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Why does a good God allow evil?

It was well past dinner-time when Teck Whatt and Arjuna walked up the wet slip road to his uncle’s home, some distance from the bus-stop. At the porch Teck Whatt’s shoulder caught the rain-drenched oleander. A spray of water and pink blossoms greeted him.

Arjuna grinned. "That’s one way to keep cool, Teck".

"Very funny," his companion muttered, wiping his spectacles. He brightened on seeing Uncle Loh and Auntie Li at the doorway.

"Uncle, Auntie, meet Arjuna my good - but not always sympathetic - friend and classmate."

Arjuna grimaced. "Aiyo, Teck, how can you introduce me like that?"

Auntie Li laughed. "Come on in. We were expecting you both. Hot coffee is in the living room."

When they settled down Arjuna began to speak. "Uncle Loh, thank you for taking time to see me. Teck says you can help me answer some questions that are troubling me".

"Please go ahead, Arjuna. We’ll see if I can help".

"The Bible says that God is good. Why is there evil and suffering in our world? And so much of it. I am beginning to doubt that God is good. Maybe God does not exist. If He does He is not doing anything about it."

Uncle Loh smiled. He reached out and patted Arjuna’s shoulder.

"Your concern with good and evil reminds me of your namesake - Arjuna, the hero of the Indian epic, the Bhagavad Gita. He was quite disturbed over his having to fight his cousins. As human beings we face this dilemma of living with evil in an otherwise lovely world. At one time or other Christians, too, find it baffling and painful. They are not exempted from sickness, suffering and death. On top of this they have to explain to their non-Christian friends why they not only believe in a loving God but continue to love and serve Him."

"That’s tough", Arjuna conceded, shaking his head slowly.

"The Bible has an answer," Uncle Loh continued, "but let’s think the problem through step by step. To begin with we all admit there are both good and evil in this world".

Arjuna and Teck Whatt nodded. "Does an evil Being create good? Evil suppresses good and seeks to destroy it. If God is evil, you have to explain why there is good in this world. Now if God is neutral about moral good and evil, you have to explain why there are both good and evil".

"We are assuming there is a God," Teck Whatt replied. "Arjuna made the point that God may not exist. Evil and good are then chance events that just happen."

"If a good God does not exist", Uncle Loh asked, "how do you recognise anything as ‘evil’? We are able to do so because we have this built-in knowledge of absolute good. We are made by a God of whom the Bible says: ‘Good and upright is the Lord. Therefore He instructs sinners in the way’ (Psalm 25:8)."

Arjuna countered, "Good and evil are relative values, not absolutes. There is no such thing as an absolute".

"And you are absolutely certain of that!" replied Uncle Loh with a smile. "Arjuna, we began this evening’s discussion with our concern over evil and suffering. If there is no real evil and evil is only so in a relative sense, we should not be overly concerned. For instance, exploitation of one man by another is not a bad thing since suffering is only relative to the exploited. At least the exploiter benefits. Nor should we work towards the cure of all diseases. Think of all the hospitals, private clinics and pharmaceutical industries which won’t have to be around because there are no sick people."

There was a pause before Uncle Loh spoke again.

"Now if God is good as the Bible teaches, there is an explanation to why evil is allowed to exist side by side with much that is good. To begin with, the world was made good for the first pair of human beings to live in (Genesis 2:16-17). In ideal circumstances, with everything provided for them, the first pair nevertheless disobeyed God. Man became alienated from his Creator (Genesis 3). The sin principle in time spread through all human society (Genesis 6). Today’s troubled world is largely the working out of this evil tendency in both the individual and community."

"What about natural disasters like earthquakes, typhoons and diseases?" Arjuna asked.

"The physical world was made a home for man. When divine judgment was passed on him the world could not be outside that judgment. It became hostile and, like man, its disobedient steward, untamed and destructive."

After a pause he added, "Frankly, human beings make the problem worse than it is. Take earthquakes. For reasons of overcrowding, and sometimes by folly, people build their homes in earthquake-prone areas.

