Why Does a Good God Allow Evil Things to Happen?

One of the most common reasons that skeptics give for rejecting God or the Gospel relates to the problems of pain, evil, and suffering in the world.

Updated Apr 05, 2024
Why Does a Good God Allow Evil Things to Happen?

The great thinker C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) dealt with many of the common objections against Christianity that are still heard today. Lewis once compared the atheist’s arguments against God to an inmate in an asylum writing the word “darkness” over and over on the wall. The arguments framed against God succeed in blotting Him out to the same degree that the insane person’s fixation on “darkness” shuts off the reality of the sun: In other words — not at all.

One of the most common reasons that skeptics give for rejecting God or the Gospel relates to the problems of pain, evil, and suffering in the world. Having personally interviewed dozens of atheists and agnostics over the years (including recent luminaries of unbelief, such as Christopher Hitchens, Michael Shermer, Bart Ehrman, and others), I have heard this objection raised in many ways. The “problem of evil” is often stated like this: If God were wise, good, and powerful, the world would not be the way it is. But the world is full of violence, suffering, injustice, and sickness, and very often, those who suffer most are innocent victims. 

The atheist reasons, “This world of deceit, danger, and death would be different if God were truly real. Either He (#1) doesn't know how to fix it, or perhaps (#2) He is malicious and doesn’t want to fix it. Or maybe (#3) God wants to fix it but is unable.”

Think about this: If the cause of evil is (#1), then God is not truly wise. If (#2), God is not wholly good. If evil exists and persists because of (#3), then He is not all-powerful. In any case, atheism assumes that a classically orthodox view of God cannot be maintained. Pain and suffering must prove God is not omniscient, omnibenevolent, or omnipotent. Therefore, the skeptic says the Biblical God must not exist.

Not so fast, junior!

In order to respond to objections based on the problem of evil, we have to ask ourselves, “How is it that we humans are able to judge anything as ‘good’ or ‘bad?’” Let’s reign in the hubris and be honest here: Without an objective standard from which to measure, all we say about good or evil is mere bloviation. Erase God (the ultimate standard of good by which we measure) from our logic tree, and can we meaningfully recognize something as right or wrong? No.

When we say that one thing is good or another thing is bad — what we are really doing is assessing their value as it relates to something else. And that “something else” that we measure by is . . . God. Deep down, we understand that God is the ultimate — the ultimate foundation of goodness, love, power, virtue, beauty, wisdom, mercy, holiness, etc. Put together every positive characteristic you can think of and multiply to the nth degree, and that conglomeration of everything “good” is God.

When we say that Mother Theresa was “good” and Osama Bin Laden was “bad,” what we are really saying is this: Her life and actions conformed more closely to any ultimate standard of good than did his. Think about these contrasts: “It is better to care for orphans than to torture them,” or “Feeding the hungry is moral, whereas placing bets on how long it would take them to starve is immoral.” We know that the first proposition conforms more closely to an ultimate standard of goodness than the second. By a long way.   

In a world without God, nothing could be beautiful. Or ugly.

Each of us regularly makes value judgments about morals and aesthetics. We say, “This was heroic,” or, “That was treasonous.” We may observe, “This song is beautiful,” whereas, “That jackhammer is noisy.” We could only make such value judgments because there is an ultimate and unchanging standard against which we measure. Herein lies the atheist’s problem: If there is no God, how can you legitimately praise the good and condemn the evil?

The answer is you can’t—not in any legitimate, objective sense. Without God, all we are left with is a noisy room full of opinions. And in that context, why is the atheist more valid than the Christian? If this is a world without objective values, and all life arose from blind, evolutionary chance, then why would we assume the atheist’s musings against God are any more coherent than the inflections of a barking dog?   

Without God as our reference point, there’s no good or bad—only “stuff.” The most we could note is that “Things happen.” Meaningful judgment beyond that is not possible. 

Make the “ruler” your own personal “Ruler”

It takes humility and maturity to really accept this, but the evil in the world simply shows how desperately we need a Savior and Lord. Some people are honest and wise enough to accept this by the age of five or six. Others live eight or nine decades, never yielding to it. 

Because God is the ground of truth, goodness, and, yes, beauty — we are able to discern and make sense of the world. Be glad for this the next time you hear a skeptic railing against God because of pain and evil in the world. Because a pervasively righteous God does exist, each human possesses (and may cultivate) a moral conscience and aesthetic sensibilities. Are love and truth preferable over narcissism and wokeness? Would forcibly keeping the southern border open be morally just at the expense of the welfare of American citizens?   Is the music of Brian Wilson or the Beatles objectively better than Drake, The Weeknd, or Taylor Swift?

Because God exists, we actually can know.


Photo Credit: ©Pixabay/Khusen Rustamov/xusenru

Alex MacFarlandDr. Alex McFarland is a youth, religion, and culture expert, a national talk show host and speaker, educator, and author of 20 books. McFarland directs Biblical Worldview and apologetics for Charis Bible College in Woodland Park, CO. Via the American Family Radio Network, Alex is heard live on Exploring the Word, airing daily on nearly 200 radio stations across the U.S.


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