Evil: Why God Permits It
THE QUESTION is often asked: Why doesn't God do something about the suffering that is in the world? It is asked in time of war, when believers and unbelievers are wounded or killed. It is asked when accident or illness brings injury or death to the innocent. It is asked when the unrighteous seem to prosper, and faithful people endure hardship. It is asked when upheavals of nature--tornadoes, cyclones, typhoons, earthquakes, volcanos--kill those who dwell on the earth. Has God Himself no pity?
Man, created in the image of God, experiences untold suffering from many causes. And suffering and death in war, pestilence, famine, and calamities began far back in human history. All of every generation have died, under the prevailing enemy Death. Abel, a son of Adam, whose sacrifice was pleasing to the LORD, was the first to suffer death, being murdered by his brother Cain. Today more than a hundred and seventy-five thousand people die every twenty-four hours. Hospitals and other care institutions are filled with the suffering and dying. No wonder many inquire where God is, and what He is doing about the distresses of mankind.
Knowledge and Our Five Senses
God's design in the general permission of evil throughout the ages is for man to learn through his experience. He created Adam a perfect human, in His own image. Being in the image of God implies an ability to reason. The Creator endowed Adam with the ability, through the process of reasoning, to attain knowledge and wisdom. This contrasted to what had been given to the lower animals, which is called instinct. But God did not miraculously implant knowledge upon Adam's brain cells with the intention that he would arbitrarily be governed by such knowledge. God did not desire His human creation to be like robots, which move about mechanically and without any sense of inner understanding. Man was given the ability to learn, and was free to govern himself by the knowledge he attained. What man would ultimately do with this knowledge would determine his eternal destiny.
Man acquires knowledge through his five senses. He learns from observation, through the exercise of the sense of sight. He also learns from what he hears. Hearing is the 'antenna' which collects information. Man feels pain when he comes in contact with boiling water, and learns by experience to temper the water he uses. Man acknowledges with pleasure the fragrance of a flower, but turns in revolt when the sense of smell detects unpleasant odors. Wholesome food is enjoyed through taste, but that sense teaches man to avoid unpalatable things, even though by sight they may be thought desirable.
It is thus seen that in the exercise of his five senses, man learns from information communicated to him through observation, and through experience. According to the dictionary man also acquires knowledge through intuition, but this may not be strictly true. The so-called intuition of man is based upon information already at hand. God alone possesses the ability to acquire and develop knowledge entirely independent of all outside sources. The knowledge acquired by man through claimed intuitive ability is really of little or no worth.
Information Not Sufficient
Right and wrong, as principles, are established by divine law. The world today is filled with crime, chaos, and suffering because God's laws--his standards of right and wrong--are ignored and denied. While man was endowed with a conscience, the conscience itself is aware of what is right and wrong only when it is furnished with such information from an authoritative source. That source is the Word of God, the Bible.
Adam was created with the ability to understand facts communicated to him, and it was proper that God now test the obedience and loyalty of His human son. So God defined that test in the form of a law or instruction. Our first parents had been provided with a remarkable home "eastward in Eden." In it was "every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food" (Gen. 2:8-17). And there was the tree of life. There was also another which is called "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." The Lord commanded Adam not to partake of this particular tree, and informed him that the penalty for disobedience would be death--"in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." The Creator had a right to demand obedience of His human creation, and to sentence him to death if he disobeyed.
This requirement of obedience was a divine law, and since God informed Adam that death would be the penalty for disobeying, we can say that by information he knew the result of transgression. Of course Adam could not look down through the ages and get an impression of the suffering and death that would be brought about by his original, selfish sin. However, he did know that his disobedience would lead to his own death.
But this information was not sufficient to deter him from taking the wrong course. He lacked a heart understanding of what was involved in his disobedience, because his knowledge was based, not on experience, but merely on what he had been told. Doubtless Adam loved his Creator, but somehow he falsely reasoned that since Eve had already transgressed, and would die, it would be better to die with her than to live without her. So, not having the strength which a knowledge gained through experience would have given him, Adam transgressed divine law and entered that course which would lead to his death.
A Knowledge of Good and Evil
In the plan and purpose of God, Adam's freewill disobedience would lead to his ultimate acquisition of a fuller knowledge of God and of His standards of right and wrong. The tree of which he was forbidden to partake was "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." It followed that having partaken of this tree he would gain the knowledge implied by its name, even though in the process he would need to suffer and to die.
After both Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit, the Lord said concerning them, "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil" (Gen. 3:22). This does not mean that the forbidden fruit had some magical effect upon our first parents, enabling them at once to have a full knowledge of good and evil. We do read that soon after their disobedience they became ashamed of their nakedness, but this was no doubt due in part to the sense of guilt they felt in having disobeyed their Creator.
We think the Lord's statement means that because of disobedience man was now destined to know both good and evil, and that he was to gain this knowledge through experience. The education in that manner of our first parents began at once. They were driven out of their garden home into the unfinished earth to die. They began to be plagued with all sorts of unfavorable elements spoken of as "thorns" and "thistles" which the earth brought forth. They would have to struggle against such conditions until in death they would return to the earth from which they were taken.
