What is evil?
All suffering stems from sin, and sin stems from evil (Gen. 3:15-19). Suffering thus stems from evil. But what is evil? It seems contradictory to have a good and loving God while the world He looks over is corrupt with evil. This problem is known as the problem of evil and is a theodicy which reveals the apparent tension between having a good God juxtaposed with a world corrupt with evil.
God did not create a world wrought with evil (Gen. 1:31). This world and the first two humans He created were perfect and sinless. Adam and Eve were perfect, but they still had a free will and could choose to disobey God. God gave the command that they could eat of any tree besides the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Eve was deceived into eating the forbidden fruit and Adam carelessly ate of it when she offered it to him (Gen. 3:6). When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, sin entered the world and with it came a curse. Their disobedience was sin, and sin is evil. Evil, though, does not have substance or intrinsic being.
To illustrate this, let’s imagine that we are trying to fill a cup with water. It doesn’t fill up, water is getting everywhere and you exclaim, “Oh no, there’s a hole in the cup.” It’s understood what you are saying, but essentially, you are wrong. You can’t hold a hole nor make a hole. A hole is an opening and has no substance. The hole is not a thing in and of itself, but can be seen as a lack of the cup. The water leaked not because it has a hole, but because it lacked sufficient substance to prevent the leak. The hole is a “lack of cup,” per se. Likewise, evil is not a substance, but evil is a lack of goodness.
Where did evil come from?
If sin stems from evil and God created man and woman as good, where did the evil come from? Satan, the leader of the fallen angels, deceived Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, thus allowing sin to enter the world (Gen. 3:1-5). Eve still knew that God had told them not to eat of the forbidden fruit, and it was her decision to sin just as it was Adam’s to take the fruit from her (Gen. 2:16-17). We see that sin started in Satan and he lured humanity into it (Ezek. 28:14-15). This, of course, is not to excuse Adam and Eve of their sin, as they acted in their own will to rebel against God.
But where did the evil in Satan come from when God is the One who created him in the first place? Did God not create the angels to be good? Indeed God made the angels good, but He also gave them free will. Satan used his free will and chose to rebel against God. Full of pride, he wasn’t satisfied worshiping God, but instead wanted to be the object of worship (Is. 14:12-15). Satan, not God, is the author of evil.
Does this mean that God is responsible for sin? No. Every individual is responsible for his or her own actions (James 1:14). It is human nature to act in rebellion to God, and apart from the grace of God, no one can act contrary to my nature (Rom. 8:5-8, Phil. 2:13). Is it within a fish to hunt bears? Or is it within a predator to spare the life of its prey? It is outside of a human being’s ability to act against his sinful nature or, to stay consistent, one’s lack of a good nature. It is only from God’s grace that we can act contrarily to our sinful nature.
Why does God allow suffering?
We have seen that evil is not its own substance, but is a lack of goodness. God allowed evil to enter the world but did not create it. It is outside of God’s nature to practice evil, so even if evil could be created, He wouldn’t nor couldn’t create it (James 1:13). Sin is the root cause of all of the suffering in this world. So why would God allow suffering when He could easily stop it?
The truth is: He will stop it. When God decides to end this world and start the new one, all will give an account to God (Rom. 14:12). Those who are saved will experience such joy and peace that all suffering experienced in this world will pale in comparison. Those who are not will face judgment. It is His withholding of this judgment that actually declares His loving nature. He is withholding His judgment to leave opportunity for more people to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9).
In the big picture, this is comforting. But what about today? How are we to accept suffering now? God has a plan and is sovereign over everything, including sin and suffering. Not all truths are easy to accept; but in the end, all things work out in God’s plan (Prov. 16:4, Is. 14:24, 46:10-11, Eph. 1:11).
Remember how Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold as a slave. Joseph told them out of a wise and understanding heart that their sin against him was meant for harm, but God meant it for good (Gen. 50:20). We are not God and we cannot see how everything works out in His plan, and we are in no place to indict Him (Job 9:1-12). However, we can rest in the comfort that He is sovereign over everything and that all things will work out for good (Rom. 8:28).