Look therefore carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16).
Many of the great and difficult questions plaguing humanity center on the problem of evil. Why do bad things happen to people? Why do people suffer? Why do terrible things happen to people who are innocent, like babies and small children? These are extremely challenging issues with which we must all come to terms at some point or another in life.
We may not like talking about evil and we would like to think we can just legislate evil away or keep it away from us somehow, but ultimately, such designs are misguided. We will experience the force of evil at times in life, and it is better to handle such situations with mature attitudes.
The question of evil has been especially challenging for those who believe that there is a God who is good, holy, righteous, and loving, the Creator of the earth and all that is in it. How can a good and loving God allow such terrible things to take place on earth? This difficulty is often described as the matter of theodicy: how can God be just when there is so much evil around?
The Scriptures provide some insight into the matter of evil. Much evil in the world exists as a consequence of sin: either the consequence of another’s free will decision to sin, or as a penalty for having committed sin (cf. Jeremiah 18:7-10, 1 Peter 3:12). Evil is a force in the world because humans sinned and the creation was subject to the forces of sin and death (cf. Romans 5:12-18, 8:20-23). The spiritual forces of darkness currently hold sway on the earth but will be defeated in the end (Ephesians 6:12, Revelation 19-20). Yet, on the whole, the question of why evil exists in the world, or why it strikes as it may, is left unanswered (cf. Job 40-42, Ecclesiastes 8:14-17).
To many this is a signature failure of the Bible to address the problems of life. Nevertheless, perhaps the problem is not with the Bible but with the nature of the question. After all, even if we could know why evil exists, would it make evil any more palatable? Would understanding the reason for suffering make suffering more bearable? It has been too easy to believe that knowledge is power; yet, in the case of evil, knowledge cannot overcome the problem.
We would do well to be less judgmental against God, for it is not as if He has been entirely untouched by evil. The New Testament reveals God’s willingness to see evil do all it could against His Son Jesus of Nazareth (cf. Romans 5:5-11, Hebrews 5:7-9). If there were another way of handling the problem of evil– to be able to easily eliminate it from the earth– do you not think that God would have availed Himself of that opportunity so that His Son would not have to experience such agony (cf. Matthew 26:39)?
Part of the challenge is our tendency to look at evil as an external force while remaining blind to our own evil. We may not want to admit it, but we have all done evil (Romans 3:23). The line between good and evil goes through each and every one of us; if God just eliminated evil from the earth, we would be gone also!
When we shift the question away from “why does evil exist?” and instead consider the question “what has God done about evil?”, we suddenly see how the Bible is really all about this difficulty. Even though God was never under any compulsion to do anything about evil, He was willing to give up His Son so we could overcome evil like Jesus did (1 John 2:13-14). In this world we cannot expect to defeat or destroy evil. Instead God has made provision for us to overcome evil and have the ultimate victory through Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57, Revelation 12:11).
The days in which we live on the earth are evil. There are plenty of evils taking place all around us. At various times we have participated in such evils, and we will experience suffering on account of evil. We cannot wish or legislate evil away. It may seem easy to blame God for the problem of evil, but such is a rather immature and unfair thing to do, for God has dealt definitively with the problem of evil through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, let us seek to overcome evil through our obedient faith in Jesus, looking toward the day upon which we will stand in the resurrection, receiving the victory. In the “new heavens and earth” there will be no more evil, no more suffering, no more pain (cf. Revelation 7:16-17, 21:1-5), but we must first suffer in this world in order to obtain the great glory of the next (Romans 8:17-18). Let us suffer as Christ did in order to receive glory!
Ethan R. Longhenry