Home > Apologetics, General, Questions and Answers > Q: How can we believe in a “good” God in light of the ills of this world?

Q: How can we believe in a “good” God in light of the ills of this world?

This entry is in response to a question I got in one of the comment sections.

The original question was: “I’m curious. How do you view the ills in this world (e. g. Japan tragedy, natural disasters) and still believe in a ‘good’ God? What about psychopaths and/or serial killers? How do they fit into the ultimate ‘creations’ scheme?”

There are a lot of answers or thoughts revolving around this very topic…some cliche, some maybe not. In the end, there is a little bit of “I don’t know,” but hopefully we can be clued in on at least part of the mystery. I’m sure you may have heard some of this, so bear with me please.

First, there is the fall of man. The ills of this world can ultimately be traced back to original sin and our rebellion against God, which is when the perfection of this world was lost forever. As *punishment* (or more accurately, as a result), evil entered into this world.

Now, you may be thinking, “All this horror for just one little sin?” But I don’t think we’re capable of fully understanding the stark difference between a state of perfection/no sin —-> to the first sin. It’s far greater than, say, two lies versus one lie.

So why did we “sin” in the first place? Of course, we first need to know how it was POSSIBLE to sin in a supposedly perfect world. And that comes down to *free will*. God created us with free will because he didn’t want a creation of robots…but rather people who could choose or reject him fully. I guess in a silly but real way, this kind of desire is reflected in all of us. Look at the numerous movies and fairy tales where the prince (or princess) doesn’t want to marry someone out of obligation or force anyone to pretend to love him, but rather dresses up as a commoner to see if the other person will fully choose to love him without coercion. Only then is it true love.

Anyway, free will creates a problem of the possibility of rebellion and causing evil. Why did God create us if He supposedly knows everything and that we’d probably end up sinning? We can’t know that for sure, other than to maybe think of parents who have kids knowing full well their children may rebel, disappoint, hurt them, or even turn out badly. The good–and the love–makes it worth that price.

OK, so what about natural disasters? This is a harder to answer, and again, no one can know for sure. Some have speculated (with some solid examples) that God can use them for His good purposes or even to demonstrate His power, which can result in people drawing toward Him. Anyone’s who’s been through some big earthquake or hurricane immediately senses that maybe man is not as big and powerful as they thought. While we’ve been given dominion over the living things of the earth, we are not fully in charge. God is.

Of course, this can seem capricious to us with our limited understanding. I know it’s a cop-out answer, but there’s really no way for us to understand why things happen the way they do without the big picture in view. Even the relationship between parent and child is like this in a way, where the child is 100% sure that the parent is being “unfair”…”I hate you, Mom.” But without the wisdom that comes from age and experience, the child might be wrong about that. The gap between child and parent is far, far less than the chasm between our understanding and God’s. Many times, horrible events can lead to very positive outcomes. Other times, we don’t see it, but it doesn’t mean we can necessarily write it off as senseless.

Psychopaths and serial killers, in my opinion, are sadly inevitable given our condition. There are always going to be outliers. In fact, in my own sane mind, I could imagine any number of heinous crimes that could potentially be committed on another person. Chances are, if I then did the research or even Googled it, I would find that someone out there has done that very act already. There is also the very real chance that some people could be demonically influenced. I realize this may sound ignorant or “superstitious” on the surface, but why not? Just because we can observe some chemical difference or deficiency in an insane person’s brain doesn’t mean it wasn’t caused by some other unseen factor. In the same way, I think love is more than just electrical signals in our brain or whatever. Those are merely observable or physical traits of a cause, not necessarily the cause itself.

Demons? The Devil? Well yes, if there is a God, then there is probably Satan, too. Don’t get me wrong, Satan is in no way on par with God, as some have characterized him. He is not the dark rival—he is not omnipotent, omnipresent, nor can he create or destroy. But he can lie, tempt, influence, or cause possession. So some of the evil in this world can be indirectly attributed to him, though not everything.

In the end, we can’t know with 100% certainty why God does (or allows) the things He does. That would be like my guinea pigs—whom I love!—trying to fully understand me. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t possibly make them understand. My wife can’t even fully understand me, nor can I even understand myself sometimes. How can we comprehend God to every detail?

And also remember that evil allows us to see “good” for what it is. If everything were a candy land of smiles and no troubles, I’d imagine we wouldn’t appreciate anything more than the next thing. Oh, and you could say that God didn’t “create” evil, either. Evil is the absence of good, just like a shadow is not its own thing but rather is the absence of light.

