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Big Questions 2: Why Does Evil Exist?

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Introduction

I doubt that I have to convince you that evil exists. Two years ago, I was in a South African township, and there I witnessed public, blatant human trafficking. We had these two young boys that were dressed in rags and approached us, asking for milk and bread. When we gave them the milk and bread, the gentlemen that we were with told us to watch where they took it, and we watched as they ran behind the store where they took it to pimps. Back there, there were lined up more than a dozen young girls, none of whom could have hardly been out of of their teenage years with their hands behind their back standing in perfect attention as though they were in a military formation. The South African government has done a study of these girls, and out of the girls they researched one hundred percent of them came back HIV positive. These girls are targeted in impoverished townships, typically in abusive homes, and given at no charge strong, addictive drugs like heroine. Then, the drugs are taken away from them with their only access being if they will agree to come to work for them. It’s evil, and I saw it along with two other men in our church. With everything inside of you, you want to run to them and fight and steal them away.
So, what do we, Christians, do about the question of evil? Honestly, this very question led me to a crisis of faith a few years ago. The question fleshed out goes like this:
If God is all-powerful, He is able to prevent evil.
If God is entirely good, He wants to prevent evil.
But, evil exists.
This is a big question, and big questions need big answers. So, let’s go together to the word of God.

God’s Word

Read

God Rules It All

If I’m honest with you, from both a philosophical and a personal standpoint, I have trouble with the text that we just read. It’s difficult for me. From a philosophical standpoint, I want to exonerate God and excuse God from the evils I’ve seen. I want to say that a good God will only want good to happen. From a personal standpoint, it’s difficult for me to conceive of God’s control and approval of my own suffering and my own hardship. And, so, if you’re like me, as much as this troubles me philosophically, it troubles me much more personally. Because, I’ve experienced pain and evil, and people that I love have experienced pain and evil and suffering.
But, God, and this is God speaking in the first person here, does not seek to exonerate himself. This is, frankly, a shocking passage, isn’t it? Instead, He says, “There is only one God. There is only one God by which everything was made to whom everything will answer, and it is me. And, being the only God. Being the supreme Ruler of the universe. I am the Ruler of all. I am the Ruler of the full spectrum of the human experience. I make light and darkness. I make well-being and calamity. I do it all. I rule it all. I control it all.” So, God says in a way that we cannot get around: I control everything good, and everything bad. I control everything wonderful and everything terrible. And, He contributes this to his being God, as this is what makes him God. Take this control away from him, and He ceases to be God. In fact, the word ‘calamity’ here is most often translated as ‘evil’ and can be translated as ‘wickedness’ or ‘disastrous.’ It’s the very worst Hebrew word you can use to describe something terrible, and God attributes it finally and ultimately to himself without need for exoneration and without fear of it compromising his character or goodness.
You might think to Job chapter one. All seven of Job’s children die. Job loses the entirety of his livelihood. In an instance, calamity strikes Job’s life. Job comes face to face with the evil of this world, and he went from wealthy and prosperous to bankrupt and lonely. And, Job responds by saying, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” That is, even though Satan instigated this attack on Job as we see at the beginning of chapter one, Job ultimately attributed it to God himself. And, maybe you’d think Job was wrong for doing that except that the very next verse says: “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” You see, Job said that God was in control of it all, God was designing it all, God was ruling it all, and Job was right! Job was not sinning against God by crediting God with something that seemed at the time so terrible.

God is Praiseworthy, but Not Culpable

But, this brings us to the big question, I think. In his controlling of evil and ruling over evil and, we can even say ordaining evil, must we say that God is evil? That is, if God designed the world knowing that evil would exist, or even that evil must exist, does that make him culpable and guilty for the evil that does exist?
This is why we need the entire Bible, and not just one verse. If all you have is one verse, and I don’t care what that verse is, you are in danger of building a very dangerous, unbalanced theology. And, if all you had was , and a couple of other passages like it, you could conceivably come away with an unbalanced and dangerous understanding that turns God into a moral monster, just like others turn God into a feel good hippy because of their focus on only a few verses. But, God has given us the full counsel of his word through which He has revealed himself. And so, we have to read and this difficult question of evil in the context of the entire revelation of God. And, it’s within that revelation that I think we begin to get a clearer, firmer grasp on God’s relationship with evil.
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is not darkness at all.”
Listen to what it says in : “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” God is all light and no darkness. That is, that God is all good, and not evil! God may control both good and evil as we see in , but God is good and not evil. Darkness and light cannot coexist. So, it is unacceptable to say that evil exists in God or that any motive of God or attitude of God is evil. For ‘in him is no darkness at all.’ God is in no way evil and has no sinister motive or component whatsoever.
God controls both good and evil, but God is good and not evil.

