Our college ministry will occasionally host open Q&As on campus and this question is always asked, usually more than once. It’s easy to understand why. There are a lot of horrible things in the world. If God is all powerful and all loving, why doesn’t he stop it? This is a good question.*
What are the options? It is impossible to critique or defend the Christian view of evil without laying out the options. The problem of evil exists for two reasons- existence (Is there evil?) and purpose (Why is there evil?). With these two categories in mind, here are three options:
Option 1: Evil does not exist and has no purpose.
Option 2: Evil does exist and has no purpose.
Option 3: Evil does exist and has a purpose.**
Option 1 is the necessary option for anyone that doesn’t believe in evil or has bought into a line of thinking that eliminates the category of evil. A common line of reasoning that leads to this is naturalism, the belief that all is nature. If all is nature you have to believe that evil doesn’t exist. Why? Because you need knowledge outside of nature to condemn nature. You can’t prove morality in a chem lab. When students object to this I’ll often ask them, “Which element of the periodic table is evil?” They often look at me crosseyed and say, “None of them.” The non-evil, elements are the building blocks for all things on earth and if all is nature then, logically, all things are not evil. You have to have a standard outside of nature to declare something as evil in this world.
Option 2 is seen in any worldview that doesn’t have a redemptive story line. This is true for some Eastern religions that view history as an endless cycle. This is true of spiritualities that acknowledge a spiritual realm (unlike the naturalist) but do not acknowledge a God who is sovereign over all things. Option 2 makes evil a weight that no-one can bear. It has no end or resolve, because evil doesn’t fit into anyone’s plan. This makes evil a lone criminal, not like the renegade in a western film that will always come to their demise, but more like the serial killer in a horror film that in the end might win.
Option 3 is the Christian view. Evil exists and has a purpose. The existence of evil is clear in the Bible. It is also clear that evil is used for a purpose. Take Genesis 50:20 that shows that what Jospeh’s brothers intended for evil God intended for good. God had a purpose for their evil. Although we can’t know the specific purpose for all evil (e.g. Job gets no explanation), we can see glimpses of purpose in our life and history. Timothy Keller writes in his book The Reason for God: “With time and perspective most of us can see good reasons for at least some of the tragedy….Why couldn’t it be possible that, from God’s vantage point, there are good reasons for all of them?” (Keller, 25). The Christian can turn on CNN and correctly label things as evil, while at the same time knowing that the evil is a part of a grander storyline. Christians aren’t afraid to fight the dragons of this world because we know in the end it will be slain, and oh, what a story that will be.
Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
*There is a lot more that can be said on this topic. This is a mere blog post and is meant to be more of a primer than a tome.
**There is a fourth option where someone could believe that there is evil and it does have a purpose but the purpose is evil. This person could believe in some evil being that has evil intentions for the world. I did not include this because I am not aware of any worldview or religion that promotes this. Let me know if you know of one.