Suffering and the Justification of God

Suffering, Evil and the Justification of God

(From an article by Alan Turner; www.allanturner.com)

Intro:  Recently someone asked me one of the more difficult and perplexing questions one can attempt to answer. It is important to come to the proper conclusion about this because it has caused many to turn away from God. It is possible that you have entertained this apparent dilemma sometime in your own life.

  • If the world is controlled by an all-powerful and loving God, why does suffering exist?
  • The philosophers and theologians call this the “problem of theodicy.” The term “theodicy” comes from the combination of two Greek words (viz., theos = God, and dike = justice) that literally mean the “justification of God.”
  • How is our belief in God justified in the face of evil?

I. The problem is often stated like this: “You say God is both omnipotent and perfectly good. If so, there ought not to be any evil in the world, since your God would be both able and willing to prevent it. But there is evil in the world; so either there is no God, or he is not omnipotent, or he is not perfectly good” (Brian Hebblethwaite, Evil, Suffering and Religion, p. 60).

A. There is some inherent unsoundness in this argument against God’s existence, power, or goodness. The first difficulty lies in the definition of evil. Just exactly what are we to call evil?

  • A deadly disease or the death of a loved one is easily categorized as evil.
  • The fuel pump in your car breaks down on your way to a meeting. Is that evil too?
  • You are looking for a parking spot, but someone else pulls into it right before you. Is that evil? What about bad haircuts? Are these part of the plight of evil? Is some­thing evil only when it is catastrophic or is something evil just because I do not like it?
  • All suffering is derived from evil, either directly or indirectly. There are at least 2 types of evil, and these must be distinguished:

1) Moral evil is the unrighteousness that occurs first in the hearts of men by their choice and then manifests itself in sinful deeds. Greed, hatred, selfishness, deceit, theft, lust, and envy are but a few examples of these immoral deeds. (Judging this as evil implies a standard of morality, and thus becomes its own argument for the existence of God.)

2) Natural evil derives from either natural processes or a perversion thereof. Examples of the former would be flood, lightning, earthquake, tornado, hurricane, etc., all of which result in suffering and death. Examples of the latter would be genetic defects, diseases, insanity, famine, suffering, and death itself.

  • Sometimes moral evil and natural evil may be combined in a single event. For example, murder is an illustration of moral evil on the part of the murderer which results in natural evil (i.e., death) for the victim.
  • Many who argue that God is obligated to remove evil would argue most against natural evil, sense moral evil is obviously related to one’s choice, and thus God need not be held responsible for its existence.

II.  “If an All Powerful, Benevolent God Existed, He would Destroy All Evil”- According to the Bible, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1).  The atheist’s argument concludes that an all-powerful and all-good God could and would destroy evil. Since evil exists then there must not be a god.

A.  There is a self-defeating element of this argument.  There are some problems with asking God to destroy all evil.

1.  It demands that God destroy the free moral agency of each person, thus destroying morality itself. Some evil exists as a result of immoral choices.

2.  It demands that God destroy evil that serves good purposes. Evil that comes from bad moral choices can serve a higher purpose and protect us from further bad moral choices. Even the “natural pain” you experience when you touch a hot stove serves a higher purpose and protects you from more evil. (pain) It may be possible to conceive of a world without this or that evil, but we cannot conceive of a world without any evil.

3.  But what about the evil that seemingly has not redeeming value (no connection to our well-being or survival)? The natural evil that we cannot explain. The philosophers call this “gratuitous evil” and see this as the most indicting evidence against God. But apparently pointless pain is just that – apparently pointless. We simply do not know enough to make an absolute judgment. Our perspective is much too limited. This was the very position that Job arrived at concerning his overwhelming suffering. Job 42:2-6 2 “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. 3 You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” He concludes that he cannot know the answer to his suffering and repents in sackcloth for his presumption and arrogance.

4.  Those who demand that God destroy evil are assuming that because He has not yet destroyed it, He will not or cannot destroy it in the future. But how can he know that (unless he is God). Therefore, one would have to presume to be God in order to disprove God! His premise must be revised to evil has not YET been destroyed. There remains a possibility that God may yet defeat evil sometime in the future. This, of course, is exactly what the Bible says will happen—there is a day of reckoning that will bring about justice for all.

  • Ecclesiastes 12:1414 For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.
  • Acts 17:30-3130 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:9-10 – Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

III.  Man, Not God, is Responsible for Evil: The extent of God’s responsibility for evil is that He chose to create a world in which moral evil was a possibility, but not a necessity. The rest, of course, is history. His creatures did decide to do evil.

A. All Evil results from the rebellion of free moral agents against God – both moral and natural. Their choice to sin brought corruption to a perfect “very good” creation.  2 Peter 1:3-4 …His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,  by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

B.  The curse placed upon the earth is the cause of “natural” evil and therefore traceable indirectly back to the choice of men.  We live in a “fallen” world. Rom 8:19-23 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.

1. The curse accorded against sin in Gen. 3 was from God:  Genesis 3:16-18 16 To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”  17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life.  18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. 19 9 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” Although the curse is from God that does not make God responsible for the presence of natural evil. He simply allows it in response to the choice of rebellion. What it tells us, though, is something about the seriousness of sin.

a.   Evil might be described as a lack or deprivation of good. Evil exists only in good things as a corruption of them. (rot to a tree or rust to iron). Lust is a corruption of proper ambition and contentment; murder is the lack of love; pride is the corruption of humility. As darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good.

2. Sinfulness has produced serious consequences. It has had an effect on the whole man, both body and soul. People die physically because Adam’s sin alienated us from the tree of life and cast the world into corruption. People die spiritually because their own sin alienates them from God Himself.  Therefore, the source of the corruption that is in the world is man, not God!

3.  Why did God curse the creation? Because, the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). When man sins God is judicially obligated to punish (or curse) him. Deuteronomy 11:26-28 26 “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse:27 the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you today;28 and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known. Sin is serious business! Sin is terrible! Sin is devastating! If God is going to remain just, then sin, the violation of His law, must not go unpunished!

4.  Yet despite the seriousness of sin and the consequent presence of evil, God has provided for our deliverance from both.  Jesus’ sacrificial death has the power to redeem us.

  • Titus 2:14 Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
  • Gal 1:3-5 – Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
  • Rev 21:1-4 –  Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Conclusion: The presence of evil is not a sufficient argument against the existence of God. In fact, according to the gospel revelation, you and I cannot appreciate the nature and character of God apart from the presence of suffering. Because God chose to suffer to us in order to save us from the consequences of our own evil choices. If you would understand the value of suffering look to the cross. God is able to use Satan’s most potent weapons for His good purposes.