As we mentioned in our first Tough Question, FaithandSelfDefense planned to start a new apologetics series in August to coincide with the start of a new school year. However, we decided to start the series early because parents and teens are spending a lot of time at home together. This seems like a great opportunity for families to talk about tough topics important to them all.
This new series, Tough Questions From Christian Teens, is designed to help parents and teens talk about anything that bothers them about the Bible or being a Christian. We have asked Christian teens from several locations to ask us tough questions — and we mean TOUGH questions.
Writing as a former atheist who despised Christians and thought of them as ignorant and weak, I now realize that Christianity is the only worldview that can stand up to the really tough questions young people are asking today.
We want to do something about the problem facing Christian teens today and have joined with youth groups and a Christian school to address the tough questions from their teens. I appreciate the young people who asked the questions and pray our answers will help them in their journey to discover and live out truth in the real world.
[The teenage questioner introduced this in the category of ‘Things that, from the human perspective, seem to suggest evil of God.’]
God and Evil
“Why did God create Lucifer if He knew he would turn evil (being omniscient)? This relates to the question of Sovereignty and free will: How can God control all of reality and let us control part of it simultaneously?”
God’s Sovereignty, Evil and Suffering
This is one of the most difficult issues for Christians: the existence of evil in the world God created. If God is the Creator of the universe, as He claims, then why are things so bad? Why the existence and almost limitless power of Satan? Why overwhelming evil and suffering if God has the power to overcome it with the ease of speaking a Word? Couldn’t He just flick His little finger and the devil with all of his evil would fly off the map and into non-existence?
As we saw in our last article about Tough Questions from Christian Teens, ‘why’ questions usually go to ‘purpose.’ Why did God do hat He did or allow what He allowed? What was His purpose?
It is obvious by looking around us that we live in a world that has order and purpose and makes sense on many levels. It appears to be designed, even though atheists and agnostics think the universe and everything in it came about by random chance and has no purpose. They view life as ‘meaningless.’ Is that true? Does life, your life and the lives of people you love, have no meaning? No purpose?
I believe life has meaning and purpose. Why? I can see the order and design by looking at the world and the sky above. That’s the ‘what.’ However, I don’t know the ‘why’ (the meaning and purpose) unless the Designer tells me why. God inspired the Apostle Paul to write that “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.” How did God do that? “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things are are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1)
So, why would people not give God the credit He is due for His great creation? Because they have ‘suppressed’ the truth in unrighteousness. That’s why God’s wrath is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Not only have people suppressed the truth of God’s creative power, they “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” People think they are wise, but they are in fact ‘fools.’
So, this brings us to your question about God’s sovereignty, the existence of evil and suffering, and the free will of humans.
God’s Sovereignty and Free Will
If God is sovereign, why does evil exist? Why would God create a world where evil was a possibility? If God is sovereign, couldn’t He have created a world where evil and suffering were impossible?
God says He created the heavens and the earth. He makes it clear in His revelation (His Word) to us that He is sovereign over all things in His creation. God says He is all-powerful. God says He is all-knowing. God says He is present everywhere at the same time. God says He never changes. God says a lot of things, but can we believe Him?
The first question the serpent asked the woman in the Garden addressed that very question: “Has God indeed said … ?” (Genesis 3) When Eve said that God had said she and the man would die, the serpent replied with – “You will not surely die.” There, in a nutshell, is the heart of the matter. The serpent proposed the idea that God cannot be trusted. So, can we believe what God says or not?
The serpent went on to clarify why he believed God can’t be trusted – “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The serpent accused God of having a bad motive, maybe even evil motive, for what He told the man and the woman and that He couldn’t be trusted. We know the rest of the story. Eve ate the fruit and gave the fruit to her husband who also ate it. God cursed the serpent and the earth and told the woman and the man how difficult life would be for them – introducing evil and suffering as what they and generations of humans would face from that time on. Evil and suffering come from that event and exchange – evil from Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God and suffering from God’s curse on them and Satan.
So, why would God let things get to that point if He is sovereign? Maybe He’s not sovereign. Maybe God’s power is limited. Maybe His knowledge is limited. Maybe He isn’t able to be everywhere at the same time. Maybe things get past Him and He has to clean up messes when they get out of His ability to handle them. That’s one way I’ve seen Christians and non-Christians explain why we have evil and suffering in a world God created. He’s just not big enough or strong enough or smart enough to deal with all the problems of this world.
I think there’s another reason.
I believe God created a world where evil and suffering were necessary to accomplish His greater purpose. What? Why would God want to do that? Why not create a perfect world with perfect creatures where there would be no evil, no suffering, no trouble, no heartache, no pain, no death? Is God weak? Is He, as some accuse Him of being, a moral monster, or is He loving and wise as He says He is? Did God create the best possible world to accomplish the best possible situation for the best possible outcome for those He loves?
I think it’s the latter and here’s why I think that.
Everything I see in this universe and in this world points to a Designer. The God of the Bible is the best explanation of all the explanations I’ve ever seen for the order and design and purpose we find in our universe and on our planet.
Notice that within seconds of God confronting the serpent, the woman and the man, God introduced a note of hope. Remember the name of the tree – “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”? Even as Satan introduced ‘evil,’ God introduced ‘good.’ He told the serpent that the woman would give birth to a Son (her Seed) and that her Son would destroy the serpent’s seed, even though the serpent would have the opportunity to damage the Son in some way (the heel of the Seed). Good would overcome evil in the end.
