I've heard this question many times in different ways:
- "[Your] God made this happen!"
- "How can there be a God when He allowed this to happen?"
- "If God is in 'control', why would He allow this?"
- "Why would I believe in a 'god' that allows this?"
Before answering these questions, it’s important to know what is meant by the term “God”. Throughout history, mankind has worshipped many 'gods'. The nature and power of these gods vary. Some are good, some are bad, but they share one common trait: they are simply beings superior to man. There’s even a subtle form of ‘self’ worship where we view ourselves as somehow greater, kinder, and overall better than if we pause to consider an honest reflection of who we really are. We see this in secular humanism which has a utopian vision of man as a being who is basically good with the power to achieve anything he sets his mind to do. But to be God, and by this I mean the One-True-God, a being truly worthy of worship that overshadows all other beings, real or imagined, that God would need to be All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and Fully-Good. This is the God of the Bible and in my mind, without all three of these characteristics, a being would not be worth worshipping, especially if that being was not Fully-Good. This is God.
So how could a Benevolent God, Who is both All-Knowing and All-Powerful allow evil?
Men have asked this question frequently, but it is often left unanswered. Or to be fair, it is usually answered feebly: "You just need to have faith". While this answer is of course true, it’s unsatisfying.
What is faith anyway? According to Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the substance of Hope, which is confidence in the unseen things. Ephesians 2:8-9 further explains that Faith is a gift of God that empowers our ability to receive the grace God has extended to each of us as sinful men. To even accept this gift, we need to dispel the grandiose vision of ourselves as being basically good and accept that we are actually quite selfish. And we need to have faith in God as defined above that we can become something more than what we currently truly are.
That’s a lot of faith, and for someone who is doubting God, it’s easy to understand how this true but feeble answer can become a stumbling block. Sometimes people are rightly told to pray for Faith so they can accept the gift of God’s salvation, but it lacks any real meaning for the person struggling with the question of Who God is. They can also be rightly told to not lean on their own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). But let’s be honest: why wouldn’t a reasonable person not expect a reasonable answer when it still isn’t clear to them that there is a God who can be trusted?
A Reasonable Answer
So hang tight as we walk through a quick but more reasonable answer. Ultimately, Faith is needed, and if you are here looking for an answer, I pray on your behalf for that faith while giving you reason to believe that such a God can exist when we see the evil that causes such pain. If you are right now feeling that pain, I hope I can give you comfort and strength. If you are still reading, perhaps it's because you deserve a real answer to this important question, and if you are referencing the Biblical texts, not just taking my word for it, then you are acting in a kingly fashion. (Proverbs 25:2)
Who is God that He could allow evil, and could He truly be God when evil exists? That’s the real question here, right? There are many questions implied in this one query: Does God exist? Can I trust God? Why doesn't God stop bad things from happening?
In answering these questions I’m going to sidestep a Scriptural paradox that theologians have argued for millennia: Free Will vs Predestination. The Bible supports both arguments, which means there's a deeper truth than the either / or options theologians give us. But since the topic could easily be a book in itself, assume for now that both are true. If you want a more detailed answer on why this is a reasonable assumption please contact me via email: mitch at malloyclan dot com. (hint: Both God and part of man's essence are eternal and not limited by the temporal)
Assume for now that God is truly All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and Fully-Good.
- Would a Being such as this have all the answers? Well, All-Knowing… yes.
- Would a One-True-God know how to bring about a greater good despite the existence of evil intent? Hmm… yes, again All-Knowing. (see Romans 8:28-29)
- Would this God be worthy of a loving relationship with others who have chosen to return His love? Pause for a moment and reflect on the implications of this question for moment.
- Is Justice a good thing, and is there a possibility of justice without the ability to choose good?
- If God had stopped any being's ability to choose between good and evil, would He still be Fully-Good?
The answer to that last question is certainly: no. God could not be Who He is and create only mindless automatons, removing any ability to act in a way that doesn’t please their self-indulged creator. And more: God could not be loved by such mindless creations.
So God made a better way. He made others in His own image who would be loved by Him. They could choose to do wrong, even reject Him and still be loved despite anything they would ever do to betray Him. He created beings who could choose to love God in return, who could rise above past decisions and with God's help be transformed into a new creation. He allowed for the possibility of bad intentions, and being All-Knowing had a plan to turn each and every bad decision into an opportunity for greater good. Like Joseph pointed out in Genesis 50:19-21:
Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid! I can’t take God’s place. Even though you planned evil against me, God planned good to come out of it. This was to keep many people alive, as he is doing now. Don’t be afraid! I will provide for you and your children.” In this way he reassured them, setting their minds at ease.
In our arrogance, we presume to know better than God, but in our humility, we increasingly see how His ways are far beyond our ways. Often it’s only in hindsight that we can see what was invisible and required faith: that God is Who He says He is. We come to understand that He is acting on our behalf, and that this sometimes involves pain. No one likes pain. But we have to will ourselves to push through it. Like muscles that ache as we try to get back into shape, we need to understand that pain is a sign of weakness leaving the body, refining our character, demonstrating through each seemingly unbearable obstacle that God can be trusted because He is truly All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and Fully-Good. Faith often has to start in our head as an act of will and a decision to believe. It is then followed by actions which demonstrate our faith before it finally reaches our heart. This is an on-going, uncomfortable and mindful process.
And on today, Good Friday, we need to remind ourselves that God didn't hide the journey, the path that is sometimes painful yet leads to a greater glory. In fact, His Son demonstrated it for us. He willingly went to the cross. Like us, Jesus asked for another way… any other way… for the Father's purposes to be done without that painful experience. Yet the Father showed us through Jesus that an even greater glory awaits us on the other side of the suffering we will experience.
Look beyond the pain to the glory that lies ahead!