Question I received today:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

Good question. Many people have the same objection and it is very understandable. In fact, one of my favorite teachers, the late Ronald Nash, used to say that if anyone rejects God for anything other than the problem of evil, his rejection is without excuse. However, what the objection above fails to recognize is the other option, “God is able to stop evil but not willing because the evil brings about a greater good of some sort.”

This is very common and finds many parallels in real life, from discipline of children to weight training. If God is the ultimate author of life and in control of all things, you would suspect that evil is allowed for a greater good. In fact, biblical Christianity would affirm that trials, pains, and tragic situations are working together for good for those that love God (Rom. 8:28). Look only to the situation of Joseph and the evil in his life. Sold into slavery, jail from being wrongly accused, hated by his brothers, etc. His perspective is that which we are taught to live by as Christians: [Joseph to his brothers who hated him sold him into slavery] “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Gen 50:20)

One thing that we cannot expect is to know why particular evils happen. Sometimes we will, but most of the time we won’t. We, as Christians, trust the Lord, leaving all things in his hands, truly believing he knows what he is doing even in the most difficult and, often, seemingly meaningless tragedies. One of our greatest temptations is to look at situations and evils and interpret them as evidence of God’s absence. Once we do this, we have conceded to the very antinomy of our faith—disbelief.

As I deal with the death of my sister and the disturbing debilitation of my mother, I am tempted to see meaninglessness. I am tempted to say “God cannot be involved.” I am tempted to place God on the stand and say “Until you give an account for this, I will no longer believe in or trust you.” But our faith does not entertain such tribunals. We are not simply those who believe in what Christ did: because of what he did, we trust in him for all things, even when we do not understand them.

Finally, we ground this belief in reality, not blind hope. We understand that if God created the world, acted in history, became incarnate, died on a cross and rose from the grave, then he is true to his word. This is why theology and the solidification of our beliefs is of vital importance. He is in control and he has a reason—a good and righteous reason—for the allowance of evil. We, like Job (who never understood why all the evil befell him) stand with our hands to our mouths (i.e., not accusing God) and trust the One who is more tender, just, and loving than we could ever imagine. We are convinced that the present evils are nothing to be compared to the glory that follows (Rom. 8:18).

I remind myself of this each day when I have to deal with my mother and her pain, the hardest situation that I have ever had to deal with.

I hope this understanding helps you, too.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    19 replies to "If Evil, Why God?"

    • Deb

      If we only want a god which allows good and disallows evil what we really want is Santa Claus. Our God is bigger than us and sees us through the evil and suffering we endure to the greater good which is unforeseen by us.

    • Zach

      Tremendous and encouraging. Thank you and God bless you all. You are in my prayers.

    • bethyada

      I agree with much of what you have written here in general terms, but I don’t think it is the solution to the argument.

      Yes God can, and does, bring great good from evil, and greater good than had evil not happened at times; but this is due to the goodness and sovereignty of God.

      So in this way one can say that evil exists and thus God uses it for his purposes. But God doesn’t like evil and desires that men not do evil. God would have preferred Adam not sin.

      I think the solution is that evil exists and God will stop it. The error lies in the simplistic approach in the argument. Do they mean is God willing to prevent the arrival of evil? do they mean that God is willing to prevent every evil act? And the claim of non-omnipotence only applies to logically possible scenarios as well as morally licit options.

      Can God prevent the possibility of evil if he creates free agents? Some, including myself, suggest that moral freedom allows the possibility of evil thus to prevent evil God must also remove freedom; ie. this is a logical issue and God has chosen freedom to allow the possibility of love.

      Further, God intends to end evil, but in doing so the world as we know it will end. So God may be willing to stop evil but also willing to save men, thus he gives us a long time even though he hates the evil to allow us to come to him. Thus his will for the end of evil is tempered by his love of men and action in one area forces a consequence in another area.

      There is not just evil and ability, there is love and patience and freedom and …. And they all interact. And one cannot ask God to make 5 = 7 nor ask him to be unfaithful.

