“Why does God allow evil?” To ask this question, to even entertain it, is like walking onto a highway, traffic speeding in both directions. It is sure and sudden death if I attempt to answer it. But that is not my intent. I cannot answer it, yet I cannot leave it alone.
It is a legitimate question. Yet, for some reason, it has always seemed strange to me. It feels like the question has gotten to it’s destination too quickly. Like trying to swallow vitamins without water.
Why does it seem strange? Maybe because there are two ways to ask it. I can ask with a sincere, genuine, truth seeking heart, or because I am looking for a scapegoat, and I want to escape the idea that there is a God that I might be held accountable to. If it is the latter, then it does seem strange. Because, then, where would I stop with this question?
It is easy to ask: why would a good God allow Hitler, genocide, rape and abuse? Why illness that eats away at our insides and debilitates us? Why poverty and hunger? Why oppression? Why does he not stop these things? Why did he create a world in which these things are possible?
But then, what is stopping me from asking why God allows Monsanto to exist? Why does he allow us to rape the earth and to grow food that does not nourish us? Why does he allow soil erosion and water pollution?
What about lesser things? Why does he allow college to be so expensive? Why does he allow cubicles? Why does he allow us to build toilets that are so tall it feels like I’m sitting on a bar stool? Why does he let my cuticles rip and tear?
By no means do I intend to mock the question. Rather, if it is the intent of the questioner to find fault, and to absolve himself of responsibility, then where does he stop? When would he ever take responsibility for himself, or any decision, or any circumstance that he finds himself in?
If that is the disposition of the questioner, then it puts him and God in opposite corners of the ring, with the world and all it’s problems in the middle. The questioner, by implication, says to God, “Look at this mess! If you would only prove to me that you can take care of what you created, then I might think about following you. But until then, tough sell. I’ve got my own problems to deal with.”
If this is the spirit of the questioner, then it seems that he is missing something obvious. For, what really is the problem with the world? Isn’t it us? Aren’t we the ones that have messed things up so badly?
“So, if we are to blame, and if God is powerful, then he should fix us.”
Can a husband stand before his wife with coldness in his heart, and say, “Make me love you”? Can the surgeon do his work if the patient squirms?
“That’s just it,” the questioner objects. “The surgeon should tie that worm down before he works on him. Knock him out with some anesthetic.”
So is it actually a question of control? Are we equating power with control? “If God is powerful, he should be able to control all things.” What if power is more than just control, though? I can control my six-month-old daughter’s actions because I am stronger than she. But, if as she got older I stopped controlling all her actions physically, and started manipulating and controlling her through my words, I would be seen as an unloving father who never cared about her own will and desires.
To exercise control in this way is not loving. If power is only control, it is merely the act of breaking the will of another, and subduing it to your own. For God to be controlling and loving would be a contradiction.
So what does it mean for God to be powerful? Could it be this, then? That God has the power to redeem and renew, and to make something beautiful out of something horrible? Is he loving in that he gives us the will to decide between good and evil, and to live this life according to our convictions, yet powerful enough to begin the redemption process as soon as we turn toward him in an act of surrender, from no matter how far we have strayed? To restore that which has been marred beyond recognition? To wash us white as snow in the blood of the Lamb?
But all this does not seem to answer the question of why there is evil in the world. The wife commits adultery; the husband is angry and left grieving. The mother was told there isn’t an ounce of good blood in her body; the fatherless daughter feels helpless because the doctor’s don’t know what to do, and she is scared of being left all alone. The migraines never cease, and the neurosurgeon has her on medication that is making things worse. The stuttering boy is never left alone, and is incessantly teased by his peers; he just wants to get through a school day without garnering attention. The body gnaws with pain, night and day, and the doctor’s have done everything they can; he wonders if he’ll make it through his thirties as he watches his three young children play.
“Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1) Is this all we are left with then? Another question?
Maybe there is a difference between asking, “Why does God allow evil?” and “Why did you allow this, God?” Again, the disposition. In Psalm 10, the writer asks his question, then goes on to lay out all of his potent observations about the wicked.
In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor…
the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD.
…all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
His ways prosper at all times….
His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression…
in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless…
he lurks that he may seize the poor…
The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might.
He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
The innocent, the poor, the helpless. All oppressed and crushed under the might of the wicked. He calls God to action.
Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand;
forget not the afflicted.
Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?
And then, he speaks what he believes to be true about God, in spite of his observations.
But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.
In the beginning he asked, “Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?” He does not ask this question in order to absolve himself from responsibility or to blame God. He asks with a sincere heart. He does not receive answers to his questions, yet he knows that this is not the way it should be. The wicked should not prosper. The innocent, poor, helpless and fatherless should not be oppressed and crushed.
Isn’t it from their very mouths that this question flows most justly? The poor, the hungry, those who weep; and not least of all, those who are hated, excluded, reviled, and spurned (Luke 6:20-22).*
Maybe it is not such a strange question after all.
*I am indebted to C. Anderson for this valuable insight.