How can an all-good and all-powerful God and evil coexist? Few issues strike at the heart of Christianity like this one. The question leads to many other questions:
- If God created everything perfectly, why is there sin and evil?
- If God is all-powerful, why doesn’t he destroy evil?
- Why should we forgive God for evil?
- Why didn’t he create a different world than this one with all this evil?
It is impossible to cover such a vast and vital topic in this short blog. But, I doubt I need to convince you of one fact: sin, evil, suffering, and trials can challenge all of us—both Christians and non-Christians.
Furthermore, if you have been the victim of evil, I suspect you have wrestled with this question.
And before we begin, I want you to know that I am sensitive to your hurt and possible anger towards God. But I believe that one explanation is superior to all the others. And that is how Christianity answers the issue of a good God and evil.
Approaching Inquirers about Evil and Suffering
Step 1: Learn why they are asking
Many people have questioned the existence of an all-powerful and all-good God coexisting with evil. Yet, I learned from Dr. William Lane Craig's Hard Questions, Real Answers that there are at least two different groups of people asking these critical questions.
So if someone approaches me with a question about a good God and evil, my first step is to learn which group the person falls into. This distinction helps me decide how best to answer them.
On the one hand, some people ask because of their personal experience with evil and suffering. These folks struggle with hurt, confusion, pain, anger, and grief. What I’ve found with these hurting people is that:
- They deserve our compassion and counseling
- Giving them a philosophical lecture will seem distant and uncaring
On the other hand, the second group wants a philosophical answer. These questioners want head knowledge. They are less interested in the heart knowledge that the first group is craving. As such,
- These inquirers deserve a rational defense to untangle their misunderstandings
- Giving them emotional counseling may be seen as misguided and inadequate
Step 2: Before you respond to questioners, please make sure you:
- Listen carefully to their problem(s) (emotional vs. philosophical)
- Then give brief and specific answers to their questions
- Don’t overwhelm them with information. Look upon your relationship as a marathon, not a sprint
- Continually engage them in the conversation. Listening ensures that you are answering their questions
- Above all, remember you are representing Christ to emotionally or intellectually struggling people
- Let compassion guide you because: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care
Step 3: Ask them how they explain the presence of God and evil and suffering
Let your concern for the individual extend to this third step. Ask gently but directly: “How do you explain the presence of God and the presence of evil and suffering?” Or I might ask: “Before I answer this important question, I’d like to know how you would answer it.”
I ask them about God and evil because I want to understand their answer. Their answer often allows me to find common ground to begin my answer. It is often the case that the individual doesn’t have an answer or personal solution to offer.
Their lack of an answer is not a “gotcha” moment. You should never make inquirers feel uncomfortable or stupid. Instead, be thankful questioners trust you enough to share their doubts. And even more importantly, God has opened a door for you to share truth and, eventually, the gospel!
Step 4: Ask, “If I answer your question, are you willing to consider the claims of Christianity?”
It seems to me that people in the first group are more receptive to hearing about Christ.
That leaves the second group. Unfortunately, some folks in this group have no genuine interest in the answer(s) to their questions.
That is why this step is essential. It allows you to avoid arguing with someone unwilling to consider intelligent answers. In those cases, I answer and move on to creating a relationship—trusting the Holy Spirit to work in their heart.
Overview of Answers
We have covered how to speak with someone about God and evil. Next, let’s examine answers to specific questions.
I. Where Did Evil Come From?
The questioner wants to know, “If God created everything perfect, where does evil come from?”
God is absolutely perfect. He created everything perfect, including angels and humans (Gen. 1:31; cf. Rom. 14:14; 1 Tim. 4:11). One of the “perfections” he gave humans and angels is the power of “free choice.”
This freedom allows us to either (1) love and obey God or to (2) reject him and his love.
Since God is perfect, the act of not choosing to love God is, in effect, a choice for evil (2 Pet. 3:9). And God will not force anyone against their will to love him. Why? Because “forced love” is a contradiction.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Unfortunately, some angels and the first humans misused their perfect gift. They used their freedom to “choose” to rebel against God (Gen. 2). Thus, they must take responsibility for introducing evil into the world (Rom. 5:12).
