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How Could a Loving God Allow So Much Evil and Suffering?
Almost one year ago, a very beautiful young woman left this earth. I didn’t know her as well as some, but the blossoming friendship I had with her was precious. When I heard the news that she had passed away unexpectedly due to a rare brain tumor, my heart ached. I couldn’t possibly imagine what her parents and siblings must be feeling at this moment. As I wept on the couch, I couldn’t help but ask why such an inspiring person, a youth with so much potential, was taken from her family and friends. How could a loving God possibly cause this much pain?
This question is very similar to the one I have been posed today. The atheist author, Larimore Nicholl, has asked this: “Why does God get all the credit and none of the blame? If some kids get killed in a bus accident, and people thank God that some children were saved, why don’t they blame God for the dead ones? And for causing the accident? There is too much suffering and evil in the world for there to be a loving God.” It’s that last sentence I would like to focus on as I strongly urge you to consider not only one, but three different components of this. I stand firmly decided that God is indeed loving and we can see this in our free will, His good will, and the supreme will.
The first stage in answering this question adequately comes through recognizing one of the greatest gifts we have been given. Free will. Author and song-writer, Rebecca St. James stated it clearly when she said in her devotional book, Pure, “God didn’t make us robots. He gave us a choice.” It sounds simple enough at first. We are allowed to make our own choices in life and determine our own future. The Disney Pixar movie Brave is essentially all about this. It focuses around a Scottish princess on her own search for freedom and fate. And just as this certain princess find out, there are sometimes consequences to the choices we make. (Brave) The first time this ever happened in history is recorded in Genesis 3 and details the story of Adam and Eve, which many people, Christian and non-Christian, are familiar with. When the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was picked by Eve and placed in her mouth, sin entered the world. It was that choice, that free will that we have been given that allowed Eve to choose the fruit and Adam after her. Like Rebecca St. James said, we could have been robots, following every rule, every monotonous detail, every single thing we were programmed to do, but instead, God showed His infinite love by giving us that choice.
A good way to really put this into perspective is to think what would happen if you erased every bit of free will from your life. I can do it myself with this very day! If I’d had no ability to choose today, I wouldn’t have been able to pick out my smashing navy blue eyeliner, ruffle my little brother’s hair, or use a special effect on social media. These small choices don’t seem to make a dent in my significance, but we often don’t see the whole picture: a concept that will get discussed later.
There is one more question we have to consider when talking about our choices. Do our sinful choices create suffering? Dr. Larimore Nicholls, mentioned earlier, is not only debating sin, but the pain we feel. An example I think of is that of a scooter race I was having a few years ago. The harmless game ended in my un-involved little brother fracturing his elbow when I almost crashed into him. Did my choice to ride my scooter become the cause of my six-year-old brother’s pain that lasted for several weeks? Or what of the example that Dr. Nicholls uses in his question? Did the children that were killed in the bus crash do something to deserve that? Or what about my friend that died almost a year ago? Did she do something wrong to earn that? Did her parents make poor decisions and cause her death? The cruelty of those words is horrifying. As much as we would like to deny that our free will introduced pain to the world, it did. No, my friend did not choose to die, nor did her parents “mess up”, so to say. But with the choice of disobedience made by Adam and Eve, death, pain, and suffering were introduced to humanity and it doesn’t matter how perfect we try to be, because hurting is inevitable.
If Dr. Nicholls were writing this, right now would be an opportune moment to stop. But this is not the end of the story. Yes, we were gifted with free will and with it, brought sin into the world, but we must examine the next step: God’s good will. The concept of God’s goodness is the second part of what Dr. Nicholls is questioning. If God is really all-knowing, then why would He give us free will, knowing it would lead to our destruction? He couldn’t possibly do that and still be considered loving, could He? To come to a logical conclusion to this questions, we must now delve deeper into God’s goodness. One of my personal favorite passages of scripture is Genesis 1. The thirty-one verses dedicated to describing and painting a visual picture of the first masterpiece ever painted. God takes six days to create a perfect sculpture, the perfect reflection of Himself. Genesis 1:31 says, “Then God looked over all He had made, and He saw that it was very good! And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day.” This verse concludes the days of creation, ending with God noticing that His work was very good. Christian Morgenstern, the German author and poet born in Munich, Germany, in 1871 put it simply when he said, “In every work of art, the artist himself is present.” I can attest to this as well; I often see myself and my life in the things that I write, or draw. So how should it be any different for the creator of the universe to be present in His work? When creation was declared good, God’s goodness was manifested to us.
