You don’t have to live for long to know that evil is a part of this world. From North Korea’s nuclear threats to the F5 tornado that decimated Oklahoma to the rising incidents of cancer globally, there seems to be a tidal wave of bad circumstances out there just waiting to crash down upon us. It’s like playing a cosmic lottery—only in this game, no one wants a winning ticket.
Many seek God in such times, believing he has the power—and the compassion—to combat these forces of evil. But this raises a pressing question: If God is loving and all-powerful, then why doesn’t he just get rid of evil right now?
Walking in God’s Shoes
Trying to answer that question may be akin to walking in shoes that are simply too big for us. We have no guarantee that God understands things as we do. In fact, if we’re speaking of a creator God—a God massive enough to create the entire universe—why would we expect his thoughts to be on our level?
The Bible, which many believe to be a partial revelation of God’s character and a recording of his relationship with humanity, says outright that God’s ways are not like ours: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”1
God’s plans transcend time and space. They are so far above our limited understanding that even if there was more information out there explaining his character and person, we would likely still never fully comprehend his actions, still never understand the grandness of or purpose behind his plans.
The Bible speaks of this in many passages, perhaps the most well-known of which is found in the book of Job. When Job questions why God has allowed him to experience devastating pain and suffering, God reminds Job of his divine knowledge and power—which far exceeds Job’s own understanding of his temporary suffering: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? . . . Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” God asks Job. “Tell me, if you understand.”2
In the New Testament, Jesus speaks to this issue on the eve of his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. As soldiers draw near to take him into custody, one of Jesus’ disciples strikes a soldier with a sword. Jesus’ response? He heals the wounded man and says, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”3 You can almost feel Jesus’ desperate wish that his disciples could understand what was happening, almost hear him saying, “If only you could understand! In the long run, this is for your own good!”
Moments earlier, while contemplating his impending, horridly painful death by crucifixion, Jesus revealed through prayer his utmost devotion to his heavenly father—even when his father’s will included inevitable and extreme suffering for Jesus. Jesus’ fear and natural human desire to avoid pain did not override his faith: “My father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will,”4 he prayed.
Yet just knowing that God’s ways are not our own seems to oversimplify why evil is allowed to exist. Complicating matters further is the fact that there are situations when God does step in and take charge. A miraculous cure from a terminal illness; a last-minute deviation from a daily routine—spawned by an out-of-place “feeling”—that prevents one from being involved in a serious car crash; finally “catching a break” in one’s months-long job search.
If such “intrusion” exists, then why does God at other times appear to sit back and let evil run its course, even when that means pain and suffering for his people?
A Learning Process
Perhaps it’s a learning process that God wants us to go through. The Bible speaks of God “refining” and “shaping” his creation, much as a blacksmith forges rough metal into a sharpened sword or a sculptor forms a beautiful vase from a lump of clay.
Trying times often make us more than we were before—strengthening our characters, humbling our egos, and demonstrating the positives of perseverance. Coming through a tragedy can also be a faith-building experience that leads us to look beyond our narrow, self-centered view to a more caring, universal vision—a perspective that recognizes our overwhelming dependence upon our creator.
In the book Extreme Devotion: The Voice of the Martyrs, a Chinese Christian who experienced persecution best sums up this idea: “Where there is no cross, there is no crown. . . . If the spices are not refined to become oil, the fragrance of the perfume cannot flow forth; and if the grapes are not crushed in the vat, they will not become wine.”5
There’s something else to consider, too. By allowing evil to survive, God delays judgment upon those who have not yet found and accepted the good news of Jesus Christ. Were he to rid the world of evil today, there would be millions of souls lost—for all eternity. Perhaps in God’s eyes, the “lesser evil” is to allow his own people to continue to experience this transitory suffering, while the millions who are lost are given a little more time to be found.
As the apostle Peter says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”6
- The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, Isaiah 55:8–9.
- Ibid., Job 38:4.
- Ibid., Matthew 26:53–54.
- Ibid., Matthew 26:39.
- The Voice of the Martyrs, Extreme Devotion: The Voice of the Martyrs (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002), 329.
- The Holy Bible, 2 Peter 3:9.
- Photo credit: Dustie / Shutterstock.com.