Therefore, God did not create flawed humans and is not directly responsible for sin.
- God’s perfect gift of “free choice” made sin and evil possible
- But humans are responsible for making it actual by choosing to rebel against God
II. Why Doesn’t God Stop All the Evil in the World?
One of the most common questions about God and evil is, “Why can’t evil be stopped?”
In other words, many people want to know: “If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why doesn’t he destroy evil?”
Firstly, if you want to remove evil in the world, God would have to remove our free choice.
- “Free choice” gives us the ability to choose to love or hate God and others!
- The ability to love is the “greatest good” for free creatures (Matt. 22:36–37),
- Loving God and others is only possible if we have the freedom to choose to love them.
- It would be wrong/ evil to take away our free choice to overcome evil.
In sum, evil cannot be overcome without taking away our free choice to love or hate God and others. And destroying human freedom would be evil.
Secondly, this argument presumes the inquirer is omniscient and knows the future.
In other words, it assumes that finite humans can know everything from the past and present. And, more importantly, what will happen in the future.
I’ve never understood all the past, present, and future. And I haven’t met anyone else who can, either—including a critic.
The good news is that, while we don’t know everything about good and evil, we can believe that God will not let evil win!
Therefore, we need to restate the answer.
- Just because evil has not yet been defeated does not mean it will not be overcome in the future.
- Our all-good and all-powerful God can and will defeat evil in the end.
III. There is no Purpose for Evil
Questioners argue that God must have a good purpose for everything if he is good. And that includes suffering.
But they claim there are no good purposes for some forms of suffering. Therefore, there cannot be an all-good God.
To answer this question, we first need to make a distinction.
See, there is a difference between our knowing the purpose for evil and God having a purpose for it.
An omniscient (all-knowing) God must have a good purpose for everything.
Because that is part of his character.
That truth is bolstered by the second point of response. Even if we don’t know all the reasons for evil, we know some good purposes for evil. For example, evil can:
- Keep us from self-destruction. For example, pain in our body's right lower quadrant is good when it helps diagnose appendicitis.
- To warn us of a greater evil. For instance, there is a reason most of us don’t touch a hot grill. And that is because of the one (and only) time we accidentally touched it when it was hot. That minor pain helps us avoid more significant pains later in life.
- To bring about a greater good. Remember Joseph? His life is a testimony to, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).
- To help defeat evil eventually. The clearest example of this is Jesus’ death on the cross (1 John 2:2; 4:10)
IV. Why Should We Forgive God for All This Evil?
Critics claim that God may have a good reason for allowing evil. But why should we:
- Accept God’s explanation?
- Forgive him?
After all, no sane person would declare Adolf Eichmann innocent after the Nazi holocaust. Even if he felt that he had good reasons to massacre Jews, what he did was horrific. So, the critic wonders: why should we forgive God for sin, suffering, and evil?
This emotional appeal is a logical fallacy called a “category mistake.” A category mistake occurs when a person confuses categories.
Another example of a question with a category mistake is: “What does the color blue taste like?” This question is nonsensical. Why?
Because taste and vision are two different “categories” of the senses.
In the same way, this argument confuses two categories.
Category one is God—an eternal, infinite, all-good Creator.
Category two is Eichmann—a finite, sinful human being (Eichmann). As a human, Eichmann is subject to God’s divine command, which tells us we are not to murder.
Yet, God is not like man. He alone created life, and he alone has the right to take it (Deut. 32:39; Job 1:21)
V. Why Didn’t God Create a Different World Than This One?
Some people argue against a good God and evil coexisting by claiming God’s creation plan is faulty.
In other words, these folks ask, “Why did God create a world that would sin?”
After all, God is eternal, and he knew evil would occur when he created the world. Why did he choose to create this particular world?
They claim that God had other options. For instance, he could have created:
- No world at all
- A world with no free creatures
- Free creatures who would not sin
- Free creatures who would sin but would all be saved
1. No world at all
This argument makes the mistake of believing that “nothing” is better than something.
That is an absurd thought.
In essence, the critic asks us to believe: “Nothing is better than something!”
How can a non-existent world be morally better than this moral world? It can’t!
