IntroductionHow Could God Allow
Suffering and Evil?
Adolph Hitler. Tornadoes. Inoperable cancer. Car accidents.
Terrorist bombings. AIDS. Drive-by shootings.
Child abuse. September 11, 2001.
With just a few words, chills run down our spines
and we feel sick to our stomachs. Images flash before
us that generate deep emotional reactions. What stirs
up all our fear, outrage, and anger? It can be summed
up in one word: evil.
When something terrible happens to us, we grope for
explanations. Why does evil torment our lives? Where
does it come from? How will we ever get past it?
Some people blame nature and its randomness.
Some blame a few sinister but powerful people. Some
blame themselves. Some believe there is a malicious
force at work, a devil or evil spirits. And each of us-at
one time or another-has probably blamed God.
Where does evil come from? Isn't it reasonable-maybe
even logically necessary-to ascribe it to God?
He made everything; he must have also made evil. And
what exactly is evil? Is it a living entity, maliciously
aiming its terrifying arrows at hapless humans? Is it
mere randomness-chaos masquerading as unkindness?
Or maybe evil is part of God-the "Dark Side of
the Force" that's as necessary as his good side.
Maybe God's testing us-he's watching to see how
we'll handle all this pain and suffering. Maybe it's
punishment-he's telling us, "This is what you deserve
for the life you've lived!" Or maybe the universe just
got away from God, like a science experiment gone
awry. He'd like to fix it, but it's just too out of control.
All these thoughts about evil can lead us to one
nagging question: "Why does God allow it?" Maybe
right now this is your big question. If it is, you're in
the right place. Fully explore this issue in all its rawness,
being honest with yourself and with others about
the pain and confusion you feel.
Six sessions devoted to this subject will probably
not answer every question and certainly won't heal
every ache in your heart. But Christianity does purport
to deal with this issue, and the Bible speaks to the
reasons behind evil and to the way for us to cope with
it. Tread carefully, but deliberately, and see for yourself
if there are not answers-and encouragement-awaiting.
Chapter OneDISCUSSION ONE
Where Did Evil
What's Wrong with This Picture?
Look around us. We live in a messed-up world. Disease,
death, and misery envelop the planet. Strife exists
between people and nations. This is a dark place to
live, and while at times a ray of beauty or hope shines
through, it is clouded over by the next senseless murder
or "natural" disaster. Is this the world God created?
Surely the perfect-world story of the Garden of
Eden was a myth. This planet could never have existed
in that condition. Suffering and evil are the unvarnished
facts of "creation"-not that fairy tale of a
In his novel Catch-22, one of Joseph Heller's characters,
Yossarian, holds the following conversation
with Lt. Scheisskopf's wife:
"Don't tell me God works in mysterious ways.
There's nothing so mysterious about it. He's not
working at all. He's playing. Or else he's forgotten
all about us How much reverence can you have
for a Supreme being who finds it necessary to include
such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in his
divine system of creation? What in the world was
going through that warped, evil, scatological mind
of his when he robbed old people of the ability to
control their bowel movements? Why in the world
did he ever create pain? . Why couldn't he have
used a doorbell instead to notify us, or one of his
celestial choirs? Or a system of red-and-blue neon
tubes right in the middle of each person's forehead? . What a colossal, immortal blunderer! When you consider the opportunity and power he
had to really do a job, and then look at the stupid, ugly little mess he made of it instead, his sheer incompetence
is almost staggering Why, no self-respecting
businessman would hire a bungler like
him as even a shipping clerk!"
"Stop it! Stop it!" Lieutenant Scheisskopf's wife
screamed suddenly "Stop it!"
"I thought you didn't believe in God," he asked
"I don't," she sobbed "But the God I don't
believe in is a good God, a just God, a merciful God.
He's not the mean and stupid God you make him out
In the face of the undeniable existence of pain and
evil, who can believe in a good God behind this mess?
We must conclude he's either a poor creator or a poor
redeemer. He either intended this mess-a shudder
goes through us at that thought-or once he made the
mistake, he was too inept to make it right.
Is there any possible excuse for the way things are? If
this is all from God, what explains the origin-and persistence-of
that which is supposed to be antithetical to
OPEN FOR DISCUSSION
1. Describe a recent encounter you've had with
some form of evil, which prompted you to
wonder why this kind of thing ever happens.
2. Who or what did you blame for the wrong
that occurred in the situation you described
above? Give reasons for your response. How
did those around you see the situation?
Moral and Natural Evil
Philosophers have categorized two kinds of evil:
moral evil - man's own inhumanity to man, based on hate, greed, or overindulgence
natural evil - evils brought on by natural causes in the world, such as floods, earthquakes, or tornadoes and different
sorts of diseases, accidents, and injuries
3. Using your previous example, would you
categorize that evil you experienced as moral
evil, natural evil, or a combination of the two? Why? Does the category or type of evil
influence how you determine where to place
the blame for evil?
