If There is a God Why is There Moral Evil?
Violent crimes are in the news every day, usually taking in at least the first 10 minutes of a local newscast. If war fueled by covetousness and oppression of rulers against their own people is not happening in one place, it is happening in another. Since such acts of inhumanity are such part of life’s story, a common question is, “If there is a God, why does He permit these evil acts to happen?” This question is not peculiar to our generation. Man’s cruelty to man has been around since Cain killed Abel and will unfortunately continue to plague humanity as long as the world stands.
When we think of “God” we think of a Divine being who is supremely sovereign and awesomely almighty- one who has complete control and unrivaled power. So as we view the terrible atrocities past and present, we naturally wonder, “How can there be a God when men are so morally evi1 to one another?”
Man’s inhumanity to man causes some to doubt God’s existence and others to reject Him altogether. Believers, especially when the tragic consequences of someone’s sin affects themselves or their loved ones (e.g. injury or death from a drunk driver), wonder why the God in whom they put their trust lets men inflict such suffering on others.
Whether at this point you are a believer or an unbeliever, won’t you examine with me the Bible's answer to how God and moral evil can exist together at the same time?...
The Question Properly Rephrased
God has placed man in a “controlled struggle” to see whether or not he will obey Him. Though God Himself does not tempt man (Js 1:13), He allows Satan to tempt man (Gen 3:1-5). The Creator has permitted Satan to use three “this world”, temporary avenues to lure man to sin- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn 2:15-17). God did not create men invincible to Satan’s attacks; neither did He create Him powerless against them. Rather, God created made him susceptible to the tempter’s tactics, vulnerable to his snares. Men are creatures that will sin unless they fight against the temptation and God equipped men to fight.
We also learn from Scripture that God is in charge of the temptation process and that He regulates it. Satan must have God’s permission to tempt (Lk 22:31-32). He controls the extent of the temptation, while He also promises and provides man with a way of escaping it (1 Cor 10:13). Therefore, man is not forced to sin and he cannot blame God, but only himself, if he does sin.
James lays the responsibility for sin and the death (separation from God) that it causes right at man’s feet- “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (Js 1:14-15). And so, the horrendous acts which make the news’ headlines are not the result of God’s lack of control but man’s lack of self-control!
Despite the fact that men do not have to sin, all men have made the choice to do so. Paul wrote, “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). All men have broken the law of God, some more than others and some with more damaging consequences to other men. Nevertheless, all men, yes all of us, are contributors to a world of moral evil.
We therefore should not be made to wonder about God’s control of the world because of the horrific criminal or cruel dictator alone. Instead, we should be made to wonder about His control because of the actions of the whole human race and, closer to home, what about the actions of the person we see in the mirror each morning?
The question is not, “If there is a God, why would He let a few villains go on a rampage and heartlessly murder their fellow man?”, but rather, “If there is a God, why does He permit all of mankind to do immoral things?” Or more personally, “If God does exist, why does He allow me to do immoral things?” “Where is His control over me?” …
God’s Control is Through Accountability
Though God allows men to sin, if they choose to do so, He has maintained control over them through accountability. All men must answer to God for their actions. Men may live “as they please” and “shake their fist at God” if they want to and cause great havoc and destruction in the world as they do it, but God will punish them for it.
Adam and Eve were allowed to rebel against God’s commandment, but they paid dearly (Gen 3:16-19, 22-24). God did not stand in the way of Cain killing Abel, but Cain suffered the consequences of his sin the rest of his life (Gen 4:10-12). When the world as a whole became evil, God brought the flood (Gen 6:5-7), fully separating good men (Noah and his family) from evil men (the rest of mankind).
However, after the flood, God promised that He would not interrupt the natural order of things again by a total judgment while the world stands (Gen 8:20-22). Despite not bringing a judgment on all men since the flood, God has intervened to punish individuals, cities, and nations since that time (for example: Nadab and Abihu- Lev 10:1-3, Korah- Num 16:25-35, Uzzah- 2 Chron 26:16-21, Ananias and Sapphira- Acts 5:1-11, Sodom and Gomorrah- Gen 19:23-28, Israel- 2 Kgs 17, and many nations- see Isa 13-23 for a just a small sampling).
But, most of the time, God’s punishment has not been immediate. Therefore men have wondered about God’s control of the world. They wonder if He sees what is going on and if He does, why He isn’t doing anything about it. When men have asked such questions, God’s reply has been that He will arise from His “short nap” and destroy the sinner who lived his life on “slippery places”, with one foot on a banana peel and the other in hell. See Ps 73, esp. vs. 17-20. God has a book of remembrance to note the righteous and His judgment will make a clear distinction between the wicked and the righteous (Mal 3:13-4:3).
As a farmer lets the wheat and the weeds grow together until harvest and then he separates them, so God allows the wicked and the righteous to live in the world until His appointed time of judgment. Then the righteous will receive eternal blessings, while those who have despised and rejected God’s authority will be sent to eternal torment (Mt 13:24-30, 36-43).
The judgments that God made when He intervened in this world assure us that all men are accountable to Him (2 Pet 2:3-9; Jude 5-7). All men will face the consequences of their actions. Our immoral actions may go unchecked now, yet on the Judgment Day it will be abundantly clear that He has been and is in control of you and me, of all…
When we consider all of the pain and suffering that men have brought to themselves and to each other through their immoral choices, one has to wonder why did God give man choice anyway? Why did He place man in a controlled struggle and allow him to be tempted? If He had just created men without the opportunity to choose evil, wouldn’t the world be much better off?
This question takes us to God’s plan before man- what God had in mind when He created man. God purposed to have sons who would conform themselves to the image of His Son in their character (Rom 8:29-30). These would be the men who would see that, try as they might; they could not be righteous on their own (Rom 7:14-25). Therefore they would accept God’s call to become His sons. They would come into His family when they were justified (counted “righteous”) by the blood of His crucified Son, Jesus. Ultimately, He would glorify these sons and they would live forever with Him in heaven.
In short, when God created man He was looking for men who would be to “the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:12,14). If God had made men like robots who had no choice but to do good and were not put through a struggle with evil, they could not give Him the praise. It is men who choose to serve Him that bring Him honor. Are you one of them?