Can a Good God Allow Evil?

Over the years as I studied the possibilities that it was a Celestial Dictator rather than random chance factors that account for all of creation, a small number of seemingly intractable, apparently irreconcilable, utterly exasperating conundrums dogged my pursuit with doubt and despair. A journey that consisted of three steps forward followed by two back.

There was an underlying driving motivation that kept up my momentum and it turned out to be the Holy Spirit living within me ever since I was born again. Urging me to “follow Him,” many times I took the puzzles that were best characterized as “wait, that doesn’t make sense,” and filed them away in my mind under ‘Wait for Further Information.’

I’m glad I did, for as I grew spiritually and learned more and more, I came to a place of vastly improved understanding in terms of how good and evil could exist side-by-side in a system that a good-God created, an all-powerful God, “…behold I am the Lord, is anything too hard for me?” This newly built foundation of knowledge came in handy when my season of trial and testing, along with a healthy dose of Karma (sowing and reaping the fruits of wayward and wrong decisions), saved me from completely giving up on my life altogether…turning to angst and bitterness, hardening my heart against God and man, and concluding the existential nihilistic philosophy that nothing matters for all is random and good and bad happen to both good and bad people. No wonderfully neat, embroidered and flowery explanation, just down and dirty awful things happen without any explanation as to why they happened to me.

My life unraveled beginning just a few years ago. After two decades my marriage blew to pieces, my kids grew up and became mostly estranged, aging meant my competitive running, my career in tech, my teaching, my global travel, everything that brought purpose and meaning to my life seemingly disappeared. I was diagnosed with debilitating illness, even sleep was elusive as oftentimes I would lay wide awake exhausted with nothing to do but think.

My decades of investing experience worked solidly against me through a frightening pandemic as the stock market turned into a gambling casino, and clever charlatans became ‘influencers’ as these pied pipers led tens of millions of innocents into recklessly dangerous and terrible investment choices. But it was my portfolio that suffered, and today almost a third has virtually disappeared. All around me on the national stage the rage and violence were on the increase, natural disasters such as massive fires and earthquakes became commonplace, and the rest of the world seemed to be increasingly despising the America I grew up to cherish and respect.

Finally, my ten-year old dog died, and I was absolutely, utterly, abysmally, left barren and desolate, alone, defeated, despairing and desperate; and that is when I looked up and asked, “why God?”

So, I returned to one of my favorite books, the Book of Job. He suffered far more than I did, but the important distinction is absent was the “sowed to the wind you reap the whirlwind.” Job was a good man and deserved none of what was happening to him. I was foolish and made some wrong turns, doing things that if someone had prophesied to me I would grow up to do such things later in my life, I would have dismissed them as nonsense, “I could never do those things!”

Does your cherished partner love you? How do you know? Do they have many alternatives to choose from, putting you in a kind of beauty contest and competition you somehow just happened to win? What is it that you call love anyway? Is it the willingness of your significant other to understand and help you with your own life’s goals and objectives? Would you still love them if you a) concluded your dear heart no longer is adding anything of value to your future, and b) you found someone new that is far more likely to take on that role for you? Is that what you call love?

The horrible things that happen to us can be divided into two broad categories. First off — our own mistakes. We should have known better. We should have paid attention to the commands of God. Karma’s a bitch. Second, is that all the undeserved evil that hits us in the form of trials and tribulations for which we cannot fathom how we might somehow be responsible bringing these down upon us.

This second broad category we seek to truly understand in order to parse this complex and enigmatic evil that besets us whether we resist it or not. That is the set of things that happen that cause pain, grief, and suffering, even when we are not to blame. Experiencing a betrayal, being cheated, fired without cause, death of a loved one or even a pet. A random attack on us by a stranger, verbal or physical. This is evil, but it is a different set altogether and we cannot lump all these categories into one common denominator. If our aim is to understand how God can tolerate, even allow, evil, we must constrain our definition to just exactly what kind of evil we are speaking of.

