Where Do Evil and Suffering Come From?

Like last week’s post, this post is based on the booklet by Randy Alcorn that the Life group my wife and I are part of is using in studying the problem of evil. Called If God Is Good: Why Do We Hurt?, the booklet is based on Alcorn’s If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (Multnomah Books, 2009). As I observed in last week’s study, I’m posting here comments and questions on what the group will be studying with the hope of readers’ being encouraged by what the Bible reveals about evil and suffering and being strengthened to hold onto their faith when they encounter storms in their lives.

In the second week of the Life group’s study we’ll read a section in the booklet called “Where Do Evil and Suffering Come From?” and discuss questions similar to those appearing at the end of this post. The section’s being based mainly on three chapters of Alcorn’s If God Is Good book (chapters 20, 7, and 19), I’m going to divide this post into three parts, using adaptations of the titles of those chapters as titles for the parts. As in most of my posts, Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise specified.

How Would You Rewrite the Story?

Alcorn opens the section by observing that the tragedy and suffering involved in the Biblical story of man’s fall and redemption makes many people wonder whether God should have done things differently. He then poses the question as to how the reader would have written the story if he or she, instead of God, were its author. (booklet, pages 13-14)

Next Alcorn summarizes the story that God tells in the Bible of His creating Adam and Eve and letting them be tempted by Satan; of their rebelling against Him and evil’s entering the world; of His promising a Redeemer and His people’s looking forward to the Redeemer to come, overthrow their enemies, and set up his kingdom; of Jesus’ being born, being put to death, and rising from the dead; and of Jesus’ promising to return someday, to make things all right, and to live with His people forever. (booklet, pages 14-15)

Alcorn then suggests that if the reader were to rewrite the story, he or she would likely omit Satan’s temptation, Adam and Eve’s sin, and all the ensuing human wickedness. He goes on to point out that by preventing the problem in this way, the reader would also prevent the solution to it brought about by Jesus and would thus take away God’s grace, the grace demonstrated by Him in dealing with sin. Alcorn concludes by asking which story, God’s or the reader’s, is more satisfying. (booklet, pages 15-17)

Acorn devotes most of chapter 20 of his If God Is Good book to showing that God’s story is more satisfying. I plan to share in our Life group meeting some of the illustrations that he cites in presenting his argument. One illustration that he gives is that of Job and Joseph. If either had been given the option partway through the story about him of walking out of it, he likely would have done so; Job, for example, said, “Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire?” (Job 3:11). Yet, sitting at a banquet on the New Earth, both would surely have been glad that God didn’t let them walk out of it.

Humanity’s Evil and Its Consequences

Alcorn recommends our going back to God’s story to try to get a better understanding of evil. In it, after seeing that everything that He had made was very good, God told Adam and Eve, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). Despite this clear warning, when tempted by Satan Adam and Eve rebelled against God and ate what was forbidden. As a result God punished each of them and suffering entered the world. After recounting the preceding, Alcorn emphasizes that all sin, from Adam and Eve’s in the Garden of Eden to the last one in history, is against God as well as against those hurt by it. (booklet, pages 17-19)

In his If God Is Good book, Alcorn places before the chapter describing humanity’s evil and its consequences (chapter 7) a chapter attributing evil’s entrance into the universe to a rebellion of angels under the leadership of Satan (chapter 6). Although I don’t plan to refer to that chapter in our Life group meeting unless a comment is made or a question is raised that it is relevant to, I am going to devote my next post here to a consideration of its topic.

Evil and Suffering in God’s Redemptive Plan

Alcorn claims that although God was disappointed by Adam and Eve’s sin, it didn’t take Him by surprise. In eternity past He knew that it would happen and, as indicated in Ephesians 1:4-5 (“he [God] chose us in him [Jesus] before the foundation of the earth” and “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ”), decided how to redeem us. (booklet, page 19)

Next Alcorn observes that God didn’t force Adam and Eve to sin but created them with freedom of choice and allowed Satan to tempt them knowing that they would choose evil. Arguing that all human evil results from people’s exercising meaningful choice and thus that the problem of evil is the problem of freedom, he suggests that God’s reason for giving us this freedom is that God wants us to love Him not because we have to but because we want to. (booklet, pages 19-20)

Alcorn concludes the section by asserting that although God is the author of a story that includes sin, He isn’t the originator of evil. He intended from the beginning to permit evil but, instead of immediately punishing it fully, also to provide redemption in Jesus Christ so that we would be able to live in His presence on His New Earth with evil and suffering behind us forever. Alcorn observes that when that takes place none of will think that we could have written a better story. (booklet, pages 20-22)

Life Group Questions

Since our Life group won’t consider this section of Alcorn’s booklet until at least a few weeks from now, the following questions are just tentative ones. In composing them I obtained ideas from Alcorn’s If God Is Good Study Guide (Multnomah Books, 2010).

After reading the first paragraph of the section “Where Do Evil and Suffering Come From?” of the booklet (pages 13-14), we’ll discuss the question with which it closes.

After reading pages 14-17 of the booklet, we’ll discuss the questions asked in the paragraph beginning with “Which story is more satisfying?” (page 17) and what is most satisfying about God’s story.

After reading pages 17 (bottom) – 19 (top) of the booklet, we’ll discuss to what extent human beings are responsible for the evil and suffering in the world.

After reading pages 19 (top) – 22 (top) of the booklet, we’ll discuss how God’s story is the ultimate story.

We’ll close by discussing any questions that members of the group still have about where evil and suffering come from.

As noted above, in my next post I’ll consider how evil entered the universe as a result of a rebellion of angels.

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4 thoughts on “Where Do Evil and Suffering Come From?

  1. Allison

    If I were to rewrite the story of creation, I would make man and the world perfect. Or would I? Every child ultimately grows up to want freedom from his parents to make individual choices, whether right or wrong. Would anyone truly give up that choice? Do we want to be robots, so that we can avoid evil? Probably not. It’s a tough dilemma.

    Reply
    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Thanks, Allison, for your thoughtful response to the question, “How would you rewrite the story?” Life here would certainly be different if God had put having a perfect world ahead our having freedom of choice.

      Reply
  2. Rose Spillenaar Harmer

    Enjoyed your post. Yes, we all think at times we want the world to be perfect. However, as we grow older and a bit closer to God we realize He uses all our experiences and we do draw closer in the hard times. Trusting, at times, is difficult. God bless!

    Reply
    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Thanks, Rose, for your encouraging and perceptive comment. Although as you observed trusting is sometimes difficult, I find reassuring Paul’s claim that “for those who love God all things work together for good.”

      Reply

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