Why Does God Allow Evil?

Why Does God Allow Evil?

Why Does God Allow Evil?

The cover of the July 12, 1968, edition of Life magazine showed a picture of two young children who were starving to death as the result of a humanitarian crisis in Biafra. This magazine reached the hands of a young Steve Jobs, who would later create the Apple empire responsible for iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers. Jobs, whose parents were attempting to raise him with Christian roots, was horrified. When his pastor told him that God was aware of the evils taking place in Biafra, Jobs decided that he didn’t want anything to do with a God who could allow such horrendous evil to go on.[1]

Fast forward nearly 50 years until the present: Steve Jobs is dead, but evil remains. In the past few days, America has watched in horror as Hurricane Harvey has pummeled the Gulf Coast of Texas. Interstates, those symbols of America’s interconnectedness and engineering prowess, lay covered by ocean water though they are miles from shore. Technology, that austere bastion of human expertise which seeks to tame the natural order and make us gods, has been completely outmatched by a hurricane which could have been stronger. In the wake of the storm, human beings, the bearers of the imago Dei, have been left to suffer.

Why does God allow so much evil in the world? Why doesn’t God make all the hurricanes stay in the Gulf of Mexico? Why does God allow people to starve to death? These questions, known collectively as the Problem of Evil, are widely regarded as the strongest objections to the Christian faith. The reason is that Christianity teaches that God loves all of creation with all of Himself, and that God desires the best for human beings who are all fashioned in His image; yet, the world doesn’t seem to line up with the congenial picture painted by Christian theology. In all honesty, the natural world can be downright hostile to human flourishing. In fact, human beings, with our nuclear weapons, propensity toward crime, and apathy toward crises the world over, can at times be hostile to human flourishing.

So, why does God allow evil? To answer that question, we need to consider the different types of evil. First, there are moral evils. The Holocaust is the quintessential moral evil. The common denominator of moral evils is the human actor. Crime and war, for example, are moral evils; for, they are initiated and carried out by human actors. Second, there are natural evils. Hurricane Harvey is a natural evil. The common denominator of natural evils is that these evils are not caused by human actors. These evils are a result of natural forces; for example, storms of all sorts, droughts, and famines are all natural evils. I will ignore the moral evils with the hopes of returning to them later.

Why does God allow natural evils? To be perfectly honest, we don’t know. After all, for all we know, God has a remarkably good reason for allowing these evils. It’s possible that natural evils, such as Hurricane Harvey, do actually work out for the good in the end; we simply do not know. This, however, should not bother a Christian too much; after all, if God has a good reason for allowing an evil event like Hurricane Harvey to take place, why assume that human beings in general or Christians in particular would be the first (or last) ones to know about it?[2] Given Christian theology, if the Christian God exists, we are well within our rights to assume that God probably has a good purpose in mind. The people at the foot of the cross, for example, didn’t understand how Jesus’s crucifixion could’ve been a good thing; God, however, had a plan to which they were not privy. Given what we know of God, it’s probably the same for natural evils.

As a side note: If anyone claims that since we don’t know what God’s good purpose is, there probably isn’t a good purpose, remember that this sort of argument is a fallacy known as an argument from ignorance. The fact that we don’t know why God allows some evil event to occur does not at all mean that God doesn’t have a purpose for allowing evil to occur. Once again, given Christian theology, we have good reason to believe that God does have a worthwhile purpose even if we don’t see it.

While I don’t know why God allows natural evils, there are a few possible reasons. Before you read these, however, remember that this is not the kind of information that you’d use in a counseling session; this is philosophical reasoning that is by its nature coolly detached from present sufferings. If someone in your life has lost something, they need a friend. If you’re sitting safely in your home wondering why God allows evils, then these options are something worth considering.

First, God could allow natural evils, such as hurricanes, to take place so that we humans would be reminded of our own frailty.[3] While we have a propensity to think of ourselves as stronger and wiser than we actually are, natural evils have a propensity to bring us to our knees by reminding us that we aren’t nearly as tough as we would like to be. Second, natural evils provide the opportunity for moral growth.[4] As I’m writing this, I’ve received messages from within our Southern Baptist infrastructure seeking trained volunteers to assist in disaster relief. When these relief agencies get on the ground, the workers have an opportunity for moral growth. Third, natural disasters can help those affected or threatened reevaluate their priorities. We all have a tendency to place inordinate amounts of value on the wrong things in life. When a storm threatens our lives, we are reminded that some things, such as family, are more important that what you drive, your bank account, and the clothes you wear.

In the end, we really don’t know why God allows natural evils to occur. Given what we know about God, there’s certainly a good reason. We, however, are not privy to that reason, but that shouldn’t bother us too much. In reality, this ignorance says more about us than it does about God.

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Notes & Sources

[1] Hemant Mehta, “When Steve Jobs Left His Faith,” Patheos, October 24, 2011, accessed August 29, 2017, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/10/24/when-steve-jobs-left-his-faith/.

[2] Alvin Platinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 10.

[3] John Hick, “An Irenaean Theodicy,” in Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 45-47.

[4] Ibid.