Perhaps the most challenging questions for the Christian have to do with evil and sin. If God is love, why does evil exist in His creation? If God could stop genocide, pain and death, why doesn’t He? Why do “good” people suffer and “wicked” people prosper? For many who have considered these questions, serious doubts about the character or even the existence of God have led them to abandon Christianity with its personal God in favor of a fuzzy, impersonal spirituality or for secularism or even atheism.
A first consideration is that God “could have” made a different kind of creation which would have been free from evil and sin. Rocks, water, atmosphere, plants and even animals that respond to their instincts simply do what they were created to do. But there is a risk involved in the creation of beings (like humans and angels) that can creatively think, plan and do. Creatures with intelligence and free will can do things that they were not created to do. God could have created humans and angels so that he controlled or programmed them, but then they would not be created in the image of God, which includes as its most basic characteristic creativity.
Many people struggle with the idea that God knew in advance all the suffering and pain that would come about but He went ahead and created us anyway. This can become very personal when I am suffering unbearable agony and I imagine that God saw my agony in advance and He still decided to create me.
But did God see every incident of pain and suffering in advance? We may think that we make God greater by answering in the affirmative, but we do not find the answer to that question in the Bible. Isaiah 46:10 and similar verses say that God “declares the end from the beginning” but they say nothing about His knowing every detail in between.
One of the most challenging scriptures in the Bible is Genesis 6:6, concerning the wickedness that existed in the earth before the flood, “And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart”. Concerning the abominable practices of His people when they turned to idolatry, God said, “They have built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into my mind” (Jeremiah 19:5).
The Bible does reveal that God knew of the possibility of sin, and He personally took responsibility for bringing about a solution to it if it should come to pass, even if that would mean great loss for Himself. Revelation 13:8 calls Jesus “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”. “Grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (2 Timothy 1:9). Before sin ever arose, God planned to take upon Himself the guilt of all the sin that would every be committed, so that even if there was suffering in the world, those who suffer would have the opportunity to be ransomed by the sacrifice of Christ in order to gain eternal life.
Actually, sin arose before the creation of the earth in the angel that was closest to the throne of God. Lucifer, the “anointed cherub (angel) who covers” was “on the holy mountain of God”. He was created “perfect in (his) ways”, but through focusing on himself and his own glory he was “found” to have “Iniquity in (him)” (Ezekiel 28:14,15). “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor” (v.17).
This pride actually led Lucifer to aspire to the position of his Creator. “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!… For you have said in your heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;… I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:12-14).
Satan brought the virus of sin to this earth. God gave Adam and Eve a simple test of obedience in the Garden of Eden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were not to eat of its fruit, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Satan challenged God’s instructions: “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall noteat of every tree of the garden?” In answer to Eve’s repeating of God’s warning, that if she ate of it she would die, Satan essentially called God a liar: “You will not surely die”. He held out the promise of a more exalted state—“your eyes will be opened…knowing good and evil”. Finally, he zealously tried to convert Eve to his own sinful ambition: “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:1-5).
Thus we see the issues of the great controversy between God and one of the brightest of His created beings. Satan claims that God is restrictive, that He is a liar, that He has a high position that he wants to selfishly retain exclusively for Himself and that He does not have the best interests of His creatures at heart. He asserts that we don’t need God to tell us what is good and bad, but can judge for ourselves. He claims that we can have a better life independent from God, that being wise is more important than being righteous (obedient) and that through rebellion and disobedience God’s creatures can elevate themselves to the exalted position of being “ like the Most High”.
Ideas like this and the behavior that results from them are not that easy to eradicate. Naturally God “could have” eliminated Lucifer as soon as he expressed his rebellious ideas, but in doing so He would have violated the very freedom and creativity that He intended when He created the angels. Nor would an elimination program guarantee the permanent eradication of evil; within the context of eternity it could pop up again and again unless the underlying premises were confronted and disproved.
On an individual and personal level evil is also difficult to deal with without violating freedom. For example, if someone chooses to drink until the point of intoxication and then go driving with the risk of crashing into someone and killing them, at what stage would God intervene to prevent this? He could treat humans like robots or puppets, manipulating them to keep them from harming themselves or others, but then they would no longer be human.
To confront and overcome the problem of evil God has submitted Himself to the Great Controversy with Satan, and the issue will be settled in the Judgment. Satan has been given a period of time in which to promote and implement his theory that intelligent creatures can be a law unto themselves. During that time God has been working in the lives of humans to transform them into His image as they submit to His Lordship.
God, who “declares the end from the beginning” has said that in the final judgment the whole universe will compare the results of the two systems and agree that God is right. “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God”. “To the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 14: 10,11, Ephesians 3:10,11).
God will then recreate the world, and it along with the rest of the universe will be filled with happy and holy creatures, who have full freedom to choose and create, but who have been convinced by the history of sin and evil that God’s principles of love and mutual submission lead to joy and harmony. “He will make an utter end. Affliction will not rise up a second time” (Nahum 1:9). “There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). When God finally resolves the problem of evil we will never have to worry that it will rise up again.