The Bible clearly teaches that God is active in and cares about his creation. But almost every week, there is a new tragedy in the news. From earthquakes and floods that are the result of natural forces gone awry, to shootings and other acts of human evil, these events cause many to wonder: Why would a loving God not act to stop such horrific events? Does he have a plan for dealing with what’s wrong?
As categorized above, there are (broadly speaking) two types of bad things. There are natural disasters, which cause harm seemingly without a specific human to blame for it. Then there are acts of human evil, like murder, abuse, and warmongering that are perpetrated directly by humans.
It is easy to see how the latter can be blamed on sin, because it is the direct, sinful actions of human beings hurting other people. It is also easy to see how God is not to blame for this sort of evil, because he expressly forbids it in Scripture. However, how can “natural evil” be blamed on sin? We have to look back at Genesis, at how Adam was created and what his role was.
We have to look back at Genesis, at how Adam was created and what his role was.
Adam was created in the image of God to rule the world God created. God’s original plan was for people to live in close communion with him while acting as his stewards of creation. When Adam rebelled, he lost the close communion with God he had once enjoyed, and both he and the creation were distorted by sin. Though there was still residual beauty from the original perfect creation, the world no longer was an easy, hospitable place for people to live. Animals were no longer easily managed by people—some became skittish, while others became very dangerous to each other and to people. Even so, God provided the genetic diversity for animals and humans to survive in a sin-cursed world.
Because “natural evil”—so-called because it focuses on evil in nature, not that it is “normal” or created to be that way—is a result of Adam’s sin, it also cannot be attributed to God. Adam’s sin caused bad things to happen throughout all of creation, so God is not to blame. It would be like someone crashing an Audi, then blaming the engineers who designed the car for its subsequent lackluster performance. Nothing was wrong with the design of the car originally—the problem is that it was wrecked. Similarly, we are now dealing with a wrecked world.
Atheists love to object to the idea of God by asking why he allows children to get cancer and innocent people to be killed by plague and famine. But if we were the product of countless eons of the least fit being killed off in various ways, why would they object to it? A sick child who dies leaves more resources for healthy children to thrive. But we instinctively recoil at that thought—it’s wrong. But if we’re evolved, why is it wrong? Why is it worse than a nature photographer allowing a lion to kill a gazelle while capturing it in 4k video?
Going beyond the evolutionary struggle for survival, if the universe is the product of a big bang and everything is explainable by the chemical reactions that happened from there, there is no beauty or ugliness, tragedy or triumph. There is only chemistry and physics, and the only reason we experience some chemistry and physics as less pleasurable than other chemistry and physics is that we have self-awareness as an artifact of the electrical signals in our brains. But why would that dictate morality—especially morality that has a bearing on anyone other than the individual experiencing it?
We agree with the atheists that suffering and death is a problem—but they have to borrow that concept from our worldview. If naturalism and evolution were true, most creatures for eons have lived miserable lives, and no one is to blame.
When we look at how God dealt with Satan and the angels who rebelled with him, the question is no longer, “Why do bad things happen?” but, “Why aren’t things even worse?” The fallen angels are aware of their ultimate fate and live in fear of the final judgment (Matthew 8:29; Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28). Some of the most wicked ones have already been judged (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6). They cannot be saved (Matthew 25:41) and would not want salvation if it were offered to them. They serve Satan as creatures of hate, malice, and spite.
People are only in a different situation because of God’s mercy. God was unwilling to completely abandon Adam and Eve and the creation he had made, so he set in place a plan of salvation which would require the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We are used to the idea of Jesus dying in our place to pay the penalty for our sins because we have heard it and read it in the Bible so often. But if you really think about it, it seems almost absurd for the perfect Son of God, the Beloved of the Father for whom and through whom the world was created, not only to come from heaven to earth as a human being (already involving a huge amount of voluntary humbling), and an itinerating preacher with no place to lay his head at that, but then to be humiliated, tortured, and killed by the very people he created—all for our salvation.
God’s plan to save people and salvage creation is the only reason earth isn’t hell. It’s the only reason why humanity didn’t murder each other out of existence long ago and why anyone experiences anything good at all.
We have established that sin causes bad things, that only Christianity has a coherent objection to bad things, and that it’s only God’s mercy that keeps things from being even worse. If that were the end of the story, God would be justified and we would be without grounds to complain. But God is not only just but also merciful and good, and he sometimes intervenes in bad things to rescue people.
Most people know someone who was in a “close call” and nearly died, or inexplicably walked out of wreckage that should have killed them, or had a scan where a tumor disappeared, or other “lucky” instances that aren’t fully explainable by physics or medicine. Many people also recount instances where they received just enough money for a crucial bill from someone who didn’t know they were in need.
Christians would recognize these instances as examples of God’s providence, how he lovingly interacts with his world to provide for his creatures. Anyone who experiences these things ought to recognize God as the source of this provision and protection and respond with gratitude and faith.
But God does not always intervene. People die in car wrecks and of cancer. Businesses fail, and houses are foreclosed upon. This happens to Christians and non-Christians alike—the fallen world does not discriminate. We should react with no less faith and trust, remembering that our ultimate hope is in the resurrected life in the new heavens and earth, which will have no natural or personal evil.
We know that God will not let things continue on as they are indefinitely. The Old Testament speaks of a “day of the Lord” characterized by the defeat of evil, the victory of God, and the vindication of believers. The New Testament uses these themes—particularly in the book of Revelation—to speak about the future return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the judgment of evil, and the consummation of history in the new heavens and earth.
It has been around 6,000 years since Adam introduced sin and death into the world, and God has put up with a lot of sin and evil in that time. Interestingly, almost 2,000 years ago, the Apostle Peter responded to people who asked why, if God was so concerned with evil, he would permit things to continue for so long.
They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. . . . But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:4–9, 13)
Peter addressed people who were skeptical about the coming judgment because things were continuing to proceed exactly as they always had. But Peter points out two huge discontinuities in history—the creation which began everything and then the global flood of Noah’s day, which was a judgment of the world that then existed. Peter points to that huge, sudden judgment as something that prefigures the coming judgment by fire.
The reason God is delaying judgment, Peter says, is that God is giving time for people to come to repentance. God is merciful and desires for people to repent so they can be forgiven. The fact that what we think of as significant time has elapsed since the original promises were made is not an indication that God has forgotten or has broken his promises, because he does not experience time as we do.
Some of the Jews told Jesus about a tragedy where Pilate had slaughtered some Jews as they came to sacrifice. The fact that they had been killed just as they were being obedient to bring sacrifices to the temple was seen as particularly heinous. They may have been wanting Jesus to speak out against Pilate or foment revolt against the Romans. Or they may have thought the Galileans were somehow bringing bad sacrifices and were being judged. Jesus, however, reacted differently.
And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2–5)
When we encounter evil in the world, it is a reminder that all is not as it should be. If someone has not repented and trusted Jesus to save them from the penalty of sin, it should prompt them to do so while there is still time. For those of us with assurance of salvation, it should be a reminder to live obedient lives in service to Christ and to share the good news with as many people as possible. And this is the good news: that God has always had a plan—a plan that cost him his dear Son—to end death and suffering and give believers eternal life with him despite the fact that rebellious mankind is undeserving of the very life he gave us and his provision that sustains our world until he returns. Yes, God has and is doing something about suffering and death. Find out more about him and the hope, peace, and life he offers.