Teck, you said a while ago that evil and good could be chance events. I suppose you could say that of natural disasters, whose geophysical causes we do not yet fully understand. ‘Acts of God,’ some call them. However huge areas on the earth’s surface have been turned into deserts because of deforestation. These are deliberate acts of man, not chance events. Add to this list fires, crashes, explosions caused by carelessness and sheer neglect and health problems caused by drug addiction and pollution of the environment, and unending wars! You can see that much human suffering is caused more by moral evil rather than natural disasters."

Arjuna leaned forward. There was an earnestness in his voice as he said, "I see what you are trying to say. It is up to us to make the best of a good world spoiled by sin. But even if that is true, why did God allow this situation to arise? He is almighty. He could have done something. Why did He not anticipate that Adam and Eve could have disobeyed Him?"

"Well said, Arjuna," Uncle Loh remarked. "Remember this, though: an almighty God does not do logically impossible or contradictory things. God cannot create Adam and Eve, or me or you, to choose freely and at the same time make certain that obedience is inevitable. Freedom to say ‘Yes, God’ must be matched by the real possibility of saying ‘No, God’. This is a precious gift from the Creator to man and is what makes a man a man and not a robot programmed to obey."

After a pause Arjuna mused, "So God is left with a problem".

Uncle Loh said, "God is not ‘left with a problem’. That is the way He works, in keeping with His holy and loving nature. The possibility of abuse does not stop God from giving the gift of freedom of choice. Man abuses other gifts from Him such as clean air and water, but He gives them anyway. He knew what would happen. For reasons unknown to us, He allowed it to happen. We can speculate, of course, as to what these reasons might be. Philosophers and theologians have done so from time immemorial."

Everyone was lost in thought until Arjuna said brightly "Without contradicting Himself or violating man’s freedom I think I know how God can solve the problem."

"How?" Teck Whatt queried, perked up by Arjuna’s confident tone.

"By causing evil and the consequences of evil to vanish!"

Uncle Loh peered over the rim of his bifocals with an amused look. "Then you and I with the whole human race will vanish! For the Bible says, and history bears witness, that there is none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10)".

Arjuna and Teck Whatt sank back into the sofa somewhat disappointed.

Uncle Loh smiled broadly, "Cheer up. The good news is that God had foreseen and has solved the problem of evil. But it is a long-term solution. First He has sent His Son to die on the Cross for the sins of the world. Jesus Christ took the punishment which God’s sense of justice demands. Christians like to think of the word 'grace' as standing for 'God's riches at Christ's expense'. On that basis God offers forgiveness to all who will receive it by faith (John 3:16)."

"If we are such sinners, as the Bible says, we don’t deserve this," Arjuna interjected.

"Who says we do?" Unlce Loh answered. "The Bible uses the special word grace to describe God’s offer. Grace means what you said - undeserved good. God’s long-term plan is to form a world-wide community of all who are united by faith to Jesus Christ who is risen from the dead and now in heaven. God has also determined a day when He will judge the world (Acts 17:30-31). Evil will be confined to a place called hell. The present world will be destroyed by fire. He will create new heavens and a new earth where true righteousness exists. His people will dwell in peace with Him forever. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away (Revelation 20:11-21:5)."

There was silence, broken only by the clink of a cup on its saucer. Outside, the wind had subsided to a whisper.

"Arjuna," said Uncle Loh, with a certain tenderness, "I do not know how much tonight’s discussion has helped you. If God is there and God is love, all will ultimately be well. There will be an answer to the mystery of evil. The fact remains that we are free to choose. Whosoever will may come to Jesus, but whosoever won’t come will not be forced to (Revelation 22:17).

I speak as I do because I am sure a good and loving God takes care of His world. To be sure of God is not to have the answer to everything but to be sure that we shall have the answer some day. When that day comes we shall yet praise God for His wisdom and love."

On their walk to the bus-stop Arjuna was quieter than usual. Teck Whatt asked the Lord to speak to him and bring him into His kingdom.


Next chapter: Thank goodness