Have you heard this famous quote from Epicurus?
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
The problem of evil is one that theologians have struggled to answer for many centuries. Many of the explanations fall flat for some people since they revolve around answers like God is not on our time table for defeating evil. Actually, this answer is true. But for many in today’s culture the answer holds little water. Man has been around for thousands of years and evil continues. Why wait so long to defeat evil?
However, I believe that God has already done something about evil. In fact, God has done at least six things about evil. Allow me to provide what I think are six relevant answers to this dilemma, then a point of application.
If God is all powerful and good, then why doesn’t he do something about evil? God has done something about evil. He has done at least six things:
1.) He put the care of the earth and our fellow man under our control.
In Genesis 1:28 God said to the first man, Adam, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” In this passage we learn that God essentially put man in control of the world around him. More importantly, he made man “in his image” (Genesis 1:26). This means that we are to be like God in the things that we think, feel, and do. In God there is no evil. Man has been made responsible for the world around him and his relationship with other people. Therefore, God is not the one responsible for evil, rather we are responsible for our evil and it is charged to us to do something about it. In fact, the next four things demonstrate this truth.
2.) God gave everyone a conscience so that we can choose good or evil.
Everyone has a conscience. Some people’s conscience works better than others, but we all have one. We have a basic sense of right and wrong that we are born with as well as what we learn as we mature into adulthood. Having a conscience means that we are responsible for what we know. In James 4:17 we read, “To one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” It is not for God to act and remedy evil, it is our task. We must act according to our conscience. When we commit evil (and we all commit evil), our conscience as some level tells us that what we have done, or what we are about to do is wrong. We are, therefore, capable of recognizing our own evil and stopping it.
3.) God gave a law and a means through that law for man to judge evil (Exodus 20:1-17).
Sometimes the conscience is not enough. Especially for those who have trained their conscience to disregard morality. Sadly, many people have. We live in a post-modern culture that does not regard concepts of good and evil as absolutes. While this kind of culture doesn’t absolve us of responsibility concerning our evil, it does desensitize us to evil. It makes us think that good and evil are abstract ideas that have no basis in reality on their own. But this idea is flawed because we not only have a conscience, but we also have law which is based upon God’s ideas of right and wrong. The Mosaic Law was given so that man could have a base line outside of himself to govern himself. The Law does not come from man, but it comes from God, demonstrating that good and evil are not simply abstract ideas. They exist apart from man and man must be governed by such law.
4.) God gave authorities on earth to carry out the punishment and banishment of evil.
Look what the Apostle Paul had to say about what God has provided to keep evil in check. “There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience” (Romans 13:1-5).
We’ve all seen crimes committed of one severity or another. It is a simple truth that if a person desiring to commit a crime thinks that he will get away with it that he will commit himself to committing the crime. But if there is a chance of getting confronted or caught or punished, there is a likely chance he will not commit that crime unless his conscience is so far gone that he is willing to do it anyway. Man needs authority figures to keep evil in check. If evil is not dealt with swiftly and effectively, more evil is the only result. The scripture also tells us this in Ecclesiastes 8:11, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.” God has therefore provided authority figures for the purpose of punishing evil and keeping it at bay.
5.) God established teachers to instruct on the differences between good and evil.
There are three segments of society that are charged with helping us develop our conscience and learning the difference between right and wrong: the family home, schools, and the church. In ages past these were the primary institutions that helped people learn the difference between right and wrong. Sadly, in America, this has changed. Families are breaking apart and parents don’t always instruct their children about these things in an intentional way. Most public school systems have rejected, as a matter of politics, the teaching of absolutes as the culture has changed. And many churches have turned liberal and no longer regard the centuries old concepts from the Bible as worth teaching. Many churches are focused on entertaining kids rather than truly instructing them. Without these three areas of society proactively teaching and training young people about absolutes, the evils of society will only increase. This is not God’s fault. This is our fault. We are charged with taking care of ourselves. Yet evil, our sin, overwhelms us because we have decided to let sin pass because of the modern, redefined ideas of so-called “tolerance.”
These five things have been put under man’s control in order to hold back and punish evil. It is our responsibility, not God’s responsibility. However, knowing that we are evil by nature God decided to act anyway. What did he do?
6.) God sent Christ to take our punishment for evil.
If it were not for Christ we would have no hope of defeating our own evil. By nature we are evil. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Also, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me” (Romans 7:18-20).
Since we are helpless in our condition we needed a solution. God provided that solution through Jesus Christ who took the legal punishment for our sin on our behalf. “While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).
The real issue is not why God has not done something about evil. He has, multiple times. God has assigned that doing something about evil is our responsibility and he has given us the tools to identify evil, restrain evil, punish evil, and eradicate evil if we will use them. And through Christ he also took action on our behalf so that we would have the power to choose not to sin, rejecting evil.
God is not responsible for our evil, we are. So that question is, what are you going to do about it?