Evil, Pain, and Suffering
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version
Conditions in Israel were deplorable. For seven long years, her most hated enemies had tormented and oppressed her. Her defenses and armies had been destroyed (or, at the very least, were unable to defend and protect her). Her crops were pillaged, her livestock plundered and her homes razed. The oppression was so great, she could no longer live in the plains to raise her crops, vineyards and livestock. She was forced to flee to the mountains to live like wild animals in dens and caves (c.f. Judges 6:2-6).
In the midst of this dearth and desolation, and in response to their cry, an angel of the Lord appeared with a special message to Gideon, the son of Joash the Abiezrite. The message, “… The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour” (Judges 6:12). Gideon’s reply, “… Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? …” (Judges 6:13).
Why? This plaintive question has echoed repeatedly down though the fabric of time and history. If there is a God, why was my wife stricken with Alzheimer’s? If there is a God, why was my child born with Leukemia? If there is a God, why did he allow those innocent school children to be murdered? If there is a God, why was our daughter taken in that fiery automobile crash while the drunk driver walked away? These question (and thousands more like them) cry out for answers.
Evil, Pain, and Suffering – The Reality
That evil, pain and suffering exists is beyond dispute. However, some use its existence as a diversionary tactic; a convenient way to avoid the preponderance of evidence that testifies of the existence of God. To acknowledge the existence of God acknowledges the ramifications of such a belief; that there is life beyond the grave (Luke 16:19-31), a heaven to be gained (Matthew 25:31-41), a hell to be shunned (Matthew 25: 42-46), and a pending appointment with their maker in judgment (Hebrews 9:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Such beliefs demand we change our course of behavior in this life by submitting our will to His (Titus 2:11-12). Many are simply unwilling to do this.
But not all fall into this category. There are those who teeter on the precipice of belief in (and obedience to) God, but the problem of evil, pain and suffering is an intellectual hurdle they cannot ignore. For these honest seekers of truth, the existence of evil, pain, and suffering is a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. It’s existence demands answers.
Evil, Pain, and Suffering – The Argument
Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher and founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism. All the arguments propounded, primarily by the atheist community, are effectually recapitulations of his philosophical musings. His reasoning was as follows. “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” 1
In laymen’s terms, if God has the desire to prevent evil, pain and suffering but not the ability, then he is not all powerful; hence, he is not God. If God has the ability to prevent evil, pain and suffering but not the desire, then his is not all loving; hence, he is not God. If God has both desire and ability , then why does evil, pain, and suffering exist? Thus, the sovereign power, goodness, integrity, and very existence of God are called into question.
Before taking issue with his conclusions, let it be acknowledged that the existence of evil, pain, and suffering is the most effective weapon in the atheists arsenal. No one would dare deny its existence. We have experienced it in our own lives. We have seen the havoc it wreaks in the lives of others. It is all around us. For this reason, many have rejected the existence of God. However, upon scrutiny, the argument proposed is fundamentally flawed.
First, who is Epicurus to profess to know the mind of God? Was he there when God laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4) and made the clouds as a garment (Job 38:9)? The entire argument is based upon the assumption that, if there is a God, then He certainly would not allow evil, pain, and suffering to exist. To make such an assertion to profess to know the mind of God! The bible speaks to the fallacy of such thinking. “8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. ” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Second, Epicurus lays the entire burden of evil, pain, and suffering at God’s feet. In so doing, he totally and completely exonerates man of any and all responsibility for his own decisions and actions. He totally dismisses one the greatest gifts God ever afforded to mankind; the freedom of choice (Joshua 24:15; 1 Kings 18:21; Deuteronomy 30:10).
Third, Epicurus assumes that all evil, pain, and suffering are inherently bad; that no good or no benefit can be derived from such. This too is grossly false. The word of God, the testimony of history, and our own life experiences deny this to be true.
Evil, Pain, and Suffering – A House Build On The Sand
When a person raises the question of evil, they are making an appeal to some universal system of justice which the evil allegedly violates. But if there is no God, from whence came this universal standard of truth? To reject God is to reject His word, the Bible (c.f. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). To reject the Bible is to reject the sole source of universal truth (c.f. John 17:17). Without God and the Bible, every man is free to do that which is right in his own eyes (c.f. Judges 17:6). If not, why not?
