June 4, 2021
Several months ago, one of my nieces asked her mom why God would send anyone to hell. My niece had grown up in the church but has drifted away from her relationship with God. Her justification for that move was to ask one of the most common questions people ask when they have doubts about the Christian faith. Hell is perceived as evil and why does God allow it and all the other suffering in the world.
While listening to a podcast I heard a recommendation for a book that attempts to answer this question. The book is Why Does God Allow Evil?: Compelling Answers for Life’s Toughest Questions by Clay Jones. I would recommend this book if you are interested in this topic. The language in the book is easy to understand while the concepts are challenging to think about. There were several ideas in the book that I will be thinking about for a long time.
God’s desire that His creatures have free will is at the core of the author’s argument for the existence of evil. God created angels with free will. Satan chose to rebel against God and recruited many other angels to join him in that rebellion. God created Adam and Eve with free will and they chose to disobey the one rule God put in place. The result of these rebellions is a fallen world full of evil, pain, and suffering.
God is good, but we are not. The author has done extensive research on this topic, including research into genocide over the past 100 years. We like to think that genocide is unimaginable, but the author argues early and often that this is not the case.
I’ve concluded that human cruelty is imaginable. By that I mean that if a human who, is set on hurting someone can imagine/fantasize a horrific torture and has the opportunity to do it, he or she will carry out that horrific torture.
We would think that the natural bias of the victims would be toward thinking their victimizers inhuman, but that’s not true. It has been fascinating to me that absolutely every genocide researcher I have ever read (and I’ve read a lot of them) and absolutely every genocide victim I’ve ever read—to a person—concludes that genocide is what the average person does. –Clay Jones in Why Does God Allow Evil?
This is the basic premise of the book. There are no good people. We are not just occasional sinners. All people are evil at heart and capable of incredible evil. Everyone is Auschwitz enabled. There is just too much evidence to believe otherwise. My question becomes, why does God allow us to continue to exist and to practice the evil which seems natural to us. I know He promised Noah that He would never again destroy the earth by water, but with all the evil that we have committed over the centuries why are we still here. God’s allowing the current creation to continue speaks to me of the value God places on the few who are willing to accept Him, and His ways are beyond comprehension.
I would not recommend this book to unbelievers. In my opinion, people convinced that God is not good will not be changing their minds because they read this book. Many Christians may also find the book unsettling as we would like to think that people are basically good. We want our friends and relatives to spend eternity in heaven with us and we convince ourselves that a good God would not keep the good people we know out. One problem is that many of these people are convinced that heaven would be hell for them. Christians may not feel this strongly, but we are not nearly as excited about eternal life as the early Christians were. Many Christians think that heaven will be boring.
I cannot imagine heaven being boring, because there will be an almost infinite number of people to get to know even better than you know your best friend today. The possibility of being able to do that is fascinating to me. Imagine what it would be like to experience through other people every period of history. I will be able to do that in an environment where there is no fear or pain. It is impossible for us to imagine all the experiences God has in store for us in His presence.
Describing heaven is like trying to describe the taste of chocolate to someone who has never experienced it. One must eat chocolate to know what it tastes like. Scripture is frustratingly unspecific about what heaven will be like. That really should not be surprising. I cannot imagine trying to describe what pleasure will be like in heaven. Like most things related to following Jesus I must trust that God knows what He is doing, and that heaven is going to be even more amazing than anything I can think or imagine. I imagine some things about heaven, but I could not prove any of them with certainty. I believe that it will be beyond amazing, and that eternal life will make all the suffering of my time on earth disappear like a grain of sand at the beach.
The final argument for the existence of evil is that our ultimate purpose is to reign for eternity. To prepare for that we must learn to conquer and the way we become conquerors is through endurance of suffering. Jesus’ example is the basis of this idea. Jesus did not become King by resurrecting from the dead. He became King by dying on the cross. Whenever I choose good over evil, especially when this costs me something, I am learning what is required to reign in eternity. Self-control is a requirement for the privilege of having responsibility for others.
Like most people I wish there were no suffering or pain. However, like the author, I have grown and become a better person because of my sufferings. I know I am still capable of evil, and I am trusting a good God to teach me to do good.