God designed in the creation of our first parents that they be the progenitors of an entire race. He knew that, in order for Adam's children to really know Him and have a true appreciation of His standards of right and wrong, they, even as Adam, would need to learn by experience the terrible results of disobedience. Later God's purpose was to teach them, by contrast, to fully appreciate the blessings which His love would shower upon those who would be loyal in their own test of obedience. So the Creator designed that all of Adam's offspring should be carried into death through him. Paul wrote, "As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that [or, margin, 'in whom'] all have sinned."--Rom. 5:12
Death Plagues All
For more than six thousand years the human race, having come under condemnation to death because of sin, has been exposed to evil. By experience, mankind has been learning the terrible results of disobedience. The seeds of death have manifested their presence in humans, young and old, by myriads of infirmities and diseases of both mind and body. Neither the young nor the old have escaped the plague of death. Infants oft-times fall before the enemy at a tender age with no understanding of what is taking place in and around them. Some live perchance to "a ripe old age," only to finally succumb to the ravages of death which afflict all.
And not only are people brought down to the grave by disease. Upheavals of nature in an unfinished earth contribute to the process, as do accidents and men's own cruelties to one another in war and crime. Throughout the ages, God has not interfered with the great enemy Death. Paul informs us concerning people as a whole, that "God gave them up to a disapproved mind" (Rom. 1:28 Young's, Vine's, Rotherham). This implies that He has not restrained the human race from taking its own course, even though that course has been selfish and sinful. Neither has He interfered with the carrying out of the death sentence, protecting some and not protecting others.
But God's great design does not end with the human race abandoned in death. Through Jesus, our Redeemer, God has made a provision for all to be awakened from death and restored to perfection of life. Paul wrote, "Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:21,22). This provision of life through Christ is based upon Jesus' own death and resurrection. He said, "My flesh...I will give for the life of the world" (John 6:51). It was for this reason that Jesus was born into the world as a human being.--Heb. 2:9, Gal. 4:4
The Bible uses the word 'ransom' when it describes the arrangement by which Jesus became the Redeemer of the world through His death. The Greek word from which 'ransom' is translated means a 'corresponding price.' Jesus was a perfect man, even as Adam was a perfect man before he sinned. Thus in death Jesus became a corresponding price for the forfeited life of Adam. And as all mankind lost life through Adam, so all mankind is redeemed from death through Christ.
Just and Unjust To Be Raised
That redemption means that in God's due time all will be awakened from the sleep of death. Paul informs us that there is to be "a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust" (Acts 24:15). While sin and selfishness have predominated throughout the ages, there have been noble men and women who, because of their faith and obedience to God's laws of righteousness, are referred to in Scripture as 'just.' These have been allowed to suffer as part of their testing and preparation for further exalted positions which the Creator has designed for them in His future arrangements.
Millions of noble, unselfish people have lived throughout the ages without having faith in God. One reason for their unbelief has been their observation that the innocent suffer as well as the guilty. They have not been able to understand why an infant is allowed to die. They have been unable to understand why a loving, powerful God allows many to suffer for years on beds of sickness, and others to be afflicted with blidness, insanity, and other cruel maladies, all through no fault of their own. Had these unbelievers known the full plan of God they would have understood such permissions.
The true God of the Bible has been flagrantly misrepresented throughout the ages because of a common lack of knowledge. Many who profess belief in Christianity bemoan the suffering they see taking place around them, but try to believe that all who die in unbelief will be tortured eternally in a burning hell of fire and brimstone. This blasphemous teaching has in fact created many unbelievers, for a properly reasoning mind cannot believe that a God of love would torture his creatures. Such cruelty is even contrary to the laws of civilized men to perpetrate on one another.
The First and Second Lessons
The fact is that few in all the ages have as yet profited by their experience with evil. Rather, many have been turned to unbelief by it. And if we were to base our conclusions on man's limited abilities and his restricted viewpoint, there would be no satisfactory answer as to why God permits evil. In the limited viewpoint of many, death is the end of existence; to others it is the end of all opportunity to learn and profit from past experiences. But such viewpoints are not supported in the Bible.
According to the Bible, those who are asleep in death will be awakened from that sleep and given an opportunity to profit from the experiences of the present life. It often happens now that the difficulties and distresses of a certain day are understood and appreciated at a later time. So it will be, but on a grander scale, for those who are now sleeping in death. When they are awakened, they shall enter another term in their school of experience. When man arises after the present experience is over, the world of mankind will be able to testify to the wisdom of God in allowing the experience of suffering and death. When they are awakened from death, their faulty vision or understanding of God will be corrected. They will rejoice to learn of the gracious and loving provision the Creator has made for them through Christ the Redeemer to ransom them from death. And they will come to perfection of life, if in the light of this true knowledge of God they obey Him by conforming their lives to His standards of right and wrong.
Joy in the Morning
The Psalmist wrote, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psa. 30:5). The 'nighttime' of sin, sorrow, and death began with the disobedience of our first parents. It has indeed been a night of weeping. The sorrow that has borne down upon the human race has been bitter, and many in their distresses have wondered whether or not God has any pity. The new day of blessing will be brought about through the establishment of Messiah's kingdom in the earth.