What was this? Did God know what was going to happen before the serpent deceived the woman? Was God caught off guard or did He see it coming? Did the serpent sneak into the Garden unseen by God and pull a fast one on the Creator? Did God have to run around the Garden flailing His arms over what had happened trying to think of how to fix the mess? Or did God know exactly what was going to happen? Did God already have a plan in place to deal with what happened? Was it a plan He came up with at the last minute or was it a plan He designed long before the events in the Garden? If it was a designed plan, why did God design it? What would God get out of the serpent deceiving the woman? What would God get out of the Seed of the woman destroying the seed of the serpent? What would humans get out of the deception and the evil and suffering that would certainly follow?
The woman, Eve, gave birth to two sons and Satan went after both of them. Satan may have thought that enticing Cain to kill Abel would put an end to God’s plan for the woman to give birth to the Seed that would destroy him.
God was involved from the start of the whole thing.
Cain and Abel brought their offerings to God. God “respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering.” (Genesis 4) If God had the intention of making nice with humans and trying to fix the problem, why would He do that? Why be so specific about which offering, type of offering or attitude of worship He would respect?
Bottom line is that Cain became angry, very angry, so angry he wanted to kill his brother. Look at what God said to Cain. It’s the first time in the Bible that we see the word ‘sin’ –
“So the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”
The Hebrew word for ‘sin’ comes from a root word that means ‘to miss, to go wrong, make a mistake.’
God gave Cain a choice. That’s an excellent example of the free will God gave to humans. We first see free will in the choice of the first woman and man. The woman used her free will to make a choice after being deceived by the serpent. The man used his free will to make a choice not based on being deceived. Adam knew what he was doing when he did it. (1 Timothy 2:14) Those are two types of free-will decisions. Humans do that all the time. They make a free-will decision based on knowing all the facts and doing it anyway. They make a free-will decision based on not knowing all the facts. They make a free-will decision based on being deceived. They make a free-will decision based on making mistakes.
God created humans in a way that He created nothing else. He created humans in His ‘image,’ His ‘likeness.’ He created humans to have dominion over the earth and everything in it. Being an image-bearer of God means having free will.
One thing God is that we aren’t is being necessary. God is the Necessary Being. Everything exists because of God. He is necessary for everything to exist. Everything has life because of God. He is the Necessary Being. We are not ‘necessary’ beings. We are ‘contingent’ beings. Our existence is contingent on the Necessary Being. Our life is contingent on the Necessary Being. However, we are like God in that we have a free will.
We make choices and that’s exactly what Cain did. He made a choice – a bad choice. God told Cain that ‘sin,’ the thing that would cause Cain to ‘go wrong, was lying at the door, ready to trip up Cain. God told Cain he should ‘rule over it.’ The Hebrew word for ‘rule’ means ‘dominion, reign.’ Cain was an image bearer of God and had within himself the ability to make a different decision than he did. However –
“Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.”
We don’t know what Cain and Abel talked about in the field. Whatever was said between brothers led to Cain expressing his free will in killing his brother. The first murder on the planet Earth – an expression of free will.
That event was devastating to the first family and led to more murders in the future. So, was God caught off guard by this? He warned Cain, but Cain did it anyway. Did this mess up God’s plan? Did God have to rethink what He had told the serpent about the Seed of the woman destroying the seed of the serpent?
What happened was that Eve became pregnant and bore another son. She named him Seth, “For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.” At some point in raising her sons, Eve realized that Abel had the character to be the bearer of the seed God had promised her. After Cain murdered Abel, Eve then believed that Seth would be the appointed seed. She was partially correct. Seth was not ‘the Seed’ that would destroy the seed of the serpent, but he would carry that seed forward through many generations until it came to a virgin in Nazareth who would give birth to Jesus. And that was God’s plan all along.
God reveals to us in His Word that He designed His plan before time began, before the foundation of the world. It was not something God threw together in response to His plan going terribly wrong. It was His plan from eternity.
2 Timothy 1:8-9, Titus 1:1-3, 1 Peter 1:18-21, John 17:24, and Ephesians 1:3-4 are examples of that eternal plan. God determined before time began that Jesus was going to shed His precious blood on the Cross, “as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” Paul wrote that Jesus “was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” God saved us and called us with a holy calling, “not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” God, “who cannot lie,” promised us before time began the hope of eternal life. Jesus, on the night He was arrested, prayed to His Father that His disciples would behold His “glory, which You have given me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” Paul wrote that we Christians are blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.”
God planned everything in eternity before He created anything! Everything that happened during and after creation was according to God’s plan. We’ll take a look at whether God’s plan was good or bad in a bit, but let’s first see that God claims clearly in His revelation that He planned it. God is sovereign and we have free will. Did God know the serpent would deceive Eve? He did. Did God know Adam would disobey and eat from the forbidden tree? He did. Did God know Jesus would die on the Cross to pay the penalty for Adam’s sin and the sin of everyone who came to Him in faith? He did. God knew it all.
One other thing: Jesus came from Heaven to earth to accomplish many things. He came to seek and save the lost. He came as the one offering God the Father would accept for sin. Jesus came to give life and give it abundantly. He came to give eternal life. But here’s something else Jesus came to give that is at the heart of many of your questions. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil –
“He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John 3:8
We’ll address that in more depth when we get to other questions about Satan, but keep that important revelation in mind. Jesus was revealed for the purpose of destroying “the works of the devil.” God knew what the devil would do before He created him. God also knew that His Son would destroy the works of the devil. That’s a deep mystery and difficult for us to understand.
We’ll continue answering this question about God and Evil in the second part of our response. We hope you will join us again soon.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.