The host of the Christian Worldview Project, Brother Jordan Ravanes, was given an opportunity to speak on the subject “Why does God allow suffering?” It is a fund-raising project by De La Salle University Dasmariñas – Lifters, delivered on April 30, 2021. Indeed, this is not an easy subject as it speaks to every human predicament. Here’s is his piece.
“For many today and throughout history, the problem of evil has represented the most serious objection to the Christian faith. Some very brilliant philosophers have thought that this problem conclusively refutes belief in the Christian God. But not only professors of philosophy; ordinary people, too, often feel this problem deeply. You don’t have to be a sophisticated philosopher to doubt the reality of God when a loved one is going through terrible suffering. At such times the “problem of evil” is not so much a learned argument as it is a simple cry of the heart, “How could a loving God allow this??”
To understand, and to feel the problem of evil, think of some terrible tragedy—some tragedy that seems to have no positive value whatsoever: the genocide of Hitler; a child suffering terrible pain as he slowly dies of cancer; an African baby dying of starvation. Think in such cases of how you too might cry out, almost involuntarily, “How could a loving God allow this?” You see, it’s not only unbelievers who cry out that way; believers do too. There is something universally human about that cry; it’s almost a reflex. It’s something that goes very deep.” – JOHN FRAME
But, is there an answer to the problem of evil? I believe so! But if the question is, “Can I convince everybody about this answer?” Well, I cannot. My hope is that the Holy Spirit will work and change your heart if you haven’t already known the Lord Jesus Christ. On the other hand, it depends on what you mean by “answer.” What kind of “answer” are you willing to accept? If what you want is a total explanation of where evil came from, how it arose, or how it achieves God’s good purposes, well, I cannot supply that. I don’t believe that this kind of answer is available to human beings, and I don’t believe that God is under any obligation to give us such an answer.
- The Christian God exists.
- Evil exists.
- God willed evil to exist.
- God is sovereign over all the evil in the world.
- The ultimate answer to the problem of evil.
GOD EXISTS (The Christian God)
Before we proceed to the lecture proper it is very important that we should define our terms most especially when we use the term “GOD”.
What is God?
- God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being wisdom, power holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. (Reformed Baptist Catechism #8) This is according to the Christian understanding of God. Therefore I will not be appealing to a generic form of theism but exclusively for Christian theism only.
Why is that the case?
- I do not believe that there are gods aside from the Christian God (Isa 45:5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.)
It is important to take note that,
- The question “Why does God allow evil and suffering?” requires a worldview context to address it. The term “God, good, evil, and suffering” doesn’t make sense without a worldview context.
Let’s continue our definition of terms because throughout this entire lecture I will be using these two words namely “Worldview and Presupposition“.
A Worldview is defined as the overall view of the world or network of presuppositions. And presupposition is defined as the things that we already believe even before any reasoning happens. In other words, presuppositions are the things that we already believe and assume to be true. We do not wake up in the morning and think about what we believe. We wake up each morning assuming that there are absolute, unchanging, and universal things. I’ll give you two non-negotiable things that we human being always assumes to be true. They are our “presuppositions”. They are:
- Laws of logic – (Law of non-contradiction; law of excluded middle; and the law of identity) Rules of inference.
- Ethics – Study of morality.
Now, why do I need to bring up the laws of logic and ethics?
It is because these two things are necessary for today’s discussion.
You see, in everyday life, we use the lenses of logic and ethics to interpret the things that are happening around us. The questions like; is that logical and consistent? Is that good or bad? Without logic and ethics, these questions wouldn’t make sense.
There are two objections that many people can draw from the issue.
- Logical Problem – If God is really good, why is there evil and suffering? The person asking this question assumes that there is something contradictory within the framework of theism.
- Emotional Problem – If a good God knows and sees everything, how can he allow such pain and suffering in this world? (Child molestation, rape, murder, children born with cancer, and so on).
On the other hand, the emotional problem stirs our very hearts. Sometimes we tend to forget how to be rational when we are too emotional. And this is true whenever we face such issues as the problem of evil.Tweet
The problem of evil has been articulated in many ways for thousands of years, from the days of the ancient Greek deist, Epicurus (341-270 BC), to the Enlightenment era, by the eighteenth-century Scottish skeptic, David Hume, to today, from the likes of the crude atheist-comedian, Bill Maher. The problem of evil simply asks, “If God is absolutely good, then why is there evil?” It has been expressed more formally in axiomatic form as follows:
- If God were all-powerful, then He would prevent evil.
