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The Problem of Evil: Why Does God Allow Evil, Pain, and Suffering?

Updated on March 20, 2019

Preliminary Considerations

The problem of evil, God's will, and man's will, are all related to one another. Therefore, it is necessary to define the term, 'will.' In this article, 'will' is defined as the intention of the possessor. 'Intention' is defined as the purpose the possessor of the will gives to their thoughts and actions. The definition of 'will' is very important for effectively dealing with the problem of evil. In my book, Apologetics Made Simple, I stress the importance of defining terms.

This view of the will is in stark contrast to how most view the nature of the will. Most people link causality to the will, but the Bible, interestingly enough, does not view the will in this way. In the Bible, the will is predicated on purpose rather than causal power.

In the Bible, God's will and man's will is distinct. Proverbs 16:9 reads, "The heart of man plans his course, but Adonai directs his steps." This means that God's intention and man's intention for a single action can be totally different from one another. An example will be given in the section of the article that talks about God's purpose for evil.

God has a Purpose for Evil, Pain, and Suffering.

If you have read about the problem of evil, you have probably heard of 'gratuitous evil.' The word, 'gratuitous' means 'pointless' or 'purposeless.' For a theist, the problem of evil is indeed a problem, that is, unless you are a theist who believes the Bible. The Bible explains in multiple places that God has a purpose for evil, pain, and suffering.

In the Bible, evil is not gratuitous. For every evil occurrence, God has good intentions. We may not know the exact purpose God has in mind for a specific occurence, however, God is all knowing and we are not. If God is all knowing and we are not all knowing, it would be ridiculous to think that we could have planned things any better than God no matter how terrible things may seem to us. An assertion that it is impossible for God to have good intentions for evil would require omniscience. Romans 8:28 reads, "Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose."

This is exemplified in the story of Joseph. If an onlooker didn't know any better, he might think Joseph was under God's judgement. He was beaten and thrown into a well by his brothers (Genesis 37), sold into slavery , and was put in prison (Genesis 39). There is no doubt that after all of this, our attitude about our lives might sour, but Joseph remained faithful.

In Genesis 40, Joseph begins interpreting people's dreams. A couple of years later, the Pharaoh of Egypt begins having dreams. When the Pharaoh heard about Joseph, he sent for him (Genesis 41). Somehow, Pharaoh knew that Joseph's interpretation was from God and he decided to make Joseph the second in command in Egypt. Suddenly, Joseph's life was at a point where an onlooker might think he was blessed by the Lord.

Later, Joseph's brothers came to Egypt, and they met Joseph, but they were unaware that it was him. At first, Joseph kept his identity a secret, but later he told his brothers who he was (Genesis 45). Interestingly enough, Joseph didn't blame his brothers for what happened to him before he became second in command in Egypt; instead, he recognized that God was the one who sent him to Egypt (Genesis 45:5-8). Joseph said to his brothers, "What you meant for evil, God meant for good (Genesis 50:20)."

Why was Joseph sent to Egypt? It was a part of God keeping the promise he made to Abraham, that Abraham would be the father of a great nation (Genesis 12). Since Joseph became second in command in Egypt, and because the Pharoah was friendly toward Joseph, the Pharoah allowed Joseph's family to stay in Egypt, and because of God telling Joseph about the upcoming famine, Joseph was able to help Egypt make preparations to ensure not only Egypt's survival, but his family, who would multiply in Egypt and become a multitude of people, survive as well.

Thus, it is plain to see that even in Joseph's dire circumstances, God had good intentions, and he had a purpose for the evil, pain, and suffering Joseph endured. Just the same, when we see evil, suffering, and pain, we can be sure that God has good intentions and we need to trust and submit to God's will.

The Solution to the Problem of Evil

It is plain to see that the Bible does not present a gratuitous view of evil, and it is impossible to determine that evil is gratuitous unless we have the property of omniscience. Some objectors may object to using the Bible to solve the problem of evil, but since the problem of evil alleges an incompatibility between the Bible and evil, they must grant the Bible's claim that God is all good in order to allege an inconsistency. Why grant only some of the Bible's claims and not others? If a logical inconsistency in the Bible is asserted, all of the propositions of the Bible must be taken into account or else the objection will be nothing more than a misrepresentation of the Bible, and in such a case, the problem of evil would not need to be addressed by us because the objector would only be attacking some imaginary construct of God.

The solution to the problem of evil can be summarized as follows:

If the Bible is true, there is evil in the world. God has a purpose for evil. Therefore, there is no such thing as gratuitous pain, suffering, or evil. The problem of evil, therefore, is resolved.

© 2019 Jason L Petersen


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