In 2018, I was a pastor at a local church in Thousand Oaks, California. On November 7th, a marine veteran dressed in all black and armed with a 45 caliber hand-gun entered the popular hangout for college students and young adults. He opened fire, killing 12 people before turning the gun on himself. The boarder line bar was just two miles from my house. That morning I was interviewed on a radio station about the tragedy. We prayed and we tried to offer some solace and answer some questions; and exhausted from the interview, we were driving home from the radio station and there it was, I saw smoke begin to rise from the fields around their community. The Woolsey and Hill fires started a few hours after the shooting, burning more than 95.000 acres of their community and destroying more than 1600 structures killing 3 and causing the evacuation of almost 300.000, my family included.
Service that Sunday was unlike any other I've helped lead. We surveyed the damage among our congregation. Homes destroyed, friends, sons, daughters, neighbors murdered. In the midst of the grief, the pain and the confusion; one question continually surfaced: why would God allow all this evil?
In our previous 2 classes, we first defined the problem of evil, if God is all powerful and all good, He'd eliminate evil. However, evil exists, therefore, the argument goes that He's too weak to oppose evil or He's too sinister to care. We, then, asked the question: what is evil? And we saw, evil is something not some thing; it's not stuff. Rather, it's kind of a hole in goodness.
Evil is where goodness is missing. We also learned that for something to be evil, there has to be a perfect standard of right and wrong to measure it by. Not only do we need a standard, we need someone to set the standard. This is a problem we conclude for both, the relativists and the atheists. But, we still have to answer the most difficult part of the problem of evil: why does God allow evil?
Remember, the challenge about God and evil is meant to show an internal contradiction in what Christians believe about who God is. Is there a contradiction?
Now, I don't think so and I'm gonna show you why. I'm Jon Noyes, and welcome to the fourth class on the problem of evil.
I want to start by talking about free will. Sometimes people ask: couldn't have God just created a world perfect so evil would just have never happened. Well, I suppose He could have if He wanted to. It could have meant creating a totally different world than the one we live in though. A world with no moral freedom. God dignified man with the privilege of making significant choices, moral choices and that's a good thing. It's one of the things that separates us from the animals and makes it possible for us to have unique friendships with each other and with God. You see, moral freedom is something good, but the good thing God gave us, it also makes a bad thing, evil, possible.
So, why doesn't God just prevent us from doing evil but still let us make free moral choices?
This question came up once as I was teaching a Bible class at a local Bible college. When the student raised the question; I have her a paper clip, and then I asked her to bend that paper clip into a square. And she took the paper clip and easily bent it into a square and then I said: can you bend it into a circle now?
And she took the paper clip and she bent it with a little more effort into a circle. And then I asked her: now, I want you to bend that into a squared circle. She looked at the paper clip and then she looked at me and then she looked at the paper clip and then she looked at me and she said: I can't do it.
You see, I explained to the class the failure to accomplish this task has nothing to do with the student's strength. Even the strongest person in the world couldn't bend a paper clip into a squared circle. It's not a power problem. It's a logical impossibility, and in the same way, it's not possible for God to do the good thing of making morally free people while guaranteeing they won't use their freedom to do evil. It's like trying to make a squared circle.
Moral freedom requires the possibility to do evil. Removing the possibility would remove the freedom. So, our first point here, is that something good, moral freedom makes evil possible, though not inevitable.
This brings me to my second point; God can use the suffering that evil causes in our lives to produce something good. The apostle Paul demonstrated this with his own life. He knew what suffering was. We read all about it in 2 Corinthians 11:24-26, as we read his story of being beaten, in danger of death, he was given 39 lashes 5 times. He was beaten with rods 3 times, he was stoned. The list goes on and on. And in all of this, Paul said:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us". Romans 8:18.
You see, there is good reason for God to allow pain and suffering, evil in the world. You see, pain and suffering can serve an important purpose. Take for example the pain I cause for one of my daughters when I make her get a shot in the arm. I do that though precisely because I'm a good dad, it's for her benefit. In the short term, the pain of a shot yields a long term gain for my girl. Sometimes, pain, it serves a different purpose, a good purpose. Pain serves as a warning, we don't often understand how important pain is. For example, people with CIPA disease (Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis) can't feel pain, they don't have that ability.
So, they don't know if they've broken a bone or if they have burnt themselves. They could lean against a hot stove and severely hurt themselves without ever known they could walk around with a broken leg without ever known they could have internal injuries and never know it. You see, the pain is vital for us to understand what's going on with ourselves. And these people, they often do suffer for these terrible injuries without ever realizing they've been hurt, until it's too late.
And the Bible teaches that God can use the pain and suffering in our lives for good. Romans 8:28:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose".
We see this in the life of Joseph. After being left for dead by his brothers, he was sold into slavery, falsely accused of having an affair with Potiphar's wife, in prison, beaten and more. And the final analysis when we look back on these trials and saw what God did through them, he said this in Genesis 50:20:
"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today".
God uses evil and suffering for sanctification. 2 Corinthians 4:17 says:
"For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison".
Notice here, Paul has 2 things for us. The trials that we endure, they're momentary. And I'm not gonna say that they're not painful, they are but they will pass. Second, Paul is showing that they produce in us something that wouldn't otherwise be there.
You see, God uses pain and suffering to bring us to perfection. James 1:2-4 says:
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing".
The trials in life, they build character. Read Romans 5:3-4:
"Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope".
And God also uses evil to disciple and judge a world that's gone astray. God uses evil to point us to the need for a Savior. Jesus, He was asked about the problem of evil and He didn't mention any of these things though. He didn't mention the free will defense either. Jesus said:
"Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish".
When asked about the problem of evil in the world, Jesus used the opportunity to warn the world of coming judgment. C.S Lewis put it this way:
"Pain insists upon being attended to God whispers to us in our pleasures.. but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world".
Evil doesn't refute God, it affirms God. The reality of evil points to the reality of God. And on the Christian view, there's no contradiction between the goodness and power of God, and the presence of evil.
But, you know what?! We can do better than that. Remember, I said earlier that since everyone has to deal with the problem of evil, the real questions are: first, what worldview makes the most sense out of evil's existence. Well, we've answered that question clearly. Christianity does, not atheism.
Second: what worldview is best situated to give us comfort and a realistic hope. Well, this is the question we're gonna answer in our fifth and final STR-U class on the problem of evil. I'm Jon Noyes and I'll see you there.