- If God were all-good, then He would desire to prevent evil.
- But there is evil.
- Therefore, there is no all-powerful, all-good God.
If God really exists, wills only good, and is powerful enough to get everything He wills, then evil would not exist. But evil does exist, therefore God is either impotent, not good, or does not exist at all.
It is actually easy to address the logical problem than the emotional problem since in the Biblical worldview, in the Bible we can see how God willed evil to manifest in the world and is sovereign over all of it. You can also address the logical problem by fixing one of the premises. You can add “God willed evil and has sufficient reason for allowing it.” On the other hand, the emotional problem stirs our very hearts. Sometimes we tend to forget how to be rational when we are too emotional. And this is true whenever we face such issues as the problem of evil.
Christians are realists about the problem of evil. The world is rife with pain, evil, and suffering. And it is manifest in many horrific ways. Man’s self-inflicted inhumanity towards each other abounds. Senseless random acts of violence are reported daily in the news. Hatred, prejudice, rape, murder, theft, child abuse, and countless other acts of violence are universal, transcending cultural boundaries. Diseases, cancer, and bodily deformities are commonplace, many of which defy explanation or justification like babies born with chronic birth defects, being deaf, blind, or having defective limbs or inadequate life-sustaining organs. Natural disasters plague the world, claiming the lives of countless millions through earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, floods, fires, famine, and the like. How do Christians account for all this misery? How can the Bible explain this horror? Why does God sit back and let all this happen? – Clifford McManis
I think the answer to the problem of evil is in the Bible, and we can know it, and we can thoroughly embrace it, and we can enjoy it.
But first let us define, what is evil?
Some may define evil as the privation of good. So you need to know good to define what’s evil? What is good? Good is a standard by which no one can make sense apart from the character of God. Therefore, when we are talking about the term “good”, we cannot fully define it unless we link this term to God because God is the standard of good. Now that we know that God is the standard of good, therefore we can know what is evil and that is anything opposite to the good character of God. Anything opposite to the character of God is evil.
It is also very important to note that whenever a person raises the problem of evil they are implicitly also positing the existence of good. When you say something is evil you assume something is good, when you assume something is good, you assume there’s a moral law by which to differentiate between good and evil and if you assume a moral law, you ultimately posit a moral lawgiver. Because if there is no moral lawgiver, there is no moral law, if there is no moral law there is no good, if there is no good then evil makes no sense.
Therefore, to understand evil is to take it within the context of the Christian worldview without which no one could make sense of evil.
Two categories of Evil
- Natural evil – This refers to natural disasters (such as famines, floods, etc.)
- Moral evil – This covers the willful acts of human beings (such as murder, rape, etc.)
Natural Evil (Impersonal, Outside of us)
Natural evil is any evil that is not moral evil. It is significant pain and suffering in the world that are not caused by free persons either intentionally or through culpable neglect of their responsibilities. Where does it come from, then? It is caused by impersonal objects and forces, rather than by the choices of persons. So, natural evils are the pain and suffering that come in the wake of things like tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, (naturally-occurring) plague and disease, (most) genetic defects, (most) forest fires, falling trees, the rampaging of savage animals, and so on. (Greg Welty)
Moral Evil (Personal, Inside of us)
Moral evil is any evil—that is, any significant case of pain and suffering—which is caused by free persons, either intentionally or through culpable neglect of their responsibilities. Christians sometimes call these ‘sins of commission’ and ‘sins of omission.’ It is doing what ought not to be done, and leaving undone what ought to be done, such that the consequence is lots of pain and suffering. So, moral evils are things like murder, adultery, rape, theft, racism, exploitation, verbal abuse, and so on. In these cases, people are intentionally and deliberately inflicting pain and suffering on each other. (Greg Welty)
Moral evil is wickedness, sin, and transgression. This dominates the life of humanity. “No one is good, not one. All the thoughts of the human hearts are only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). There is in the human heart an unceasing lust that continually conceives sin, and then gives birth to it, and then produces death,”
GOD WILLED EVIL TO EXIST
This will lead us back to the garden of Eden.
Q. Did God create the world and called it good?
A. Yes He did, but Adam sinned and then the fall took place.
Q. But God could have stopped or prevented the fall from happening right? If God would have not placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
A. Yes God could have stopped it. But God chooses not to stop it because He decreed that that event will certainly take place. He ordained it that's why it happened.
