One of the primary objections made by those who stand in opposition to a Christian worldview is directly aimed at God’s character… specifically His goodness. This opposition typically comes in the form of a question most frequently heard from the lips of skeptics but also proffered by believers. That question is, “If God is good then why does He allow evil in the world?” Those who are opposed to Christianity offer up the “problem of evil” as incontrovertible evidence of God’s non-existence. They reason that the existence of evil and suffering maligns the character of God. Therefore, if it can be proven that God is not good, then it can be proven that God is not God. They ask, “If God is so good, then why does He allow suffering in my life?” “If God is so good then why does He allow harm against children?” “If God is so good then why does the world have masses of people who are going hungry on a daily basis?” These are all legitimate questions. How is the existence of a good and perfect God reconciled with our experience of a world that is teeming with pain, suffering, and evil?
To understand the problem of evil, we need to travel back to the story of creation. When we look at the account of creation, we see that God created a world that was perfect in every sense. He crafted a world that was just as He intended. He created the heavens and the earth, He created plants and animals, and then He created Man. God created Man in His image (Imago Dei). When we look at God’s assessment of His creation in Genesis 1:31 (NIV), we read, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” When Man was created, it was the crowning moment of God’s creation. It is also important to understand that God initially created Man as a free agent. This means that Man was created with a will… a will which was yet uncorrupted by the influence of sin and thus free to act and to choose what was good (liberium arbitrium). Therefore, Man was given the ability to choose good over evil. In the Garden, Adam and Eve exercised that ability to choose when they chose to directly disobey God’s command regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As a result of their disobedience, sin entered the world.
It is at this point that we begin to understand why and how we ended up in a world that is riddled with the negative effects of sin. As we previously shared, God created a world that was perfect and free from the effects of sin. That is not the world in which we now live. The world as we know it today came about because of the fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. Sin entered the world and with it came death and the other consequences of sin. As it is written, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people because all sinned.” Romans 5:12 (NIV) The problem of evil and suffering is now on full display because of the decision of Man in the Garden.
Popular atheist Richard Dawkins in his book, The God Delusion, wrote, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. Those of us schooled from infancy in his ways can become desensitized to the horror.” Many are quick to adopt the same ideology of Dawkins in relation to the goodness of God and the problem of evil. They want to discredit God and so they point an accusing finger at Him, blaming Him for the problems that are evident in the world.
Contrary to the claims of atheists and even some nominal Christians, the Bible repeatedly proclaims the goodness of God. In their book, Why Did God Do That?, Matthew Tingblad and Josh McDowell share, “This proclamation [That God is good] is vital because Christianity stands or falls on whether it is true in the most absolute sense. Without the foundation of God’s goodness, Christianity collapses to rubble.” The God of Christianity is a good God. Not one that is tolerable or palatable. He is good. While it may not be apparent to the casual viewer, it is nevertheless true that every act that God initiates is always righteous and is designed to produce the best possible outcome in every circumstance. Every act of God expresses His love, patience, benevolence, mercy, and grace. That is the resounding call of scripture in both the Old and New Testaments. Tingblad and McDowell further write, “When we say that God is good, we are saying that when we understand the results of his acts and the motivations behind them, he is shown to be not merely ‘not as bad as we thought,’ but absolutely and unwaveringly just, loving, merciful, and morally perfect in all of his ways.” This tells me that when we view evil and suffering in our world, we must view it through the lens of the goodness of God. We do not conclude that God is good despite evil and suffering, but rather, we can experience a good and loving God as we make our way through the pain that He has allowed to enter our world. Through the lens of faith, we conclude that suffering is doing something for us and that its reality in our lives does not diminish the goodness of God. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 18 (NIV)
Ironically, our acknowledgment of the existence of something called “evil” serves to prompt us toward acknowledging the existence of something called “good”. If we can rationally conclude that something is evil, then we are simultaneously affirming that there is something called good by which that evil thing might be measured. I cannot know that murder is wrong unless I have an understanding that each life has intrinsic value and worth... that the preservation of life is a moral good. The presence of evil points to the presence of good. Evil is a privation of good and cannot exist apart from the existence of good. If there are violations of moral law, then we must conclude there is something called moral law. If we concede that there is a moral law, then we must ask from whence this moral law has come. The syllogism follows… if goodness exists and moral law exists, then by necessity there must be a moral lawgiver. This ultimately points us back to the goodness of a holy God. While there may not be an objective answer to every challenge to God’s goodness, wisdom dictates that we rely on what we do know about God to prove that we can trust Him with what we don’t know. When we loan money to a family member, can we say with absolute certainty that we will be repaid? No, we cannot. However, we can look at past interactions with that family member and draw reasonable conclusions about our odds of repayment. If that family member has a history of repaying their debts, why would we have reason to believe that this time would be any different? If God has a history of working “all things together for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose” Romans 8:28 (NIV), then what reason do we have to believe that God's promises would not hold amid the presence of evil and suffering?
We understand that this is not the world that God created for us to live in and that our experience in this world has been tainted by the effects of sin. The question that remains is this: what is God doing about it? We must understand an important premise. If there is a God, we would expect him to understand all the intricacies involved in the complex workings of the universe, whereas such vast knowledge is beyond the reach of our finite human minds. God can understand how an act that seems severe may be the only way a good result can be achieved, God’s position as Creator enables Him to see ultimate good outcomes in advance. We read in Isaiah 55:9 (NIV) “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” While we may not understand God’s reasoning behind allowing certain things to happen, we can rest in the fact that His ways are higher than ours. While this isn’t the same world that He created us to live in, He is working to restore what He created. There will come a day when we see a new heaven and a new earth. Until that day comes, we should continually point those who question God’s goodness to the ongoing work of redemption that God is doing in the world today.