How Evil and Suffering Are Related

In my last two posts I shared some insights that Job gives into what I called “the problem of evil.”

But what is the problem of evil? Here is how I described it in a paper (“Oh God, Why Did You Let Esther Die?”) that I wrote for a course in 1983: “We claim that God is both omnipotent (for example, Jesus himself told his disciples, ‘With God all things are possible,’ Mark 10:27) and good (for example, God told the rich young ruler, ‘There is none good but one, that is, God,’ Mark 10:18). But if God is omnipotent, He should be able to prevent evil; and if God is good, He should want to prevent evil. Thus, if our assertion that God is both omnipotent and good is true, evil should not exist. However, as nearly everyone admits, evil does exist. Why?”. (To read the paper, see O God, Why Did You Let Esther Die?.)

In my June 21 “The Problem of Evil” post I observed: “This fall the Life small group that my wife and I attend plans to study the problem of evil and suffering using a booklet by Randy Alcorn based on his If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (Multnomah Books, 2009). As I did when we studied Ephesians 6:10-20 in May, I’m going to post here comments and questions on what we study. Hopefully the group’s study and what I share of it here will result in our being encouraged by what the Bible reveals about evil and suffering and being strengthened to hold onto our faith when we encounter storms in our lives.”

The booklet is called If God Is Good: Why Do We Hurt?. In the first week of our study, we’ll read its first two sections: “Introduction: The Search We All Share” and “How Is Suffering Related to Evil?” They are based on the first three chapters of Alcorn’s If God Is Good book, which consider why the problem of evil and suffering is important, what it is, and how evil and suffering are related. Above I’ve described what the problem of evil is. Below I’ll observe why it is important and how evil and suffering are related, focusing on what the booklet says about them.

Why the Problem of Evil and Suffering Is Important

How people view the evil and suffering in the world affects how they see God and the world around them. Alcorn observes that the commonest reason people give for not believing in God is the problem of evil and suffering. He also refers to a Barna Research poll that asked, “If you could ask God only one question and you knew he would give you an answer, what would you ask?” The commonest response was, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?” (booklet, page 8)

How Evil and Suffering Are Related

Alcorn observes that although most people today use the word “evil” to describe things that cause harm, the Bible uses it more broadly to describe any violation of God’s moral standards (sin). In committing it, we are essentially rebelling against Him. (booklet, pages 11-12)

Alcorn also observes that although some view evil as the absence of good, just as cold is the absence of heat and darkness is the absence of light, it is more than just the absence of good–it is the corruption of the good like rust on metal or cancer in healthy, living cells. (booklet, page 12)

Alcorn also observes that the first human evil, Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden, resulted in suffering by them (and us) and a curse on the natural world. (booklet, page 12) We’ll consider in more depth how evil and suffering originated next week when we discuss the next section in the booklet, “Where Do Evil and Suffering Come From?”.

Alcorn describes sin as primary evil and suffering as secondary evil, explaining that secondary evils are things that happen to us that we don’t like and that they are caused by primary evils, which are things we do that God doesn’t like. (booklet, page 12) In his If God Is Good book Alcorn goes on to observe that God sometimes inflicts or allows suffering as judgment on sin to bring about ultimate good.

Other writers about the problem of evil distinguish two kinds of evil in addition to moral evil and suffering, natural evil and what some call metaphysical evil. Natural evil consists of diseases and disasters in nature, and metaphysical evil is the finitude and contingency of created things. We’ll consider natural evil two weeks from now when we discuss the section in the booklet called “What Causes Natural Disasters?”

Life Group Questions

Since our Life group won’t begin its study of the problem of evil and suffering until a few weeks from now, the following questions are just tentative ones. In composing them I obtained ideas from Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Study Guide (Multnomah Books, 2010).

We’ll open by discussing this question:
– What current experience of suffering by you or someone you know stands out to you at this time?

After reading “Introduction: The Search We All Share” (pages 7-11), we’ll discuss this question:
– Why do you think that the problem of evil and suffering causes so many people to question the existence, goodness, or power of God?

After reading “How Is Suffering Related to Evil?” (pages 11-13), we’ll discuss these questions:
– How does the way that the Bible uses “evil” differ from the way that most people use it today?
– Why is it important to understand that evil is more than just the absence of good?
– How did / does sin contribute to the origination and existence of suffering?
– Define “evil.”
– Define “suffering.”

We’ll close by discussing this question:
– What questions do you have on the topic of evil and suffering?

In my next post I’ll consider where evil and suffering come from, guided by the section “Where Do Evil and Suffering Come from?” on pages 13-22 of Randy Alcorn’s “If God Is Good: Why Do We Hurt?” booklet.


4 thoughts on “How Evil and Suffering Are Related

  1. Allison

    I still struggle with how God fits into suffering but, when it comes to evil, God seems the best answer we have. Without God, how can mankind ever hope for corrupt people to ever repent and show goodness?

    Also, even if sometimes I don’t understand how God can allow the pain and hurts that He does, I wonder what is the alternative? If there is no God, what kind of hope do we have that one day all will be made right? Without God, there is nothing at the end to make sense of this mixed-up world in which we live. And so again I believe God is the best answer.

    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Thanks, Allison, for bringing out something that I failed to refer to in the post, the seeming senselessness of life in this evil world without the hope that God will someday make everything right. Unfortunately the amount of evil in the world sometimes keeps people from believing in God and thus from having the hope that He will someday make everything right.


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