That is the “I gotcha” question from Atheists to Christians I hear regularly any time a religious topic comes up in a conversation. The talk usually starts about some other unrelated topics – abortion, gay marriage, objective truth – then after every question asked by the atheist is answered, instead of acknowledging this, it eventually, inevitably, devolves into this oversimplified question: Why does God allow Evil (or some variation thereof). From there, they blindly leap to the conclusion that therefore God must be evil Himself. Atheists 1, Christians 0, amirite?
Now by this point in the discussion, if you can call it that, the atheist realizes they can’t handle another answered question, lest they look unintelligent or worse still, have to face the possibility of reevaluating their entire existence. So now it’s their time to make up an excuse about being busy and block everyone that disagrees with them. They leave the conversation feeling like they really stumped those idiot Christians.
But, is this question really unanswerable? Is it truly an “I gotcha” question that the Christian can’t possibly explain away?
Nah. Not remotely. The short answer is simple, and the long answer is life changing.
Question: Why does God allow evil?
The short answer: God isn’t evil, He’s perfectly good, and if He didn’t allow evil, we couldn’t have free will. We, as we are now, the good and the bad, wouldn’t exist. Now, I don’t know about you, but I like existing, and I bet that atheist does too (at least all the time he’s repressing his conscience).
Jump in the atheist who knew the phrase “free will” would be given in the answer. As they scoff and retort that it doesn’t answer the question, and that God is still being evil. So to satiate those still unclear about how the short answer clears up this controversy or for those craving an in depth explanation, here’s the long answer:
Like most over simplified questions, more specific questions need answering first for proper understanding. To tackle this one, we need to answer 3 other questions first: Why did God make us, why not let us only chose good, and what’s the responsibility of us humans?
Why (and how) did God make us?
“For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.” Colossians 1:16.
God made us for Him. Not because He was lonely, nor because He wanted us to entertain Him. He made us because He is a creative and personable being who wants to share a genuine relationship with us. And we, being made in His likeness, have the awareness and ability to know God, love God, and serve God. This is our purpose as laid out in the Bible.
God did not make humans like robots, unable to make self-driven choices. Rather, He made us unique, autonomous, and free to do whatever we please (within reality) – this is called free will. This means that our choices (the good and the bad) are the individual persons responsibility.
This begs the next question:
Couldn’t God have made us only capable of choosing good?
If we eliminate one choice, out of a two-choice option, we’re not really left with a choice, are we. This would impact even our neutral choices, because they are directed by our God-given compass of right and wrong.
Take for example choosing what we want to eat for breakfast. We could pick some healthy portions of eggs and vegetables, or chocolate chip pancakes covered in whipped cream. Eating food isn’t wrong, but the intention behind it could be. In this case, maybe you want to indulge in gluttony which is sinful. If you eliminate the intention behind the choice so you can’t chose to be gluttonous, you essentially eliminate the choice, because then neither of them really matter.
Or think of the example of choosing what type of car we want to drive. We could pick a Ford Focus, or a Lamborghini Veneno. The act of purchasing either car isn’t objectively wrong or sinful, but the motivation behind it could be (say, wanting to make your neighbors jealous, or to appear superior). Now, if you eliminate those motivations in a theoretical world where evil doesn’t exist, you lose your heartfelt choice, and just make a decision that fits within a narrow allowance in your robotic-like programming.
That’s not the type of choice we have today because of free will. There must be an opposing evil choice for us make or not in order for us to chose good, or else we never actually can chose good, and everything would could become meaningless.
Now if you can accept the necessity of evil’s existence, the question you may be asking yourself is, if God knew evil could happen, did He intend for us to be evil? And if that’s the case, would He be evil for holding it against us? This leads us to the third necessary question to ask.
What was (and is) our role as humans?
If you attended Sunday school as a child, you may be somewhat familiar with the creation account given in the beginning of Genesis, but whether you are or not, I would recommend you read it again: Genesis chapter 1-3. You’ll need a solid understanding of what the text says (not just what you think you kind of remember what it might have said).
The Bible begins describing how God made everything that exists in this universe, including the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve. They lived in a garden called the “Garden of Eden.” God gave them fruit and vegetables to eat, and animals to love and care for. He gave them a law that they were forbidden to break: “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.’” Genesis 2:16-17.
Many of you know how the rest of the story goes: Satan appears as a snake and tricks Eve to try the fruit; Eve convinces Adam to try it too, and God punishes them and all future generations for their disobedience.
Though that’s true, that synopsis skips over some critical details about how the world was BEFORE the first sins of Adam and Eve (also known as the fall of man).
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—” Romans 5:12.
Death of humans and animals became a part of this world AFTER Adam and Eve sinned. This means that God’s original creation, and intention did not include the need for death. It also didn’t include disease or hardships. These things were the punishments upon humankind for disobeying God, detailed in Genesis 3:16-19.
Understanding God as a judge can be a difficult thing to understand for many people, and seems to be the
biggest reason why atheists believe that God is evil. Mankind creates rules and laws for people to follow, based on our best agreed upon morals. The problem is, not everyone aligns their morals to the same sources, so people disagree on what should be punishable by law, and to what degree of severity should the punishments be delivered.
God, on the other hand, is the original and ultimate creator of rules and law. He has the perfect judicial system, and judges all creation only in total fairness. We are not perfect beings, so we do not always understand God’s system, especially his punishments.
I like to think of it this way; When you were a child growing up, your parents probably gave you rules about a bed time, not eating too many sweets, obeying and respecting elders (though this rule has become less popular these days). If you broke a rule you had some kind of punishment like a time out or possibly even a dreaded spanking. When you were a child, you probably hated all of those rules, and felt like your parents were just being mean. You couldn’t fathom as a child that the motivation behind those actions came from love.
This is because, as a child, our understanding is simplistic and still developing. However, once you’ve grown up, you can look back at your younger years and appreciate the structure that helped you become a better person today, instead of a spoiled brat.
Well we’re still developing, our whole lives, and we’ll never reach the same level of understanding as God, our father in heaven. So when God has a rule in our lives that we think is Him being mean to us, it’s actually because He loves us, and wants what’s best for us, we just can’t always fathom it.
In the garden of Eden, God warned Adam and Eve that the punishment for eating from the tree of knowledge would be death, but they disobeyed anyway. God did not make them chose evil, but they chose it themselves.
We cannot escape our personal responsibility for the evil in this world. So many terrible, evil things occur every single day, and most people just shake a rebellious fist at the clouds. But it’s not God we should blame, but ourselves and the people that choose evil.
We always have a choice. This is the reward and the penalty of free will. But it’s what makes us free, and different from every other living and non-living creature on the Earth. This is why we have genuine relationships, not just instincts. Why we have a conscience, to warn us of the evil in our lives. This is why we were made; because it’s the only way we’re capable of love.
God’s not evil – We are.