I recently read an article posted on lifehopeandtruth addressing God’s goodness. One part in particular stood out to me. The author questioned the reader, saying, “The Bible consistently describes God as good. But some say He isn’t good or that some things He’s done aren’t good. Are there different definitions of good?” The question I’m answering today doesn’t only assume that God is good, but instead, Dr. Nicholls jumps right onto the fact that God is known to be loving. So when considering what it means for God to be good, I truly think it points directly to His loving nature. It makes me think of the worship song Good, Good Father by Chris Tomlin. The chorus reads: “You’re a Good, Good Father/It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are/And I’m loved by you/It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am.” The correlation shown here between God being good, and us in turn being loved clearly defines that His goodness, or good will, is love.
Before moving on to my last section, I want to clearly emphasize one point. While naming every way we see God’s goodness in our everyday lives would be a ridiculously impossible task, there is one particular example we need to pay attention to. In concurrence with Dr. Nicholl’s question, one of the ways God demonstrated His perfect love and goodness was actually through the gift of free will. AllaboutGod summed it up wonderfully when they answered this question by writing, “God's purpose with mankind is to have eternal fellowship with those who truly love Him. Therefore, to create us as inherently good robots, without the potential for the opposite character, evil, would not allow for true love. For only love that comes from a free choice of the will is TRUE LOVE. Voluntary choice is the key - love isn't genuine if there's no other option.”
The beginning of that quote leads me right into my final point. “God’s purpose with mankind…” or, His supreme will. We have seen how our free will and God’s good will correlate, but to wrap up any loose ends, we must take into consideration His ultimate purpose. As ambiguous and vague as this sounds, the statement of “there is too much suffering and evil in the world for there to be a loving God.” and responding to it cannot be fully accomplished. My favorite passage of scripture actually talks directly about this. Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” To put it plainly, we might not ever be able to say why there is suffering. But we can affirm our free will and God’s goodness. Like I was saying earlier, the choices we make can often seem like they end in pain and suffering, but in reality, we don’t know. I’ve made a lot of decisions throughout my lifetime, recent one’s including giving advice to give to a dear friend and taking a test that assessed my academic level. The choices that I personally made today could be things I easily forget, or things that will affect my future.
Looking at my life from this perspective reminds me of the times that I volunteer at the library in the summer to help with the children’s reading program. There come times when I run out of things to do and turn to a binder in which a stack of complex dot-to-dot activities are kept. As I look at the page of paper with a couple hundred numbered dots all over it, I don’t see an apparent picture. From my vantage point, it just looks like a scattered mess, like someone spilled a bottle of ink all over it. This is like our free will. What might seem like a painful mess of suffering in our eyes is really a complex series of choices that God is connecting, drawing a beautiful scene in each of our lives. If, as Dr. Nicholls is presuming, the world is full of meaningless evil and hardship, then no – there cannot possibly be a loving God. But the string attached to this is that while the world is full of suffering, it’s not meaningless. I remember one summer when I full-on slapped my best friend across the face. As she gasped and looked at me in shock, I explained that a massive mosquito had landed on her. It’s similar to that. The pain and hurt that we feel is so temporary compared to the long-lasting effects of trusting in God. And just like how my friend was unaware of why I had added pain to her life, so we are often unaware of the meaning behind the pain we have been dealt in our own lives.
This subject matter can relate to every person at one time or another. We have all felt pain in our lives. So often, we can fall into the mindset that “there is too much suffering and evil in the world for there to be a loving God.” We end up believing a lie that seems so convincing. We agree with words that, in reality, have nothing to stand on, no foundation to be built on. The assumption that a loving God and an evil world could not be related is all too common. In closing, I strongly urge you, personally, to examine the idea of our free will, the great gift we have been given of having our own choices, God’s good will, the perfection of His love, and the supreme will, the faith that no matter what hardships we face right now, even if we seem to be encountering mountain after mountain, there is a loving Father who has written a story for each of us.