    • Geoff

      I think both Bethyada and Michael had really good nuggets of truth. Both from finite minds trying to understand an infinite God on the issue of why sin is allowed will never be able to fully answer the question of why evil exists in the first place. If God already knows what we are going to do before we do it then why would God allow someone to be created in the first place if He already knows that the end result of their life is going to be death and separation from Him before they have even lived out their life. Why is it called free will and free choices when I was never given the choice of whether I wanted to exist in the first place. I am only given two choices in my life to believe and love Him or to reject and live eternally separated from Him in a pit of fire. From my finite understanding I cannot reason why. I can only pray for the peace that surpasses understanding and have faith that one day some of these unanswerable questions from a fallen nature and understanding will be fully understood when He allows us to see clearly in our new bodies.

    • Michael

      I wonder if one follows your line of thinking to its natural conclusion they would have to admit that nothing we see as “evil” is really, truly evil. Ultimately all the wars, suffering, sin, and death which have plagued man since the fall must be admitted to be good since without them the world, according to you, would be worse off. There ultimately is no such thing as evil.

      I also wonder how one reconciles this view with Calvinism since one would have to hold that God predestining billions to hell to suffer for eternity must ultimately bring about some greater, loving, good. Now I have heard the response to this that it is all for God’s glory, but if this is true I must then conclude that God is a sadist. He sends billions of sentient beings to suffer eternal, conscious torment because he is glorified by the act, or gets off on it, or whatever.

      In the end game I find the Armenian arguments on the issue much more convincing and apparently some Calvinists do too. Mark Driscoll gave an Armenian argument when asked about the problem of evil on Nightline.

    • C Michael Patton

      Michael, there is no necessary difference between the way a Calvinist or Arminian would argue about the problem of evil. There is, however, a difference in the way on “open” libertarian and a fatalist would argue, but each of these represent extreme or straw men representations of each. This is probably what you have in mind and I would caution about such caricatures.

      The view I presented above does not say that evil is good, but that in a world where God has allowed evil to exist, he uses it. It does not add goodness to evil but does add purpose. Purpose does not validate as righteous the conditions which gave rise to it.

      Again, I would deal with the illustrations of Job and Joseph and Paul in Rom 8:28. Their clarity is why so many Calvinists and Arminians, generally speaking, can agree about the “why” of evil.

      Hope that makes sense.

    • chuck aka XtnYoda

      What few understand is that the glorified state of humanity will be a reality that God could not simply have created. The glorified human… God had to die for that to happen.

    • Michael

      The argument given by Mark Driscoll on Nightline and the one I agree with is the free will defense.

    • Dave Z

      CMP, my heart goes out to you regarding the challenges you’re facing with your mother. My prayers are with you. I have been encouraged in the past by something my wife brought to my attention at a time when I was struggling with God’s purpose and my role in it:
      Heb 6:10 “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them”

      I know you’re facing other challenges too, especially in the ministry. I know you know this, but I’ll say it anyway (even though it sounds trite), but these are the times we grow the most, and you’ll look back at some point and see God’s hand in the situation better than you do now. Until then, just hang on to the Rock Of Ages.

      “Sin is behovely, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

    • Sheri

      I asked my Pastor one time, “Why does it seem, when my husband and I are so faithful to all God asks us, we are always attacked on every side. And those who are not faithful, seem to have so much? They don’t struggle financially, they never have problems with their cars, they seem to struggle with nothing. It’s like Satan stays away from them.”

      He told me, “Sheri, if there comes a time that you aren’t being attacked by the evil one, then you are doing something wrong. He’s only going to attack those who pose a threat to him. But remember, God will always be there to turn those bad situations around, you will be blessed through them and He will be glorified through your suffering.”

      Never before had I heard more true words. I never questioned God on this again. I started seeing evidence of Him being glorified. Our friends and family would ask us how we could stay so faithful when we went through so much, and that would open up opportunities to witness and pray. The evidence was that ALL of our needs were met every month, and still are. That’s what God promises us, and that’s what we show.

      What an honor to be used by God in such a marvelous way.

    • Kirby L. Wallace

      Oops. Wrong post I replied to. Apply it here, please. Thanks! 😉

      Again, it’s called Epicurus’ Riddle, and it’s been around for quite some time.

    • Kirby L. Wallace

      The answer is that He is willing AND able, AND ALSO HAS done something about evil.

      Simply because man doesn’t like the answer that God has given doesn’t mean He hasn’t answered it.

