If God is all-powerful and all-good, why is there evil and suffering?
This is a good question. Is God powerless, cruel, or indifferent towards suffering? Doesn’t evil prove God doesn’t exist? Here, we’ll attempt to answer that critical question logically and biblically.
There’s two ways to answer this question - addressing the head (logic) and the heart (emotion). Both answers are critical. Why?
Let’s say a person has had someone they loved die. If that were the case, they would be weighed down and broken. And if they only get a logical answer - on good, evil, God and suffering - this wouldn’t help. In fact, it may do more damage than good as people go through real suffering everyday.
However, if someone was watching the news, seeing all the death and injustice in the world, and asks questions like, “Why do these evil things happen? How can there be a God with all this evil and suffering in the world?” For these people, they aren’t looking for any tender-hearted arguments, they’re looking for rational answers.
Both answers are important. So, let’s start with the head (logic) answer to, “If God is all-powerful and all-good, why is there evil and suffering?”
Take water marks on a window or rust on a car, for example. Can you have watermarks on a window without a window? Can you have rust on a car without the car? No. We know there’s watermarks because there’s a window. We know there’s rust because there’s a car. Likewise, human beings would not know there was injustice unless there were an objective standard of justice.
For example, evil, by definition, is corruption of good; there is no such thing as an evil “substance” or an evil in itself. So, if a person claims something really was evil, how did they get this idea of evil and good. A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What are they comparing this universe with when it’s called evil. Of course, the person can claim the statement, “God can’t exist because the world is so evil and unjust” as nothing but a private idea of their own. But if they did that, then their argument against God collapses too--for the argument is dependent on saying the world is unjust, not simply that it does not happen to please their fancies. Thus, in the very act of claiming that God does not exist - in other words, that the whole of reality is pointless - the person is forced to assume that one part of reality - namely their idea of justice - is objective (i.e., discovered not invented). In short, we cannot know evil except on the backdrop of good. If evil is real, then there must be an objective standard of good by which we know that .
World renowned geneticist, director of the Human Genome Project and former atheist, Francis Collins wrote in his book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, “After 28 years as a believer, the Moral Law still stands out for me as the strongest signpost to God. More than that, it points to a God that cares about human beings, a God that is infinitely good and holy” .
In contrast, for argument sake, let’s say atheism was true. If atheism was true – that nothing created everything (i.e., space, matter and time), the design of the universe simply occurred by coincidence and all life spontaneously popped into existence by chance and chemicals (i.e., non-living material) formed and eventually evolved into all living things including plants, animals and humans over billions of years – then all thoughts, [including those of good, evil and suffering], would be wholly the result of irrational causes since all life, including every human being and their thoughts, would be the result of a chemical accident that randomly happened by chance, that was created by nothing and designed by coincidence.
Therefore, if atheism was true, all thoughts would be equally worthless. Meaning, atheism as a belief is worthless. If it is true, then we can know no objective truths [such as good and evil]. The atheistic belief “cuts its own throat” so to speak .
So, since evil is real and there must be an objective standard of good by which we know that (i.e., an all-good and holy God), let’s address the heart (emotion) answer to, “If God is all-powerful and all-good, why is there evil and suffering?”
It wasn’t God’s intention to have a world full of death, evil, and suffering.
In the first five words of the Bible, in the book of Genesis, it reads, “In the beginning God created..” It goes on to explain God created the heavens and the earth. He created everything - space, matter and time. The planets and stars, the earth and ocean, plants and people. Genesis 1:31 says “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” And in creating all things, he also gave his personal creation - mankind - free will. Why?
Take your phone, whether it be an iPhone or Android. Could you make your phone say, “I love you”? Of course. Could you make your phone say nice, loving words? Sure.
Could you make your phone love you? Truly, genuinely love you? No. It’s a machine. It does what someone has programmed it to do. It could mimic words of love, it could even write a poem if you programmed it to, but it could not love because love must be freely given.
You cannot make someone love you. You cannot program someone to fall inlove or command them to. Love, by definition, must be freely given. We see throughout the Bible that God is love and we see this over, and over, and over again. We even read in 1 John 4:19, “We love because He first loved us.”
