The saying “God is in control” quoted after a tragedy caused by human sin, has become so common that I don’t think most people ever question it. The absolute control of God seems intrinsically tied to His being God. But this supposed axiom does bring God’s goodness, into question. The problem of evil lies in direct opposition to the very nature of God and gives atheists room to challenge us on God’s character. Looking at it logically, here is what the unbeliever’s argument for the problem of evil looks like.
(A priori assumption: Christianity claims God is perfectly good and absolutely powerful.)
1. If God is perfectly good, then He is always willing to prevent evil
and If God is infinitely powerful, then he is always able to prevent evil.
2. But God is either unwilling or unable to prevent evil (because evil does exist).
Therefore God is either not infinitely powerful or He isn’t perfect.
The conclusion drawn by the unbeliever is, the God of Christianity doesn’t exist! This is a valid argument, logically. There is nothing wrong with the form. For a logically valid argument (Constructive Dilemma) to be in error, there must be a false premise somewhere.
Whatever our opinions are, they should come second to what God says about Himself. Some things to consider:
Is God honest about His will, or has He been deceptive – saying the opposite of what He means to those who seek to follow Him? Does God have absolute control at all times, or has He delegated to men and to angels, power that is genuine? Does His Word state that the wicked deeds of men are His intentional and good plan, or that He despises their deeds and would never command such a thing?
I will address the Constructive Dilemma first.
“If God is perfectly good”… This claim is substantiated in Scripture.
1 John 1:5 “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him, there is no darkness at all.”
Hebrews 6:18 “God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.”
Proverbs 15:9 “The LORD detests the way of the wicked, but he loves those who pursue righteousness.”
James 1:13 “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one.”
“then He would always be willing to prevent evil.” This part is more tricky and it’s where the atheists gain the most ground. Does goodness of God necessarily mean He must intervene whenever His creation is about to go off course? Does God indicate that His will manipulates the will of mankind in every case – or does His word indicate man is given authority and responsibility for his own actions? Is volition a greater good, so that mankind can grow and learn – just as children do in a household – from their own mistakes?
The assumption that God must morally intervene is based on a view that interference is the highest good. We know God is able to influence or turn man’s heart or intervene – but does He always do so?
Deut. 30:19 “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
Gal. 6:7 “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”
Hosea 10:12 “Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.”
(If we refuse the offered mercy of God – He lets us alone, to our undoing.)
Romans 1:18-24 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…”
In a few cases, the evil that men do falls into God’s bigger plan, though He never needed to compel them to sin. Corrupt men are in plentiful supply, and have been used by God to discipline other nations or maneuver His people into place. It cannot be said that God tempted them to do evil, but that He knowingly let them go in the direction their hearts would take them, and brought good out of it.
The next conditional begins with:
If God is infinitely powerful …
God is awesomely powerful. I will attempt to show through Scripture that though there was a time, in the beginning, when God retained all power and authority for Himself and there will be a time again when all powers and authorities will be given back, He has actually delegated powers and authorities. This delegated power is real, and not in name only.There is some power God does not retain for Himself at present. He has done this, by His sovereign choice. Those who retain this delegated power may abuse it. These powers are not absolute, but limited, by God. Whether they have done wisely or not, they will all have to give an account for what they have done with their power and authority.
Daniel 12:1-3 “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”
Eph. 3:10 “God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
1Cor. 6:3-4 “Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church?”
Heb. 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
The Government (Rule of Law)
Romans 13:1-7 “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Parents and Masters/employers.
Ephesians 6:1-8 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Servants, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do…”
Husbands and Wives (authority structure with mutual respect)
Ephesians 5:22-33 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
*An argument could be made that Adam’s authority to have dominion over the earth was handed over to Satan, by him. Satan is called the “god of this world” in Scripture, and Jesus didn’t deny that Satan’s offer of the kingdoms of the earth was legitimate … but that is not within the scope of this argument, so we’ll give the devil his due, another day.
All delegated authorities will give an account someday to God. He is King of kings and Lord of lords.
The last part of the second conditional is that God is able to prevent evil.
Argument: IF God has really delegated power and authority, then to prevent every evil deed would be mean He had not really delegated this power.
Question: So can man limit God by His disbelief and disobedience?
