Why Does God Allow Evil in the World?

by Dale Partridge

I was only 19-years-old when a tsunami off the coast of Indonesia killed over 250,000 people. This was only a few years after the world watched Islamic terrorists take the lives of nearly 3,000 people in New York City. Two years before that, when I was in ninth grade, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered twelve students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado.

The evidence is in, evil is all around us and it’s not slowing down. But why? Why so much brokenness? But more importantly, as Christians, how can we explain why the God of the Bible continues to allow evil to permeate our world? That is, how can God who is all-powerful, sovereign, righteous, loving, and good permit His creation to be overwhelmed by war and divorce and murder and tragedy and death? In other words, how can these two realities co-exist? Because if God is so good, then why is there so much evil—and—if God is in control, then why is there so much chaos? But more importantly, if God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent then why does He not intervene and eliminate evil altogether?

These questions plague the minds of not only atheists, agnostics, and religious skeptics, but also Christians. The complexity of these questions revolving around the origin and presence of evil has been called the “Achille’s Heel” of Christianity. Namely, that these issues are somehow the central location of vulnerability for the Judeo-Christian theological system. 

Now, I agree, these questions are not easy to answer. St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, R.C. Sproul, and John MacArthur have put enormous intellectual and spiritual effort toward these questions and still have not come to conclusive answers. That said, this does not mean that we do not have sophisticated and biblically supported explanations—we do. It simply means that there is still a mystery behind the elements of this discussion. For example, in speaking to the origin of evil, Theologians call it the “Mystery of Iniquity.” The attempts we have made to understand the origin and existence of evil without compromising the righteousness of God are called theodicy. This is an English word made of two Greek words Θεός (meaning God) and δίκαιος (meaning righteous). Therefore, a theodicy is a defense of God’s righteousness. This article is a micro-theodicy and a brief Christian explanation for the righteous presence of evil, pain, and suffering within the biblical worldview. 

When God first created the world, there was no present evil, pain, or suffering because there was no sin. Sin, which is the cause of evil, is also the cause of death. Death, by definition, is separation. In the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3) moral sin caused humanity to be separated from God. That is, we died spiritually. This is why Ephesians 2:1 tells Christians that “we were dead in our trespasses and sins.” It is also the reason why the Bible repeatedly states that Christians have been “born-again” or been “made alive” in Christ. That is, God spiritually resurrects His children through regeneration, repentance, and faith in Jesus Christ.

But moral sin is also the cause of physical death which separates our soul from our body. Without repentance and faith in Christ, the Bible tells us we will experience a second death (Rev. 2:18) where our souls will be eternally separated from God. But the effects of sin and evil go much further than death. They also include metaphysical evil such as natural disasters, physical evil such as disease and decay, and demonic evil such as possession and temptation. The reality is, because of God’s curse upon creation (Rom. 8:22), we live in a sin-ridden universe filled with evil.

But what is evil? First, we need to realize that evil is not an independent being or force. No, evil is more like a parasite, it only finds expression when it’s connected to a host. R.C. Sproul once said, “Evil does not exist as an autonomous entity but it is an action of something that does exist.”[1] However, even though evil does not exist in and of itself, the effects of evil do exist in and of themselves. But there’s an additional factor that must be stated. Not only does evil require a host but it also requires its acts to be taken upon the backdrop of good. Namely, without good, you cannot categorize an action as evil. So again, evil which is the result of sin is first dependent upon an entity, and, second, it is dependent upon the existence of good. For example, murder cannot exist without an entity willing to impart death toward an innocent party and a moral law claiming that innocent life should not be taken. 