God Permits Evil for Greater Good

So, why? Why would an entirely good and an entirely powerful God ordain evil that He could have prevented to come into this world? Now, I’m going to tell you on the front end that this isn’t an entirely intellectually satisfying answer, but no worldview has one, and I would defy you to find a worldview that has a better one. But, here is my premise and then, we’re going to unpack this together: God permits evil because its existence brings about greater good to his people and greater glory to his Name. That is, God being entirely good and the source of all good will only permit evil that serves good and accomplishes good, which He can ensure because He controls it all. This is how and come together! He ordains all calamities, yet no darkness is in him at all.

Joseph

Genesis 37 ESV
Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt. When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” And he identified it and said, “It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.
God gives Joseph a dream of his brothers bowing down to him.
God gives Joseph a dream of his brothers bowing down to him.
Joesph tells his family, and his brothers get jealous.
Joesph tells his family, and his brothers get jealous.
His brothers plan to kill him. Reuben, the oldest, won’t let them. They throw him into a pit.
His brothers plan to kill him. Reuben won’t let them. They throw him into a pit.
Reuben goes away. They sell him into slavery.
Reuben goes away. They sell him into slavery.
Joseph prospers in slavery to become head of the estate.
Potiphar’s wife goes after him and fakes a rape when rejected.
Potiphars wife goes after him and fakes a rape when rejected.
Joseph is thrown into prison where he meets the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker.
Joseph is thrown into prison where he meets the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker.
He interprets their dreams and wins favor with cupbearer (Baker dies).
He interprets their dreams and wins favor with the cupbearer (Baker dies).
The cupbearer forgets all about Joseph until he’s with Pharaoh who is tortured by a reoccurring dream.
The cupbearer forgets all about Joseph until he’s with Pharaoh who is tortured by a reoccurring dream.
Joseph is brought out of prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, which he does perfectly.
Joseph is brought out of prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, which he does perfectly.
Joseph becomes the second most powerful man in the world.
Joseph becomes the second most powerful man in the world.
Israel, where Joseph’s family is, is in famine.
They come to Egypt where Joseph, whom they don’t recognize, is the second in command.
They come to Egypt where Joseph, whom they don’t recognize, is the second in command.
Joseph saves their lives and says in , “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
God gave the dream to Joseph, but he only told it because he wanted to. God did not force the brothers to become jealous. They were simply naturally jealous. God did not give the brothers the desire to murder Joseph, for it was their own desire. God had Reuben present when He needed to be present to save Joseph’s life and away when He needed to sell Joseph to Potiphar. So, the brothers and Potiphar' did everything according their will and their desires and they were responsible. They did evil, and they brought evil into Joseph’s life. But, God was working the whole time! So much so, that Joseph could say that God sent me!

God Permits Evil, He Never Does Evil

What is God’s relationship with evil? God permits evil, but He never does evil. God’s relationship with evil is always indirect. He rules over it, but He never does it. He uses it for the accomplishment of his purposes, but He doesn’t do it for the accomplishment of his purposes.

