When the natural mind addresses this question, it is biased by its enmity against God. The world's answer carelessly vilifies and slanders the Judge of all men.
Those who love God are often troubled by this question also. However, they realize that the true answer will vindicate Him with triumph!
"Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, `That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and mightest prevail when Thou art judged.'" (Romans 3:4)
God has done, is doing, and will do much about evil! Evil is the contradiction of His Name and character, of all that He is.
In that spirit, I would like to offer a few Biblical principles for understanding how evil can exist in God's universe. May God use these principles to shepherd our minds. May we give honor to Him in seeking to grasp this mystery. I don't pretend to have absolute answers. In fact, I do not believe we can attain a full comprehension now...
"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known." (1 Corinthians. 13:12)Nevertheless, perhaps these principles can polish that the mirror. Perhaps by them we can gaze into it with more faith.
1) The Personal Principle.
We don't like to think of ourselves as bad. Therefore we tend to regard evil as some sort of force or dark cloud, "out there" in the universe. Not so! We can begin to get a handle on the problem of evil by abandoning that idea. Evil resides only in the hearts and spirits of beings; persons are good or evil.
We can narrow down the good beings to Christ the sinless God/man, and the holy angels. The wicked include Satan, the fallen angels, and all of us sinners. That last group has the hope of salvation, full restoration to goodness. Adam and Eve were originally sinless. One day Christ's salvation, already begun, will completely eradicate evil from the hearts and lives of His people.
Evil then, has no existence apart from the thoughts, words and deeds of sinful humans or devils. Granting this, let's rephrase our original question as follows:
"Why does God allow wicked persons to prosper in their way?"
Do you see the difference? Our philosophical challenge is actually this: How does a God Who is both just and loving relate to sinful creatures? This is more graspable than relating abstract "goodness" to abstract "evil". That leads us to a second principle:
2) The Potter Principle.
In Romans chapter 9, Paul the apostle argues that God does as He wills with His creatures, as a potter can do as he wills with clay. This alone should stop the mouth of any who would accuse God!
If we regard God as our moral and ethical peer, than His ways of dealing with evil persons might indeed seem questionable. However, He is NOT our moral and ethical peer!
The Egyptian Pharaoh opposed Moses, God's servant. Pharaoh thought he could strong arm God. He made the error of regarding God as a peer when it came to strength. Costly, foolish mistake for Pharaoh! Like God's strength, both His mercy and His justice are infinitely far above human mercy and justice. He is not like one of us.
This principle simply reminds us that God is the dread Sovereign of all mankind. What if He had ordained that every human being perish in his sins, and undergo everlasting punishment in the lake of fire? Would He be unjust? On the contrary, it would demonstrate His exacting, perfect justice. On what basis can we indict the Creator for His disposal of His creatures? He is the potter, we are the clay.
With that picture of a God Who is indeed God, let's consider...
3) The Judas Principle
The wise Potter does not waste the clay not destined for holy use, that is, salvation. The wicked, albeit unwittingly, fulfill His purposes (Proverbs. 16:4). Of Judas our Lord said, "The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born." (Matthew 26:24) Judas' wicked betrayal is the circumstantial occasion of the offering of God's Perfect Sacrifice on behalf of His elect.
God used the Pharaoh's obstinate waffling to demonstrate His Divine power. Jehovah the Potter shaped that bit of clay, Pharaoh, to "make a Name for Himself" as the God of deliverance for the Hebrew slaves. That Name remains; earthen sphinxes and pyramids continue to crumble into oblivion.
Leave those thoughts in your mental kiln to cure, and step outside for another insight.
4) The Farmer Principle
In the 37th Psalm, David compares a wicked man to a luxuriantly flourishing plant who is suddenly snatched away and is no more. David encourages us not to fret about the exulting wicked man, nor envy his temporary success. Instead, we are to cultivate faithfulness, and to trust and delight in the Lord. David also says that the Lord laughs at the wicked, "seeing his day coming".
In Jesus' parable of the wheat and the tares, (Matthew 13), the farmer allows the tares to grow along with the wheat. The weeds are allowed to benefit from the sun and rain, sent from the Father above, as does the grain. The farmer's strategy is to prevent the loss of precious yield. He knows that some of it would be uprooted and lost if the weeds were to be pulled immediately.
So it is in the kingdom of God. God has determined that He shall have His full produce of precious souls, the good measure of His covenant people. Should He convene His court for the final judgment before the full maturity of His crop, some of it would be lost.
