March 8, 2011

God and Evil Pt 3- Why Does God Allow Bad Things To Happen?

Alright now that we have covered where evil came from, and took a short detour to discuss freewill and God's omniscience it's high time we get to the question that plagues most of us; 'Why does God allow bad things to happen?' 

This really is where the rubber meets the road. After all it is one thing to be able to explain why evil can exist, it is a whole other issue to explain why God allows it to happen. Epicurus gave us this challenge, 'Is [God] able [to prevent evil], but not willing? Then he is malevolent'. God being malevolent is certainly an answer for why bad thing happen to people; but it isn't a very good one. 

If God were omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and malevolent, than we have simply altered the question at hand. Instead of asking; 'why does God allow bad things happen ?', we would be forced to ask;"Why does God allow good things happen?" Asserting that God is malevolent simply reverses the entire discussion and we are put into a position that has to defend the existence of goodness. 

Instead I think it is more practical to assume that God is good and seek an alternate explication for why God does not prevent every evil act from happening. 

One more quick aside. There is another common answer to this question that masks itself as 'the biblical answer'. It sort of goes like this, 'Why do bad things happen to good people?', 'No one is good, and no one deserves good things to happen to them! We are all sinners, we are all deserving of death, and we are all lucky God gives us anything but a swift smiting and eternal damnation.! Now, quit your whining!'

This is not one of the biblical answers for why bad things happen to people. Aside from it being just plan mean, I think it comes from not taking the bible as a whole into account. Instead people who say this have gotten a little to fixated on passages like Romans 3:23 while not focusing enough on passages like Romans 5:8

Once we move past the previous backhanded answer and move into what the bible actually says we find that there actually are a number of answers to; 'why does God allow bad things happen ?'

Forget to be or not to be, THIS is the question.
1. Punishment- We might as well get this one out of the way first. Yes, it is entirely possible that bad things are happening to people because they are reaping divine punishment. The bible has any number of examples of this happening. Some prominent examples are, Achan in the Old Testament and Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament. Now in the of cases Achan, Ananias and Sapphira each person committed sins that warranted punishment. And each person bore the weight of the punishment themselves*. However in the story of David, we find that all punishment is not so neat and clean. For example when David sinned with Bathsheba,and committed murder to cover that sin up the punish was the death of his child. To go from bad to worse David's punishment for disobeying God and taking a census resulted in the punishment for the entire city of Jerusalem.

What can I say about this. When you are facing hardship it is possible that you or someone near you is being punished for disobeying God. Therefore it would be prudent to, in the face of extended hardships, examine your life and see if there is any glaring sin that needs to be forgiven.

2. Testing Your Faith- Thankfully punishment is only one possibility. Another possibility is that you, or someone near you is having their faith tested. This was the case for Job, his family and workers, and it was the case for Peter. Now noticed that in the case of Peter his test only involved him. In the case of Job the test had a much wider radius of affect. Job's children, and workers all ended up dead as a result of Job being tested. I point this out because it is entirely possible that God may be testing your faith through the hardship you are facing, but it is also possible that you are a part of someone else's test.

3. Teaching You a Lesson- Another possible explanation for the hardship you are experiencing is that God is seeking to teach you, or someone else a lesson of faith. This was the case for Joseph (Gen 37-50) and Paul. As in the last example Paul's thorn seemed to affect him alone. However the process of teaching Joseph a lesson affected all of Egypt, and Canaan. So  like in the above example the hardship you are facing may be intended to teach you something, or you may be a teaching aid in someone else's lesson.

4. Fallen World- Our forth explanation is that we currently habit a fallen world, a world that is groaning to be made new. As a result of humanities initial rebellion the natural world became cursed. And that means as we previously explored that this world is not as habitable for us as it was intended to be. Many of the natural disasters, illness and other like events are a direct result of this fact.

