The topic of evil offers many onramps to preaching powerful sermons and proclaiming the gospel. The opportunity is perpetually ripe because people constantly have questions they would like answered. As we articulate answers to a specific audience, our speech should “always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6). As preachers, we face audiences asking questions such as:
- If God created only good things, then where did evil come from?
- What caused Lucifer to commit the first sin when there was no sinful tendency in him or anyone tempting him to sin?
- If God knew Lucifer, and later Adam, would sin, then why did He create them?
- If God is the author of everything real, and sin is real, how can we avoid concluding that God is the author of evil?
- Why does God allow innocent suffering?
- If God is the Creator of the natural world, then why does He allow natural disasters like tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes?
- Why do bad things happen to good people?
- If God is all-powerful, why doesn’t He intervene and stop the evil in this world?
- If God is all-loving, why is there a hell?
More Questions Than Answers?
Frankly, there seem to be more questions than answers. But the Bible commands us to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). To be honest, there was a time when I was not prepared to answer these questions, either. However, after 50 years of pondering them, I have discovered some things that satisfy me. In the hope that others may be helped, too, I have compiled a great many insights and answers in my recent book, If God, Why Evil? It attempts to respond to all of these questions and more in a simple, biblical, and reasonable way. Below is an abbreviated compilation that I hope preachers will find of great benefit and use in their sermons.
The Atheist’s Dilemma
Let me begin with the first public debate I ever had with an atheist. He brought the question up, as they usually do: “If there is a good God, then why does He allow all the evil and injustice in this world?” Having read C. S. Lewis, I was prepared to respond: “If you are claiming there is injustice in the world, where do you get your moral standard of justice? If there is an absolute moral law, then there must be an absolute moral Law-Giver.” His reply was so frank and to the point that I hardly knew what to say. He confessed, “I don’t have any absolute moral law by which I know there is evil in the world. My judgment is simply based on my own benign moral feeling.”
C. S. Lewis’s response to this idea is worth pondering: “My argument [as an atheist] was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust. A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. . . . Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too …” The fact is that either the atheist’s argument presupposes God as the moral Law-Giver, or else the argument that God “allows” evil and injustice collapses.
Evil Cries Out for God
Rather than cry out against God, evil actually cries out for God in at least three ways. First, as just observed, we have no way of knowing something is really evil unless there is a God who established the moral law by which we can judge it to be evil. Second, as every pastor knows, the only real help when someone is suffering comes from God. To whom else shall we turn—He has the words of eternal life (John 6:68). When this life is fading, the only real comfort is the hope of eternal life. As the apostle put it, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
Third, the only realistic expectation that there will be an end of evil someday is that Christ has already defeated it. Hebrews declares of Christ that “he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). The apostle John saw the completion of this process when he wrote, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
If God Created Only Good Things, Then Where Did Evil Come From?
If God is all-good and if He created only good things, then where did evil come from? How can evil come from what is perfectly good? Long ago, St. Augustine answered this by noting that one of the good things God made was free choice. It is good to be free. We all enjoy it. No one marches against freedom. Even if someone did, he would be enjoying the good of his freedom to do so. But if it is good to be free, then evil is possible. We cannot be free to love God unless we are also free not to love Him. We cannot be free to praise God unless we are also free to curse Him. So evil began when a free creature (Lucifer) used his good freedom to will the good of the creature over the good of the Creator.
What Caused Lucifer to Sin?
What caused Lucifer to use his freedom to sin against God? It certainly was not God, since He tempts no one (James 1:13). Further, there was no other sinful being in existence, tempting him to sin. Neither was his nature imperfect, for God made every creature good. What then was the cause of Lucifer’s sin? Very simply put, it was Lucifer himself. A free action is one that is self-caused; that is, caused by oneself. It can’t be caused by another, for in that case they would be responsible for the sin. Nor can it be uncaused, for every action has a cause. Nothing cannot be the cause of something. This is a fundamental law of all thought: “Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could.” But if Lucifer’s prideful act of rebellion against God (1 Tim. 3:6) was not caused by another or uncaused, then it had to be caused by himself.
But If God Is All-Good and All-Powerful, Why Is Evil Not Defeated?
This raises another problem, one that has not passed the notice of unbelievers. When Lucifer sinned, why didn’t God nip it in the bud? Why didn’t He stomp it out? In short, if the God of the Bible is all-powerful, He could defeat it. If He is all-good, He would defeat it. But it is obvious to all that evil is not defeated. (Just watch the evening news or look around your neighborhood.)