm not talking about the small pieces of dough that are sold at donut stores now, but have you ever eaten the opening in the center of a donut called the doughnut hole? You haven’t, have you? You see, the doughnut hole in the center of a regular donut is not a substance itself. The term doughnut hole describes the absence of something. It describes where the doughnut is not. Greg Koukl humorously illustrates this description of absence by saying,
“Cold is the absence of heat, as darkness is the absence of light, and as the donut hole is the absence of donut”.
Evil is like this. It is not a substance that can be measured. It is not something in and of itself. It is the name for the absence of something. What is that something that is absent? That something is good.
Let’s look back to the argument that God can’t exist because the existence of evil. Again, this is the misunderstanding that evil is a thing. If there is no God then there is no standard for good. If there is no standard for good then nothing can be considered good. Without good nothing can be called evil, because there is nothing to compare it to, nothing to contrast it with.
If there is no standard for good, nothing can be described as evil. Just like there can’t be cold without heat; and there can’t be dark without light; and there can’t be a donut hole without a donut; There can’t be evil without good. If there is no God, there is no good or standard for good, and without good, there can be nothing called evil.
Recognizing evil in the world is only possible because we recognize a standard of good to compare it to. A standard of good is only possible if God exists, and only with a standard of good can things be recognized as evil. So when we understand this relationship between evil and good we understand that the existence of evil is actually one of the best evidences for the existence of God rather than an evidence for His non-existence. Jeremiah 31:33 shows that God has instilled this recognition of right and wrong within each of us
Jeremiah 31:33 “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”.
Hopefully this section has brought greater understanding to this subject and shows an effective answer to the objection of evil. What about pain though? Is there any explanation for the existence of pain and suffering in our lives? And is the pain and suffering we experience somehow evidence proving that God doesn’t love people as the Bible indicates He does? Or could God have a purpose in allowing pain and suffering? Could pain and suffering in our lives actually be used by God toward a greater end purpose?
I’ve heard the following quote that gives one reason for pain that made it more understandable for me,
“God will take us where we don’t want to go so that He can create in us what we could not accomplish on our own.”
Long term good can sometimes only be attained through earlier pain and discomfort. Like a medical or dental procedure, short term pain can bring about a long term benefit. When we don’t have perspective, as in a young child getting an immunization shot, we misunderstand the usage of pain by God.
When I look back at the times I've experienced pain I realize that in most of those circumstances the pain actually caused me to change what I was doing, stop doing something that I was doing, or take action when I was avoiding doing so. If we are honest, pain is one of the more effective motivations in our lives. Can you think of times in your life when pain caused you to make a change? Maybe change a relationship or a situation?
You might still wonder why God allows evil to happen to good people. Doesn’t this thought assume that there are good people? But is anyone actually good? In our eyes, yes, but what about from God’s perspective? Think back to the questions in the Self Check section. We realize that none of us are as good as we think we are. This is also confirmed by Jesus’ quote to the rich young man,
Mark 10:18 "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." It is clear that no one is truly good.
I remember Greg Koukl mention in one of his programs an illustration showing good reason for some of the discomforts we experience. Greg gave the example of Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was a body builder. Greg asked if Arnold had been born with the physique that he had when he won the Mr. Universe competitions. The obvious answer is that he hadn't. He was born with the ability because of his genetic makeup so he had the particular physiology necessary to eventually win the Mr. Olympia contest, and win it seven times. However, he wasn't born with the physique he competed with. Arnold had to train many hours a day for a number of years to develop his physique.
Greg then said,
“God wants to change us into the type of people he wants to spend eternity with”.
God wants to change us to have the qualities and characteristics we don’t currently have or don’t have to the degree he desires. Characteristics of patience, forgiveness, thanksgiving, long-suffering, etc. Some people think that by God allowing pain and evil in our lives is proof that he doesn’t really love us. He does though. God wants to develop us into persons with characteristics like Jesus, and it doesn’t make sense to us that He can actually use these negative situations to do this.
Have you ever thought about how we develop these characteristics of forgiveness, thankfulness, and the others? Like Arnold Schwarzenegger not having the physique he competed with when he was born, God can’t just give us patient, or forgiveness, or thankfulness, or any of the other characteristics we value in ourselves and others. To gain and develop the characteristic of patience we must go through circumstances that causes us to exercise patience. Just like building muscle tissue requires physical exercise, we only increase in these characteristics by exercising them. The only way for us to exercise these characteristics is for God to allow us to go through circumstances that cause us to experience troubles and difficulties where we exercise these characteristics. Arnold developed his physique through actively working against the difficulty of the force of the weights. It is only in those times when we actively work against the difficult and inconvenient circumstances that we develop those valued qualities.