Note that sinless Jesus experienced this second category of evil though deserving none of it. From one end of the spectrum: sadness, rejection, exhaustion, being misunderstood and falsely accused, all the way to the other extreme: spat upon, punched, sharp thorns piercing his brow, flailed with a whip that has bits of glass and metal to rip the flesh off the back, stripped naked, nailed to a cross and publicly displayed in the worst sort of humiliation and pain imaginable. Deserving none of this, Jesus endured it, even though he could have avoided it. How can we understand and reconcile that an all-powerful God needed for this very thing to happen to his only son, and to such an extreme and horrible extent?

It starts with who God is. And for that we must define who he isn’t. He isn’t a genie that grants your wishes. In his kingdom everything that has value comes at a cost, not too different from our own experiences, right? Those things freely given to us may be gladly received, but the most precious things we treasure came at some cost to us. The cost may be what we gave up getting these things. In finance that cost is called an “opportunity cost.” You gave something up, you sacrificed, you worked hard, you spent money, you gave a lot. And for all that you received a valuable reward, and your life is made better as a result of this reward, the sacrifices of which cost you a great deal, including other things you could have attained instead.

We were made in God’s image. What happens in his kingdom has parallels in the world he created where he placed us. God is just, and because of the highest level of perfection in his kingdom, the justice required to punish evil must be commensurate and proportionate to the good that all who are enjoying his kingdom have received and thrive in.

No pain no gain. Ever notice that the people most fascinating and fun to be around are those who have had a lot of experiences, many of which were terrible trials and tribulations, suffering and hardships? The people who had to overcome the adversities of disabilities or discrimination, the people who suffered disease, those who were denied their due, the lives of survivors who bear the scars of many setbacks, defeats and even witnessing the destruction of the things they cherished most in their lives?

The insufferable are those born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Natural talents they credit to themselves rather than God, they are blessed with good health, physical beauty, many talents, and a whole lot of wealth. Spoiled narcissists worried only about how to learn to love themselves more, these are the people who angrily demand their ‘rights,’ who have no patience for anyone getting in their way or somehow making their life more difficult. They lack virtues such as humility, character, integrity, and generosity. They scheme only for the things that they crave, and their lusts can be characterized as “I must have that and I must have it NOW!”

It turns out that the evil that befalls us is the fire of the kindling that strengthens us and drives us toward virtue, to become wiser, better, more useful, helpful, and capable of genuine love for others. The tough life will produce a battered and scarred hero, while the easy life will only give society an unlikeably selfish and troublesome child that never grew into full adulthood, contributing nothing of value to the rest of society.

We can see that two things must be present in order for true love to be manifested:

  1. Difficulties must come and must be overcome to strengthen us into what we are to finally become, and
  2. The cost of the worthwhile goals and achievements must be paid. Jesus paid for the sins that should have resulted in our being completely cutoff from a Creator who has no evil whatsoever in Him or His kingdom. There was no other way, the result of the means of exploring alternatives in order to see if we would willingly seek out God among all these choices is clear. And the need for a Devil to tempt us toward the alternatives, diving into a season of sin, is the testing that will demonstrate our turning toward God was our own choice, our own volition, our trust, and love for Him.

This is why we don’t live in world where entropy has taken us to a steady state. Quite the opposite. Stark dichotomies exist side-by-side and they never yield one to the other but continue throughout time. Good and evil. Love and hate. Light and darkness. Life and death. Zero and one. Yes and no. True and false. Yin and Yang. Wheat and tares. Sheep and goats. 

The challenge is to decide which of two paths you will take. One path leads back to your Creator, through an intermediary that had to first pave the way by making you appear as spotless as the rest of the citizens of heaven. The second path is wide, filled with so many uncountable alternatives, from the religions of mankind to the temptations of rebellion, pride, and lust. Most people find themselves on the latter broad path. Few find the narrow path as it is too rigid, specific, and inflexible for them to realistically consider in a world that is their oyster. 

But those few are the overcomers, and those are the ones God has chosen to add to his kingdom and allow them to enjoy all of the beauty and perfection, the fullness of a life of purpose and joy, through eternity, without tears and suffering any longer.