In this world, we are often confronted with intense suffering and immense pain. Child abductions, abuse, domestic violence, addictions, natural catastrophes, accidents and crippling diseases are only a few of the evils that occur all the time in this World. But why does God not stop all of that?
Does God orchestrates everything?
Some people believe that God orchestrates everything that happens in this world and therefore he is behind the evil as well. Usually, these people believe that God let evil happen to us in order for some hidden purpose he has for us. These people believe that everything that happens in the world is God‘s will which would include all the evils mentioned above.
But I think that doesn’t go along with how God revealed himself to us in the Bible. God constantly reveals himself as the one working against sin, death and evil. He is the source of genuine life and wholeness and his purpose is always to restore and bring healing to what is broken and destroyed. His essence is self-giving love which seeks the good for others.
If that is true, that God is always good and hates suffering and evil, why does he not stop it and takes it away? That is a question many people who experienced suffering struggle with! Why did God not protect me from the abuse I endured? Why did God not heal my child from the disease before it died? Why did God not prevent this accident?
The answer some Christians give is: he could have stopped it but he allowed it to happen for some mysterious purpose and in the end, he will turn it out for your good.
As a father of 3 daughters, I would never allow my daughters to be raped in order for them to learn some lesson if I had the power to stop it! And I believe that God is a way better father than I am. Abuse, evil and suffering is never the will of God! So I don’t believe that the traditional answer is an acceptable answer to the question of why God allows evil to happen. If he is good and he could stop it then he would stop it.
This means that one of the 2 assumptions is wrong. Either God is not good or he can’t stop it. Many people who experienced great pain and believe the traditional answer given above sadly stop believing that God is good! They turn away from a God who can stop perverse evil but allows it for some mysterious purpose.
Fortunately, there is no need to go this way. The Bible reveals God as a good father who always seeks our good. God is good. This is unshakable. That means that the second assumption must be wrong. In the Bible, we find a God who can’t do some things.
Things God can’t do
“God cannot lie,” says Titus (1:2). “God cannot be tempted,” says James (1:13). “God cannot grow tired,” says Isaiah (40:28). I especially like a statement from the Apostle Paul: “When we are faithless, He remains faithful,” Paul writes, “because God cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).
God cannot oppose his own nature. The way God interacts in this world is defined by his nature and his character. God can‘t do things that are opposed to his nature.
In order to understand the things God can’t do because they are opposed to his nature, we need to understand his nature first. What’s the primary character of God? What is his essence?
Jesus is the highest revelation of God (Heb 1:3) If we look at Jesus we see how God is. Jesus is the clearest revelation of God. God is never unlike Jesus. God has always been like Jesus and he will always be like Jesus.
Jesus put love in the center of his life and teaching. He revealed God as a loving father who forgives, seeks what is lost, frees the captives, heals the broken-hearted and opposes evil in all its form. He revealed God as a non-violent and non-coercive God who works through love, mercy and forgiveness instead of violence, pressure and fear.
1 John 4:8 confirms that God is love!
The essence of God is love.
The Greek word for love used here is Agape. God is agape-love. In 1 Cor 13 Paul defines this agape-love.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV
If we want to know how God is we can replace love with God: „God is patient, God is kind…“
V6 says „Love (God) does not delight in evil…“God hates evil. He isn’t the force behind evil and suffering. He is the God who is always at work to undo the harm of evil and to the force opposing evil in this world.
Why then does God not stop all evil? Because he can‘t! Why he can’t? Because his nature is agape-love.
Agape-love doesn’t force its way on people, it’s not controlling. Agape-love is not coercive but operates through influencing people with love, revealing truth and forgiveness. God wants us to love him. In order to genuinely love God we need to have the possibility to chose or reject him. This is a real choice! It’s not fake. This freedom is irrevocable as well. Therefore God can’t force his way on people. If he would force his way on people he would act opposite to his own nature which he can’t. Therefore God can’t stop many evils. He can’t stop the abuser. He can’t stop the drunken driver. He can’t stop the violent and addicted spouse.
But that doesn’t mean that he is not constantly trying to prevent evil. God does everything possible for him to stop and prevent evil in this world.
