The Problem of God and Evil

Pastor E. Keith Hassell
Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Genesis 2:16–17 (NKJV) “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 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.’”

Theodicy is a technical term that means “defense of God’s goodness and power in view of the existence of evil.” Some struggle to believe in God because of the dilemma of the existence of evil. When people struggle to believe in God because of the dilemma of evil, they assume the existence of good. The existence of good assumes the existence of a moral standard that is beyond us that testifies to the principles of right and wrong, good and evil, and just and unjust. This moral standard exists within every human heart as affirmed by each man’s conscience (Romans 2:12-16). The existence of a moral standard assumes the existence of a moral Lawgiver. The existence of a moral Lawgiver points to the existence of a moral God. A moral God assumes that He is, by nature, good.

God and Good 
The Bible reveals that God, by His very nature, is good. (Exodus 33:19; 1 Chronicles 16:34) All that He created, in the beginning, was very good (Genesis 1:31). Evil has not always existed although the potential for evil has existed (Genesis 2:18). God did not create or ordain evil. Every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17).

What is evil?
  1. Evil is the absence of good just as darkness is the absence of light, and chaos is the absence of order. (Exodus 33:18-19; Deuteronomy 31:17: Isaiah 51:1-2) "Augustine argued that evil is not something that exists; rather, 'evil is nothing but a privation [negation, or absence] of good.' He worked from the notion that God, who is the supreme good and source of good, created everything good in its original state. But creatures can fall away from their original goodness, and it is in this loss of goodness that evil consists: 'Here we see the proper use of the word evil; for it is correctly applied not to essence, but to negation or loss.'" (Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology, p. 282)
  2. Evil is the antithesis of good: the opposite of God’s nature.
  3. Evil is the adversary of good: the enemy of good, and thus, the enemy of God.

The Dilemma caused by the Existence of Evil.
Skeptics assert that there are three statements that cannot be true at the same time. These statements are:
  1. If God cannot restrain evil, then He is impotent and foolish in creation.
  2. If God will not restrain evil, then He is careless and monstrous.
  3. If God allows and restrains evil to give purpose to evil according to His decree, then God is benevolent and wise.

The dilemma caused by the existence of evil is usually caused by the following questions:
  1. Evil exists. Where did evil originate?
  2. God is good. Why does He allow pain and suffering?
  3. God is omnipotent: What guides the use of His power?
Evil Exists. Where did Evil Originate?
Evil has not always existed. God did not create evil. Neither did He cause evil. He did, however, ordain the possibility of evil along with its consequences. God’s very essence is love (1 John 4:8; 4:16). He created man in His image and likeness. Mankind was created morally perfect and perfectly free. Bearing the image and likeness of God, mankind were given the capacity to receive God’s love and respond to God’s love (1 John 4:19). Love is not a subjective emotional response; love is a choice. Love cannot exist without free will. Free will does not exist without the ability to choose between good and evil. Thus, God placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden with a command not to eat its fruit. (Genesis 2:16-17) This tree represented a choice provided by God’s gift of free will. What about the consequences of evil choices? In His foreknowledge, God provided a remedy for the certain consequences of evil through the Person and Work of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8; John 1:29, 36).

If God did not create or cause evil, then what is the cause of evil?

Iniquity was first conceived in the heart of Lucifer, a created heavenly being who aspired to be like God (Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:11-19) As a result, Lucifer fell from his heavenly estate and became the Mastermind of evil. He is known as the Serpent (Genesis 3:1), Satan (Adversary), the Devil (Accuser), “the evil one” (Matthew 5:37; 6:13; Luke 11:14; John 17:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:3), and “the wicked one” (Matthew 13:19; Ephesians 6:16; 1 John 2:13, 14; 3:12; 5:18, 19). He is the archenemy of God and all that is good. He is the originator and conspirator of all evil. He is the god of this age who deceives the entire world. (John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Revelation 12:9).

Through the Serpent’s deception, Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command through an act of their free will.

Gregg R. Allison, in his Historical Theology (p. 280) states, “Tertullian reasoned from the fact that God decided to create human beings with free will. Because of this, God could not intervene to stop people from abusing their freedom by choosing to do evil. Addressing the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, Tertullian framed the problem in this way: ‘You reason that if God were good, and if he were unwilling that such a catastrophe should happen, and if by his foreknowledge he was not ignorant of the future, and if he were powerful enough to hinder its occurrence, that result would never have come about.… Since, however, it has occurred, the contrary affirmation must certainly be true: God must be neither good, nor knowledgeable of the future, nor powerful.’23 After vindicating the goodness, foreknowledge, and power of God, Tertullian turned to human beings to look for the cause of evil: ‘I find, then, that God constituted humanity free, ruler of its own will and power.… Upon careful consideration, it can be shown that this human freedom alone is to be blamed for the evil that it committed itself.’24 [1]Augustine said, ‘“[There is] an order of causes in which the highest effect is attributed to the will of God...But it does not follow that, though there is for God a certain order of all causes, there must therefore be nothing depending on the free exercise of our own wills, for our wills themselves are included in that order of causes which is certain to God, and is embraced by his foreknowledge, for human wills are also the cause of human actions. And he who foreknew all the causes of things would certainly not have been ignorant of our wills, because they are among those causes...We are by no means compelled to do away with the freedom of the will by retaining divine foreknowledge, or, by retaining the freedom of the will, to deny that God has foreknowledge of future things—an ungodly idea! But we embrace both!...Whatever is done in the world is done partly by divine agency and partly by our will.” And he extended this providential control to everything that exists.’” (Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology, p. 282)

