If God is loving and all-powerful then why doesn’t he just end evil & suffering in the world? However, if he has not ended it then that would suggest that he has reasons for not ending it. We shall briefly touch on several of these possible reasons.
Firstly, we as people are inherently evil if we compare ourselves to God’s perfect standard (we may not like knowing this, but ultimately what we think is not what matters here; what matters is what God thinks & what he has revealed). We may think of ourselves as being good, caring, loving people in this world but that doesn’t mean that we are wholly good in the eyes of God (that’s not to undermine that God desires for us to do good in the world. He does because he made us in his image, he loves us, and thus we possess intrinsic value). The fact is that if we fall short of God’s moral standard, which according to the Bible we have (Romans 3:23), then we are, in such a context, evil because we have all sinned (Ecclesiastes 7:20; 1 John 1:8). This is an important point to remember for if God were do “get rid” of all the evil in the world, then he would start with both you & me. Would we want that? I don’t think we would. So, if God were to get rid of all the evil & suffering in the world he may as well just destroy all humanity in the process. Does God want to do that? No. He wants us to come to freely know him (Acts 17:27).
Secondly, freewill is something that God has given us. Using freewill we can come to accept or reject God and his gift of salvation through Jesus. In other words, God wants to enable for us an authentic relationship with him that is a product of our own freewill. We must freely choose to want to come to know him. If God were to take this away (an ability to choose to have a relationship with him) then we’d likely just be robots bowing to his will, and that is what God doesn’t want. This necessitates that humans must also be able to disobey him, and rebel – in other words, they must be able to choose to do evil. Well known pastor & writer Rick Warren explains this for us:
“God has given us a free will. Made in God’s image, he has given us the freedom to decide how we will act and the ability to make moral choices. This is one asset that sets us apart from animals, but it also is the source of so much pain in our world. Every one of us is capable of making selfish, self-centered or even evil choices. Whenever that happens, people get hurt” (1).
Evil also shows us that God is just and righteous. If there was no evil in the world then we would not have a fuller picture of who God is. For God to reveal that he is just & righteous there needs to be evil in the world. Without evil then the words righteous and just don’t possess any meaning, just like “good” would possess no meaning if we never knew what bad was. We need to have a standard to judge by.
Fourthly, evil & suffering is a way through which God brings people to himself (many people I’ve interacted with testify to this); consequences of evil cause people to question their existence in the universe. When we are all merry & happy then we live life without focusing on the ultimate questions (for example, does God exist? How can I know that he exists? Do my earthly actions have a say on what happens to me after death? Does life after death even exist? etc.). Think of how the subject of mass extermination by Hitler opens the question of God’s existence (why would God allow such an event is a question most people ask). That is a radical example, but this relates to the many smaller suffering in our lives as well. Think of how loneliness or a breakup with a partner affects us emotionally. We desire to reach out as a result of that & prayer to God is one such way of doing this. Philosopher Laura Ekstrom believes that “Suffering itself is an experience that one shares with the divine agent, and so it may serve as an avenue to knowledge of, and intimacy with, God. Viewed in this light, human suffering might be taken to be a kind of privilege in that it allows one to share in some of the experience of God, thus giving one a window into understanding his nature” (2).
This is how God can draw us to himself and that is far more valuable in his eyes than for him to afford people to live a comfortable life. The well-known evangelist & apologist Ravi Zacharias explains that “Until pain is seen in a personal context and its solution is personally felt, every other solution, however good, will seem academic” (3).
In that way God not only brings us to him via suffering, but he also equips us to help others in a suffering world. One would feel far more equipped to deal with other people who are facing suffering if one has gone through such suffering themselves; at least at some point in their life.
A last point well worth remembering is that evil and suffering is not inconsistent with Christianity for it is at the very center of its story: in Jesus Christ himself. Jesus suffered a really painful death that he did not deserve. He faced intense rejection from his own family, many of his followers & he was mocked and ridiculed while pinned to a Roman cross. Jesus even so feared what was to befall him that he prayed to God for a way out (Luke 22:42, Mark 14:36). What was God’s response to Jesus? It was a “no.” But Jesus understood that that was God’s will and he obediently continued in his mission. This is where we are to look in times of suffering & struggle, or at times where we feel overwhelmed because we don’t have the answers. The author of Hebrews tells us that “For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).
Look to Jesus.
1. Warren, R. 2014. Why Does God Allow Suffering? Available.
2. Ekstrom, L. “A Christian Theodicy,” in The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil. p. 279.
3. Zacharias, R. 2002. Cries of the Heart. p. 83/4