Q. Why did God willed that that event will certainly take place.
A. He willed it for His Own glory.
- Isaiah 45:5-7 5 I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, 6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. 7 I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things.
According to Dr. James White, God has decreed whatsoever comes to pass so that anything that takes place in time actually has meaning, otherwise you have a completely meaningless activity taking place. You have sin, rape, abuse, wars, all these things and they have no meaning. God is working all things after the counsel of his will. And the final analysis (and this is beyond our capacity as a finite human being right now to be able to see) we’re gonna see how all of this worked together for our good and His glory. We can’t see that right now, but we affirm there is no such thing as meaningless evil over against others who affirm that God is constantly upset, disappointed, sad, frustrated, trying to do things he cannot accomplish in this world.
1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith: On God’s Decree Chapter 3. Paragraph 1-3
(1) From all eternity God decreed everything that occurs, without reference to anything outside himself. He did this by the perfectly wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably. Yet God did this in such a way that he is neither the author of sin nor has fellowship with any in their sin. This decree does not violate the will of the creature or take away the free working or contingency of second causes. On the contrary, these are established by God’s decree. In this decree, God’s wisdom is displayed in directing all things, and his power and faithfulness are demonstrated in accomplishing his decree. (2) God knows everything that could happen under any given conditions. However, his decree of anything is not based on foreseeing it in the future or foreseeing that it would occur under such conditions. (3) By God’s decree, and for the demonstration of his glory, some human beings and angels are predestined (or foreordained) to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace. Others are left to live in their sin, leading to their just condemnation, to the praise of his glorious justice.
1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith: On God’s Divine Providence Chapter 5; Paragraph 5-7
(5). The perfectly wise, righteous, and gracious God often allows his own children for a time to experience a variety of temptations and the sinfulness of their own hearts. He does this to chastise them for their former sins or to make them aware of the hidden strength of the corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts so that they may be humbled. He also does this to lead them to a closer and more constant dependence on him to sustain them, to make them more cautious about all future circumstances that may lead to sin, and for other just and holy purposes. So whatever happens to any of his elect happens by his appointment, for His glory, and for their good. (6). God, as the righteous judge, sometimes blinds and hardens wicked and ungodly people because of their sins. He withholds his grace from them, by which they could have been enlightened in their understanding and had their hearts renewed. Not only that, but sometimes he also takes away the gifts they already had and exposes them to situations that their corrupt natures turn into opportunities for sin. Moreover, he gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan, so that they harden themselves in response to the same influences that God uses to soften others. (7). The providence of God in a general way includes all creatures, but in a special way, it takes care of his church and arranges all things to its good.
GOD IS SOVEREIGN OVER ALL THE EVIL IN THE WORLD
The God of the Bible is the true and only living God, and He is the God that Scripture says He is because Scripture is His own self-disclosure. He is all-powerful, He is all-knowing, He is good, He is loving, He is holy. He is sovereign and controls absolutely everything. There is nothing that exists or occurs or ever will that is not in His control.
- Let me give testimony to that from Scripture, 1 Chronicles 29:11-12, “Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is Thine. Thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and Thou art exalted as head above all. Thou reignest over all, and in Thine hand is power and might; and in Thine hand, it is to make great, to give strength unto all. For all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine.”
- Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”
- Daniel 4:35, “He does according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, ‘What are You doing?’”
- Scripture clearly affirms the sovereignty of God. It is absolute, it is infinite, and it is irresistible. He has the right to govern the universe that He has made, and He does so. His right is the right of the potter over the clay. He is under no rule. He is under no law outside of Himself. There is no influence that come to Him externally. He is a law unto Himself, under no obligation to give an account to anyone.
- In Deuteronomy 32:39 it says, “See now that I, I am He. There is no god besides Me. It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.”
- Exodus 4:11, “The Lord said to him,” – that is to Moses – ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord’” It is the Lord who makes the blind and the mute and the deaf.
- Psalm 105:16 says that “God called for a famine upon the land.”
- 2 King 17:25, “They did not fear the Lord, therefore the Lord sent lions which killed some of them.” You can tell that God is not distancing Himself from calamity.
- Lamentations 3:37-38 37 Who has spoken and it came to pass unless the Lord has commanded it? 38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? And by the way, it was God Himself who drowned the entire human race made up of millions of people and saved only eight – Noah and his family. And God takes full responsibility for that act.
