“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?”
Please bear with me for a little history. A few hundred years before the birth of Christ, famous Greek philosopher Epicurus proposed this series of questions and answers which has been often repeated. If God is all powerful and all loving, why does evil exist?
What is Evil
To properly address this question, we must first agree on what we mean by ‘Evil’. Christians understand ‘evil’ to mean anything that is contrary to the will of God and it is then easy enough to dismiss the problem of evil with the explanation that God grants humans freedom of will so our decision to love and serve Him will be genuine. If we do not have the ability to behave outside of His will, then we are not autonomous and our worship is meaningless. Who cares if a person obeys when he has no choice whether he will obey or not? Therefore, with the Christian definition of ‘evil’ being anything that is opposed to the will of God, we can say that evil exists so that our choice not to commit evil will glorify Him. When we choose to obey the will of God even though we have the full ability not to, it is truly a beautiful and pleasing thing.
But the world does not define evil in the same way Christians do. I think most of the world (and more importantly for our purposes, Epicurus) would define Evil as suffering and it is difficult to imagine a ‘good’ God that is all powerful allowing anyone – especially the innocent – to suffer. Surely a just and loving god would not permit children to starve to death, women to be violated, and men to live in despair. For the remainder of this article, I will discuss ‘suffering’ as evil, because I think that is a question we all struggle with when tragedy strikes.
Suffering in the Best of All Possible Worlds
Voltaire, a French writer from the 1700’s expanded on these thoughts in his satire Candide in which a young man witnesses and experiences much suffering and tries to reconcile this suffering with his childhood lessons based on optimism teachings of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. The ideas proposed by Leibniz are that since God knows everything and can control anything, the world we experience is the best world out of all possibilities. Suffering is minimized to the greatest level that still allows for the most good. Leibniz is not entirely wrong in that he recognizes that there is a necessary trade off between good and evil. Romans 8:28 is one the clearest descriptions of this in scripture: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (ESV) Both the pleasant and the unpleasant work to the good of those who belong to Christ. We can also look to Isaiah 53:5: “…and by His wounds we are healed.” BY His wounds. Because of His wounds…. Without Jesus’ suffering, we could not be reconciled with God.
Leibniz goes off track, though, when he proposes that THIS is the best of all possible worlds. The proposition that the evil we see around us is the best an all powerful and loving God can do drives many away from Him. But God has a broader view than we are capable of and the bible is very clear that this world is not the goal. Jesus’ suffering and death didn’t make our lives on this world any better. In fact, we are called to share in His suffering and death while we are in this world so that we may share in the joy of His resurrection. God has not balanced the suffering in this world against the best possible good in this world, but in the world He is building that will follow. That is the world for which we long. It’s where we are told to store up our treasures and is the prize for which we are told to strive.
Here are a few songs to go along with this subject