I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago with a self-described atheist who blamed his adamant disbelief in God on the abundance of evil in the world. We’ll call this man Chad. Chad told me he had been through way too much hell in his life to believe an all-powerful and wholly good God is sovereignly supervising everything that happens. I stood speechless as he shared some of his “hellish” experiences with me.
Talking with any unbeliever about the gospel can be challenging, but I find it especially difficult to engage people like this man—people who have suffered deeply at the hands of others people’s devilry. I can give an answer to Chad’s demand for justice. I can explain to him that God laid all the sins of those who trust in Christ upon Christ and then punished him as if he had personally committed those sins. I can explain to him that those who refuse to receive Christ and his pardoning benefits will be punished for their own sins in Hell.
But I can’t answer all the whys.
And what about you and me? I’m sure we have similar questions. No one gets through this world without being taken out back and beaten by the wickedness within it. Why has the God who claims to love us permitted evil to inflict its pain and suffering upon us?
Some might argue God is unable to thwart the vicious schemes of men because he chooses not to violate man’s “free will.” However, even Christians who hold to that kind of theology still believe God at least foreknows all things that come to pass. In eternity past, God foresaw every evil thing that would transpire if he moved forward with creating the world, yet he still decided to move forward. He knew full well the atrocious acts men would commit against one another, yet he still decided to create them. Why?
No one is able to satisfactorily answer that question. But I do know one thing: if God did not tolerate evil, we would all be hopelessly damned. Evil is not merely some force outside of us that victimizes us; in our natural state, it is the dominating force within each of us. Apart from the cleansing and transforming grace of God poured out through Jesus Christ, we are all lovers and perpetrators of evil (Romans 3:10).
Though I didn’t get this far in the conversation with Chad (hope to when I see him later this week), I suspect he may have responded with something like, “I may not be perfect, and I might do small-scale bad stuff sometimes, but I am not like the vicious people who made my life miserable. I am not an adulterer or a deadbeat dad or a pedophile.” It is true that some people commit more heinous acts than others. However, even the vilest of deeds has its roots in a seemingly harmless attitude of the heart. Murder is birthed out of hatred, adultery is birthed out of lust, theft is birthed out of greed, etc. My point is this: if evil is to be vanquished, it must be vanquished in its most elementary manifestation—at the heart level. And this would be bad news for all of us because, in our natural condition, the thoughts of all of our hearts are continually evil (Genesis 6:5). If God did not currently tolerate evil, he would not tolerate you and me.
I can’t know all the reasons God decided to create a world in which he knew evil and suffering would thrive. But I do know that he is wholly good and merciful, and I do know he is presently patient toward evildoers because he desires for them to turn to him in faith for the forgiveness of their sins (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). If we refuse the great salvation he has provided in his Son, God will righteously unleash his wrath upon us in Hell. However, if you and I will simply look upon Jesus with eyes of faith and embrace all that he is for us—namely, our Great Substitute—we can know God’s wrath toward us was unleashed in full measure upon Jesus when he “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 9:26).”
Every evil committed since the beginning of time will receive a just retribution. The question we are each faced with is: will we persist in unbelief and receive our punishment personally, or will we seek forgiveness and refuge under the Cross of Christ?