How Can A Loving God Permit Evil?

By Rev. Frank S. Rose

It is not always easy to reconcile a belief in a loving, all-powerful God with life as we know it. There is so much suffering. Is there such a thing as justice or fairness in the world? We find ourselves asking if there really is a God who rules over all things.

The denial of God does not really solve the problem. It is one way of saying that there is no solution. If there were no God there would be no point in looking for answers. Injustice and pain would continue to challenge us, but we would have to take the view that since death eventually terminated the game for all players, there really is no point to it all.

At times it does seem as if life is pointless. This is bleak and discouraging. At other times we see abundant evidence of the Lord's love and power, and we can hold on to a belief that He does rule the universe wisely and with great compassion. This still leaves the question of whether He can overcome evil, and unfairness.

Why is it that God seems to let creation get out of hand and even turn against Him? We cannot really say what the answer is without some idea of the overall purpose of creation. God is love. He creates people so that He can share His love with them. Since love cannot be forced, He gives us choices as to how we respond to life. We have the freedom to accept His love or to reject it. This freedom is so important that He will not force us to love Him, or compel us to live honestly, fairly and peacefully with each other.

We are all in the process of developing and growing. Things outside of us are not really good or evil in themselves. We have come to know the difference between good and evil within us, and it is up to us to choose the blessings of life or its curses. God allows us to fail at times. He even allows us to fight against the very laws of His creation. But He will never take away our freedom of choice, or take away from us the responsibility of choice.There are things that are contrary to the will of God. He tolerates them because it would be to damaging to human freedom to eliminate them. To make it impossible for evil and suffering to exist would at the same time make love and joy impossible.

It is hard to explain how God can permit disasters that cause so much suffering and death. To unravel even one disaster would be far too complicated. To make any kind of judgement on the long-term effects of a single tradgy we would have to know how it affected every individual involved, not only at the time it happened, but as one of the events in the whole course of that person's life.

Rather than try to sort out the effects on a vast network of people, we can look at the experiences of our own life and see how they affected us. We have all been touched by tragedy and suffering. Rather than ask why Godd permits great disasters, such as floods or earthquakes, perhaps we should look at events in our own lives. Do we find anything that was so evil that it ought not to have happened at all? Is there something in our past that was so totally negative that we can say that the Lord ought not have permitted it? If God could protect us from harm only by taking away our freedom, or the freedom of other people, wouldn't the cost of protection be too high?

Here we come to an important principle. There are many things that the Lord permits even though they are against His will. He permits them because preventing them would be harmful to more important goals. When He does permit disorder, He does so only where He foresees that some good can come out of it. People often find compensations in the midst of tragedy. Events are never so tragic that God cannot bring a blessing, somewhere, somehow out of the ashes.

When people think of tragedy, they are often thinking about death. They think of the loss of human life in earthquakes, famines, war, disease and murder. The timing of death can be very tragic, and can hurt people deeply. Some people suffer terribly as they are dying. But death itself is a natural and unavoidable event. What is death like for the person who has died? There are accounts of people who have come very close to death, and who resented the fact that they were brought back to life! They report feelings of heavenly peace and contentment that made them reluctant to return to this world. This is after only a small foretaste of heaven. Would any angel, no matter how short his life on earth, or how painful his death, say that dying was a mistake? Would he want to return to this " vale of tears"? Death, for all the bitterness of separation that is involved, is not a curse. It is an important step on the journey to eternal life.

Instead of asking why God permits the evils that happen to us, we could ask why He allows us to bring evil on ourselves. Rather than ask why God permits wars, famines, crime, corruption or pollution, perhaps we ought to wonder why He allows us to do things that are harmful to ourselves and to others. Take pollution as an example. Some of the major pollutants people cope with are the ones they themselves introduce into their own body. Why does God allow us to pollute ourselves, hurt our own marriages, betray our own beliefs, or bring pain to those we love? At times we are brought to the painful recognition of our own intolerance, cruelty or deceit. The evils we worry about in the world as a whole are very familiar in the world of our own hearts. Instead of asking why God allows these evils to exist out there, we must ask why He allows them to exist in here-- in our hearts. Instead of asking why God permits evil in the world, we should ask ourselves why we permit it in that part of the world which is under our control.

At first we might think that it would be a blessing if the Lord were to intervene and remove all of our faults and evils with a single stroke. What would that do to us? Can you imagine what your life would be like if all of your imperfections and weaknesses were removed? Could you preserve your identity if your character were so dramatically changed? We do change, of course, but we do so gradually, so that throughout our growth we retain a sense of who we are.

The Lord loves us and wants us to exist, in spite of our limitations. He gently leads us to choose for ourselves the good and right way. He helps us to see our faults, and gives us the courage to deal with them. We know, from experience, that this is a slow process, and we have god reason to be grateful for the Lord's infinite patience. He wants to lead us to a better and happier life. At times this means allowing us to make mistakes so that we can see for ourselves the great difference between good and evil, between heaven and hell within us.

This leaves us with a heavy responsibility. We are free to look to marriage as a beautiful ideal, and work for it. We are also free to meditate adultery, and even to commit adultery. This is not because God wills that it should happen, but because He teaches what is right, and leaves us free to choose for ourselves the kind of life we want to have. Some people are in positions of great power, and when they are corrupt or evil, they can bring damage to others on a large scale. Evil is always hurtful and destructive. This applies to any evil, and we cannot expect it to be permitted in the lives of individuals without finding it in groups or nations.

At times we are brought very low by becoming aware of evil. In the midst of tragedy we may think that evil will eventually destroy us all. And yet, marvelously, the recognition of evil serves very powerfully to restrain it and bring balance back again. in our rash moments we would like the Lord to act more swiftly in preventing evil or blocking it an early stage. We might even think that the world would be a better place if He would destroy all the wicked. But thenwe stop and wonder who that would include. "If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" (Psalm 130:2).

The goal of creation is far too important to be destroyed by impatient wrath. There is no anger in God. He lovingly provides a heaven after death for those who learn to love Him and to care for each other. He sees what we are, and knows what we can become. He leads us with the greatest tenderness and wisdom to the point where we can see heaven for ourselves, and learn to put away the things that block us from heaven. The only serious barriers to heaven lie within us, and He gives us the power to become aware of them and overcome them. If the Lord did not permit evil to exist and flare up at times, it would be impossible for anyone to deal with evil.

In the course of life we find much that is beautiful and inspiring. There are also things that are painful and hard to understand. Sometimes the very grimness of events can lead us to reflect on the things that need to be accomplished in our own growth. We all bear scars, some from self-inflicted wounds, others from forces outside of us. We may suffer because of the faults of our parents, our parents, our leaders or the leaders of other nations. We all have reasons to complain about injustices in the world. Even if all of these complaints could be answered, we would still be faced with the question: "What am I going to make of life?" "How am I going to cope with my own weaknesses?" "How can I live with the fact that I have hurt other people?" It is reassuring to know that all people are under the care of God, and that the only permanent harm we can do is to ourselves. We might wish that the Lord would not permit evil in this troubled world, or in our troubled hearts. The truth is that He permits it so that in the long run we may have life, and we may grow to receive it more fully and joyfully.