Ezekiel 18:23 “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”
Matt. 23:37 (Jesus speaking) Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets, and stone those who are sent to you! How often I would have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
Isaiah 65:2-3 “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts. A people who continually provoke Me to My face…”
As to the second part of the constructive dilemma:
“But God is either unwilling or unable to prevent evil (because evil does exist).
Therefore God is either not infinitely powerful or He isn’t perfectly good.”
By the previous verses (and there are others I could bring if needed), I have given evidence that God is not always willing to interfere, even when what is done is against His expressed will. Evil DOES exist because God condemns certain behaviors as evil.
He is not willing to remove the blessing of freedom from His creation, just to have His way at all times. He loved us enough and honored us enough to allow us choice. The choice is real and throughout Scripture, God tells us to choose wisely. We will have to answer to Him for our stewardship of this gift, but it is a gift, nonetheless.
But at this point, I must bring a clarification. Some will say that God made everything, so He must have made evil, too. They may quote the book of Job which says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”
So, isn’t this a contradiction to my proof?
No, it isn’t.
Evil (meaning wickedness) never comes from God. In Him there is no darkness, no sin, no shadow of turning from His holy nature. But, evil (in the King James version), may also be translated – catastrophe or disaster. Not all disasters are “an act of God,” specifically. Some are just a result of a fallen world and will be so until Jesus returns and reboots nature. But when God brings a disaster in judgment, it is because of His holiness. It is right and just for Him to condemn those who are evil and unrepentant and to bless those who are good, forgiving the sins of those who turn from them (Ezekiel 18).
Scripture indicates that evil appeared when free will creatures made a decision to turn from God. Ezekiel 28:11-17, is a parable about the King of Tyre compares him to Satan. In this passage, we can see how the devil became an evil being.
“‘You were the seal of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden,
the garden of God;
every precious stone adorned you:
carnelian, chrysolite and emerald,
topaz, onyx and jasper,
lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold;
on the day you were created they were prepared.
14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
15 You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.
16 Through your widespread trade
you were filled with violence,
and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.
17 Your heart became proud
on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
I made a spectacle of you before kings.
So we can see that the devil was perfect in all his ways until the day sin was found in him.
According to Genesis 1, when God had completed all His creation, He called it very good. Evil, then, had to come about after this point.
It is likely that Satan fell from his high position at the time he tempted Adam and Eve. The curses God made on those who had sinned in Genesis 3, include a curse for the “snake” that had tempted Eve.
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Gen. 3:15 This is a prophecy indicating that Satan would give a lot of trouble to mankind and in the end, Jesus would destroy the power of the devil, though he would be wounded in doing so.
So is God good? Yes, absolutely. Is God infinitely powerful? Not at present – because He has delegated some power. He is not willing to prevent the consequences of our actions, because we do learn from them, and consequences are important for justice, as well. Evil exists, and it is not God’s doing that it does. Not everything we consider evil, is really evil – since we cannot see as God does. Wickedness is evident, but disaster and suffering may have a purpose. After all, look at the suffering of Jesus Christ. That is the ultimate picture of the evil men do, and the suffering of an innocent, bringing about the greatest good. In these things, we can trust God – who knows a lot more about it than we do. We can be sure that He is constant in His nature. He is good. He is loving, but He is just and will not be mocked. Therefore, it is appropriate to honor and love and yes, even fear Him – but this is our choice. God will not force love. In fact, love cannot be forced.
As all other questions are answered, I’ll address the final two.
1. Does His Word state that the wicked deeds of men are His intentional and good plan, or that He despises and would never command such a thing? The Scripture is FULL of admonition to repent of evil and do good, and declares continually God’s anger at wickedness.
Jeremiah 32:35 “They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.”
While this section could go on for practically the length of the Bible, I’ll just add The Ten Commandments as an example. He has given a standard of morality that shows His own holiness.
2. Doesn’t He say, instead, that He is able to USE whatever happens, to His glory?
In Romans 8:28, the Apostle Paul says, “All things work together for the glory of God.”
When He rewards righteousness, God is glorified.
When people repent and God forgives them, His mercy is shown, and He is revered.
When people will not repent and cause great harm, and God brings justice, He is glorified as just.
The “problem of evil” in the world, is not really a problem after all.
And because “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” He does not always get His way.
And yet, His will IS that we choose. Free will is the greater good, with a risk, because love must be free. His ultimate redemptive will is accomplished. And for those of us who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28) all things work together for our good. Even the bad things. He who began a good work in us is faithful, and He will complete it. God is good, all the time!