When a horrific event occurs, it is natural for people of faith to ask, “Why does God allow evil?” Not only is this an earnest question asked by believers who are seeking answers to experiences of horror and pain, it is also a question used by sceptics and atheists to deny the existence of a God who is good or all-powerful, or both.
This question is especially poignant as we see suffering on a global scale during the pandemic and also as those in Singapore have been shaken by the senseless killing that took place at River Valley High School on 19 July 2021. Though our hearts ache and our minds struggle to find answers for these recent events, we can still be sure that God has not ceased to be good and all-powerful. In fact, there are many ways our faith in God can help us deal with the evil we see in the world.
Evil, simply defined, is the absence or corruption of what is good; and often there is an underlying assumption that God should want to prevent all evil because He is good and all-powerful. A sceptic will use this assumption and claim that, because evil exists, God does not care about humans and is therefore not a good God. Or the sceptic will assert that God is not powerful enough to prevent evil. Both arguments use the existence of evil to cast doubt on God’s goodness and sovereignty.
The problem with this assumption is that it overlooks how God has created people with free will. Because God has made people with free will, He allows us to choose to sin and to commit evil acts, even if doing so is contrary to what He desires. Evil exists not because God does not care or is somehow powerless to stop it. Rather, it is because He permits people the exercise of their free will, even though it pains Him to see their sinful choices (see how Jesus laments in Matt 23:37).
However, God will not tolerate evil indefinitely. He promises a future when there will be a restoration of all that is good and a judgement against all that is evil (Rev 21). The Bible offers an inspiring description of this new world in a promise that echoes one made in the Old Testament: “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4; cf. Isa 25:8). This picture can be a source of hope when we see evil in this present world!
GOD WILL NOT TOLERATE EVIL INDEFINITELY.
In addition to the promise of a future hope beyond evil, God can sometimes use evil to accomplish His good purposes. However, we should not misunderstand God’s turning of evil into a greater good to mean that He has caused evil. No, evil does not come from God! But God’s sovereignty means that He can work toward a good outcome despite evil.
There are two examples from the Bible that show us how God turns evil into a greater good. One of them is Joseph’s story.
Though he was sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused of sexual assault
by his master’s wife, and suffered unjust imprisonment (Gen 37; 39–50), God used these evil events to put him at the right place and right time to save not only his family but many people in and around Egypt from starvation during a famine (Gen 50:20). Another example is the death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus knowingly allowed Himself to be betrayed, arrested, wrongfully put on trial, and finally crucified on the cross (Matt 26–27; Mark 14–15; Luke 22–23; John 18–19). But God used the evil done by humans to Jesus as part of His salvation plan for humanity (Rom 5). The examples of Joseph and Jesus show us that God sometimes has a good reason to permit evil, and can even turn it into something necessary to accomplish His purposes.
Sometimes, evil can appear random in that it does not seem to lead to any good outcome or even have human free will behind it. Random evil could be because God has not made His reasons obvious to us. It could be like the case of Job, who lost his family and health, but never found out that all this was a test of his faith (Job 1–2). Yet, Job recognises at the end of his trials that God’s purposes are sometimes hidden from human understanding (Job 42:1–6). And, just like Job, when we face evil that we don’t understand, we should still turn toward God in faith.
As we turn toward God when we face evil, we will discover that He is our source of comfort (2 Cor 1:4). We can take heart that He is not far away from us when bad things happen. Since Jesus has personally experienced pain and suffering due to evil (Phil 2:6–8; 1 Pet 2:22–24), He understands intimately what we go through when we face evil. In fact, we can say that He suffers alongside us (Isa 53).
NO ONE IS IMMUNE TO MENTAL HEALTH SUFFERING, NOT EVEN CHRISTIANS.
Knowing that God understands our pain, we can turn to Him in prayer. In the Psalms, we often see that God hears the prayers of those in distress (Ps 6; 13; 62). Through turning to Him, we can cling to God’s unwavering goodness and faithfulness to us (Rom 8:28; 2 Tim 2:13), even if it sometimes seems like evil rules the day.
Therefore, when we face evil, instead of turning away from God in pain, we should turn towards Him with the belief that He continues to be good and sovereign amidst any form of evil. In God, we will find a future hope as well as present comfort because Jesus took on human suffering both to accomplish God’s greater plan of salvation as well as to empathise fully with our deepest pain.