One of the most commonly asked questions relating to the nature of God is this: If God is all good, and all powerful, why does evil exist in the world? The question raised is a common subject of debate among believers and unbelievers alike, however, it is especially prevalent among those who argue against the existence of God.
This may seem to some, a very serious dilemma at first glance. The idea that evil exists in a world which is under the sovereign control of a holy and righteous God who does nothing contrary to His nature. It is a matter which stretches the human mind to the absolute limits of comprehension. To seek knowledge and understanding pertaining to God, it is only logical that we would seek answers in the very written word which He has given to us. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). So, this query can only be truly understood when looked at through the lens of Scripture, the very word of God given to us. The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple (Psalm 19:7).
The response of a follower of Christ to the problem of evil is called theodicy. Theodicy is derived from two Greek words, Theos (θεός) – God, and dikē (δίκη) – judicial hearing. These words combined mean “judicial hearing for God” or the “justification of God.”¹ Theodicy is the defense of God against false charges brought by some due to the existence of evil in the world. The only way to properly disprove incorrect assumptions about God is through the use of His written word as the sole means of defense. Your word is truth (John 17:17). While we use Scripture to defend truth, ultimately Scripture defends itself. Our only responsibility and concern is to clearly and accurately present what is written in its pages. Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20).
The first thing to keep in mind when approaching this is the fact that we are created beings, fallible in our understanding, and possessing minds that are corrupted by sin. This is a direct result of the fall of Adam in the garden (Gen 3). The only hope we have of understanding anything about God, is through the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives giving us wisdom and understanding, allowing us to see the truth and revealing the things which were once hidden. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Contrary popular culture, man does not dictate what is good and evil or what is true and untrue. God alone decides truth according to the counsel of His own will. But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). Scripture never assumes that God must explain His actions but rather asserts that He has the right to be trusted.¹ For the word of the LORD is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness (Psalm 33:4). We can be assured that our trust in Christ is not in vain and that even though our understanding is limited, God rewards those who seek Him. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you (Psalm 9:10). You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock (Isaiah 26:3-4).
As we look to Scripture to gain a better understanding of sin and evil in the world, we find that God does not explain everything to us, only that sin is contrary to God’s nature and He condemns us for it. While we do not have the answer regarding the how evil itself came into existence, Scripture is clear that it originated in a created being. We are provided with the description of Satan’s failed coup against God, resulting in his expulsion from heaven along with one third of the angels. We also see the entrance of sin into the world at the fall of Adam in the garden. This plunged the human race into a cursed state, and separated mankind from God. While sin and evil are indeed realities in our world, they are in contradiction to the very nature of God and are not the result of His character.
Throughout Scripture there are several examples of man accusing God of evil or attempting to question Him regarding some human perception of wrong-doing. We never see God defend Himself, rather, He turns the charges around and accuses and condemns mankind: Adam’s attempt to blame God for giving him the woman (Gen. 3), Job, when he attempts to question God regarding his circumstances (Job 38-41), and Israel, when they attempted to accuse God of injustice (Ezekiel 18:25-30). These are just a few examples of the complete audacity of fallen man, taking it upon ourselves to call into question the very nature of God.
Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar (Romans 3:3-4). What shall we say then? Is there any injustice on God’s part? By no means! (Romans 9:14). God is not obligated to explain His actions to satisfy human intellect with respect to the problem of evil. God’s sovereignty must always be reaffirmed. God’s word is absolutely reliable, and Scripture is clear: God is holy, not unjust.¹
Scripture shows us that while God is not responsible for the existence of evil, as the sovereign God over all created things, He is in control of evil and uses it to further the purposes of His will, ultimately displaying His goodness to us through this.
Biblical Doctrine, produced by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, gives this helpful explanation regarding the existence of evil: The solution of the problem of evil must be theocentric, not anthropocentric. It must not have as its aim to make man happier or freer but to glorify God. The greater-good defense is valid only if the greater good is seen as that which glorifies God more fully than a lesser good. Scripture shows some ways in which God uses evil to further his purposes: to display divine grace and justice (Rom. 3:26; 5:8, 20-21; 9:17); to judge evil in the present and future (Matt. 23:35; John 5:14); to redeem through Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 3:18); to expand gospel witness through the suffering of Christ’s people (Col. 1:24); to shock unbelievers, get their attention, call for a change of heart (Zech. 13:7-9; Luke 13:1-5; John 9); to discipline believers (Heb. 12:3-17); and to vindicate God (Rom. 3:26).¹
So, understanding that sin has not only morally and physically corrupted mankind and the world in which we live, but it has also corrupted our perspective of reality and our understanding of what is true, we can, and should have faith in the one who is in control of all things. Acknowledging that while we may not always be able to fully comprehend the ultimate origin and implication of evil, we know that God is not responsible for evil, but being the all powerful Creator of the universe He is able to use something that is completely contrary to His nature to exemplify his goodness and justice to us. We know that as followers of Christ, all things are being worked together for our good in spite of the evil and sin we may experience in this world. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). God does not need to explain himself, but He has graciously given us His very word, written down in human language so that we might know Him. Even in light of our sinful rejection of God, in His mercy, He has provided a way in which we are able to come to Him for salvation. His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, came to earth as God incarnate, sacrificing Himself on a cross as a penal substitution for our sins. He received in Himself the punishment for the sins of those who the Father has given to Him. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds are we healed (Isaiah 53:5).
It is imperative to understand that whenever we attempt to vindicate God, we need to do so with His written word. It is vain to try and explain God, His character, or His purposes apart from the only source of true knowledge and understanding that we have. God’s own theodicy is contained within the divinely inspired pages of the Bible. To attempt to reason with the world using extra biblical principles fails to represent God as He has ordained Himself in Scripture.¹ Keep in mind that if apologetics is divorced from clear biblical exposition, no amount of human reasoning or knowledge will save men’s souls. We do not have the ability to convince people of truth, only the Holy Spirit has the power to convict man’s heart and allow individuals to see spiritual truth. We need to be faithful in the study of Scripture, meditating on it day and night, so that we may be obedient to the command given to us in Matthew 28 to call sinners to Jesus Christ through the clear and accurate proclamation of the word of God. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17)
Therefore, hear me, you men of understanding: far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should do wrong. -Job 34:10
1.MacArthur, John. Biblical Doctrine: a Systematic Summary of Bible Truth. Crossway, 2017, 222,223,224.