Encountering Evil: The Problem of Pain and Suffering – Part 2

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

The presence of evil in the world is a reality that cannot be denied. Evil first entered the world as a consequence of Lucifer’s rebellion against God. It is the reason for pain and suffering. One of the major problems for a believer who trusts in a God of compassion and love is to explain how He could permit agonizing circumstances of pain and suffering in the world.

The Rationalization of Evil
Struggling to understand how a God of goodness and love can permit evil in the world, some will conjecture that God is not omnipotent because He appears unable to prevent evil from occurring. Bad theology develops when people admit the presence of evil in the world and affirm God’s goodness, yet surmise that the Lord cannot be omnipotent because an omnibenevolent Creator would never allow the effects of evil to affect His creation if He were powerful enough to prevent it from ever occurring. To suggest that God cannot prevent evil, but must invent a plan to circumvent the problem without actually eliminating it, is only a convoluted means to evade the difficulties arising from the recognition of God’s omnibenevolence and omnipotence.

If God’s nature is limited by any means, then the presumed foundation for the argument—based upon the notion that He is a God of compassion and love, yet not omnipotent—is destroyed. If the Lord is limited in any capacity, how can anyone be certain that God is omnibenevolent? The holiness of God is the assurance that His character is immutable. This means that a truthful assessment of God’s nature must include a positive acknowledgment that the Creator is omnipotent, in addition to being omnibenevolent. The notion is entirely unbiblical that God is finite.

Defining God’s Omnipotence
One of the fundamental attributes of God is that He is omnipotent. By definition, omnipotence is the ability to accomplish everything possible. Nevertheless, one must also recognize several qualifications in how omnipotence relates solely to the God of the Holy Bible. First, it is important to understand that God’s omnipotence means that He would never accomplish something contrary to His other attributes. For instance, when discussing omnipotence, it is nonsense to entertain the notion that God might create something too heavy for Him to lift, as much as it is to contemplate a square circle. The idea is meaningless, because God is a purposeful being. In more practical terms, Hebrews 6:18 affirms, “…it is impossible for God to lie.” God has unlimited power, yet He is absolute truthfulness, and thus He cannot lie.

Second, the exercise of God’s omnipotence is limited by the outworking of His holy, loving, and wise determination. Ephesians 1:11 declares that God “works all things after the counsel of His will.” God can accomplish everything, but will only undertake what infinite holiness, love, and wisdom dictate. Isaiah 59 affirms, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.”

Third, the omnipotence of God can be self-limited, such as in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, when He “emptied Himself” of divine privileges (Phil 2:7). Even human responsibility is not rendered impossible by God’s omnipotence; rather, the deliberate choice of specific individuals exists by virtue of God’s power. God’s self-limitation is truly a reflection of His omnipotence because it is free, not proceeding from either internal or external compulsion. God’s self-limitation is the manifestation and outworking of His power.

Fourth, the sovereignty of God does not mean that the Lord is corrupt, or that He somehow possesses sinister emotions. James 1:13 declares, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” God is responsible for all human history. He forms light and creates darkness, “causing well-being and creating calamity” (Isa 45:7). God brought destruction to His people when they refused the prophetic call to repentance, and He brought return from exile when His people revered Him.

God’s omnipotence is one of His fundamental attributes. In Genesis 17:1, God appeared to Abram using a name that He had not used previously: “God Almighty.” Jesus declared, “with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26). The absolute and unlimited power of God is evident throughout all Scripture. The fact that God sometimes chooses not to prevent evil from occurring in this world is certainly not an indication that He is finite and limited. An infinitely wise God can easily have a plethora of holy, loving, and wise reasons for accomplishing one thing, and then not act in response to something else; while finite human beings, in their foolishness, may not perceive even one valid intent.

For the present time, the presence of evil in the world is an outworking of God’s omnibenevolent purposes. God’s loving purposes are realized in a limited manner and to a small extent by the unintentional cooperation of demonic forces and wicked people. For example, “Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot” (Luke 22:3) for the purpose of betraying the Lord Jesus, yet that very act was the fulfillment of prophecies revealed in centuries past. Furthermore, “the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” was accomplished through Satan’s use of Judas, even as it led to the atoning death of the Son of God “by the hands of godless men” (Acts 2:23).

The witness of Scripture is that God is omnipotent. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1); and, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:17). God even rules over “death and Hades” (Rev 20:11-15). Not a single action can be undertaken by the most powerful individuals (Dan 2:21; Rom 9:17-18; 13:1), or by angels (Exod 23:20; Ps 91:11; Dan 6:22; Rev 12:7-9) or demons (Judg 9:23; 1 Sam 16:14), including Satan himself (Job 1—2; Ps 11:4-7); nor the productive or destructive forces of the natural world (Ps 19; Isa 65:17-25; Matt 6:26, 30; Rom 8:18-25), without God’s permission. A legion of demons cannot enter one swine without the Lord’s permission (Mark 5:1-13). God rules absolutely and supremely, “and He will reign forever and ever’” (Rev 11:15). “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns” (19:6).

The Consequences of Sin
Christians should not be surprised by the presence of evil in any form. Psalm 14:2-3 declare, “The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Encountering the consequences of sin is to be expected. Furthermore, the Bible reminds believers, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). The believer’s “struggle” is with sin and a hierarchy of evil spirit-beings who oppose the will of God on earth. That truth reminds Christians that physical battles have spiritual origins. Consequently, the church is to “be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16) in responding to the presence of evil.

The mass shooting in Las Vegas, the Manhattan terror attack, the recent church shooting in Texas, and worldwide atrocities in general are likely to continue occurring, and the media can be anticipated to provide coverage of the senseless and wicked actions in a manner that is both graphic and unrelenting. There is, however, no reason for Christians to respond with apathy or paranoia. Car accidents resulting in death are more likely to occur than for someone to be murdered by a terrorist. Therefore, believers should assuage their responses accordingly, and definitely be certain not to take the name of God in vain.

God’s name is taken in vain when a natural disaster or terrorist attack occurs, and someone (often claiming some association with the Christian faith) asserts that divine judgment against some particular sin of an individual, city, or nation is the reason for the tragedy. Jesus specifically said not to adopt such thinking. When questioned why a man was born blind, “Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Self-appointed prophets who blame the victims for what occurred to them, deserve the same assessment from the Lord as those in the prophet Jeremiah’s day: “‘I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied” (Jer 23:21).

Until the Lord establishes “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1), the consequences of sin will be evident, and horribly incomprehensible things will continue to occur in a fallen world. When a conspicuously horrible injustice occurs, Christians should respond in a godly manner by explaining that evil is a reality, and many times God must act in judgment to restrain its effects. In other words, God’s people are not to be apathetic in response to tragedy; rather, Christians should be empathetic toward people who are hurting (remembering also that Job’s friends would have demonstrated wisdom in their silence [Job 13:5]).

C. S. Lewis noted how people “say of some temporal suffering. ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory” (The Great Divorce [New York: Collier Macmillan, 1946] 67). Lewis was not conveying any new concepts. He simply affirmed the hope of Christians throughout the centuries, recognizing there is a divine purpose for pain and suffering. “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:17-18).

Midnight Call - 01/2018

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