Photo By Davide Cantelli
One of the seemingly greatest contradictions that exists in our world, especially for that of a theist, is how can so much suffering and evil exist if there is a God? God and evil are opposed to one another are they not? Therefore if God exists, even more so, if the God of the Bible exists, why is there evil and suffering? I know many people, including myself at one point, who cannot bridge this gap. Suffering is something all of us face at one point, likely many points, throughout our lives to varying degrees. Some people are born in excruciating agony right from birth, and others suffer from horrific diseases and illnesses for many decades sometimes their entire lives. How are we as human beings to make sense of all of this? Now that I have surrendered my life to Jesus Christ, how does my Christian faith and trust in Him make sense of all of this?
At the time of this writing terrorism is the word I hear most frequently these days. It seems like every month sometimes every week an ‘act of terror’ is carried out against innocent people. This has occurred so much so, that it almost feels commonplace, which is honestly one of the most terrifying aspects of it. Is this the way things are going to be now going forward? Are we just supposed to accept the world as it is and “deal with it?”
Currently I am 31 years old and never before can I remember a time when our world has been so hostile and volatile. It is as if the world is a kettle of boiling water and the temperature keeps increasing more and more, further agitating the water molecules until that horrendous scream is released letting you know it is done. What happens then?
In my own life, as you have been reading up until this point, I have suffered. I have suffered a great deal in some cases, in others to lesser degrees. Am I to look back on my life and complain that life is not fair? Have I somehow been dealt a poor hand? Why hasn’t my life turned out the way I expected it or wanted it to? I hear questions like this asked often, I myself ask them regularly, but where do I go to find the answers? I find it incredibly important to search ones soul regularly to find out what is really going on in there, because a soul ignored often leads to further suffering, or as Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
So I was faced with all of these questions now as a new believer in Jesus Christ. My conversion was extraordinary to say the least and so my belief came about very fast. It literally took place in less than 24 hours. I was an atheist one day, the next I am a Christian! It took sometime for me to wrestle with all that was going on inside of me to make sense of it all. One thing I noticed however was that as an atheist I had many questions, but the answers never came. As time went on, I simply had more questions piled on top of other questions left unanswered. Things were getting worse and worse as time went on, not better. When you are suffering and struggling to get relief and relief doesn’t come, how long can one hold on? Now as a Christian however, I had many many questions still, but I now knew Someone whom I believed could provide the answers.
The interesting thing about my own personal conversion was that now as a Christian I began looking for evidence for God’s existence. It seems counterintuitive, and it maybe so, but as an atheist I didn’t look for existence of God because I was convinced there was none. Why would I go looking for something I thought couldn’t be found. That seemed like a waste of time and sheer lunacy. Now as a Christian however, I knew God was real because He so powerfully came into my life leaving no room for doubt anymore. Convinced now that God exists and that He is not far away in the universe but rather a person named Jesus Christ, I began looking for evidence that supported His existence. Why hadn’t I seen any of it before? It was as if God was a big secret and all the evidence for His existence was being withheld from me.
I now had to come to grips with the existence of God, while living in a world rampant with evil; increasing more so year after year it seemed. I know God is real and He loves me, because He clearly demonstrated that as you have just read. I wasn’t looking for Him, in fact I was an enemy of His. Yet he went out of His way to let me know He loves me. How can God love me? Why does God love me?
I recognize that making sense of evil and suffering in this world has been a dilemma for human beings since the very beginning. In the biblical narrative evil entered into our world shortly after we did. Why? Is God somehow responsible for this? Could he not rid the world of all evil if He is so loving and merciful? We are told that one of God’s attributes is sovereignty, so why does He therefore allow evil?
