For many, the presence of moral evil is evidence against the existence of an all-powerful, all loving God. The problem of evil is perhaps the single most frequent objection I hear when speaking to unbelievers, and it has been uttered by thousands across the span of history. Epicurus (the ancient Greek philosopher, 341-270BC) expressed the problem clearly:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing?”
There you have it: If a good, all-powerful, all loving God does exist, and we, as humans, are allegedly created in His “image”, why are people be so inclined to do immoral things? And why doesn’t this all-powerful God do something to stop evil, immoral behavior? A God such as this is either too impotent to stop evil, doesn’t care enough to act, or simply doesn’t exist in the first place.
But think about it for a minute. Which is more loving: a God who creates a world in which love is possible, or a God who creates a world in which love is impossible? It seems reasonable that a loving God (if He exists at all), would create a world where love is possible. A good God would create a world where love can be experienced and expressed by creatures designed “in His image”. But this kind of “love-possible” a world is, by necessity, a dangerous place. Love requires freedom.
True love requires that humans have the ability to freely choose; love cannot be forced if it is to be heartfelt and real. I cannot force my children, for example, to love me. Instead, I must demonstrate my love for them, provide them with the knowledge and moral wisdom necessary to make safe and loving choices, and then allow them the personal freedom to love one another and do the right thing. Eventually, as a parent, I have to let go, and this process of letting go is dangerous. In order for my kids to have the freedom to love, they also need the freedom to hate. Freedom of this nature is often costly. A world in which people have the freedom to love and perform great acts of kindness is also a world in which people have the freedom to hate and commit great acts of evil. You cannot have one without the other, and we understand this intuitively. Let’s consider an example.
Every year, millions of scissors are manufactured and sold in countries across the world. Everyone knows how valuable and useful scissors can be. No one is arguing for laws to prevent the manufacturing or sale of scissors; we understand how beneficial they are. Yet every year, hundreds of homicides and assaults are committed with scissors (I’ve actually investigated some of these). While scissors were designed for a good and useful purpose, they are often used to commit great evil. In a similar way, our personal “free agency” is a beautiful gift that allows us to love. It was intended to provide us the means through which we can love one another and even love God. But this freedom, like a pair of scissors, can be used for great evil as well if we choose to reject its original purpose.
As Christians, we believe that God created us in His image. We have the freedom to love and we are eternal creatures who will live beyond our short existence on earth. Our free agency allows us to love and perform acts of kindness, and our eternal life provides the context for God to deal justly with those who choose to hate and perform acts of evil. God will do something to stop evil, immoral behavior, He is powerful enough to stop evil completely, and He does care about justice. But as an Eternal Being, He has the ability to address the issue on an eternal timeline. It’s not that God has failed to act; it’s simply that He has not chosen to act yet.
1 John 4:7-8
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Compared to eternity, this temporal, earthly existence is but a vapor, created by good God to be a wonderful place where love is possible for those who choose it.