In fact, a “non-moral” world is not moral at all.
- This argument is a classic category mistake
- “Something” and “nothing” are not in the same categories because they have nothing in common.
- In brief, this option compares both “non-moral” and moral worlds.
- And it claims that the nonmoral world is morally better than a moral world.
- Does that make sense to you? It sure doesn’t make sense to me.
- It is like comparing apples and non-existing apples. And insisting that non-existing apples taste better.
2. A world with no free creatures
So, let’s say God created a world in which there were no free creatures—no free will at all.
In this scenario, humans would inhabit the world without moral choice. We would be like robots instead of humans.
- But if humans are like robots without free moral choices, then it is a nonmoral world
- If the world is “nonmoral,” how can it be “morally” better than one that is “moral?”
- It can’t. It is the same category mistake in the preceding argument
3. A world with free creatures who would not sin
A moral world with no sin (or lost persons) is logically possible but not actually attainable. The reason is that some humans will always use their free will and choose to be lost.
The only way a world like this could work is if God guaranteed that humans never sin. But that could only happen if God either:
- Forced us to do good every time we were about to sin by taking away our freedom
- Or programmed us like robots without free will to never sin
In both cases, humans would have no free choice. And without free choice, the world is non-moral.
Thus, this option fails to be a better option because it’s not attainable. It is the same category mistake as the first two options. In short, a non-moral world is not “better” than a moral world.
4. A world with free creatures who would sin but would all be saved
God desires all humans to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9). But he won’t force anyone to love him (forced love is contradictory). For instance, God:
- Does not coerce our decision by being a puppet master.
- Is a lover who woos humans to himself. He persuades as many as possible to love him without violating their free choice (1 Tim. 2:1; 2 Pet. 3:9).
- Respects our freedom and allows us to choose to either love or reject him.
- Gives everyone who rejects him their free choice to go to hell (John 3:18, John 3:36).
- People go to hell because they choose to go there. And God respects their freedom.
- Think about it. It would be unloving to force someone who hates God to spend eternity with him in heaven.
In sum, no other world achievable is morally better than the one God made. In other words, a world with some in hell is not the best world conceivable. But it is the best world achievable with morally free creatures.
But God is not finished yet. Something better is coming. And this world with evil is a precondition of producing the best world (Rom. 5:20; Gen. 50:20).
What’s Your Next Step?
Christianity offers the best answers to how a good God and evil coexist. But I want to shift to a more personal level.
Have you chosen to love Jesus or reject him? Let’s face it, evil and suffering touch everyone’s life at some time. And Christians are not exempt.
During trials, have you wondered, “Why me?” Or perhaps you felt, “God doesn’t care about me and my hurts.”
As a non-Christian, maybe because of personal trials or the world’s evil, you do not believe in Jesus. Your life is filled with suffering, hurt, misery, and anger that there is no room for him. So, instead, you have chosen to reject him.
On the other hand, as a Christian, perhaps your pain has been so deep you question whether God loves you at all.
Whether you are a non-Christian or a struggling believer, let me ask you to consider the cross:
- God is not some distant, uncaring God
- Instead, he sent his beloved Son, Jesus, to experience evil, sin, and suffering at the cross as a human (John 3:16)
- His death and resurrection defeated evil and proved he was God (Acts 1:22; 1 Cor. 15:1-4)
- His loving sacrifice for you provided a way for you to live in heaven eternally (John 16:24)
- Provided you ask him to be your Savior
If you are a non-Christian, you have some critical decisions to make. You can either accept these answers or choose to reject them and Jesus. But even if you choose to reject God’s love (Matt. 23:37):
- He is still glorified because it shows how great he is that he still loves you even if you choose to reject him (Luke 23:34)
- So, please reconsider your decision and choose to love and give your life to Christ today.
Craig, W. L. Hard Questions, Real Answers. Crossway, 2003, p. 80.
Geisler, Norman L. “Evil, Problem of.” The Big Book of Christian Apologetics: An A to Z Guide, Baker Books, 2012, pp. 197-205
Geisler, N. L., & Brooks, R. M. When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, Revised and Updated. Victor Books, 2013, pp 56-73.