I hope this helps at least a little. If you don’t agree, at least you know some of what I think about the matter.

*Edit:

There is still a lot of good and joy in this world, so we can’t just ignore that. Plus, there are many examples and instances of great love and mercy in the Bible. While there may be head-scratchers and question marks, in my view, the overall conclusion points to a good and loving God. When it comes to spouses or family members, they may hurt us or do mean things sometimes, but we might still consider them “good people.” Despite their mistakes, it doesn’t negate all their kindness.

Now, if we can give God the benefit of the doubt and assume the creator of the universe knows what He’s doing in the bad times, then I think we can still consider Him “good” in the end. Being good doesn’t necessarily mean being a teddy bear all the time, either. We are supposed to both love and fear Him, which is often lost in the lovey-dovey church culture.

One way to think of it—and this may not be appealing to many—is that God is God. He shouldn’t have to earn our respect, but out of his love for us, he allows us to have certain expectations of him. This whole concept of “God isn’t good enough” is arguably a modern way of thinking. In ancient civilizations, for instance, they worshipped gods who were downright cruel, immoral, and petty. The gods were considered greater than human beings regardless of their temperament. Our God, by comparison, is highly just and loving, but we still demand more sometimes.

[Please see the comment section for further discussion.]

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  1. April 7, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    For more on this subject, this article goes in depth into some different areas, such as the purposes of suffering (purification, heavenly perspective, developing empathy, etc.): http://www.leaderu.com/common/terror/lynch.html.

    It’s a long read so you might want to skim the relevant parts, but I think it’s helpful.

  2. acuriouspursuit
    April 8, 2011 at 6:40 am

    Thank you for addressing the question. I believed in a similar way at one point in my life, though I don’t anymore. I’m still trying to figure out whether I believe the Creator of the Universe is good, bad, or even ambivalent.

    The response of ‘sin’, and ‘born with sin’, and ‘it’s our fault’ greatly puzzles me. Why create entities with such a propensity to do evil? I had a lecture a couple days ago on anti-social personality disorder, these people are often termed as ‘psycopaths’ and they committed the most heinous crimes against people imaginable. I don’t know if I will ever be able to link such a being, that didn’t even choose to be born into this world to a ‘good’ origin. Often times there is a genetic basis (e. g. brain abnormalities) in addition to a bad upbringing. Why do this to a person? Why let them be born into it? It doesn’t seem like they had a choice to me.

    However, if a good argument and more information alters comes into play I’m open to changing my view. (I’m not trying to start an argument or bash what you wrote, just expressing my opinion.)

    Thanks again.
    Allie

  3. April 8, 2011 at 9:47 am

    You’re more than welcome to disagree, of course. =) I openly welcome respectful debate here if it will help either (or both) sides see things more clearly.

    I hope I didn’t come across as, “The problem of suffering and evil is now solved, booya.” It’s a difficult question for sure, and depending on individual people and their unique experiences, the question can become harder than it is for others. Even the best answer in the world to this problem would probably be insufficient since it couldn’t possibly resonate with all people on their emotional or experiential levels.

    I’ve certainly had “shaking my fist” moments with God, but just from my own personal experience, I can almost always point out that things worked out for the best or that it made me stronger. Of course, this has little to do with some of the ills you’re speaking about, but just personally, I’ve learned to give Him the benefit of the doubt even when I can’t see the reason at the moment. Maybe I’m too trusting, who knows? I’m sure my views and confidence in this subject area will waver, go up and down, throughout my life…though hopefully, in a generally upward direction.

    You could say that creating entities without the propensity to sin isn’t allowing for free will at all. Sin, at its most basic and original level, is the act of rejecting God. Further acts down the road might seem like simple disobedience, but it all started with man wanting to be as great as Him and rejecting Him as Lord (that’s why they say the original sin—for Adam and Eve, but even as far back as Lucifer himself—was pride). We need to be able to reject him to be able to truly accept and love him. Obeying him without the option to disobey wouldn’t be obedience at all, but rather, programming.

    I’m not sure if you can really say that psychopaths have a “good origin” for practical purposes. When God created man, it was good then, but you could argue it’s gone bad since (not all bad, but still). I know, I’m just spouting the obvious.