Men freely admit that the laws governing one nation or country do not apply universally to every other nation and country. The same is true even within the confines of our own nation. The laws that are applicable in one state may or may not be considered binding in another state. Inferred herein is the acceptance that no law of human origin is universally binding. Thus, the atheist must define by what standard things are judged to be “good” or “evil” and why their standard of definition is superior to the thoughts and opinions of others. Minus God and the Bible, all such discussions are nonsensical.
The Bible also affirms that God is love (1 John 4:8). Love demands choice. Choice necessitates consequence. This has been true from the very beginning of time (Genesis 2:16-17; Genesis 3:1ff). The conclusion is irresistible; if love demands choice and God is love, then God allows choice. When choice is allowed, there is the potential to choose wrongly. If mankind were not permitted to suffer the consequences of his own bad decisions, how would he ever learn to appreciate and disseminate between right and wrong, good and evil?
The entire Epicurean philosophy is built upon one overriding principle; God cannot co-exist with evil, pain, and suffering. However, if just one passage of scripture could be produced to the contrary, the argument falls beneath its own weight. Here is one such scripture, “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22). Consider also, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. ” (2 Timothy 3:12). In each of these passages, Paul (by inspiration) acknowledges that God permits the existence of evil, pain, and suffering. Thus, the entire premise upon which the argument is built is demonstrably false.
Still the question remains; if there is a God, from whence comes evil, pain and suffering?
Evil, Pain, and Suffering – Personal Wrong Choices
In the opening paragraph of this study, the deplorable condition to which the nation of Israel was being subjected was noted (c.f. Judges 6:2-6). The omission of version 1 was not by accident. It was intentionally overlooked in order to consider it now. “And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years.” (Judges 6:1). Herein lies the answer to Gideon’s question. Why is all this befallen us? Because, says God, you have willfully chosen to transgress my law. You have made a personal wrong choice and now you are suffering the consequence!
One of God’s immutable laws is “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. ” (Galatians 6:7). How many individuals suffer irreparable health problems (e.g. liver / kidney / lung damage, cognitive impairment, etc.) because of their personal wrong decisions (e.g. drinking, drug abuse, etc.)? How many individuals suffer the consequences (i.e. pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, divorce, etc.) because they willfully chose to be sexually active outside of marriage (c.f. Hebrews 13:4)? How many criminals have forfeited their lives in a moment’s rage by willfully choosing to take another’s life? How many homes have suffered and been destroyed due to the addictions (e.g. alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, etc.) of a father or mother? The examples are numerous.
The admonition of Peter is germane to the point at hand, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.” (1 Peter 4:15). It was the wise man Solomon (by inspiration) who stated, “… the way of transgressors is hard.” (Proverbs 13:15). This is the universal law of sowing and reaping. “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. ” (Galatians 6:8).
Evil, Pain, and Suffering – Personal Wrong Choices Of Others
Adolf Hitler. Joseph Stallin. Pol Pot. Saddam Hussein. Charles Manson. John Wayne Gacy. September 11, 2001. These names and events could be multiplied many times over; however, these are sufficient to illustrate the fact that the innocent suffer because of the personal wrong decisions of others. It is estimated that 12,000,000 people died (counting concentration camps and civilians deliberately killed in WWII plus three million Russian POW’s left to die) as a result of Adolph Hitler. International experts estimate approximately 300,000 victims were found in mass graves during the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. Did these individuals suffer because of something they did wrong? No; they suffered because of the actions of others.
An innocent teen is returning home from a friend’s house. Her whole life lies ahead of her – until the drunken driver crosses the center line and sends her into eternity. Put yourself in the place of her parents as they stand by the graveside and bury their only daughter. What is going through their mind? It is obvious, is it not? Why was my child taken? She did nothing wrong. If there is a God, why did He allow this to happen? Because God is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:11). He, ” … maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45). If He gives one person the freedom of choice, He gives all humankind the same freedom. Sometimes we suffer the consequences of our own, personal wrong choices. Sometimes, we suffer because of the personal wrong choices of others.
