It is rather unfortunate that we have substituted the true concept of God with a very deplorable one. I don’t want to sound judgmental here but I will speak my mind just as it is. Many a time we answer wrongly to the question, ‘Who is God’ or ‘What is God like?’ I’m not trying to say we have Him all figured out or something of that sort. My point is our description of God even with the knowledge He’s made known to us is nowhere close to who He really is. We start with this error and simply get our basic understanding wrong. Can you guess the kind of damage we cause in the end? We corrupt everyone and everything else.
It therefore does not surprise me when people say God does not exist in a world full of evil and suffering. ‘Evil’ is not an easy term to define in the first place but I think I like how Dr. Ravi Zacharias puts it. He says that evil is the violation of one’s purpose. So that in our case, evil does exist because man once violated his true purpose which is to reflect God’s glory. It is by man’s rebellion against God that has caused such great consequences not only to the whole human race but to the natural world itself.
I may understand if we clench our fists towards heaven and say, ‘Why me, Lord?’. Pain is not an abstract entity; it is very real that is why it’s a question raised by real human beings in a real world. Once you become a victim, you move into the position of asking why it had to be you. But to deny God’s existence altogether because of a wrong misconception about Him that I would say is a very serious problem. Talking about misconception, I know many great writers have written extensively on this subject matter but I want to share my thoughts briefly on the epicurean paradox too.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent.
YES, He is willing. YES, He is more than able. Oh YES, He is Omnipotent and Omnibenevolent (All-good). I wish I could leave the answer just like that and move on to something else. Yeah I know. I couldn’t just say this without any reasonable backings so I will do so right now.
I want to start by saying that I don’t have a complete answer to the problem of evil. That’s the truth. I don’t. However, I believe there are some necessary things we need to know first before we can make any further progress on this topic.
Just as scripture describes God as an all-powerful Being, it also speaks a lot about His other attributes like His Eternal nature, Mercy, Justice, Love, Sovereignty, His incomparable Wisdom, etc. We can’t talk about God’s all-powerful nature without touching on some attributes like His Sovereignty, Omniscience or His Wisdom. They are inseparable so to speak. If we want to talk about His Omnipotence, we definitely have to discuss those attributes too.
God is sovereign in the sense that He is completely free to do whatever He wishes to do anywhere at any time. We can’t force or stop Him from doing what He wishes to do. This isn’t the kind of ‘freedom’ a bird has in the air. After all, a bird is bound by certain necessary conditions such as the availability of food, weather conditions and even its predators! (not an exhaustive list). For a moment, it looks as though the bird is so free but we realize how it is in constant check by some of these unavoidable factors. Compare that to the absolute freedom of God where nobody or even nature compels Him to do something. For instance during creation, He did not seek counsel on how, what, where or when to create all that has been created. By His own will, He decided everything from start to finish without any form of consultation from anywhere. We get to know instantly that God should possess some sort of unequaled power to be that sovereign. Yes, Bible declares this truth. He does possess all power to reign sovereignly.
Many instances recorded in scripture makes me understand that God in His own sovereign will and omnipotence has allowed evil to exist temporally for the good of His creation. Is this some sort of ignorance, experimentation or incapability? No! It is by His perfect Wisdom. I can feel somebody giving me that Are-You-Serious look because of what I just said a few seconds ago. That’s ok with me. I also do it from time to time because it somewhat…no, it doesn’t make sense at all to me. Unfortunately, this is the genesis of our problem—the confusion arising from the wide gap between our wisdom and God’s wisdom – Two illustrations to explain my point.
One of the commonest stories that centralizes on evil, pain and suffering is the account of Job. I want us to pay attention carefully over here. To cut the story short, Job wanted a very reasonable explanation to why he was suffering so much considering how upright and just he was. Right after he speaks with all his wisdom and knowledge, God replies, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words?’ I love how the Living Bible paraphrases it (Job 38:2), ‘Why are you using your ignorance to deny my providence?’ Over sixty questions, God asks Job to answer! How much did Job know about the rising and the setting of the sun? How about the rain? Did he know how to set its course so that it accomplished God’s purposes? Could he tilt the water jars of heaven when everything was dust and clods? I bet he couldn’t even ensure the proper sequence of the seasons, let alone guide the constellation with her satellites across the heavens. Don’t get this wrong. God wasn’t questioning Job’s sincerity nor was He insensitive towards Job’s pain; He was trying to point out Job’s inability (or inadequacy) to explain His ways in this world per his limited human knowledge. It’s just obvious that he didn’t fully grasp the manner in which God works yet he went in arguing to prove himself right. Are we far from Job’s reaction? I leave the response to you.
My second illustration: If a parent sends his child to the hospital for a vaccination exercise, how does the child come to the understanding that it was for his own good? Do you think the child will see any ‘good’ in that after experiencing such an excruciating pain from the injection? Probably that child might think his parents have no love for him. If they did, they wouldn’t have subjected him to that kind of pain (that’s what the child might be thinking). Does the child’s anger imply that what his parents did was wrong? Or does it mean that his parents hate him? On the contrary, his parents know (just as we know) that the vaccination is to boost their child’s immune system against some deadly disease. The child in his immature state will never know this truth. He will only get to know if he grows to that level of maturity necessary to understand the significance of vaccination. Until then, that ‘greater good’ forever remains a mystery to him.
Why then should we be surprised when some of God’s reasons are beyond what we can fully grasp? It’s not as though He kept this information from us. Well, let me refresh your memory a little bit. So speaking of God’s perfect wisdom, the prophet Isaiah exclaims(Isaiah 55:8-9):
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God’s perfect wisdom sees the end from the beginning. He has a wide range of focus that is why He’s able to plan a perfect means to achieve perfect ends. I use the word ‘perfect’ because He does not guess it out nor does He have to learn something along the way. He does not learn of a better plan later as time elapses nor could anyone have taught Him a more excellent way to go about something. He has that perfect knowledge sufficient enough to make Him all-knowing. He already knows the end from the beginning as I said. It is by His wisdom that we see things for what they truly are and how they properly relate to events. Not only that, we begin to realize the true relationship between what is happening around us to God’s purposed will for humanity. We begin to develop a deeper meaning into what God intends to communicate to us in the midst of our pain and suffering. I must say that no other person, thing, or view successfully interprets the reasons behind occurrences of the ‘now’ in such coherence and consistency in relation to truth about life apart from what God declares in His Word. For me, the existence of evil reminds me of the eternal consequence that befalls anyone who continues to violate his true purpose on Earth. It just tells me that an unimaginable kind of horror awaits anyone who willingly and continuously refuses to follow the way of the True Light which has come into the world to save us from the very problem we so desperately want to see dealt with.
If there is anything to take home from the Christian worldview concerning the problem of evil, it is that God in His perfect, infinite knowledge and wisdom is acting in perfection to carry out His eternal purpose for the benefit of mankind. Nothing took God by surprise. Nothing takes God by surprise. Nothing will take God by surprise in the near-future. And so If I were you, I will rather look up to Him with this prayer forever strapped to my humbled heart,
Lord, no matter how weak my understanding of Your good intentions may be, please don’t do whatever You’re doing WITHOUT Me. I still trust You as the only Solid Rock. Indeed, all other ground is sinking sand.
All too soon, I will be ending my series on PAIN FROM THE CRUCIFIED ONE by addressing the question, “If you say God is all-knowing and all-powerful, how did evil come about in the first place?”
It is my sincere prayer that the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will comfort anyone going through some form of pain in this life. Grace flows from His veins. It heals. It refreshes.