Why is evil allowed to exist?

How can good come out of evil? One of the classic arguments regarding the existence of evil, is that it is the necessary outcome of allowing free will – the ability to choose. When God created a world where we could freely choose, he knew that this could go wrong. Why would he give us the ability to choose? If we're able to love, then we have to be able to choose. Love is a choice, and so we have to be allowed to reject it. That means that evil will occur, when people make the wrong choice. Why would God allow this? We can't love if we don't have that choice. Sadly, some people choose to do wrong. Yet God can turn this wrongdoing, even though it is not what He wants to happen, and use it for something good.

I believe that God created this world to be a vale of soul making. He made this physical environment, so that we can grow and mature and determine our eternal destiny. This life is the one we have to determine our eternal fate. The physical and moral environment allows us to live, to be free moral agents and to learn what we need to learn. We have to learn what love is. We have to learn what is right and wrong. This world helps us to do that.

Sin – the going against God's will of perfect love – ultimately is the only evil. Pain is not necessarily evil. If you didn't feel pain and put your arm in the fire, it would just burn off. Pain helps us to know the difference between evil and good. Pain means that something has gone wrong. Actually, it can be helpful to know this.

Also, suffering, pain, and hardship can encourage people to develop and grow spiritually. It helps us develop compassion, endurance, courage and other such virtues.

Of course that doesn't mean that we don't ask why it happens, especially if we have undergone suffering ourselves. In the book of Job, a man who loses his family, health and wealth for no apparent reason, Job, has lots of questions. Lots and lots of questions. His questions never really get answered. For a Christian, the answer to evil is that we know God is good, and that he knows everything. The minute you let go of one of those, you've been defeated. Always hold on to the goodness of God. We know so little in reality.

This is precisely what God said to Job, when He challenged Job's knowledge and comprehension of the mysteries of the universe:

Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this. Do you know it, because you were born then, or because the number of your days is great? Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it. Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? (Job 38:2-4,18,21; 40:2,8).

God doesn't give Job all the answers. He comes to Job and says, "I am". For Christians, when we're faced with evil, the first thing we do is not judge God by our standard. We judge ourselves by his standard.

Whose mind knows more about the consequences of all actions? Whose mind has the ability to see the bigger picture? And who alone is in the position to know how much suffering is permissible to bring about the ultimate good for humankind? That would be the infinite, eternal, omniscient Creator – the God of the Bible.

But God has not left us on our own. He sent Jesus to earth to suffer for us, to suffer with us. The answer to suffering is love. I think of a woman I met who lived in very poor circumstances. Her partner had died from a brain tumour. She too had a brain tumour but did not want to go into hospital. Several times she collapsed in her home. I didn't know what to say to her. I said to her "life is ugly". She said "yes". I said, "What would you say if I told you that even out of the greatest ugliness there can come great beauty?" She started crying. I was not offering physical healing, riches or resurrection from the dead just then. She said, "I can't believe that it could be so."

So, that is how we fight the ugliness of evil...we bring the beauty of Christ. Even the possibility of the beauty of Christ being true, made her weep. This is what we have to offer people. This is how we fight evil. We say, let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us. Everywhere we go we radiate Christ. Please pray that God will deliver us from evil in our own hearts. That only happens when the beauty of Christ comes upon us.

David Robertson leads St Peter's Dundee and is the director of Solas CPC. This series of articles is a summary of a talk given to the Keswick Convention 2014. The audio is available free here

Keswick's mission is to unite with Christians around the world to commit to three big priorities for our lives and churches – hearing God's Word, becoming like God's Son, and fulfilling God's mission.