The evil God allows in the world, and the tragedies He chooses not to prevent, leads many to question the wisdom, goodness and even existence of God.
British author and historian Paul Johnson writes of one of mankind's greatest theological dilemmas in his book The Quest for God stating, "I suspect that the problem of evil drives more thoughtful people away from religion than any other difficulty" (1996, p. 61).
Julian Huxley, one of the 20th century's leading proponents of evolution, opined that the existence of evil "is a challenge to God's moral character" (Religion Without Revelation, 1957, p. 109).
Most people fail to recognise the spiritual laws God has set in motion are self-enforcing, bringing their own painful consequences when we break them (Jeremiah 2:19), although Scripture certainly shows God can remove wicked men from power, should He choose to do so (Daniel 2:21). He humbled and removed Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar, the mightiest ruler of his era, neutralising his influence for seven years.
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.
This gift is free will or freedom of choice which God granted to Adam and Eve at creation. Exercising this decision-making ability is essential to developing righteous character (Deuteronomy 30:15-19). Without freedom to choose, humans would be little more than robots.
Of all the earth's physical creatures man alone can exercise free will, and as our Creator He wants us to choose to obey Him from the heart. God told the Israelites: "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" (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Like the ancient Israelites we have the freedom to choose between two ways of life. As the book of Revelation explains, the tree of life symbolised obedience to God ultimately leading to eternal life (Revelation 2:7). The other tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—represented rejection of God's direction by determining good and evil for oneself, eventually leading to death.
Actions yield consequences and nations and individuals suffer many miseries because of ignorance of and disobedience to the same spiritual laws of God Israel disobeyed. Many people recognize the saying "You reap what you sow," but they do not realize it comes from the Bible (Galatians 6:7).
The conclusion should be obvious. The Bible offers guidance as to how we should live. Yet as far back as Adam and Eve mankind has repeatedly spurned God's instruction, resulting in enormous pain and sorrow caused by wrong choices. We cannot live substantially free from suffering until we are reconciled to God and His commandments (Proverbs 3:1-2).
God's law is not harsh and restrictive. It is a law of liberty (James 1:25) that would eliminate most of the world's pain if it were universally obeyed.
Bible Study Guide - Why Does God Allow Suffering?