But while clarity on the presence, forms, and definitions of evil are helpful, the next critical question to be answered is regarding the origin of evil. Since evil is the result of sin, where did sin come from? Romans 5:12 states that “Sin entered in by one man”—Adam. That is, sin was not invented by Adam but it entered into the world by his disobedience. This means that, prior to Adam’s fall, sin was already present in some capacity. We know this because Adam (and the fallen angels before him) had the inclination to sin and you cannot be inclined toward something that does not exist. C.S. Lewis understood this concept when he wrote in his book Mere Christianity

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[2]

So, in our case, Adam had the desire for sin because the possibility of sin already existed. This destroys the weak Arminian arguments of creature-initiated sin by either Satan’s or Adam’s free will to disobey (Gen. 3; Ezek. 28:13-15). But this doesn’t answer the question about the origin of evil. It only answers who was the first being to sin. Now, I do believe, however, that both Satan and Adam chose to disobey God but I believe their choice, though made without compulsion, was foreordained (or even designed to occur) by God. We know this because the Scriptures of Acts 2:23, 4:28, and 1 Peter 1:20 explicitly teach that the cross of Christ was foreordained before the foundation of the world. Therefore, the fall of Adam that took place after the foundation of the world was a necessity for not only God’s plan of redemption but also if we are to find our theology in alignment with the rest of the Scriptures. In addition, the Bible is saturated with Scriptures like Lamentations 3:37, Psalm 33:9-11, Isaiah 46:10, Proverbs 16:9, Ephesians 1:11, and Romans 8:28 which demonstrate God’s orchestration and design of all things that come to pass—including sin and evil.

            What Christians must stop doing is attempting to free God of the usage and permitting of sin and evil. The Lord, in the Scriptures, is fully content to state His use of sin and evil to accomplish His purpose. John MacArthur once said, “We cannot divest God of the existence of evil. He has taken responsibility for permitting its existence.”[3] This is not simply an opinion, either. The Bible is filled with Scriptures in support of this claim. Here are just a few (italics for emphasis):  

  • Isaiah 45:7 God says, “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.” 
  • Amos 3:6 God says, “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?
  • Acts 2:22-23 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
  • Acts 4:24, 28 “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 
  • Genesis 50:20 (In speaking to the story of Joseph) “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.” 
  • Psalm 119:71 “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”
  • 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.”
  • Ephesians 1:11 “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” 

We must remember that God is the God of Noah’s Flood, the Plagues of Egypt, the commander of bloody wars, the inauguration of evil kings, the striking down of sinners, the sender of serpents, the power behind all-natural disasters, and even the architect of Jesus’ crucifixion. If you attempt to strip God of His use of sin and evil you strip God of His sovereignty.  

So we then arrive back to our original question. Does the presence of evil defeat Christianity? Is this issue truly the “Achille’s Heel” of our Christian faith? No. In fact, I would argue that the presence of sin and evil do not defeat Christianity, it conceives it. That is, the issue of sin is a fundamental basis for God’s plan of redemption. Without sin, we would have no need for the cross. Without the cross, we would never understand the righteousness and mercy, and love of God. Put differently, God, for the sake of demonstrating His righteousness and holiness to us, has permitted sin in this world. In Romans 3:5, Paul sees this truth and asks the question “But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say?” That is, our sin, by way of contrast, allows us to see more clearly the holiness of God. When I explain this to my children, I often say, “How can we bring the most glory to the art of a white crayon?” My kids will respond, “By coloring with a black crayon around it.” It may be a simple illustration but the principle holds true.

A few chapters later, Paul continues to explain God’s purpose of sin and evil further in Romans 9:22-23 where he says, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make His power known, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order that He make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory…” In other words, what if God permitted sin so that we might know the fullness of His glory? For without sin and suffering we would never know God’s forgiveness, grace, mercy, holiness, righteousness, compassion, and love. It is by the presence of sin and evil that we see the glory of God shine most brightly. 

Now, does this mean that God has no desire or will to reduce sin and evil in the world? Does the presence of sin and evil mean that He approves of sin and evil? Certainly not! (1 John 3:8; 1 John 1:5)

It simply means that God has a redemptive purpose for the entrance of sin into this world and, according to His perfect wisdom, He has determined that a world with sin would not only bring about His greatest glory but also bring about our highest worship.

