If God Exists, Why Doesn’t He Fix Evil?

When we look out at the world, we often see brokenness, heartache, and death. It is easy to see how someone can question that an all-good and all-powerful creator is overseeing things. If a God like that exists, then why doesn’t he do anything? How can we believe that God is good and powerful if he doesn’t help those hurting and in need?

If we get rid of God, we don’t get rid of the problem.

Some might think that evil is a problem for people who believe in God, but it is a problem for everyone. You might say that God is an unsatisfying answer, but atheism does not have a better one. If atheism is true, then pain and evil are pointless and arbitrary. When you suffer evil, it will never be made right. When your heart is broken, there is no hope that you’ll someday be made whole. If our loved ones have suffered and died, their experiences can never be redeemed. If God doesn’t exist, then evil really does have the final say. We haven’t gotten rid of the problem at all; we’ve compounded it.

So why does God allow evil?

Philosopher Stephen Wykstra gives us some useful insights into this. [1] Imagine a man who goes to a dog park. He looks around and says to himself, “There are no hippopotami here.” The man is justified in saying so because he can reasonably expect to spot a hippo at the park. Suppose instead, he was to say, “There are no dog whistle’s being blown.” Now we might object, “You can’t know that!” because the man is not in a position to hear dog whistles if they were blown. Therefore, his not hearing one is no reason to believe that one isn’t there.

When it comes to evil, the real question is whether God has a morally sufficient reason to allow it. We can certainly understand circumstances in which pain and suffering may be allowed for a greater good (think of dentistry, for example). The dentist is indeed inflicting pain and suffering on you. Still, he isn’t evil for doing so because he has your overall health in mind. In other words, your overall health is the morally sufficient reason that he is harming you.

So what is God’s morally sufficient reason to allow evil? I have no idea. Like our man in the dog park, however, I don’t expect to know. This is one dog whistle we can’t hear. When we think of our own limitations and of how little we are aware, we shouldn’t be all that surprised that we can’t give an account for God’s actions. If you think about it, you have no idea precisely what is going on behind you. You may be alone and assume that nothing much is happening in the background, but do you really know? If we can’t even tell what is going on behind our own heads, how can we expect to understand evil’s full consequences? The full effects of an evil act may not show up in our lifetimes or even on our continent. We are in no position at all to say that a morally sufficient reason is nowhere to be found among those consequences.

Well, why does God seem so hidden if we need him for salvation?

I’ve often heard this question. We should recognize that it is a variation on the problem of evil we have been talking about. Where the problem of evil asks why God allows evil, this question asks why God allows unbelief. Surely God knows what it would take to convince me to believe, so why isn’t he making that happen?

You may have heard the old adage, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Some things can be forced, and other things can’t. Our beliefs are matters of choice, so it may not make sense to ask why God doesn’t coerce us to believe in him. 

Even so, our answer to evil works just as well with unbelief. We may not know why God shows up more forcefully for some people than others, but should we expect to know? Is the answer to that question a hippopotamus or a dog whistle? I have no idea what impact a vision or religious experience might have on someone. Since we know so little about this, we are in no position to say that God doesn’t have a morally sufficient reason for allowing them to make their choices. Like in the problem of evil, this is one dog whistle we just can’t hear.

So, where does that leave us?

Job asked similar sorts of questions. You may remember Job’s story and how God allowed all kinds of calamity and disaster to visit him. Job lost absolutely everything and had done nothing to deserve it. He initially trusts God, but by the end of the book, he is demanding answers. God speaks to Job but never answers his questions. Instead, we learn from the book that we should trust God when we don’t know. We may not know why evil is happening, but we can understand that God is worth our trust.

I’m not at all saying we should blindly trust God. We have good reasons to believe that God exists and is good. I go over a few of those reasons here. Instead, we should trust God with what we don’t know because of what we do know. We can understand that God loves us and has a purpose for us, even in our pain.

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[1] Gregory E. Ganssle and Yena Lee, Evidential Problems of Evil in God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2013).

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