Undoubtedly, many people struggle with the issue of why God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent yet evil and suffering abound in the world. And indeed, many atheists use the issue as the basis to postulate that there is no God. For instance, the Greek Philosopher, Epicurus, who lived between 341 BC and 270 BC, summed up the atheists’ position in this way:
- Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
- Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
- Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
- Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
Similarly, other philosophers like Immanuel Kant, David Hume and Thomas Aquinas all discussed the problem of evil in one way or the other.
However, it is not only secular people who have asked these sorts of questions. Several prophets of God also discussed the issue. For instance, in Habakkuk chapter 1, the prophet stated/asked the following:
- O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? (verse 2)
- Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise (verse 3).
- So the law is paralysed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround (outnumber) the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted (verse 4).
- You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he? (verse 13)
Other prophets also stated/asked the following:
- Psalm 55:9, Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words, for I see violence and strife in the city.
- Jeremiah 20:18, Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?
- Job 21:7, "Why do the wicked live to reach old age and increase in power and wealth, too?
- Ecclesiastes 8:14 … the righteous [who] get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked [who] get what the righteous deserve.
- Jeremiah 12:1, You are always righteous, LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?
It is clear from the above passages that all people including God’s prophets have struggled with the problem of evil. Therefore, why does God permit evil including natural disasters despite his absolute supremacy and unconditional love? Some of the answers to this question are discussed in the rest of this paper.
Human suffering came about because people abused the free will God has given us
Among all creatures it is only humans that God created us with free will. Without free will humans will be like animals that act largely by instinct or robots that are programmed to follow every instruction. But because God created us in his own image and after his likeness, he endowed us with the precious gift of free will to enable us to make decisions of both right and wrong, but this gift comes with responsibilities and consequences. Therefore, God has earnestly admonished us to make right choices but in most cases, we make the wrong choices. For instance, when God rejected the sacrifice of Cain and accepted that of Abel, Cain planned to kill his brother but God personally warned Cain that sin was crouching at his door and he must overcome it (Genesis 4:7). Cain did not listen to God but killed his brother. In this case, do we have to blame God for the consequences of the action of Cain? To go further back, all these started when Adam and Even disobeyed God and listened to the serpent (the devil) to eat the forbidden fruit. We have all suffered as the consequence of Adam and Eve disobeying God (and we continue to disobey God) and the effect of these is the introduction of two kinds of evil into the world: moral evil and natural evil as discussed below.
Moral evil and natural evil
Moral evil is the immorality, suffering and tragedy that come because of our selfish and abusive behaviors. Most of the world’s problems come from our sinful actions and/or inactions to each other. For example, many African government officials steal the resources of their countries why some citizens die out of hunger and preventable diseases. For instance, quite recently the officials of the Ghana government printed the image of the President on the commercial buses run by the state. It later emerged that the owner of the company that won the contract is affiliated to the government, and the contract price was inflated heavily. Meanwhile only some few months afterwards, one of these state buses had an accident and killed about 70 people. While speed is said to have been the main factor for the accident, it has also been suggested that the poor mechanical condition of the vehicle, particularly, the breaks also contributed to the fatal accident. In this regard, why do we blame God when someone decides to drive at an unsafe speed and also the government considers it important to spend huge money to print the portrait of the President at an inflated cost on the buses for political gains instead of using the money to maintain the buses? In fact, many of the accidents victims died because there were no mechanically sound ambulances available to transport the people to the nearby hospitals. So private vehicles had to transport them to the hospital and the hospital also did not have adequate equipment including beds and medicines to provide appropriate treatment to the accident victims. However, the ordinary citizens can also be held accountable for this sort of political failure because we vote for non performing government.
Also, some people drink and drive knowing very well that their ability to drive well will be impaired when intoxicated. Why do we then blame God when someone choses to do that and such a person causes an accident? The victims of such accidents may not necessarily be the reckless driver but some innocent person being at wrong place at the wrong time. Yet, the problem is not God but the one who exercises his free will recklessly. For instance, just around 20 February 2016, a Sudanese man was driving in Sydney with 4 other passengers in the car. The police stopped the car to conduct a random alcohol breath test. The driver failed to stop and sped off. The police then chased the driver and within few minutes the driver lost control of the car, hit a pole and three women in the car all died instantly. The irony though is that one of the women had 8 children while another had 4. It is believed that the drive was drunk and while he survived the crash, he suffered some injury but has since been charged for the offence. This is another example of how if we use our gift of free will inappropriately it can cause a tragedy. Of course, it will be unfair to blame God in a situation like this because God neither asked the driver to drink nor to speed off from the police, while it was also obvious that the police would chase him anyway. Furthermore, itt is suggested that the world produces enough food to adequately feed everyone, yet some people go hungry because of the greediness of others. While the majority of the world population live on less than $2 a day, the richest 1% of the world population are said to possess about half of the world resources enough to adequately feed everyone in the world.
