One of the age old questions that Christians have had to face is why an all-good and all-powerful God allows evil to exist. On the surface, this seems to be a contradiction with God’s character. The Bible is clear, God is all-good (Ps. 100:5 & Ps. 145:8-9) and all-powerful (Ps. 147:5, Jer. 32:17 & Mk. 10:27). Therefore, why does He allow evil? Is it because He created it? If so, then why? If not, since He is all-powerful, then why doesn’t He eliminate it? These seem to be legitimate questions.
The argument unfolds in four stages. If God exists, and desires things to be all-good, and is all-powerful so He can get what he desires, then evil should not exist. If God exists and desires only good yet evil does exist, then God can’t be all-powerful because He doesn’t get what He desires. If God exists and is truly all-powerful yet evil exists too, then God must desire evil to exist and can’t be all-good. If we define “God” as all-powerful and all-good and yet evil exists, then the “God” we have defined does not exist. There may be a God but He can be neither all-powerful nor all-good. But the Bible teaches that God is all-powerful and all-good. So how can we successfully address this dilemma?
The answer is not nearly as difficult as you might expect. The starting point is to define what good and evil is. According to theologian Norman Geisler, evil does not really exist as a separate entity. There is only good and the absence of good. Evil is not an eternal principle that exists outside of God. It is also not a thing or substance. It is a lack of good and only God represents the fullness of “good”. Evil then represents a "deprivation" of the goodness of God. It is not a substance – it is a corruption of the goodness of God. It is not a thing; it is the lack of something – goodness. And that goodness is measured by God and only God. Just as darkness is the absence of light. Evil is the absence of good. This doesn’t mean that evil is not real. It is very real. It is not an actual thing but it is the corruption of an actual thing (goodness) therefore that corruption exists and is real as long as there is some goodness to be corrupted.
Keep in mind that it is impossible for total evil to exist. Since evil is the absence of good then if something was totally evil, it would be without any goodness and therefore, it would be nothing. A garment that is totally moth eaten is nonexistent. It can only be a moth eaten garment as long as the garment exists. The fact that evil is present points directly to the existence of God for without God and His goodness, we would not even know that there is such a concept as evil. There would be nothing with which to find a reference point. That fact that we can know evil points us to the existence of God.
So here’s the thing: God did not create evil but He does allow it to exist. How can this be so? It all comes down to how God’s goodness gets to be corrupted. In the final analysis, everything centers on free will. In His sovereignty, God has ordained that humanity be allowed to exercise free will. We can choose God’s goodness or reject God’s goodness. In doing so, we determine the degree of evil that is to exist. The only way that God can totally eliminate this corruption of His perfect goodness is to no longer permit free will.
So why does God permit free will? That is a matter of love. You see, there can be no love without free will. Love must be chosen not dictated. God is love and He desires for us to have a loving relationship with Him but that requires that He permit us to choose to love Him. We can not love without choice and if God was to force His love upon us it would be rape not love. Therefore, the existence of God’s perfect goodness in the lives of people and the world in which they live is contingent on man’s free will. God allowed for the chance that evil could exist because His desire is to have an eternal loving relationship with humanity. Evil does not have to exist but it does because we choose something other than God’s goodness. God is responsible for making evil possible but we are the ones guity for making it real.
But God has chosen love over everything. He has chosen to love us unconditionally and to trump our corruption of His goodness through the cross. God’s desire is for us to choose Him and His goodness through exercising love – to love the Lord God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. The degree to which we choose to do so, will work against the corruption of God’s goodness that we know as evil.
So back to our four stage argument we outlined earlier. The premise was that an all-good and all-powerful God could not exist if evil was present. But the fallacy of that deduction is that it fails to consider the fact that God is also all-loving and His love overrides everything. Since evil is the corruption of God’s goodness, it can only exist if God is good and it is dependent on the exercising of our free will. But it is the ability to exercise our free will that provides for the possibility of aligning ourselves with God’s ultimate and overriding Will – to have a loving relationship with us based on our choice to love Him even if it is an imperfect love on our part. Therefore, God’s desire is not simply for everything to be good but for the obtainment of goodness through His perfect love and our choice to engage in a loving relationship with Him.
Ok, maybe at this point you are wondering about all the so called natural disasters like Katrina that create evil in this world? Yes, our free will may impact moral evil but come on; surely our free will doesn’t impact natural calamities. After all, these are “acts of God” so God must be the cause of physical evil. The answer to this question is the same as before. All evil, including natural disasters, result from free will. You see, Adam and Eve freely chose to sin and the result of that sin is a fallen and flawed world where hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc. occur (Gen. 3, Rom.8). The difference is that this fallen world must continue until Christ returns (Rev. 21-22) but evil in the lives of people does not. Not only that, but free will also brought into the world the evil and even physical suffering that comes from demonic forces as well. Satan and His fallen angels chose to rebel and as a result, they were cast out of heaven. The suffering in, of, and from this world comes from the evil produced by freely choosing something other then the goodness of God. It never was God’s intent for His creation to experience evil. His desire is for His creation to experience the goodness of His love.
Ultimately, the only way to eliminate evil is to either eliminate free will or eliminate all of fallen humanity. If God does either, His ultimate will of love can not be achieved to the extend that God has planned. But here’s the good news, God will overcome evil and establish a perfect world where only love prevails. When will this happen? If you are a five point Calvinist that would be when all of those with whom God has chosen to establish His loving relationship with have chosen Him. If you’re not a diehard Calvinist, it may be when the entire world and every people group have had the chance to choose God. Maybe it is both. Either way, the fact remains that God has a plan to overcome evil and the fullness of the implementation of that plan is coming. In the meantime, we can minimize evil in this world by choosing and helping others to likewise choose a closer relationship with God. Evil will be defeated but it can also be overcome right now if the world would choose Christ.
For more information about God and evil read the books by Doug Powell, Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2006) and Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Acedemic, 1999).
Dr. Richard Tompkins