The characteristics which God wants to develop in us are those characteristics we value in others and ourselves too. However, they are things which God cannot simply create us with. Like the square circle mentioned earlier, God cannot do certain things. He can’t automatically make us to be thankful. We only develop thankfulness by going through a situation where we choose to express thankfulness. Greg indicates that the only way to develop forgiveness, is to experience a situation where we are wronged and then choose to demonstrate forgiveness to those who wronged us. Similarly, the only way we can develop these other qualities is to go through difficult circumstances, even painful at times, which give us the opportunity to exercise and choose to develop those qualities as well.
Think about the characteristic of patience. Have you ever heard anyone say, “Lord, give me patience and give it to me now”? It is only in times of impatience and inconvenience that we can develop patience. The same is true for any other characteristic. Have you ever been moved to develop any of these characteristics when everything was going well? Undoubtedly not. It seems almost counter-intuitive, but the reality is that when we are comfortable we rarely make changes on our own which would cause us any discomfort.
An experiment with plants illustrates how difficulties develop strength and desirable characteristics. Take two of the same type of young outdoor plant and grow one inside a house where the environment is comfortable for the plant and grow the other outside forcing it to bear the elements. After months of growth, place the plant grown in the house outdoors to grow with the other plant which has been outside the entire time. What you will find is that the plant that has only grown inside will not grow well and might even die, while the plant that has already been growing outside does just fine and continues to grow larger. The plant that has grown outside the entire time has developed a stronger structure because of the harsher circumstances it has had to endure. People are very similar in this respect.
Something else to consider when thinking about the qualities God is developing in us. Think about those you know who have been given things they've not had to work for. Haven’t you noticed that they don’t appreciate as much what they've not had to work for as compared to those who have had to work for what they have? It’s human nature to value something that has cost us something and see less value in something that has cost us nothing, that we haven’t worked for, and have little invested in. Have you ever heard someone say of another, “They are not invested in the situation”? We place a much higher value on those things that require an investment of something we value, whether time, money, effort.
It’s the same with the desirable characteristics God wants us to acquire. They don't come naturally or automatically. One might say these characteristics have to be worked for. Don't you find that it is the undesirable characteristics that come naturally to us? As indicated above, we place value in the things that cost us in some way. Similarly, the reason we value those desirable characteristics in others and ourselves is because they must be worked for. And since this seems to be the way God has provided for their development, it is probable that only through difficult situations is the development of these characteristics even possible. Isn't it worth it though? Think about your closest friends. Don’t they have characteristics that you admire? Isn't your relationship with them closer because of these valued characteristics they demonstrate? This is why God wants to do the same work in us, so that we will have that same close relationship with Him, having developed those characteristics of value to Him.
The limitation in all of this though is that since these characteristics are developed through work, difficulty, pain, and discomfort, we only have this life to develop them for God. Once we pass from this life we will never again have the opportunity to develop these characteristics further, except for Thankfulness.
And one last reason for difficulties in our lives. Have you ever thought as to why some Christians seem to experience difficulty and others lives seem to be free of most difficulties? If you were Satan, would you harass those not doing much for God, or would you harass those who are doing great works for God? It should be obvious. Satan is only going to spend time harassing those individuals who are being effectively used by God. If you are not experiencing much in the way of pain and difficulty in your life, could it be that you are no threat to Satan?
1 Peter 2:20 "For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God."
2 Corinthians 12:10 "Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
23 Bible Verses About Suffering For Christ's Sake
I believe the following links may assist if you are or have experienced pain that has caused you to doubt God’s love or His existence. They also provide perspectives on evil which have not been considered by those who use evil as an argument against the existence of God.
If God is all powerful and loving, why is there suffering in the world?
Why Is There Suffering?
Does the Bible Explain Why God Allows Suffering?
Suffering: Why Does God Allow It?
5 Biblical Reasons Why God Allows Suffering
I heard an answer to the question posed by some questioning Christianity in light of the existence of evil and suffering,
"What about the Naturalistic explanation of this? What about the Muslim? What about the Pantheist? What about the Buddhist? All these worldviews have to give an answer for the problem of evil, pain, and suffering. Not just the Christian. . . When Christianity is compared to these different world views in answering the questions about evil, suffering, and pain, it has the most coherent and comprehensive answer that there is."
If God, Why Evil? - Sean McDowell
The Problem of Evil – Peter Kreeft
How Can A Good God Allow Evil?
Good God & Evil World - Paul Copan
The Problem of Evil - (site search results)
Can We Be Good Without God? – William Lane Craig
Does Pain and Suffering Prove There Is No God? (site search results)
Resources to Help You Respond to the Problem of Evil (Free Bible Inserts)
Additional Downloadable Inserts
Sites on God and Evil:
If God’s all powerful, why does evil exist?
www.comereason.org/god-and-evil.asp Isaiah 45:7
How Does Christianity Explain Evil and Suffering?
John Stonestreet – Summit Ministries
Next Page: Persecution of Christians