Recently, scores of people were slaughtered in a middle belt state here in Nigeria by people believed to be herdsmen from the northern part of the country.
Years ago, I lost a dear cousin to HIV. Many have also lost loved ones to cancer, malaria, and several other diseases.
A hurricane swept through major American cities destroying lives and property, while an earthquake hits a Mexican town, killing many women and children.
Corruption appears to have become a part of politics and business, with the government unable to deal with it.
We know of bosses who are oppressive, and we have also worked with dishonest employees and colleagues.
Evil is not an abstract idea; we experience it daily. And that is why for many, it is the definitive argument against the existence of God.
The problem of evil
The problem of evil is the mystery of a world so full of evil in the face of a good God. According to Douglas Groothuis, the problem is that ‘if God exists, there should not be such evil, since God would have the desire and power to stop it.’ An ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus, described the problem thus:
God either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or he is able and unwilling; or he is neither willing nor able, or he is both willing and able.
The Christian understanding of evil
The presence of evil in our world is not a peripheral matter; we all encounter it in some form or the other. We may have been troubled by the death of a spouse or relative, or personally experienced the excruciating torment and pain of a terminal illness. The range of evil also covers moral failings like the betrayal of a friend or natural events like a storm which destroys a lifetime investment. And it can raise questions and doubts in our hearts.
However, God’s revelation gives us a clearer picture of this phenomenon.
Firstly, we understand that God is good (Psalm 145:8-9; Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17) and loving (1 John 4:7-8). He is powerful (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:27) and is also wise (Psalm 104:24; Daniel 2:20-21). Because He is good and loving, He made a world which is good and with righteous humans to live in.
Secondly, we learn that evil, whether human sin or natural disasters, is not intrinsic to the universe. In the words of Douglas Groothuis again:
‘Evil was not built into creation by God. Our first parents rebelled against the known law of God and thus fell into sin.’
The account of Creation in Genesis 1 and 2 describe the universe as such a pleasant place that the holy God could describe it as ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31). At some point, however, the humans assigned to watch over the earth turned against God and chose to become autonomous – to do their own thing. The result? A world turned upside down both in human affairs and in the world of nature.
Writes Charles Colson:
‘The Bible places responsibility for sin, which opened the floodgates to evil, squarely on the human race – starting with Adam and Eve, but continuing on in our own moral choices. In that original choice to disobey God, human nature became morally distorted and bent so that from then on humanity has had a natural inclination to do wrong.’
So while evil arose from a human choice to disobey God, the result is that human nature is now corrupted and we all tend towards disobeying God. Everyone tends towards evil.
Finally, along with the understanding that evil is not part of God’s original design comes the hope and promise that our world will be fixed.
‘Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.’ (Romans 5:18)
A distinguishing element of the Christian worldview is that God has not left the fallen (and evil) world to itself. He has initiated a plan of redemption – and this began right from the moment of humanity’s rebellion. God announced the future defeat of Satan by ‘the offspring of the woman’, a reference to Jesus Christ, and declared that evil was going to be abolished and eliminated (Genesis 3:15). How would this be? Through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The classic passage John 3:16 speak of this:
‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’
Because of His love for his creatures, God gave a saviour through whom they would be reconciled to Him. Here is a God who is both powerful and loving enough to save his creatures from the consequence of their own rebellion.
Because He is wise and not merely powerful, God dealt with the problem of evil at its root and source: man’s alienation from God. This is why the message of the gospel is sent out to all peoples on earth. It is as people repent of their autonomy and idolatry and return to God through Jesus Christ, that they begin to reverse the problem of evil. And as the world turns to their Saviour in faith and repentance, they hasten the return of Christ when all sin and wickedness will be judged and the earth itself renewed. Then evil will be forever done away with.
The closing book of the Bible presents this joyful scenario:
‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ (Revelation 21:3-4)
So to revisit Epicurus’ statement again, God is both willing and able to take away evil. And He has accomplished this through the cross, to be finally completed through the judgement and renewal of the earth when Christ returns.