A typical atheist mantra seems to be something along the lines, “God doesn’t exist and I hate Him.” One of the reasons cited for this hatred is because we live in a world with pain, suffering, and evil.
A few years ago British comedian Stephen Fry was asked what he would say if he was confronted by God at the pearly gates of heaven? Fry replied: “I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain? That’s what I would say” (source).
How should a Christian respond to such vitriol spewed toward our gracious and holy God?
In the Beginning
As I walked through Genesis with our church we paused to reflect upon Genesis 3:1. How did this serpent seeking to deceive Eve end up in God’s “very good” world (Genesis 1:31)?
Isn’t God all-knowing and all-powerful? Couldn’t God have prevented this or designed this another way? Why did God create Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12)?
I think that these are questions that believers should consider because other people are out there asking them (see this video by a Philosophy Professor). If God is good, omniscient, and omnipotent, why does evil exist? Honestly, most people asking them are trying to accuse God (sort of like Adam did in Genesis 3:12). Yet, this reality doesn’t let the Christian off the hook.
Since evil is in the Bible we should seek to understand God’s relationship to it and be prepared to discuss these questions — not only with atheists but even with other beloved saints who experience unspeakable tragedy.
God’s Plan for Evil
I want to quote two sources on this that I think give a helpful answer. The first is from theologian Wayne Grudem:
We must never think that sin surprised God or challenged or overcame His omnipotence or His providential control over the universe. Therefore, even though we must never say that God Himself sinned or He is to be blamed for sin, yet we must also affirm that the God who ‘accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will’ (Eph. 1:11), the God who ‘does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What are you doing?’” (Dan. 4:35) did ordain that sin would come into the world, even though He does not delight in it and even though He ordained that it would come about through the voluntary choices of moral creatures. (Systematic Theology, p. 492)
The second quote is from pastor John MacArthur:
Sin does not surprise God. He is able to overcome sin and has even ordained it to most fully display His glory, but the blame for sin lies at the feet of the persons who choose to disobey. God’s absolute sovereignty in no way undermines man’s accountability. This is true both for Satan and fallen angels and for Adam and Eve, who passed on their sinfulness to all their descendants.
What the Scriptures present to us is a God who is in complete control of His universe and is even able to use the sinful choices of His creatures to bring about ultimate good and glory to His name (see Acts 4:27-28).
Christ our Savior
In God’s infinite wisdom and goodness, He decreed a universe into existence that would ultimately be corrupted by sin and that He would “through [Christ]…reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).
So, I don’t have all the answers on childhood cancer and Hitler and famines but I know that God is not the cause of evil. And I know that God is sovereign over evil and I know that God is able to use evil to ultimately bring about good and to glorify His name even if in the immediate context I can’t see every angle and know the answer to every question.
I know that the judge of all the earth shall do right (Genesis 18:25). I know that Christ entered into this evil world with us as a suffering servant, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). I know that anything Satan or wicked persons of this world mean for evil, God is able to work together for good (Genesis 50:20). I know that any sorrow, sickness, pain, or suffering God will ultimately work together for good for His people and the glory of His name (Romans 8:28).
And I know one day Christians will live with Jesus and there will be no more evil, sorrow, or sin present (Revelation 21:27).
We serve a God who is sovereign over all, even the evil of this world. Soli Deo Gloria.