    Again, we don’t know the big picture. There are all kinds of possibilities we just can’t fathom. Maybe there is a certain chain of events that needs to logically follow for something great to happen, and in the middle of that chain somewhere, something that seems bad is in the mix (including the acts of a psychopath). Maybe those people are corrupted in ways we don’t see, not just genetics. Maybe God takes pity on people without normal mental capacity when he might have otherwise judged them. Any possible scenario I could come up with would probably be too simple.

    This idea of good and evil, just and unjust, is not just something directed toward God. People in America, for instance, have widely divergent views of whether capital punishment is just, whether abortion should be legal, and so forth. Some guy who has had murderous thoughts before but always controlled his impulses might find a 15-year sentence too harsh (unjust) for a convicted murderer. Some other guy who can’t contemplate how one person could kill another—or maybe even lost a daughter to a senseless murder—might call for the electric chair given the same circumstances. Our ideas of what is good and just are highly *subjective*, shaped by our personal experiences.

    If the God of the Bible DOES exist (assumption for the sake of argument), He alone would be the only *objective* source of truth, good, and justice. Our disagreements with him wouldn’t necessarily derail his goodness. There are many people who find God to be very good…some even think he’s too lenient, believe it or not. The real truth about his goodness can’t be based on such random scales.

    As far as things that seem senseless, I still think that most (or all) of it is redeemed in some way, apparent or not. But even if they aren’t, Christians also happen to believe that at the end of the world, God is going to come down and basically end all evil and put the Devil away for good. At that point, everything WILL be good—no doubt about it then. The hardest and even most tragic experiences of our lives will be a distant, forgotten memory in due time. Everyone—dead or alive—has eternity ahead of them, after all.

    None of this is probably helpful, I know. Have you had a chance to read that article btw? It happens to delve more deeply into people’e experiences and such—not just logic like what I’ve used (sorry). It may help, maybe not, but it’s worth a go.

  4. acuriouspursuit
    April 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    No, I haven’t read it yet but I will. I’m sure I’m familiar with many of the judeo-christian arguments for a ‘good God’ despite the presence of evil in the world. I once ‘thought’ I was a Christian and having a mind bent on learning I am familiar with many apologetic arguments for this view of God (though I would not claim to be versed in it at all, more so an avid learner).

    You are correct, what you said ‘does not’ shift my view. But I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, I have a better understanding of where you are coming from.

    I too agree that *if* this God exists there are plans outside our limited human capacity to understand. Being finite beings of an infinite Creator, it only seems fitting we have a diminished capacity to understand the overall result of events, people, and ‘evil’ in the world.

    However, contemplating the above doesn’t explain why an entity that is suppose to be self-sufficient would create beings that are ‘sinful’ and then condemn them for doing so. Yes, I can see how making us to automatically choose to be righteous takes away our ‘free-will’; but I do not understand that, by giving us ‘free-will’, it seems to mean we will automatically choose to reject God. I can easily see it from both sides.

    Additionally, one can believe in God- a Creator- without attributing it/him/her to ‘good’ traits. The ‘moral argument’ for God does suggest an underlying ‘goodness’ in creation but specifics as to sin, forgiveness, eternity, righteous acts, etc etc seems to come from religious texts (e.g. the Bible). And these would first have to be supported as ‘truth’ before using them to learn about God. I gather you believe them to be so.

  5. April 8, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    “However, contemplating the above doesn’t explain why an entity that is suppose to be self-sufficient would create beings that are ‘sinful’ and then condemn them for doing so.”

    Knowing exactly why God—who, as you say, is supposedly self-sufficient—created us is obviously not something we can easily answer. One can only imagine that God thought it’d be worth it, pros and cons considered. Loneliness is not the only reason that someone would want company, for instance. If other people enrich your life in a way that is not possible in their absence, then their company is preferred whether you “need” it or not. God didn’t need us, per se, but He obviously preferred that we be here (for whatever reason) as evidenced by the choice to create us in the first place. I don’t need pizza, but I certainly choose to eat it nonetheless.

    Yes, God condemns us for sin, but by the same token, He offered what seems to be a very generous (as other religions might protest, “too easy”) way for full redemption. By the very nature of being holy and perfect, it’d be self-contradictory if God didn’t condemn sin or welcomed it into his presence. In that way, humans may seem more tolerant and loving than God because we easily accept the sins and lifestyles of others, but that is really only possible because we are sinful ourselves.