Through disobedience, evil took residence in the hearts of the entire human race (Matthew 12:34-35). Thus, the heart is the source of evil within humanity. The solution to the problems in our world begins in the heart. Through Adam and Eve’s disobedience and fall from perfection and God’s blessing, the entire creation was subjected to death and the curse (Genesis 3:14-19; Romans 8:18-25). We now live in an imperfect world corrupted and broken by sin, evil, and the curse.

God is Good. Why does He allow Pain and Suffering? 
When God finished His work of creation, all that He created was very good (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31; 2:9). There was no guilt, shame, fear, blame, pain, disease, suffering, deception, dysfunction, hate, war, environmental disaster, death, separation, or curse. In addition, mankind received God’s blessing (Genesis 1:22, 28; 5:2). God created a perfect world to demonstrate the glory of His wisdom, perfection, goodness, and beauty. God allowed evil to exist to reveal the glory of His redeeming qualities such as mercy, longsuffering, grace, forgiveness, healing, deliverance, salvation, justice, judgment, wrath against evil, reconciliation, restoration, and life. Without the existence of evil, the redeeming attributes within God’s nature would not be displayed (Romans 9:22-24). It was through man’s disobedience that the original blessing of God was lost (Genesis 2:17; 3:7, 8, 10, 14-15, 16, 17-19, 21, 23; Romans 5:12, 15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:21).

Justice is a righteous display of God’s goodness. His righteous judgment is a good rather than an evil action even if it inflicts pain and suffering (Genesis 18:25; 2 Thessalonians 1:6). His failure to exercise righteous judgment would itself be evil.

Accusing God of being unjust or unfair does not prove that He is unjust or unfair. It only reveals that we do not understand God’s standard of righteousness, justice, and the penalty we deserve. (Ezekiel 18:20-32; Revelation 16:9, 11, 21) Accusing God of being unjust or unfair is itself proof of our own sinful condition (Genesis 3:12, 13). In fact, God has demonstrated His love, goodness, mercy, and longsuffering toward us in that while we were yet dead in our sins and trespasses, He sent Christ to die for our sins (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:1). Through His love, goodness, mercy, and longsuffering, He has also temporarily withheld the full measure of consequence that our sin deserves to give us the opportunity to admit our guilt and repent (Psalm 103:10; 130:3-4; Romans 2:2-4; Revelation 2:21). If He did not restrain the consequences of our sin, who could stand?

Pain and suffering are not themselves evil. They are not evil when they result from the righteous judgments of God. Pain and suffering are regarded as evil when they are the direct result of the actions of evil. Evil in the hearts of men causes them to inflict pain and suffering on others. Pain and suffering are not evil when they function as evidence of something wrong in our physical body. Pain and suffering also remind us of evil’s presence and work in this fallen world. Discounting physical pain can have deadly results. Pain and suffering serve as a faithful sentinel to alert us to a problem so that we might seek out its source and find solutions. God will comfort us in our suffering and heal us of our pain as He reveals and remedies its root cause. (1 Timothy 6:10) God allows pain and suffering to exist to reveal our need for Him and His salvation. The sufferings of this present life remind us that something is dreadfully wrong with our world and with us so that we might seek His deliverance and salvation.

Some question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Others ask, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” King David struggled with the second question in Psalm 73 and discovered the answer he sought. Both questions are based on mistaken assumptions.

The first mistaken assumption is that there are GOOD people and BAD people. This assumption is based on human comparison and evaluation. Jesus set the record straight in Matthew 19:16-17 (NKJV) “Now behold, one came and said to Him, ‘Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ So He said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.’” The only One who is good is God Himself. There is no one righteous before Him (Romans 3:10, 23).

The second mistaken assumption Is that good people deserve good things while bad people deserve bad things. Jesus addressed this misconception in Luke 13:1–5 (NKJV): “There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.’” The experience of good things or bad things is not evidence of who is good and who is bad in God’s sight. Bad things can happen to anyone in a world influenced by the Evil One, in a world cursed and broken by sin, and amid a people influenced and controlled by evil and the Evil One. God demonstrates His goodness to all by pouring out His goodness on both the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:44-48)