4. Take your best shot at briefly explaining why
we live in a world filled with so much evil and
Unable or Unwilling?
Doesn't it make sense that God, by default, is the author of evil
if he created everything else? This progression of thought usually
brings people full circle, back to wondering what kind of
God exists - or even if he does exist.
Echoing Epicurus, David Hume, the eighteenth-century
Scottish skeptic, put it this way: "Is he willing to prevent evil,
but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then
5. Summarized below are two conclusions based
on the above observations. Defend or refute
the logic behind each.
Because we live in a world where evil does
God must not really exist after all; otherwise
he would not have created such a place filled
God might still exist, but not in the way the
Bible depicts him (as all-powerful and loving); otherwise he would have had both the ability
and the desire to create a world without so
The Free-Choice Risk
Here is a very different argument addressing the problem of evil.
1. God created the universe without evil and suffering.
2. God created perfect human beings.
3. God created humans with a complete ability to freely
choose between staying in harmony with God or rejecting
4. Humankind freely chose to turn away from God.
5. Evil and suffering entered the world as a result of that
separation from God.
Norman Geisler describes the above reasoning this way:
"We have a real choice about what we do. God made us that
way so we could be like him and could love freely (forced love
is not love at all, is it?). But in making us that way, he also
allowed for the possibility of evil. To be free we had to have not
only the opportunity to choose good, but also the ability to
choose evil. That was the risk God knowingly took. That doesn't
make him responsible for evil. He created the fact of freedom;
we perform the acts of freedom. He [God] made evil possible;
men made evil actual."
And Cliffe Knechtle states in his book Give Me an Answer,
"Genesis 1 clearly communicates that when God created, all
his creation was very good. God did not create evil, suffering or
death. He created us to enjoy himself, each other and to celebrate
his gift of life. Genesis 3 is the tragic record of how man
and woman chose to reject God. The Bible, history books and
the morning newspaper record how an immeasurable amount
of evil has followed in the wake of human rebellion against God.
The vast majority of this carnage is a direct result of human
6. The above explanation introduces the element
of a free choice by humankind to reject or
accept God-with resulting consequences.
Given the magnitude of the risk, what value do
you suppose God placed on granting people
freedom of choice (according to this
7. How would you explain the correlation
between separation from God and the entrance
of evil and suffering into the world?
8. Share your opinion of the following statement: "God cannot both create human beings with a
total ability to freely make meaningful choices
and at the same time control them so they
always choose good."
HEART OF THE MATTER
9. Do you consider your freedom of choice to be
a gift from God? Why or why not? What
would human relationships be like without
10. If you could eliminate all evil, suffering, and
sin (wrongdoing) in your life by giving up your
free will, would you do it? Explain.
11. Do you ever become angry at God for the
things that go wrong in your life? Why or why
CHARTING YOUR JOURNEY
With this session you're beginning a journey. Keep in
mind that you do not need to feel pressured to "say
the right thing" at any point during these discussions.
You're taking the time to do this work because you're
looking for answers and because you're willing to be
honest about your doubts and uncertainties. Others in
your group would also benefit from hearing about
what you'll be learning. So use these sessions profitably-ask
the tough questions, think "outside the
box," and learn from what others in your group have
to say. But stay authentic about where you are in your
To help you identify your progress more clearly,
throughout this guide you will have opportunities to
indicate where you are in your spiritual journey. As
you gain more spiritual insights, you may find yourself
reconsidering your opinions from session to session.
The important thing is for you to be completely truthful
about what you believe-or don't believe-right
12. Check the statement(s) below that best
describes your position at this point. Share
your selection with the rest of the group and
give reasons for your response.
____ I believe that the origin of evil is
ultimately God's responsibility.
____ I'm convinced that evil is the result of
humankind's rejection of God.
____ Evil is a misnomer; the universe operates
without a moral component.
____ I'm fairly certain that our freedom to
choose is a gift from God.
____ I'm convinced that our freedom to choose
has nothing to do with God.
____ I find myself blaming God for things that
go wrong in my life.
____ I find myself blaming myself for things
that go wrong in my life.
____ Write your own brief phrase here: ______
Scripture for Further Study
* Genesis 1-3
* Job 1:6-11
* Job 5:7
* Isaiah 30:18
* Luke 22:28-34
* John 9:1-3
* John 16:33
* Romans 5:3, 12-21
* Romans 12:12
* 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
* Ephesians 2:1-2
* Ephesians 6:10-19
* James 1:2-4