When it comes to the mystery of evil, it is important for one to define what exactly evil is. It seems rather prudent to anyways. The way I see it, evil is the counterpart to good. Evil cannot exist without it. In fact, evil is in and of itself not anything, rather it is the absence of good. Similarly to how darkness is not anything itself. Rather, darkness is the absence of light. So as human beings we recognize and call something evil because we are aware of things that are good; the opposite of evil. This is a crucial distinction. We are aware of evil because we are aware of good. Without good you do not have evil. Evil cannot exist by itself, good is intrinsic to the explanation and existence for it.
I found this quite intriguing and compelling and wondered why this was so. I must admit it gave me comfort knowing that evil exists because good or the notion of goodness exists. I realized that yes there is a lot of evil and suffering in this world, but that is because I have also seen so much goodness and love in this world. I also find it fascinating that evil is something that stands out far more than good. When we see good its moment is fleeting. However, when we witness evil that tends to stick around much longer inside of us. I believe this is how most people are affected, because deep down we intuitively know that we are not meant to cause evil or be the victims of it. Why is this so? As an atheist I had no explanation for why I felt this way deep down. Certainly evolution or naturalism had no explanation for feeling this way. Could this all be some form of evolution to somehow protect or strengthen the human species? Even as an atheist I couldn’t accept that. There is something deeper going on.
If we recall the early chapters of Genesis when God creates Adam and Eve, we see that God has created an absolutely perfect environment for them. God’s very nature is perfect therefore everything He creates is an extension of that perfection. I do not believe it is possible for God to make a mistake, it would contradict who He is. So God makes man and woman and places them in perfection. They literally have everything they could possibly need. There is no concept of money, debt, illness, disease, brokenness, hatred, racism, none of these things whatsoever! It is almost impossible to imagine because we are all born into these very things the moment we take our first breath, even before then, when we are just a tiny collection of a couple cells.
In Genesis 2:15-17 we read, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (NKJV)
I find this utterly fascinating and amazing. God only has only one thing that man is to not do. Everything else is made available to him. Imagine living in a world with just one law! Adam and Eve are deceived by the serpent and end up breaking God’s command and therefore evil has entered into the world. So from the very inception of evil we can see that evil is disobeying God. If Adam and Eve had obeyed God there would be no evil, since they did, evil is now a reality.
“Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5)
I have heard this story so many times, and maybe you have to, but I never took the time to really pay attention to each individual word. If you read the text very carefully in comparison to the quotation earlier from Genesis 2:15-17, you will find some startling distinctions. The serpent in the story is Satan, the ‘father of lies’ (John 8:44) and he always perverts and distorts the truth from God. We see this tactic played our very cunningly in how he speaks to Eve, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” Evil’s most powerful tactic is to question things we believe to be true. Evil wants you to second guess your convictions, even at the slightest scent of hesitation, evil is right there waiting to pounce like a lion on its prey.
Satan then convinces Eve that she will not die, in fact she will be like God knowing the difference between good and evil. This statement is what I find so pertinent. Remember evil does not exist, it has not entered into the world, maybe this is the first time Eve has even heard the word. So satan gets Eve to fall into his trap by allowing her to question the trustworthiness of God. Satan has convinced Eve that God is holding something back from her. “Why wouldn’t God want me to know the difference between good and evil?” Again remember, she does not even know what evil is, but she wants to know now that she has heard of such a thing.
Also, Satan tells her she will be ‘like God’. Is this a bad thing? After all are not human beings made in His image? Is not the goal of Christianity to become Christ like? What is really going on in this moment in the garden is something much more subtle. On the surface these questions posed by satan seem legitimate which is why Eve is tempted by them. What she doesn’t realize is that she is being deceived. That is the worst part about deception, the victim of it has no idea. When that fruit was eaten of and sin first entered into the world, not only were human beings aware of such a thing as evil they were now the ones who would define it. By eating of the fruit, man now became the definer of good and evil, not God.