The third mistaken assumption Is that God is not fair. In our fallen state, we are not qualified to determine what is fair. In Ezekiel 18:25 (NKJV), God addressed those who accused Him of being unfair: “Yet you say, ‘The way of the LORD is not fair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel, is it not My way which is fair, and your ways which are not fair?’” Accusing God of being unfair is based upon a self-righteous and entitled attitude that holds God accountable for not giving us what we believe we deserve. The truth is that we deserve nothing but God’s wrath. God is not indebted to sinners; sinners are indebted to Him. Life is not fair, but God is still good. Demanding that we get what we deserve would make us losers. Psalm 103:8–11 (NKJV) “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. 9 He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;” If we received what is fair, the full measure of the consequences of our sin would immediately be poured out upon us. Whatever measure of goodness that we have enjoyed in life, whether large or small, is not a testimony to our goodness but to God’s mercy and grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Because evil exists, some assume that God tolerates or even ignores evil in our world. Does God know and care about our pain and suffering? God does care! God sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, into this broken, cursed, and suffering world. He was perfect and without fault (Luke 23:41). Although He had no sin, He lived amid and experienced the consequences of the fall. He was tempted, hated, rejected, persecuted, falsely accused, unjustly tried, sentenced to death, and subjected to crucifixion, the most inhumane and feared torture known to man at the time. Jesus experienced the full measure of evil’s hatred. While on earth, Jesus spent His days relieving human suffering. The life and suffering of Jesus Christ are an exclamation point that God has not ignored evil and that He cares about us amid our suffering!

God is Omnipotent. What Guides the Use of His power?
Although God has the absolute sovereign power to eradicate evil, He has chosen to restrain evil, but not all evil. He allows evil that fulfills His decreed purpose. (Genesis 20:6; 50:20; Ac 4:27-28) If God restrains and allows evil to fulfill His redemptive purpose, then God is good and wise. The use of God’s power to fulfill His sovereign purpose for His glory is called “providence.” God will not exercise His power at the whim of our misguided human demands. Rather, God exercises His power for His purpose and glory (Isaiah 43:6-7; 66:18-19; Psalm 96:1-3; Ezekiel 39:21; 1 Corinthians 2:6-7; 10:31; Ephesians 1:6, 11). The glory of God is His holiness and goodness on display (Exodus 33:18-19; 34:6-7). God will not exercise His power in violation of His justice. He will not overlook sin or withhold its consequences. God exercises His power to redeem sinners from the power of sin and evil (John 3:16; Romans 8:28). God exercises His power to accomplish what is good in His sight (2 Samuel 10:12; Matthew 11:26; Luke 10:21; Acts 10:38; Romans 12:2).

What has God done to Overcome Evil? 
God overcame evil with the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ upon the Cross. The coming of Christ into this world represented the entrance of the kingdom of God into the realm of evil and sin (Matthew 3:14-15), bringing God’s light and life into the darkness and evil imposed on His fallen creation (John 1:1-5), and ushering in God’s righteous rule and order into the chaos of this world (Isaiah 9:6-7). His coming was a direct confrontation with the opposing powers of evil and the Evil One (Matthew 11:12; 12:28; Acts 10:38; 1 John 3:8). The throne of God’s kingdom is founded upon righteousness and justice. (Psalm 89:14; 97:2) God’s works flow from the goodness of His righteousness and justice. Evil exists in the realm of time. Evil had a beginning and will have an end. God’s goodness, however, exists in the realm of eternity because God is eternal. Evil will be finally eliminated at the White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15) and the pain and suffering caused by evil will pass away when all things are made new (Revelation 21:1-4). For the believer, deliverance from evil is experienced in the past, present, and future. At the Cross we were delivered from the penalty and personality of evil, we are currently being delivered from the power of evil, and one day we will be delivered from the presence of evil.

How are We to Overcome Evil?
  1. We should ask God for the ability to discern between good and evil. (Don’t trust your own heart)
    1. 1 Kings 3:9 (NKJV) “Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
  2. We must train our spiritual discernment by practicing the word of God.
    1. Hebrews 5:14 (NKJV) “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
  3. We must maintain our joy and victory in Christ in the face of evil.
    1. John 16:33 (NKJV) “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
  4. We must overcome evil through the provision of Christ’s work of redemption.
    1. Revelation 12:10–11 (NKJV) “Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, ‘Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”
  5. We must overcome evil with good.
    1. Romans 12:21 (NKJV) “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
  6. We must remain confident that God is working all things, good and bad, for our good and His glory.
    1. Romans 8:28 (NKJV) “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
  7. We must keep our hope fixed on the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the promised new heavens and a new earth free from evil and its consequences.
    1. Romans 8:18–25 (NKJV) “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”
    2. 2 Peter 3:13 (NKJV) “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

How will the Condition of Redeemed Individuals be Different in the New Creation?
Redeemed men will retain their free will in the new creation. What will prevent them from falling again? The answer is found in the difference between the first creation and new creation, i.e., re-creation. In the first creation, Adam was created in a state of innocence. In the new creation, believers are re-created in a state of redemption. Unlike Adam, redeemed believers are freed from the bondage of sin, cleansed from their filthiness and idols, given a new heart and a new spirit, have their stony heart replaced with a heart of flesh, have the law of God written on their heart, and receive the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to cause them to walk in obedience to God’s law (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

23 Tertullian, Against Marcion, 2.5, in ANF, 3:300–301. The text has been rendered clearer.
24 Ibid., 2.5–6, in ANF, 3:301–3. The text has been rendered clearer.
[1] Allison, G. R. (2011). Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (p. 280). Zondervan.
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