The Problem of Evil
Sometimes the best things in life are the hardest to obtain.
Our transition from a legalistic cult in Worldwide Church of God, to becoming a biblical, evangelical denomination was brutal—but blessed. We constantly faced new doctrinal and administrative challenges during the transformation.
And, people either loved it or hated it.
I remember one of my best friends, a deacon, falling against my chest sobbing. “I can’t take any more of this Jesus stuff,” he cried, “You’ve got to stop preaching all this Jesus stuff.” I had to choose between my Lord and my friend. I chose the Lord, but the pain and loss was intense.
To be cliché, “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.”
The result? Blessing...worth the pain!
Why Doesn't God Fix It?
I tell you this story to introduce a bigger question--if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal, and everywhere-present; THEN WHY IS THERE SO MUCH EVIL IN THE WORLD!
Like a lot of pastors, I wish I had a $1 for every time I've been asked that question. But before proposing some philosophical principles to consider, I'd like to explore what most people believe--at least the ones who typically ask me that question.
First, most seekers who ask that question believe that there IS a God. I say this based both on personal experience and solid research. Approximately 95% of the world's population believe in a deity of some sort. Thus, it's logical to conclude that most folks asking the questions about evil--really believe in God, they just don't believe He is Good.
Second, of the 5% who DON'T believe in God, most of those are agnostics. They are NOT true atheists. Actually, TRUE atheists don't exist since in order to become one, you have to PROVE that God doesn't exist--a logical and scientific impossibility. So, since the 5% of so who ask about evil are agnostics, what they're really saying is that they don't know God and assume that the God of the Bible CAN'T be real since there is evil in the world.
So the question about evil, is actually a question about God's character.
How To Get Rid of Evil
So...if you were God, with all his power, knowledge, and awareness--exactly how WOULD you get rid of evil?
As the story of our church transition illustrates, some of the greatest victories require a bit of trial, testing, and challenge. We value those more and frankly, we fight harder than we would if things were always easy. We need to have a choice--an option. Then, we need to fight through and past evil to obtain and value the good.
In the movie, "Bruce Almighty," the main character, (played by Jim Carey), gets a chance to find out. He's given all of God's power, but just for the city of Buffalo, NY. The only caveat is that he cannot remove their free will. God explains that this wouldn't work because you can't force people to love you--or it's not true love.
Powerful truth there...real love requires free will...but free will leads to evil as well as good...hmmm....
Bruce's initial plan is to right every wrong, stop all crime, and give everyone whatever they pray for. He works hard at it and even uses technology to take prayer into the digital age. He uses an email, "reply all" function to give everyone exactly what they prayed for.
The result is a disaster!
Bruce quickly learns that his interference with natural law, intended consequences, basic economics, justice, etc., leads to absolute chaos. He gladly returns control to God, (played masterfully by Morgan Freeman), and is quite happy and satisfied with his new, normal life.
Bruce's plan failed...so exactly how would YOU rid the world of evil?
This challenge is exacerbated by the existence of a fallen angel, the Devil, who personifies evil, hatred, etc. His free will choice to fight everything God stands for, has coached the world into evil and helped keep us there for centuries.
So what will God ultimately do to change this?
Well, scripture tells us that God has a plan to do so, but it doesn't involve removing free will. In order to love, we must be able to choose. Man's initial choice was to reject God and the pain, suffering, loss, etc.; we see on our planet is a result.
How will He fix it?
There are several components to this plan:
1. Reveal Himself to man including his nature, character, and goodness. The Bible is our record of that revelation over centuries to men like Abraham, Moses, David, the Prophets, the Disciples of Christ, etc.
2. Give Himself for man. Jesus as God was qualified to sacrifice himself for sin, thus allowing justice to reign. We inherently know that without justice, there is no freedom or blessing. Jesus took care of the justice issue.
3. Live Himself IN man. The person of the Holy Spirit lives in men who choose Jesus as Lord and Savior. This enables them to grow more and more like God, overcoming evil, throughout their faith life.
4. Spend Eternity With man. The Bible speaks of a transformation planned for all those who trust in Christ. This transformation apparently sets their character by changing them into spirit beings as they've willed/chosen, thus removing the weakness of the flesh. Satan is removed from power and those who reject Christ are as well. Evil is conquered and men who've chosen good through God's plan are now eternally good themselves.
God's nature is good, loving, just, and pure. So is His plan. The choice we face is simple--to choose to work with Him or against Him. We can't replace the plan or judge him for not removing free moral agency. That makes no sense. The logical choice is to trust and follow Him to the best of our ability.
To that end,