God Manipulates Evil

God permits evil, but He never does evil.God’s relationship with evil is always indirect. He rules over it, but He never does it. He uses it for the accomplishment of his purposes, but He doesn’t do it for the accomplishment of his purposes.
In permitting evil, God manipulates evil to bring glory to his Name and ultimate good to his people! This is exactly what happens in the story of Joseph. God’s word is upheld, and God’s people are delivered. Two evils looked like they were happening simultaneously: 1) Joseph had been horribly betrayed by his brothers. 2) Israel’s family appeared destined for total ruin because of an insurmountable seven year famine. And, both of these evils seemed to be shouting the very same thing: God isn’t here, and God doesn’t care. But, the truth of reality wasn’t found in the difficulty of those temporary circumstances but in the background of providence for God was in goodness and for his glory orchestrating of all of that apparent evil to come together in such a way that they would never forget and never want to change for anything in the world. For God would use the betrayal of the brothers to deliver Israel’s family from the ruins of famine and prove that He was very much alive and very much involved and very much intent on keeping his word to his people and bringing glory to his name.
APPLICATION: Our enemy, if He can’t have your heart and can’t have your soul, he’ll be content to have your peace and your joy and your confidence in God. And, the way that He’ll do that is by ever so slightly and ever so slowly undermining the goodness of God in your mind. He’ll let thoughts creep in through suffering and pain and evils you face that you never would have believed any other way. He’ll make you think that praying doesn’t really matter, God is going to do what He’s going to do anyway. He’ll make you think that your suffering is just pointless and aimless and will never amount to anything. He’ll make you believe that everyone around you has more joy than you do and more blessings than you do and more of God’s kindness than you do. And, all of these are subtle attacks on the character of God so that you, just a little bit at a time, with think less of the goodness of God. But, listen to me fellow sufferer: In our suffering, it may feel like God is absent, but if Job teaches us nothing else, let him teach us that the silence of God must not be mistaken for the absence of God. For our God is at work, very often in the background of our pain and our suffering and our circumstances, to bring even the greatest evils of our lives together to the point in which we may look the devil himself in the face and say, what you meant for evil, God has meant for my good! God will manipulate your hardship and your suffering and your encounters with evil so that they leave you singing, brothers and sisters!

Jesus

There’s one more passage that I want us to look at together. I consider it to be one of the most insightful verses in the entire NT, particularly when it comes to the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. But, maybe you’re asking: I still don’t see what greater good could possibly come from the existence of evil. And, it’s this I want to aim at squarely with this verse. Because, what I think we’ll find is that our very favorite part of God, the part of God which we treasure the most and enjoy the most and praise him for the most is the very part of him that we could not know if evil did not exist.
: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
The people of Israel and Rome crucified Jesus because they wanted to crucify Jesus. God did not overcome them and place evil in their hearts. They did it because they wanted to. Yet, at the very same time, it was God’s plan. Their evil actions was God’s plan of grace in action. They did what they wanted to do, but God was using their evil desires and actions to bring about good they could not even perceive of.
Yet, at the very same time, it was God’s plan. Their evil actions was God’s plan of grace in action. They did what they wanted to do, but God was using their evil desires and actions to bring about good they could not even perceive of.
Yet, at the very same time, it was God’s plan. Their evil actions was God’s plan of grace in action. They did what they wanted to do, but God was using their evil desires and actions to bring about good they could not even perceive of.
God brings about his will through our willing choices. So, we see, once again, God bringing about his definite plan indirectly by manipulating the evil that free, moral agents are committing, right? Just like Joseph’s brother’s sent him to Egypt because they wanted to, but Joseph recognized that God had sent him as his plan, so Jesus is killed by Pilate and Caiphus and the Jews, but Jesus goes to the cross because the Father has sent him there.
God brings about his will through our willing choices.

God Created the World Knowing He Would Suffer Too

The hard question that people have about evil is why God would create a world in which He knew that people would suffer. Why didn’t He intervene? But, here’s the glory of it: Although God created us knowing that we would suffer at the hands of evil, He also created us knowing that He too would suffer evil for us through his Son. And, He suffered because He did intervene. God took on flesh so that He wouldn’t know our suffering from a distance but personally. And, can I ask you? Is this not your favorite part of God? If evil did not exist, you would have no concept of words like grace, forgiveness, mercy, self-denial, or crucifixion. Those words would mean nothing to you. But, these are the words that fill our songs and our testimonies, aren’t they? What songs would we sing if there was no sin and suffering? It is through these things that we have come to see the beauty and power and glory of God! So, we look to the cross, and we know that evil and suffering are not pointless. We look to the cross, and we know that pain in the life of the Christian is heading somewhere.

Evil Does Not Win

APPLICATION: So,
APPLICATION: But, better yet, we look to the cross, and we look to the grave, and we remember that they could not hold him! They could not keep him down! And so, evil does not win! Evil is a servant of almighty God! What evil are you facing today? What evil has you doubting the goodness of God? What evil do you need to bring him in faith? What evil do you need to bring back to the victory of the cross? What evil do you need to remind is under the manipulation and power of God himself? Because God is good, and that evil in your life will bring him glory!
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