As I see it and understand these verses in light of the condition of our world today, this is why we see so much evil and suffering in the world. As human beings, we are now the ones defining what evil and good are. We no longer trust in God, the creator of our very souls and existence, rather we use reason to define and make up our own morality. In the west, particularly the United States we are living in a time with pervasive political correctness. It has become so extreme that we have even redefined tolerance, in fact we are redefining words all the time it seems. Things that have existed and been defined for thousands of years, all of a sudden no longer work or are irrelevant. What has happened to us that affords us the opportunity and arrogance to do such things? The same thing that happened in the garden with Adam and Eve, human beings consciously decided to be the ones to determine good from evil, right from wrong. The problem with this is that there is no longer a point of reference to make such decisions and distinctions. In removing God we have removed the moral framework in which our decisions were intended to be based within. With that now removed, we are free to decide whatever we want. Morality has become subjective, a matter of opinion, and that is utterly terrifying. Typically the people who define these things, are the last people you want to define them. It takes an extreme dose of arrogance to think you can define what good and evil are on behalf of others.
Now I understand that many people will strongly disagree with me. After all, most people are ‘good.’ So by in large, we should be able to make wise decisions and choices about what is wrong and what is right. However, if you take a look back into history you will find that ‘should’ frankly does not carry its own weight. Just look at the 20th century and all the blood that was shed. The 20th century saw more deaths in warfare than the previous 19 combined! Where exactly are we headed if we think we are capable of defining good and evil? In light of the last century, clearly we are headed in the wrong direction, potentially even towards our own extinction.
So then why does God allow this? Couldn’t God have stopped the serpent or even better, not created him at all? If God created the serpent, satan, is he therefore responsible for the evil that exists? Isn’t an all powerful God capable of creating a world without evil, temptation or sin? The answer I believe is yes, He can create a world without evil. He didn’t however. Why? Is this His fault? Can we hold God responsible for the suffering and evil that exists? These are legitimate questions, and even as a believer I have wrestled with them. In light of the world in which we currently live, it is hard not to.
I however hold firm to the belief that God is not responsible for evil and suffering, we are. You see, God warned us not to eat of the fruit and told us what the consequences would be upfront, yet we ignored Him. So why did God even allow that temptation to exist in the first place? Love.
Sounds preposterous I know, but hear me out. You see God gave us a choice to reject Him because of His immense love for us. If we could not choose to disobey God then our decision to love and obey Him would be disingenuous. Without the option to disobey our love would not be real. After all, love is a choice. As much as we like to think love is an emotion it is not. I willingly choose to love my wife each and every single day, and to be honest that is not always easy to do. If I based my ‘love’ for her on simply how I felt, well I don’t think we would last very long, and it is easy to see why there is rampant divorce in our world and culture these days. I choose to love her, only her and no one else.
The event in the garden is no different. Man could choose to obey and trust God, or do whatever man desired. The fact that there is a choice shows that God is truly a God of love. He loves us so much he affords us the opportunity to reject Him. He doesn’t force us, or beg, he simply allows us to choose. Take a moment to really let that sink in. Why would God make Himself vulnerable like that? Especially since He already knew we would make the wrong decision? I am convinced that God allows free will because without it, you cannot have love. It simply cannot exist. Love exists because it is a choice, not mandatory. There are options other than love and God in his immense love for us allows us to make those other choices. This is something I have wrestled with for so long and still to this very day do. Trying to wrap my head around love like that is seemingly impossible, because no human being is capable of extending it so purely as He does. Nevertheless, it is there, it is real, and the choice is ours.
As we look back on human history and all of its horrors, what would our future look like if instead we turned our hearts towards Him again. What if we began to trust the heart of God to define and tell us what is wrong and what is right? What if we no longer reasoned in our opinions, differentiating between good and evil? What if we actually listened to the moral law giver and obeyed the law as the law was originally intended? We can’t answer these questions, because never before in human history have we, as a species, actually done this. I believe the ‘utopia’ many of us seek and search for may lie in surrendering our desires over to Him. Just what might our world look like if we did this? Something to think about…