Why Does God Allow Evil & Suffering?

Far too many Christians are intimidated with the question of why God allows evil & suffering in the world.  We see all the horror in this world and needless suffering that when our family & friends question how could God allow this—we struggle to find a reasonable explanation or defense.   I believe there is a basic three-fold defense or explanation that allows the Christian to confidently embrace their belief that God is still all-powerful & all-good.

 Here’s the basic outline of this three-fold defense:

 Explanation #1…Free-Will Defense

God has decided to create a world in which human beings were given the dignity of free will.  In a world where free will is given to people, we should expect that some people will choose to do evil.  Although we would like for everyone to choose good, to choose virtue—the simple reality is that if you truly believe that every single person in the history of mankind is a free, autonomous being—within that capacity is the freedom to choose evil, to choose a path that would differ from God’s ideal for humanity!  Alvin Plantinga has championed the free-will defense so powerfully that most secular philosophers admit that he’s proven his point!  Listen to his words…

 “To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so…The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness…”

Alvin C. Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil

 Explanation #2…The Greatest Way Defense

The Christian does not claim that our present evil world is the best of all possible worlds.  However, we do claim that this evil world is the best possible way to the best world.  In a world where God had decided to value the dignity of free will we believe that this present world is the best path to get to the best possible world.

In fact, in a world where God values “free will” heaven is not the kind of place where people can simply be placed—it is the kind of world in which people must choose.  While honoring humanity’s free will God also desires to maximize the amount of people who will freely choose to be with Him in heaven.  This present way is the best way!  Norman Geisler puts it this way,

“ the greatest-way (defense), does not claim that this is the best of all possible worlds.  On the contrary, it admits that the world is evil and is perhaps nearer to being the worst possible world than the best.  However, this view also holds that this evil world is the best possible way to the best world.” 

Norman Geisler, The Roots of Evil

 Evil and suffering is fundamentally connected to human free will.  Yet, this same free will is necessary as the pathway to achieve not only the greatest good but also the greatest of all worlds.

Explanation #3…The Soul-Building Defense

Much of life is not good in and of itself—there are terrible & horrific things—painful things but Romans 8:28,29 reveals that God is able to use an imperfect world (an imperfect world brought on by free will) for a greater good—that good is to conform as many people as possible into the image of His Son! If God’s aim is to create people “conformed to the likeness of His son”—then it makes sense that we live in our present kind of world! For God to produce people who are in the processing of being like God and who wish to be with God—an idealistic playpen is simply not the kind of world that achieves these goals! We see this principle lived out every single day—sometimes it is necessary to allow suffering in a person’s life in order to bring about some greater good!

  • Doctors often inflict painful procedures and treatments on people for the purpose of better health & longer life.
  • Parents take away toys and privileges which cause pain because they want their child to grow up with self-control.
  • Contestants on the Biggest Loser—go through incredible sacrifice because they know it’s necessary for a greater good!
  • All of us have had those moments where we look back on adversity and realize that we are a different person—a better person because of what we went through.

I think gifted poet John Keats understood this basic principle…

Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”

[Please note that this author does not endorse the Soul-Making Theodicy as expressed by John Hick which includes the belief that all souls will eventually be conformed by the love of God and will be included into heaven.  I am using this expression in a general sense to describe the capabilities of an imperfect world to cultivate many of the qualities that God finds desirable in people.]

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