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Historians have addressed the seeming contradiction of a world created by God, but replete with evil, and some have concluded that God simply doesn’t exist. British author and historian Paul Johnson writes in his book The Quest for God, "I suspect that the problem of evil drives more thoughtful people away from religion than any other difficulty" (1996, p. 61).
Physicist Paul Davies also considered the issue of why God, if He truly is all-powerful, does not simply intervene and stop all evil (God and the New Physics, 1983, p. 143). These questions are reasonable. If God exists, why doesn’t He act to remove evil and pain from the face of the earth?
Many assume God angrily intervenes to punish us whenever we step out of line, when in reality He generally allows us to suffer the consequences of our own selfish, shortsighted behavior (see Jeremiah 2:19; Jeremiah 10:23). The spiritual laws God has set in motion are self-enforcing, bringing their own painful consequences when we break them.
Understanding why God allows evil and its resultant suffering requires a fundamental understanding of one of God’s greatest gifts—as well as how man has continually abused that gift. The gift is free will —or, as it is more popularly called, freedom of choice. God granted this freedom to our first human parents, Adam and Eve, at creation. They made the wrong choice and over the millennia we have proven ourselves to be woefully inept stewards of this precious gift and its far-reaching responsibility.
As God explained to ancient Israel, the freedom to make choices is essential to developing righteous character (Deuteronomy 30:15-19). Without freedom to choose, we would be little more than robots. Choosing to obey God and learning to love others when we have the freedom to do otherwise is vital for the future God has planned for us in His Kingdom.
Only human beings have an advanced sense of time. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God “has put eternity in [our] hearts.” In other words, we can contemplate the future, making far-reaching decisions, planning our lives months and years in advance. We also have a sense of history and can study the past, learning lessons from our experiences and the experiences of others.
Many people disdain the Bible because it includes accounts of people’s bad behavior. Yet we should understand that Scripture, in part, is a historical account of the sinful way of life man chose when he rejected God’s commandments and reaped the resulting consequences. God inspired the recording of the lessons in the Old Testament and the experiences of the ancient Israelites so that we might learn from the experiences of others (1 Corinthians 10:6-11; Romans 15:4; ).
God told the Israelites they had the freedom to choose between the two ways of living: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
When we look for the main causes of suffering, we often need look no further than ourselves—the decisions and actions of individuals and humanity as a whole. In one way or another sin is usually the underlying cause, and suffering is the effect.
The Bible offers guidance as to how we should live. Yet as far back as Adam and Eve we have repeatedly spurned God’s instruction and brought enormous pain and sorrow on ourselves, requiring the sacrifice of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, to deliver us.
Bible Study Guide