Evil, Pain, and Suffering – Personal Wrong Choices Of Past Generations
Often we are so quick to react in anger toward God that we fail to see the long picture of history. Consider the home in which you live. It is likely that it is has “creature comforts,” such as electricity, running water, heating & air, television, microwave, etc. When you travel, you likely ride in an automobile equipped with niceties such as headlights, power doors & windows, climate control (i.e. heating and air), entertainment (radio, CD, DVD, MP3, etc.). Where did such luxuries come from? The decisions, discoveries, and actions of previous generations. Why are entire civilizations of individuals no longer being eradicated because of the small pox? Because in 1798, a gentleman by the name of Edward Jenner developed a vaccine. Shall we reap the good from previous generations without reaping the evil?
The people who filled our factories and school with asbestos did not intend to cause thousands to die of cancer. Yet, because it was so widely used in previous generations, many in our generation have suffered the consequence. Does the blame for such things rightly belong at God’s feet? It assuredly does not.
Today we know of more than 1,600 genetic abnormalities in the human gene pool. How many of these were present immediately following the creation? Zero (c.f. Genesis 1:31). Where did they come from? By and large, they have been introduced by man himself (e.g. asbestos, thalidomide, agent orange, DDT, lead, pesticides, etc.). Imagine what lies ahead and mankind ventures “boldly” (and often foolishly) into technologies such as stem cell manipulation, human cloning, etc.
What of death itself? “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” (Romans 5:12). The Bible clearly affirms we do not bear the guilt of Adam’s sin (c.f. Ezekiel 18:20; Deuteronomy 24:16). However, we do bear the consequence. All humankind is now subject to physical death (c.f. Hebrews 9:27).
What of natural disasters (e.g. volcanic eruptions, tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, etc.). We know today that natural disasters are caused by the variety of geophysical features of our planet (e.g. mountain ranges, valleys, deserts, atmospheric pressures, tectonic plates, etc.). What event in human history dramatically changed the geophysical structure of the earth? The global flood (Genesis 6-8). What was the catalyst for the flood? Sin (Genesis 6:5-7). Whose actions brought sin into the world? Ours (i.e. mankind; Genesis 3:1ff). Even today we suffer the consequences from the personal wrong choices (i.e. sins) of previous generations (i.e. the antediluvian world).
Evil, Pain, and Suffering – Natural Law
We live in a world regulated by natural law. These laws, when studied, understood, and used properly are a tremendous blessing. However, if we violate the basic tenet of the law, pain and suffering often result. Consider the law of gravity. We do not have to wonder which way our feet will go when we get out of bed. The law of gravity operates in a consistent manner. But if a man walks off the roof and falls 100 feet to the cement pavement beneath, pain and suffering (or perhaps death) results. Was it God’s fault? Certainly not. He violated natural law and paid the penalty.
Some may argue that if God were all powerful, he could prevent such things from happening. It is not a question of what God can do, but what God will or will not do. Should God suspend the natural law (e.g. gravity, motion, etc.) every time a human violates the principles of the law? Can you imagine the chaos such action would cause? This would be contrary to the nature of God who is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). Such a world would argue more for atheism than theism. Thankfully, God continues to uphold all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3), including the consistent operation of the natural order.
Evil, Pain, and Suffering – The Benefits
Is all suffering and pain evil? It is not. Space does not permit a full and complete discussion, but consider the following illustrations. Is it not a throbbing, tightness of the chest that sends a man to the emergency room just before a massive heart attack? Or what about the acute pain in the side of the individual just before the appendix bursts? Touch a finger to a hot stove and pain jolts the body and alerts it of the potential danger. In each instance, the presence of pain (and perhaps suffering) worked to the benefit of the individual.
Consider also that many of man’s most treasured and noble character traits are forged in the fires of affliction (e.g. bravery, heroism, patience, self sacrifice, etc.). Jesus taught, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) and serves as our supreme example of selflessness, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NKJV). Rather than blaming God, we should honor and serve him for the suffering he endured for us (c.f. 1 Peter 2:21).
Evil, Pain, and Suffering – Conclusion
The existence of evil, pain, and suffering serves as a continual reminder that the world around us is but a temporary dwelling place (Hebrews 11:13; 2 Corinthians 5:1) and God reminds us that the things we suffer here are but a light affliction in view of our eternal reward which awaits (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Let us take comfort in the abiding truth that, “… the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed …” (Romans 8:18).