    If God had created us with the capacity to sin (free will) and didn’t give us a realistic hope at redeeming ourselves, then that might be justifiably considered cruel and pointless.

    “Yes, I can see how making us to automatically choose to be righteous takes away our ‘free-will’; but I do not understand that, by giving us ‘free-will’, it seems to mean we will automatically choose to reject God. I can easily see it from both sides.”

    Maybe we’re just on different mental trains of thought here, but I personally don’t see a way for there to be genuine free will and for everyone to *choose* to accept God. To me, it seems that the possibility of choosing between different options—in the absence of coercion—necessitates that there will be disagreement and different choices. Maybe the choice to reject him is so compelling due to pride, but again, we’ve been given a way to correct that mistake.

    Even given two totally unequal options—one appealing, one not—people would still end up on both sides, albeit far fewer on the less attractive option. This is a dumb example and I apologize in advance…but I was watching “Prison Break” and for Lincoln Burrows’ last meal on death row, he chose to eat blueberry pancakes. BLUEBERRY PANCAKES! Forget steak, lobster, Peruvian chicken, you name it. I was stunned. But almost anything imaginable will happen with freedom and free will. (In this scenario, it reminded him of his son or something like that…but it just goes to show you that we’ve been given the ability to make all kinds of choices, right or wrong, common or rare.)

    “Additionally, one can believe in God- a Creator- without attributing it/him/her to ‘good’ traits. The ‘moral argument’ for God does suggest an underlying ‘goodness’ in creation but specifics as to sin, forgiveness, eternity, righteous acts, etc etc seems to come from religious texts (e.g. the Bible). And these would first have to be supported as ‘truth’ before using them to learn about God. I gather you believe them to be so.”

    I apologize for being a bit confused with some of your wording, but if I gather what you’re saying correctly, I’d pretty much agree with what you said. Maybe what I believe is not necessarily an “objective” certainty, and I don’t even claim to be 100% sure about it. I always use this example, and I’ll use it again. I don’t even know for sure that I’m not in some kind of Matrix or “computer-simulated soap opera” (as I believe Hawking once said as an example). The moral argument and “truth” that I agree with happen to make the most sense to me on an intellectual and personal level.

  6. acuriouspursuit
    April 8, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    Aw man, I dislike it when I’m ambiguous, sometimes my intuition gets the best of me and I think people can gather my meaning. As for my last paragraph, I was trying to say that a person can believe in God but not believe they can attribute characteristics to him, other than perhaps a ‘goodness’ which we can gather from the ‘moral’ truths that are innate in our being.

    You talk about being able to have ‘redemption’ for our sins, a means to be forgiven. Without saying it, I believe you are referring to Jesus (I don’t like blatantly saying ‘you said this’ when you didn’t. While someone can come to a belief in God based on the Universe around them (on my blog, I will eventually talk about how I think scientific evidence points to a creator), they can *not* come to believe they will have some sort of redemption or forgiveness without a religious text (to my knowledge that is).

    Thus, to come to that conclusion, one would have to believe that the religious text was ‘truth’ (e.g. historical evidence backs it up, there were multiple witnesses to the accounts, it is somehow testable … etc etc). I always think of two bible verses when it comes to this respect: John 20:29 and Hebrews 11:6.

    • April 12, 2011 at 9:38 am

      I pretty much agree with everything you said. I happen to find the texts and the Christian gospel convincing. To me, they are the best explanation. But I certainly do think that people can come to the conclusion that there is a God—even a good God—without the Bible necessarily. I believe it’s called general revelation.

      • November 19, 2012 at 11:50 pm

        I haven’t read Swoon yet but my reasoning is if I win Swear then of cosrue I’ll be justified in buying another book, Swoon. That does happen when I read, I’m thinking about where the story is going but life gets in the way of me being able to read. But those are the books I enjoy the most. The ones that keep me thinking.

    • November 20, 2012 at 2:00 am

      Comment There are some interesting ptinos on this article but I don’t know if I see all of them middle to heart. There is some validity however I will take maintain an opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we wish more! Added to FeedB

  7. Jam
    November 18, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    I feel you, I recently had a loved one pass away sdedunly completely unexpected. There were so many things I wish I could of told him before he died, and knowing that I wont ever see him again makes me sick to my stomach.I hope there is a god, and a heaven. I really, really want to believe there is so maybe I could have some comfort.

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