In other words, like everything else in this universe, even sin and evil will bring glory to God. Ultimately, His wrath and His judgment, and even our sin will all serve to magnify God’s glory. In 2010 at the National Ligonier Conference, R.C. Sproul said, “Evil is not good, but it’s good that there is evil.”[4] A few years earlier, John MacArthur made a similar statement at the same national conference. He said, “Is God made more glorious because evil exists or is He made less glorious because evil exists? The answer is unequivocally more glorious! That is, our highest praises of Him are because of what He has done to overcome evil!” 

This purpose of sin and God’s triumph over it is most clearly seen in the predestined death of his Son on the cross. God, by the permission of sin and evil in our world, allowed pain and suffering. But He did not allow it for us alone. God came down to earth in the flesh of a man named Jesus—The Christ. While He never sinned, He did experience the effects of sin. He, like us, felt the pain and suffering of evil. He experienced, temptations and betrayal and lying and demons and disease and chaotic weather and ultimately, murder.

And while you who have sinned, deserve suffering, the one Man in history without sin, experienced more suffering than we ever will. And while we deserve the wrath and judgment of God for our disobedience against Him, the one Man with perfect obedience took on God’s wrath on our behalf. And on the darkest day in human history, the crucifixion and murder of Jesus Christ—the innocent and blameless Son of God—the King of this world sacrificed for us what was most costly to Him. He did this for one reason: that we who believe might overcome sin and evil through the blood of His son to praise His glory. That day, the most evil day in human history, is now called Good Friday. 

So while we may not have all the answers for why and how sin and evil are present in our world, we do know that we have a God who determined to permit sin so that He may demonstrate His righteousness and love toward us who believe in His Son. We also know that He has come to triumph over sin and evil and has promised to return to restore the earth and remove all forms of sin and its effects for all time (Rev. 21:4). So we must believe what Paul says in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to compare with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” This world is broken. Sin and evil are painful. But the Lord will use all of it for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. 

Allow me to close with a quote from the great Puritan writer, Richard Baxter. 

“Is it a small thing in your eyes to be loved by God – to be the son, the daughter, the spouse, the love, the delight of the King of glory? Christian, believe this, and think about it: because of Christ you will be eternally embraced in the arms of the love which was from everlasting, and will extend to everlasting – of the love which brought the Son of God’s love from heaven to earth, from earth to the cross, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to glory – that love that conquered sin — that love which was weary, hungry, tempted, scorned, scourged, buffeted, spat upon, crucified, pierced – which fasted, prayed, taught, healed, wept, sweated, bled, died. That love will eternally embrace you.[5]

[1] R.C. Sproul, What is Evil and Where Did it Come From? Lecture delivered at the 2010 Ligonier National Conference, Orlando, Florida, March 2010. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/conferences/tough-questions-christians-face-2010-national/what-is-evil-where-did-it-come-from.
[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 87.
[3] John MacArthur, Why Does God Allow So Much Suffering and Evil? Lecture delivered at the Ligonier National Conference in Orlando, Florida, 2008. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/conferences/tough-questions-christians-face-08-west-coast/why-does-god-allow-so-much-suffering-and-evil.
[4] R.C. Sproul. What is Evil and Where Did it Come From?
[5] Richard Baxter. The Saints Everlasting Rest: A Treatise of the Blessed State of the Saints in their Enjoyment of God in Glory, (New York, American Tract Society, 1851), 27.

Dale Partridge is the President of Relearn.org and holds a Graduate Certificate from Western Seminary. He is the author of several Christian books, including “The Manliness of Christ” and the bestselling children’s book “Jesus and My Gender.” He is also the host of the Real Christianity podcast and the lead pastor at King's Way Bible Church in Prescott, Arizona.

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