Does God actually exist? Is He actually good? If He is good, why does He let us suffer? How can a good God tolerate evil? If God exists and is good, why doesn’t He make the pain and darkness stop? People have been puzzling over questions like this since the Garden of Eden. The question comes down to a misunderstanding of God’s goodness and how He works.
We must first realize God is very real. The famous Christian author and apologist C.S Lewis was a staunch atheist before becoming a Christian. As a boy he watched his mother slowly die of a lingering illness. In later years he recalled praying and praying for a miraculous cure for his dying mother. When she died he rejected God. In Mere Christianity he tells how in his late 20’s he began to wonder why people reject God when bad things happen. By what do they base their feelings of what is a good or bad occurrence? By what do they judge whether or not an event is deserved? Questions like that helped Lewis see the weakness of his atheistic standpoint. Lewis came to see the matter for what it is: extremely complex and not entirely understandable. God has an incredibly mysterious nature. His ways are beyond full understanding. However, we should never stop studying Him and what He has said. There are things we can and should know.
We can know God is greater than evil. Evil is not a force equal with God. It does not limit Him. God’s goodness will always be more powerful than Satan’s power. God created Satan. Further, Satan was good when God created him. He was a good angel before he chose to rebel against God. Satan was able to become bad because God allows free will. He still allows free will and it is still why people go bad. It is the gift of free will that makes a bad thing good.
Free will is a theme of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In the world of Middle-Earth everything that is evil was once good. It was all a good thing that chose to fall into evil. Saruman, Sauron, Gollum, the Nazgul, trolls, orcs—they were all once good beings who chose to be corrupted by evil. Even characters like Boromir and Denethor who never became entirely evil made evil choices. This was how Tolkien saw real evil. He believed all evil is simply spoiled good. Humans were created good beings, but Adam and Eve, the first humans, chose to be corrupted by evil.
We can know that evil will always lead to folly. All are born into evil. If we would escape the folly we must seek God. We must recognize the eucatastrophe of the cross. Tolkien coined the “eucatastrophe” to describe a horrible thing that has to happen to bring about a wonderful thing. The quest nearly killed everyone involved, but when it was over Frodo and Sam awoke to a renewed world. Jesus did die in His quest. He chose to extinguish the power of evil though it meant His death. His was a eucatastrophe.
We can know God is the only salvation because He is the only perfect goodness in the universe. One day Jesus was asked, “Good master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Why callest thou me good? None is good, save one, that is God” (Luke 18:18-19). He wanted the man to know no mortal man is worthy to be termed good. That is why we need God’s help. What is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:18-27).
God’s perfect goodness does not tolerate sin in His children. If we remain in sin, we will surely be punished. However, we should not think that blessing or punishment is always in the here and now. We should not assume if something bad happens it is because we have done something bad. Nor should we think we have done something good if something good happens to us. We do not always get in real life that which our moral behavior deserves. Bad things happen to us because we are fallen people in a fallen world. Pain in one form or another helps us sense the evil that surely happens to all.
We can know our good God did not create evil. It was a natural result of free will. It exists, it occurs.
God loathes evil but He incorporates the evil that occurs in His plans. Genesis recounts how Joseph’s brothers sold him in to slavery. God used this evil event to eventually elevate Joseph to second in command of all Egypt. One day his brothers came to Egypt to beg for food. Before making himself known to his brothers, Joseph made things difficult for them. They believed God was punishing what they did to Joseph many years before. Joseph revealed himself when he could stand to keep the secret no longer. He told his brothers not to be ashamed of their past sin against him. What they had chosen to do had been evil. However, God used their evil choice to bring about a very good thing (Genesis 37:20—45:8).
There is often no possible way we can know why God is allowing evil to occur or what He plans to do with it. Our sincere faith in God will be judged by how closely we remain in Him throughout any evil. Look at the case of poor Job. We are given knowledge of why God allowed a goodly number of catastrophic events to happen to him. We find out from the get go that God is allowing Satan to afflict Job to prove what a true and faithful servant he is. In this way, God will be achieving greater glory. Job did not know any of this at any time. Yet, he maintained his faith though not understanding the evil God allowed. He did show frustration and confusion. However, when his wife suggested He curse God and die he replied: “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speakest. What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 27:10). Job obviously did not enjoy or understand his suffering. However, he was determined to trust rather than reject God no matter what.
Job had some friends who tried to give good advice. Their speeches were interesting, insightful, thought-provoking . . . and pompous and misguided. Job spends the book bickering with his “friends” and pleading with God to give Him an answer. God finally replies to Job in the last three chapters. In essence He says, “What I am doing is none of your business. I am your Master and Creator. That is all you need to know. I am taking care of everything else in creation. I can certainly take care of you too.” Job immediately accepted God’s reply. He came to understand our finite, proud minds rebel because we cannot fully encompass Him. This is true for everyone who has ever existed. We often fail to realize our pain might pave the way for glorifying God in some way. Jesus taught that misfortune was used in this way. One day as He was walking with His disciples, the group met a blind man. The disciples assumed the blind man was blind because of sin, either by the man or his parents. Jesus declared the man had been born blind so God’s glory could one day be displayed. He then proceeded to heal the man, receiving glory as the Son of God (John 9:1-11).
Some say since God is not doing anything about evil in this world, He must be powerless. That’s a foolish argument. All of history is God’s work against evil. God’s wrath has always been against evil (Romans 1:18a). This is bad news for us because all men are evil (Romans 3:23). However, God has given us hope through the death of Jesus His Son (Romans 5:8). We deserved to die for our sins but Jesus did it for us (Romans 6:23). When Jesus returns we will be judged according to whether or not we have repented of our sins and accepted Jesus as our personal savior. God’s coming judgment will be the final act of God purging all evil.
God is thoroughly good. God’s goodness means He is all-powerful, all-loving, and completely just. Sometimes this also means His goodness is fearsome. Sometimes His goodness hurts. Sometimes His goodness appears evil to us. What may appear so is His way of battling the evil forces of darkness.
The biblical servants of God often did not understand what God was doing or the evil He was allowing. Think of old Job covered in boils, dirt, ash, worms, and the insults of self-righteous friends. Think of how he persevered in complete faith to the bitter end. Think of how God rewarded Job in the end by exalting the rest of his days. Think, no, know that you too do not know God’s reasons for everything God does or allows. Know He has a reason for everything. Know He will have the final victory in everything. Know God is good.