5. Free Will- Lastly our fifth explanation for the presence of evil in the world is that people still have free will to do evil things, and  the results of those decisions tend to affect more than just those who make them. This means we can do no wrong, and still get caught up in the vortex of the consequences of others actions. Thus we can take a fatal walk down peaceful a street because at the same time someone decided to drive intoxicated down that same street.

Or we go out for lunch at the same time someone tries to rob the place, or someone can break into our home and rob and harm us, or a girl walking home the same way she always does at the same time she always does is assaulted. We can go on and on with worse and worse examples, but the results are still the same. People are just as free today to make evil choices as they have ever been, and those choices affect many people who have done nothing to deserve it. 

One more note on freewill. I recently read an atheist argument for why freewill as God's 'out' for evil was not good enough. Their argument was that God could have given us freewill but installed such a distaste for committing acts of evil that the likelihood anyone ever would do something like murder or rape would be nearly zero.

I was a bit taken back by the reflection, because it made a lot of sense to me. If I felt that doing something like lying was as egregious of a sin as say sexual assault I would never lie. If everyone thought drinking and driving was as egregious of a sin as pedophilia, I suspect almost no one would drive intoxicated. 

The more I reflected on it the more I feel that this was in fact the way had God created us. Our original facilities were such that it was almost impossible for us to even consider sinning in most manners. I suspect that is why the original sin was not one of murder, or lust, or destruction. Instead it was a sin of pride. Pride caused us to think that God might be holding something back from us. So we choose to find out what that was. We assumed God could not be trusted, and we acted contrary to God's will, deciding we knew better. Pride, putting oneself first before God may well have been the only sin open to us initially. The sad thing is since then we have gotten much more creative.

After humanities first sin our built in moral compass degraded. What before would have been a near impossibility, became our nature. When sin infected our hearts a whole host of things, dark, violent and terrible things became activities that many of us would engage in given the right amount of time and correct set of circumstances.

Now for what has become our tradition for the last few blogs here is a summary of what you just read, 

1.God is able to prevent good
2. Does his lack of doing so make him malevolent?
3. No, as an answer that is not helpful it would than force us to explain the presence of goodness
4. Instead God allows evil to;
   a) Punish
   b) Test
   c) Teach
   and because evil is a result of;
   d) Living in a fallen world
   e) People exercising their free will

Tune in next time for; Why doesn't God just stop evil! Same blog time, say blog channel (whatever that means)

* OK admittedly Achan's family was also stoned to death. Now this could be another example of the consequences of living in a fallen world where justice can be perverted, e.g. Achan's family knew nothing of their fathers sin and were unfairly punished along with their father. OR it is possible that they knew about the stolen goods and help their father hide them, making them also guilty.  


  1. I have to admit this really gave me a lot of food for thought. Some of it I totally agree with some I just never thought of but I think you made very valid points. I think if I had to pick out something from the blog that spoke to me the most it would be this line ......We are all sinners, we are all deserving of death, and we are all lucky God gives us anything but a swift smiting and eternal damnation.! Now, quit your whining!'

    Too true and too easy to forget!

  2. Sandie, you should read the section around that quote again. I did not endorse that type of response, I called it a non-biblical response to God and suffering.

  3. Yes Chris it is a biblical response, read Romans 3 again. If man is able to do good in God's eyes then why did He destroy all humanity in the flood, except for 8 souls? If God does not impede evil, if God does not prevent evil then we would become like those in the days of Noah, we would become like Sodom and Gomorrah. Satan was bound at the cross so that the gospel can freely go out into the whole world. Yes Satan will try and suppress the gospel but can not prevent God's elect from coming to the knowledge of saving grace. (John 6:39-40)
    PS, It would help Brother Chris if you give us scripture to back up your claims. Our words are just words and mean nothing without the power of God's word.

  4. Jim,

    Scripture is quoted a number of times in this post.

    However perhaps you miss understood. I did not say that people were not fallen, nor that they were not deserving of punishment. What I meant was the compassionless response to suffering is not acceptable.