Associated with Jesus as rulers in the invisible, heavenly kingdom will be His faithful followers--those who have suffered and died with Him. Our Master died the Just for the unjust, and His followers voluntarily suffer and die unjustly with Him. Thus will they be exalted to life in the spiritual realm, to be associated with Jesus in the rulership of His kingdom.
The 'House' of the Lord
Micah 4:1-4 declares that "the house" or ruling authority of God has a mountain (kingdom) which is to be established superior to, above, atop all other institutions of national or international government. This ruling house consists of Jesus and those who, through faithfulness in following in His footsteps, are also exalted to heavenly glory as sons of God. Under the rulership of this kingdom, the people will learn the Lord's way. The entire period of Christ's earthly kingdom reign will be one in which mankind learns of God's loving purpose. Micah's prophecy reveals one of the results of this education: the people will learn war no more (vs. 3). It will be then that the angels' message of "peace on earth" will become a reality (Luke 2:13,14). The Prince of Peace will then reign supreme.--Isaiah 9:6
Much of the suffering in the world throughout the ages has been due to lack of food, clothing, and shelter. Even today the majority of the human race is existing on subnormal supplies of food, and millions have but little clothing and no roof over their heads. All this will be corrected through the activities of Christ's kingdom.
Nor will peace and security be the only blessings guaranteed to the people under the rulership of "the mountain [kingdom] of the house of the Lord." Isaiah wrote, "And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall be taken away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him,...we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation."--Isaiah 25:6-9
In addition to the "feast of fat things" which Isaiah's prophecy assures will be spread for mankind in the kingdom of the Lord, we are informed that "the covering" and "the veil" now covering the faces of the people will be removed. This clearly refers to a symbolic curtain which hinders the people from seeing and knowing God in His true light.
All Evil Destroyed
Of this same time of Christ's kingdom we read, "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isa. 11:9). Then there will be no more suffering and death as a result of Adam's transgression. It will be the time when Adam's children are being made alive through Christ. Killing calamities will no longer be permitted. The peaceful and prosperous conditions which men and women today would like to see throughout the earth will then exist, because "the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea."--Hab. 2:14
And there are other blessed assurances. God has promised that He 'will swallow up death in victory' (1 Cor. 15:54). Paul wrote that Christ will reign until all enemies are put under His feet, and that "the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:25,26). The result: "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."--Rev. 21:4
First Experience with Good
Adam and his children in general will receive their first real experience with 'good' during the reign of Christ. This will complete their education with respect to the validity and importance of the standards of right and wrong established by God. Though perfect when created, the knowledge which Adam then had through information did not prevent his transgression. But in the coming day of blessing, Adam and his race will come to know God as a result of their experience.
The God mankind will then 'know' will be the one they have longed to know and serve. They will recognize the value of the experiences through which they have passed. Understanding real values, they will realize that the few short years of hardship through which they passed while under condemnation to death were as nothing compared with the eternity of joy then stretching out before them under the revealed manifestation of divine love. No wonder they will then say, "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him...we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation."--Isa. 25:9
Those who have fallen asleep in death are to share in these loving provisions for the human race. This is the key to an understanding of why God permits evil. It means that God's viewpoint of human experience goes beyond man's present short span of life. He relates, on the one hand, the time during which all men learn remarkable lessons in gaining a "knowledge of good and evil" amidst the experience with sin and death with, on the other hand, an eternity of joy during which they will receive the "good." And so shall all men bear testimony to that relationship when they receive the "feast of fat things" which the Lord will spread before all nations.-- Isaiah 25:6-9
A Time of Learning
This future period of blessing is also described in the Bible as one of judgment, trial. Isaiah wrote that when the Lord's judgments are abroad in the earth, "the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness" (Isa. 26:9). All the inequities of the present will then be no more. Those who now wilfully oppose God and His laws, or who unjustly treat their fellows, will receive appropriate disciplinary instruction so to respond to their new understanding of God's love. Former circumstances relative to each individual will be taken into consideration, and the people instructed, corrected, nurtured, and encouraged to live in harmony and righteousness with one another.
Of course those who have died in infancy will be awakened, grow to adulthood, and have opportunity to enjoy God's blessings. Having had real experience with both good and evil, each individual then will be able to fully decide for himself whether or not he wishes to choose the good and live forever, or choose evil and again be sentenced to death (this time as the result of his own individual judgment), a death from which no awakening is promised. Christ will then be King supreme in His kingdom, and He will be Judge supreme.
During the present nighttime of sin and death, all die--believers and unbelievers, the innocent and the guilty, the righteous and the unrighteous (Rom. 5:12,18). But during the reign of Christ, only those who wilfully disobey the laws of God will be destroyed (Ezek. 18:4, Rev. 20:15). All others will continue to live and to mature toward perfection. If these continue faithful, they will enter into the everlasting future ages of happiness and life. "Songs and everlasting joy [shall be] upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."--Isa. 35:10
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