- Job 23:13 says, “But He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, even that He does.” God is not conflicted. God is not duplicitous. God is not wringing His hands trying to figure out whether He should go this way or that way.
- Psalm 33:9-11, “He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. The Lord brings the counsel of the heathen to nothing; makes the devices of the people of no effect. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations.”
- Isaiah 14:27, “The Lord of hosts has purposed, and who would annul it?”
- First Samuel 2:6-8, “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He set the world on them. From the beginning, He laid the foundations the way He wanted them to be to affect exactly what has happened.”
- Amos says it pretty directly. Amos 3:6 When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?
- This is the God of the Bible. This is the only God who exists, the God who is in control of absolutely everything, and evil is no disruption in His plan; no shock and surprise which somehow call for Plan B. He knows everything that can be known, that is to be known, that is knowable, and He has known it eternally, and He has the comprehensive power to do anything and everything He desires to do; and that is the God who exists. So evil exists manifestly so; God exists manifestly so. The great Creator of the universe is the only explanation for the universe.
And we can go on and on and on and on… You can actually read the whole chapter of Romans 9.
If you want to add a footnote, read Job 38 through 42; some tough talk from God, tough talk to somebody who might think they can question God. Listen, He will be glorious, He will be all-glorious, and one day, every knee will bow and everyone will confess the glory of the Lord. (Notes from John MacArthur Sermon on Problem of Evil)
THE ULTIMATE ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
A guy named Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote the book When Bad Thing Happen to Good People. Perhaps we could frame the question” Why do bad things happen to good people?” If I were to write an article with regards to the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I could finish the task in less than a minute. Two words. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” THEY DON’T.
But you know what? It did not happen to many people but one person. It happened to Christ. Christ is innocent. Christ is sinless. Christ is perfect. Christ is righteous. Christ is good. Yet bad things happened to Him. He suffered, bleed, and died.
How can one man suffer for a few short hours and save countless men?
“Because that one man is worth more than all of them put together. You take everything. Every planet, every star, every form of beauty. Everything that sings, everything that brings delight, and you put it all on the scale, and you put Christ on the other side and HE outweighs them all, HE outweighs them ALL! ” – Paul Washer
So guys, think about every evil in this world. Every evil that you know. Put every evil thing you know on the table. Those things were nothing compared to the suffering of Christ on the cross. Now, put every good thing you know on the table. Those things were nothing compared to the suffering of Christ on the cross. Christ is the ultimate answer to the problem of evil. God answers the problem of evil by sending His own Son Jesus Christ. To show the fullness of His love and the fullness of His justice. On the cross, the fullness of God’s glory shines.
Is God made more glorious because of evil, or is God made less glorious because of evil? I say God is made infinitely more glorious because of evil. We praise Him because of what he had done to overcome evil.
Ponder on this thing…
Now I think the perfect question to the problem of evil is this, “Why does God allow Christ to experience evil and suffering (because Christ doesn’t deserve it)?, and why does God allow my life to be extended despite sinning against Him (because I deserve to be killed by the judge of all the earth)?” that’s the question we need to ponder right now.
Are you a good person? If you say “YES” then you now have lied which makes you a bad person already. What must happen to bad people according to the problem of evil? It must be stopped. Therefore God must judge you and me to stop us from doing evil things.
So how can you be right with God? One of the problems of many people is that they think that they can be right with God by obeying God’s law and do acts of penance. But here’s the thing and I want you to listen to this – You have no hope in the law. You cannot make yourself right with God by obeying the law. But there is hope in Christ. Therefore trust Him. Entrust your life to Him. Give your life to Him.
Imagine for a moment: Jesus is here talking to us and said: “I’m going to make a promise to you, that for the rest of your days in this world, I’m not going to allow anything bad to happen to you, that all that’s going to happen to you for the rest of your days will be good”. How would you feel about that?
I remember when I was just a kid. When I got hurt, I ran quickly to my parents and they wipe away my tears and it gives me comfort.
But do you know the difference between our loved ones wiping our tears from God wiping our tears? When our loved ones wipe our tears it will go back. But when God wipes our tears it’s the end of all tears. We will never weep again from grief or sorrow or sadness and pain for sin is no more.
But here’s the thing, we don’t need Jesus to be here and tell us those things. Why? Because he already said it. In the same manner that Jesus said, nothing good will come for the wicked. Isaiah 48:22 22 “There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.”
Now come to Christ before it’s too late. Let’s pray…
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
Note: Cover photo by jennyfriedrichs from Pixabay.com