The second kind of evil is natural evil which includes earthquakes and cyclones. However, the natural disasters occur as an indirect result of man disobeying God. The Bible indicates that God created the earth in a perfect state and God even used to interact directly with Adam and Eve. However, once Adam and Eve and their posterity sinned against God, God very much removed himself from us. The consequence of this is that nature began to revolt and the earth became cursed. Accordingly, Romans 8:22 states “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” In other words, the nature is yawning to be redeemed so that things will be set right. Therefore, so far as we continue to disobey God, disasters will strike and unfortunately, it is not only the most sinners that suffer the consequences of natural disasters. Any person being at the wrong place at the wrong time can suffer from natural disasters. This is why in Luke Luke 13:4, Jesus told his disciples that the 18 people that were killed when the tower in Siloam fell on them were not necessarily more sinful than all the people who live in Jerusalem. Jesus also told the disciples in John 16:13 that there will be troubles in the world. In fact, at a time Jesus himself and disciples experienced a violent storm while travelling on a boat and Jesus had to rebuke the storm to calm down the sea. This is why Ecclesiastes 9:11 states that time and chance can happen to everyone.
Satan controls the world
As indicated above, as a result of the sin of man, God has somehow withdrawn partially from the earth, and Satan has taken over the control of the world. 1 John 5:19 states that “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” John 12:31 also states plainly that Satan is the ruler of the world until the judgement time when Satan will be cast out. Against this background it is important to mention that most of the evils and catastrophic disasters that occur in the world are caused by the devil, which God does not necessarily intervene to prevent all of them. Thus, it is only at the second coming of Jesus that Satan and evil including death will be completely eradicated from the earth. Until then the devil in most cases can cause a lot of destructive activities in the world. At his trial by Pilate, Jesus stated plainly in John 18:36-37 that although he (Jesus) was a king, his kingdom is not of this world, otherwise his servants (angels) could have come to fight for him. However, the good news is that God will not leave humans to suffer forever. There will come a time that God will send his son to judge the world and at that time he will provide the most conducive living environment for the righteous. Thus, we only need to believe him and do the right thing and that the relief will come one day but until then Satan has profound influence in the world. This is why he told Jesus at his temptation that if Jesus would worship him, he would give the entire world to him. Of course, Jesus refused this fake offer as Jesus who had created the universe knew that at the appropriate time he will defeat Satan and set up his everlasting kingdom.
Did God foresee all these coming?
Sure, God knew that there was the possibility that the humans that he was creating would not obey him. However, as someone has put it, as humans we know that if we have children there is possibility that they will not listen to us but we still have children because of the enjoyment that we will have if they listen to us. So all that we have to do is to teach them the right way and it is up to them to take it or not. Similarly, God has taught us what to do in order to have eternal salvation because of it, he sent his own son to suffer a painful. Accordingly, Paul stated in Romans 8:18 that “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Though suffering isn’t good, God can use it to accomplish good.
Sometimes God allows suffering to occur in order to bring good later. Most people like to learn in the hard way. When everything is good we turn to forget about God. However, when we face difficulties many turn to God. For instance, Joseph went through terrible suffering when his brothers sold him into slavery, unfairly accused of a crime and falsely imprisoned but in all these he trusted God. In the end, he received a great honour and his family had to come and live with him in Egypt when a famine hit Israel. Joseph stated to his brothers in Genesis 50:20 that they intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. And if you’re committed to God, He promises that He can and will take whatever pain you’re experiencing and draw something good from it. God can also use suffering to better our character. This is why according to Hebrews 5:8, “Although he [Jesus] was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). If Jesus had to suffer to learn, why would it be different for us humans that he created? This is why in Acts 7:54-8:2, Stephen (a disciple) was stoned to death and Act 2:12, James an apostle was killed by Herod. It is also believed that all the other apostles other than John died in a similar circumstance and even John was once held in a solitary confinement on Patmos Island, where he received the Book of Revelation from Jesus.
From the foregoing, it is clear that while God created the world in a perfect state, our disobedience to him has caused the world to lose its perfect state. As a result, there are two kinds of evils that have emerged—the moral and the natural evils. The moral evil is a direct result of our own actions or inactions and the natural evil is an indirect result of our actions. And God will only eradicate these evils when Jesus returns to judge the world, until that time we have to live with them and still trust that God is perfect, benevolent and almighty.