Before answering this question, we must establish one thing: God is good. 1 Chronicles 16:34, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!” is echoed in various Psalms (Psalm 107:1; 118:1; 118:29; 136:1) and emphasized in Psalms 119:68; 100:5; 145:8-9. 1 John 1:5 tells us why God is good (“God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all”) and most importantly, Jesus Christ confirms that God is good: “No one is good-except God alone” (Luke 18:19). God’s goodness shines through in everything He promises and delivers.
Why does evil exist? Is it “from God”?
The answer to this can be brief: no, evil is not “from God”. God did not create “evil”. Everything created by God is good (1 Timothy 4:4) and He Himself acknowledged that it was good (in Genesis 1:31). He did not introduce “evil”. Evil is where no good exists; it is the corruption of something that was once good.
Scripture identifies the root cause of evil on earth very early on: in Genesis 3, we meet (the) (d)evil disguised as a serpent. John 8:44 explains that lies and deceit are of the devil, who “was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies,” according to Jesus. This entity in whom no truth exists, has a name: Satan. Jesus has known him since the beginning of time.
As God’s enemy, Satan is no longer allowed to be in God’s presence, and Jesus says He saw Satan “fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). If in Isaiah 14:12-15, the “King of Babylon” is a reference to Satan, we can deduce that his vanity and efforts to emulate God caused his fall. When Satan masqueraded as a serpent in the Garden of Eden, his goal was to persuade man to disobey God so that mankind would no longer qualify for eternal life in God’s presence.
Why doesn’t God simply remove all evil?
Ultimately, God will remove all evil. 1 John 3:8 says that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil”. Revelation 20:10 tells us that the devil, indeed, will be defeated. So God is at work. But let’s ask ourselves what would be the result if God indeed “removed” all evil, today. What, or possibly who, would be “removed”?
Man-made evil may well be the worst kind of evil we know. But man’s natural tendency is to sin, and to disobey God. According to Romans 3:23, all people sin, and all “fall short of the glory of God.” Compared to God’s perfect holiness (Isaiah 6:3), all of humanity “does evil”, and all people are “evil-doers”. Fortunately for Christians, our lack of “perfect holiness” was redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus makes us righteous before God, and thanks to Jesus, we can look forward to an evil-free eternal future in the presence of the Lord. But while we are here on earth, the answer to the title question is that if God were indeed to “remove” all evil, this would include us, as well. Is this what we want: presumably not, and it’s certainly not what God wants for us.
But if God allows us to make mistakes without intervening, He has to afford others the same privilege. This means that others can potentially hurt us, without God stepping in to prevent this. So what about evil that comes in the shape of illness or natural disasters, you might ask? This, too, is the result of man’s disobedience to God as described in Genesis 3. Mankind lost its residence in the Garden of Eden and lost its physical place in the presence of God. The blessing of living in a physical world without illness or death, has gone.
Does the presence of evil mean that God isn’t in control?
Whenever we exercise our own free will to sin, we effectively choose to be a “presence of evil” ourselves, and that is not because God isn’t in control. It is because He gave us free will, and because He will not “cancel” what He gave us. God loves us, and has a higher priority: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) If God intervenes every time people commit evil, all will not reach repentance and consequently, will perish. Essentially, His intervention would be counterproductive to His own loving goal.
It is understandable that many Christians will find it difficult to balance current suffering against the promise of eternal well-being – even though we know our suffering on earth will be brief, compared to all of eternity with God. Perhaps we can draw strength from the life of the Apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11:21-28, he lists the evil things that have happened to him while he was serving God. As if the list isn’t long enough, he leaves out having a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) and the fact that he was bitten by a snake (Acts 28:3). But he rejoices in all of it, because the weakness it creates in him, allows Christ’s power to rest upon him (2 Corinthians 12:9)!
Does it not bother God that we encounter evil?
Yes it does. We should never think that, because evil doesn’t prompt God to send lightning down from the sky on our behalf, God is indifferent to our suffering. Psalm 34:16-18 goes some way to describing God’s sentiments. He can be “grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:6) by people’s actions, and we have the assurance that He is continuously working to guide us back to better times because “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). It pains Him that we are troubled by man-made evil, natural disasters, crippling illnesses, pandemics, economic hardship and other corruptions of the goodness He created. Wherever goodness (health, love, prosperity, etc.) is absent, evil makes inroads into our lives, and God hates evil (Zechariah 8:17, Proverbs 6:16-19).
How can we be certain that God IS in control?
“With God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26), and with God, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37). God is almighty. Absence of His intervention does not equal absence of His control. We know that there is no darkness in God, whatsoever (1 John 1:5) and that He loves us (John 3:16). These are the comforting truths that we can, and must, rely on. There ARE things that God will not and cannot do – such as break promises or lie (Psalm 145:13, Hebrews 6:17-18, Titus 1:2). Lack of control is not one of His characteristics. However, as His perfect righteousness does not allow Him to restore the Garden of Eden for our corrupted world, we will have to accept that our “life in the flesh” will be subject to challenges, and that some will suffer more than others before all reach repentance. Like the owner of the vineyard in Matthew 20, God wants us all to get the opportunity to earn a denarius, even those who join at the eleventh hour.