      Real email address is kirby _at_ wallaceinfo _dot_see_oh_em.

    • Samuel

      Christopher Wright does a good jod tackling the problem of evil issue in his book, “The God i don’t understand”. I’m reading it now.

    • rayner markley

      I see an interplay between good and evil. Somewhat like the game of reversi, in which pieces are colored white on one side and black on the other and they are flipped repeatedly throughout the game. So God used Joseph’s misfortune to bring about good, but that move later turned into evil when his descendants were enslaved, and that led to demonstrations of God’s might, and so on. So, evil into good and good into evil. I guess it all ends when Jesus’s work trumps all other events. But even in the age of glory, Satan and evil still exist if there is eternal damnation. Evil is defeated but not destroyed, as the colored sides of the counters still exist right under the victorious sides.

    • Jason C

      The position I hold is the classical free moral will, and God’s justice, position.

      That is, there are two forms of evil in the world, moral evil and natural (or perhaps unnatural) evil.

      The classical Christian view is that God created everything good, but gave the first Man the power to choose contrary to God’s will. The tool for that choice was the tree dubbed “the knowledge of good and evil”. The Man made a moral decision to take of the fruit, and God placed him under sentence of death, “dying you shall die”.

      As his descendants we share the same ability to make free moral choices and inflict the consequences of our moral choices on others. That is the root of moral evil in the world.

      However Man was created in God’s image, that is representing God’s authority on the Earth. The judgement on him also had to be applied to his dominion and the Earth began the process of tearing itself apart.

      Now the Earth produces fire and flood, earthquake and famine. Although it can be bad, the moral evil humans are capable of can make immeasurably worse.

      Famine, compounded by government corruption… flood, compounded by administrative incompetence… fire, compounded by the actions of arsonists… A lot of (un)natural evils are exacerbated by human actions.

    • rayner markley

      As I see it, natural processes of the earth aren’t evil or good. They’re just natural processes of the earth because God created the earth with the element of change, which requires both destruction and construction.

    • Jason C

      That’s true enough, but I would say they become “evil” when they affect human beings adversely. You could point out that human beings don’t have to be in those areas and that would draw the matter back to human culpability for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    • #John1453

      If we experience evil because of adverse natural consequences (e.g., flood), is the evil the flood’s or is it ours? If God uses natural consequences to give judgment upon people (flood, fire on Sodom, plagues in Egypt) those natural events cannot be said to be evil. Natural events must therefore be morally neutral and only evil depending on the experiential context of the people involved, or on the nature of the person causing the event. So, for example, the devil sending a flood would be evil. Or we would be acting wrongfully if we build in a flood plain–we would not have been proper stewards and gardeners to build there.


    • Fletcher Dunn

      I’ve just recently discovered your blog. I really like what you have to say.

      I really appreciate the way you have answered the challenge of “If there is suffering, there cannot be a good, powerful God” WITHOUT answering the “why is there suffering?” question. God has chosen not to fully explain himself, and he was given the perfect opportunity to do so at the end of Job, and his response was just “I’m God.” Which is a response, but not an “answer.”

      Attempts to say that hurricanes are the result of some sort of evil, or that painful diseases are because of the devil…. They are simply not adequate, they do not explain why God ALLOWS these things to occur. Now I’m not expecting immortality, paradise, or amnesty for man’s mistakes (personally or collectively), but I still struggle with understanding just exactly what purpose of God’s is served by natural disasters or painful prologued illnesses. It’s very much like what you said about the 14 bad apologetics (which I really enjoyed) these sorts of “pseudo-answers” are very much “false answers.” To offer them as answers to somebody really looking for answers, out of a fear that having no answer means that there is no God — that does more harm than good. Maybe it’s comforting to some people to apply all the adjectives starting with “omni” to God and neatly tie up these questions, but I think for many people to see a Christian who is satisfied with these explanations — it really makes them wonder about how deep that person has thought about things.

      At least God did make sure and let us know that his son did not escape this suffering. Maybe by this, God was saying, “Look, if my son has to suffer, then this really is necessary — even if you cannot understand the reasons.” I know that’s certainly not an answer to “why is there suffering?”, but it is a sort of confirmation that suffering is somehow necessary, and a message that he does care, even though he allows the suffering.

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