Even though God can’t stop many evils he is constantly opposing evil as much as he can. We learned already that the free will of people is a major factor in how much God is able to do. On top of that, God put us, humans, as stewards in charge of this world. We are the ones who are supposed to rule this world and cultivate it. This means the state of this world is mainly a result of how we humans took care of this world. To be honest we didn’t take good care of this world and we reap the results of this in many natural catastrophes that are caused because of how much we abused this world (examples: global warming, plastic…).
God mainly works In this world by influencing people towards good by revealing the truth to them, convicting them of sin and guiding them to make good decisions through his spirit. God works by influencing people to use their free will for good. Hence we humans are the agents God is using and working through in this world to oppose evil and bring about good. God can’t stop evil alone but he needs us to work together with him. Our actions and choices have real consequences. Not everything is orchestrated by God but we literally influence lives by the choices we make and we can be a curse or a blessing to people depending on the choices we make.
While God is not causing suffering and evil he is always working to bring good out of evil. God is the master in squeezing out good of evil. While he didn’t cause and couldn’t stop the evil to happen in the first place he still wants to use it for our benefit. He is the God who always makes beauty out of ashes. He always brings life to what is dead. He is the God who takes shit and transforms it into fertilizer. He didn’t cause the brothers of Joseph to hate and try to kill Joseph. But he used that evil situation for the good of the whole nation. He didn’t cause the man to be born blind but he used this evil to reveal his power. Wherever people open their hearts to God and listen to his guidance and speaking God can work and start bringing his healing. When people open their hearts to God he can start influencing them for good and using them to be a blessing to others.
He always wants to bless people in order for them to be a blessing to others. God’s blessing is always for the greater good and not for private use only.
Does that mean that people who open their hearts to God and surrender to him but for example still don’t receive healing (from some disease) have some hidden sin that blocks the healing? No, that is not what it means. This world is more complicated than we think. As we’ve seen many different factors influence the way and possibilities of God’s influence in this world. While the person might be fully committed to Jesus other factors might hold back the healing.
For us humans trying to understand all the different factors that influence God’s actions in this world is like a knight in the Middle Ages trying to understand how a smartphone and the internet works. We can’t fathom everything that is going on but we can trust that God is always good, that he is not causing evil but that he always does everything possible to him to prevent and undo evil. And we can understand that his ability to overcome evil in this world depends on how much we partner with him and how much we open ourselves to be his hand and feet in this world.
Rom 8:28 is a beautiful picture that summarizes what we talked about above. In the past the verse was often translated like this:
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:28 KJV
This translation is unfortunate because of several reasons. First of all, it makes humans passive. God is the one bringing about the good no matter what we do. But many people never experience the good coming out of evil situations. Instead, they suffer their whole life the consequences of some evil or injustice they experienced. Secondly, it limits God’s action to the lives of those who love God. God’s actions are not limited to those who love him. He is the one who loves us while we are still his enemies. He is the one who works in the lives of people who still oppose him (see the life of Paul). He works in every life as much as he can. So how can this verse be better translated?
The UBS is a handbook specifically made for Bible translators in order to provide them with all necessary knowledge about the original text in order to make a good decision on how to translate a passage. After explaining key information about a passage and comparing different ways on how to translate a passage the UBS offers a translation suggestion.
According to the UBS, a better translation of Rom 8:28 would be:
“We know that in every experience which we have God works things out for good with us who love him”
“We know that God, together with us who love him, works so that what happens will be for good.”
This translation affirms many things we talked about earlier. Firstly it affirms that God is always the God who is squeezing out good from evil. Secondly, it affirms that God can’t do that singlehandedly but that he does it by partnering with us his children. Thirdly it doesn’t limit God’s loving actions to those who love him.
God never causes evil to us but he is always benevolent towards us. God always, in partnership with us, works towards opposing and defeating evil by turning ashes into beauty, by squeezing good out of bad. The degree of God’s ability to stop evil is always dependent on other influences (things in the spiritual realm, free will of free agents…). God can’t stop evil singlehandedly but he is always at work and always partnering with us to bring about good.
The initial question was why God doesn’t stop evil. The answer we found was: because he can’t. He can’t because he can’t act opposing to his nature. His nature is agape-love which grants freedom and isn’t coercive. But God constantly works towards defeating evil and suffering in this world but the degree of his ability to act in this world is influenced and limited by free agents. God always wants to partner with us in bringing beauty out of ashes and life out of death.