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The Tolerance of Evil

by Bill Mellen  
8/22/2009 / Christian Living

Reading the all-too-often tragic headlines of any newspaper today makes one wonder whether or not God really has any control over the things of this life. Well, God can control all things and is, in fact, in control of all things. So then, why does God tolerate the presence of evil? And why does He allow bad things to happen to good people? As James Gray points out, questions such as these are "often asked with the hope of finding some flaws in God's character whereby He may be blamed, and man in some sense justified. But it is always a failure."[1] For, God is blameless and holy, we are sinful and imperfect.

We seem to always want know how to harmonize God's justice, holiness and truth with His "love, mercy and compassion"[2] (i.e., if God is so good, why does he allow injustice and evil?). Though, we seldom reverse the terms and want to know how to harmonize his "love, mercy and compassion" with His justice, holiness and truth.[3] (i.e., if God is so just, why does He bear with rebellious and sinful people so long and why especially was He willing to put our sins on His Son, Jesus, that they who believe on Him might be completely pardoned of all wrongdoing?)

As Hank Hanegraaff, the host of The Bible Answer Man radio broadcast explains: "God created the potential for evil because God created humans with freedom of choice. We choose to love or hate, to do good or evil. The record of history bears eloquent testimony to the fact that humans of their own free will have actualized the reality of evil through such choices. [Yet] without choice, love is meaningless."[4] Much like being the last child to be picked for the playground game, when there's no other alternative, it's hard to feel valued. Therefore, God has not made us to be "Stepford Wives" who devote mindless allegiance to our creator; instead, God has endowed us with the dignity of free will and freedom of choice. So, for now, God allows evil in the world but there's coming a day when God will put an end to evil and "will render to each one according to his deeds." (Romans 2:6; NKJV) God is not asleep at the wheel, as some suppose, but delays his judgment to give space for repentance.

Moreover, both the righteous and unrighteous are subject to the consequences of evil choices and are not immune to disease and accidents. God can and does (probably more than we know) intervene in our affairs to shelter us from evil/danger and/or heal us from disease/injury. However, there are times when He chooses not to. While, we cannot pretend to fully understand the mind of God, we can be assured that God absolutely loves us (as evidenced by making Christ's sacrifice a ransom for us and for His many other unsolicited blessings). So, when there are times when we just don't understand why God permits callous circumstances, trust that His reasons are just and acknowledge that God is privy to a much broader perspective. For, God is more concerned with our character than our comfort. Thus, at times, He uses affliction and tragedy to get our attention, redirect our path, and get us to reexamine our priorities. We are more inclined to turn to God when facing adversity; too often, when everything seems to be going our way, we tend to forget about our need for God.

The hope of the Gospel is the unmerited pardon of our sins and the promise that God will not forsake those who trust in Him. However, God makes no promise of a life void of suffering and hardship for those who believe. In fact, the opposite is promised. The Bible teaches that believers in Christ will face persecution for their beliefs. As a result, living a life for Christ demands commitment one must be "all in" to follow Christ, and cannot be lukewarm. Christ said, "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matt 10:38,39; NKJV). Even so, Christ promises the Christian that perseverance will not be in vain. "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart" (Gal 6:9; NKJV). "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets before you" (Matt 5:10-12; NKJV). Furthermore, Christ reassures us that we don't have to face life's trials alone: "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt 28:20)

Likewise, the Bible teaches that the believer will not be exempt from life's storms, but promises God will give the believer the strength to endure. Speaking in parable, Christ teaches: "Therefore whoever hears sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the house; and it fell. And great was the fall." (Matt 7:24-27; NKJV) Notice that both the one who ignores Christ and the one who obeys are subjected to the storm. God doesn't provide perpetual sunshine over the home of the obedient, but rather provides the support to endure the deluge of life's storms. What's more, the Bible emphatically teaches that there's coming a day when believers in God will inherit a new world in which "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain." (Rev 21:4; NKJV)

Nevertheless, many regard the God's allowance of evil and life's hardships as justification for unbelief. However, refusing to have faith in God and accept His gift of forgiveness because we don't agree with how He's running things is as futile as refusing to believe in gravity because we don't like its effect when stepping off a cliff -- choosing not to believe doesn't make it less real or limit it's sovereignty.

So then, trust and believe God even when taxed to understand all that He allows in life. Know that God and Christ have a first-hand understanding of pain, suffering and loss. Christ experienced rejection, abandonment and torture at the hands of those He loved and died to save. God endured the pain of seeing His Son suffer and die, and has faced the constant rejection of those who refuse His invitation of salvation. "For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted." (Hebrews 2:18; NKJV)


[1] James M. Gray, Bible Problems Explained (Chicago: Moody Press, 1941), 24.

[2] Ibid., 25.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hank Hanegraaff, The Bible Answer Book (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2004), 170-171.

Copyright 2009, All rights reserved.
Bill Mellen is a freelance Christian writer. He works, lives, and worships in Lexington Park, Maryland with his wife of 14 years and two children.

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