God didn’t want robots to follow him. He wanted his personal creation - mankind - to choose to love him, that they might experience and express love with each other, and most importantly and foundationally with God through the free will he gave them.
But throughout the Bible, we see the reason why our current world is full of death and suffering isn’t because God is powerless, cruel or indifferent. No, but because mankind chose to use the free will God gave them not to love him for who he is, but used that same free will God gave them to choose to turn away from him. Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death came to all mankind, because all sinned (Romans 5:12). And in Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
This division between God and his creation led to also a great division between person and person. Meaning, the world you see around you today is the result of the fall of mankind. It’s the result of sin.
You and I see evil in this world. If you don’t believe this, simply turn on the news, read your newspaper or study something of human history and you will see that it is a history of humans doing horrible things to humans. Of sin abounding; of ruin; of nations being lifted up and nations being destroyed; of people being oppressed; of violence occurring for no apparent reason. It’s the result of sin.
However, throughout the Bible we see there is an appointed time when God will not put up with these evil, sinful acts anymore and will come back to judge the world. God will “by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:7). He “will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known” (Luke 12:2-3).
God - the good judge (Psalm 7:11) - will pass righteous judgment. The guilty will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2 Thessalonians 1:9.
People murder, abuse and hurt others. When we see the news of all the terrorism, shootings and corruption in the world, our normal reaction is to hate the people responsible. And yet, while we do want justice and cry out for it, God still wants these corrupt people not to perish, but to have eternal life.
In 2 Peter 3:9 it reads, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” In 1 Timothy 2:4, “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
And in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” For God SO loved the world. Not just the victims of injustice, not just the murdered and abused, but all of mankind.
While this world is full of murderers and people who commit horrible crimes, God still has a heart to save them. In Ezekiel 33:11 it reads, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”
Of course, God knew all along that mankind would sin against Him, and as a result, that evil and suffering would enter the world. But he didn’t just watch from a distance powerless, cruel, or indifferent, no. In fact, we see in Titus 1:1-2, 2, Timothy 1:8-9, Ephesians 1:4-6 and Revelation 13:8 that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ was laid out before He created time.
We see throughout the Bible that in His righteousness, God the Father condemns our evil, but in His immeasurable love, He sent God the Son in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, a historical person, and intervened into human history. This Jesus of Nazareth lived the perfect life that you or I could never live (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering and familiar with pain (Isaiah 53:3). He was tempted in every way yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He was beaten (Mark 14:65). He had a crown of thorns put into his head (John 19:2). He was scourged (Matthew 27:26). Then, in AD 30, Jesus went to be nailed to a cross.
On the cross, our sins were laid upon him (Isaiah 53:4-12) and all the punishment of a Holy, Righteous and Just God fell upon the head of God the Son. He submitted and suffered the punishment to its fullness. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:7-8). God made him who had no sin to be sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).
All of mankind owes a debt to God because of our sin and that debt was suffering an eternal punishment. But on the cross, God the Son himself took our place, bore our sin, and suffered the wrath of God the Father that we deserved. He extinguished it. He put it away and on the third day, he rose again from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:6, Luke 24:6-7, 1 Peter 1:3, John 20:8-9, Matthew 28, Acts 26:22-23).
If anyone has chosen to believe in Christ, on the day of judgment, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).
So, if God is all-powerful, all-good and all-loving, why is there evil and suffering? Because of us (Romans 5:12). God is not powerless, he will destroy evil and suffering (Revelation 20:14-15). God is not cruel, he doesn’t want anyone to perish but all to have eternal life (John 3:16). And God is not indifferent towards you, he isn’t cold towards our suffering, quite the opposite. In Isaiah 53:4-6 it reads, 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
God has not remained distant from human evil and suffering, but has himself become part of it. Death is not the end.
This was a critical question with a long answer, much of which had to be condensed. In one of the upcoming questions, we’ll specifically address if God is all-powerful and all-good, why does God allow natural disasters and sickness to exist.
1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, part 1
2. Francis. S. Collins. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, pg. 218
3. C.S. Lewis. God In The Dock. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; Reprint edition (March 24, 1972) pg. 144