Meanwhile, the tares are growing only that they might be ripe for judgment. It is as if they are being fattened for the kill! Their just, present punishment for sin is to be hardened in heart, that they may progress in sin. How terrifying! The tares become tougher, taking root deeper and deeper in the soil of sin with no thought of the consequences! God tells Abraham that the sin of the Amorite is not yet complete (Genesis 15:6). It will not be until Abraham's descendants return, centuries later, that they will be ready for Moses' and Joshua's scythes of judgment to descend upon them.
5) The Pity Principle
Perhaps you are thinking, OK, it might be just for God to handle evil persons this way, but is it merciful? Where is God's compassion in this? In Acts 17, the apostle Paul is brought to the Aereopagus where he proclaims "The unknown God" to the idle Aereopagites. He goes so far as to say that God overlooked previous times of sinful ignorance. Now, he exhorts them, men should repent.
God's mercy is seen in His forbearance. He pities those dead in trespasses and sins, and gives to them a genuine opportunity to repent before it is too late. By His almighty grace, those hardened hearts can be changed. The sinner descending further and further into the pit can be delivered. The gospel of Jesus is the dazzling answer to our original question. Therein, evil is dealt with indeed! The punishment due to an evil person is taken upon God incarnate Himself, that the sinner might be saved!
"And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost." (Rev. 22:17)
What depths of patience and mercy! God, Who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, extends His offer of forgiveness and pardon! How marvelously He deals with the wicked, both in justice and love!
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. If you know Him, thank God that He deals so wisely and gently with a desperately evil race!
6) The Great White Throne Principle
God may overlook sinful ignorance for a season, but He will certainly arise at last to bring every deed, every word, indeed every thought into judgment. When the Son of Man comes in His glory, all the nations will be gathered before Him. Books shall be opened. Every human being in every nation which has ever been will be judged. In that day, every evil person will give an account. Those outside of Christ will spend eternity making restitution.
Living in the midst of history as we do, we see what Solomon saw and lamented in Ecclesiastes. The wicked seem to go unpunished, the righteous seem to suffer unjustly. Upright Job endures what wicked King Ahab deserves. On that great day, all will be "made right", finally and forever.
7) The Primary Principle.
Although mentioned last, this principle is perhaps the most God-honoring of the seven. Even as it is conceivable that God could have left all to perish, so He could have redeemed all. God could have prevented Judas from being born, if God's highest purpose were keeping people out of hell. However, God's plan was for Judas to be a tare sown among the apostolic wheat. He was a bit of clay not put to holy use. When his sinful course was complete, when he was ripe for judgment, he committed suicide. He will suffer hell for all eternity, to the glory of God. (John 17:12, Revelation 19:3)
The primary principle is that the supreme good, the "Summum Bonum", is not keeping people out of hell. God's great intent for His universe is that it manifest His Own glory. There is no higher design than this which God could have. This is, I suggest reverently, God's zeal.
For His good pleasure, all things exist and were created. His great motive is to glorify His Name; to display all the perfections of His glory. Even as there is no one greater by whom He could swear (Hebrews 6:13), so there is no higher objective He could have. The value of even one human soul is incalculable. Nevertheless, the destiny of even all human souls is subordinate to this far loftier purpose. The display of God's glory, not the happiness of creatures, is the heart of what is "good".
Wonderfully, our happiness is completely wrapped up His glory. When we live for His glory, zealously desire His glory, worship His infinite majesty with all our being, our happiness is as great as it could be. This is the essence of the eternal, heavenly life, which life is already in the true Christian.
God "micro-manages" as well as "mega-manages" His universe. We see these principles more easily, perhaps, on the grand scale. The cosmic images of worship in Revelation 4 and 5 show us the great purpose of all things. The final judgment shows us that no sin is ultimately overlooked. The cross of Christ ever reminds us of God's mercy. The nations of the Amorites are a great tare whose ripeness for destruction we readily see. How God used the wickedness of Pharaoh and Judas to effect major out workings of His great plan in history is fairly obvious. Persons are the evil opponents of the Personal, Triune God; abstract "evil" and abstract "goodness" do not exist in the real world.
The same principles obtain in lower courts, so to speak. In all His administrations, we can see God at work according to these principles. They are at work in individual lives.
If you are unconverted, God uses your evil treatment of your Christian neighbor to purify him. Yet, you yourself are storing up wrath for yourself; you are a tare in His field. At the same time, you are experiencing the same "overlooking" pity which the Aereopagites and the rest of the pagan world received before Messiah's first advent. God's forbearance gives the tare the opportunity for a miraculous change; it can become a blade of wheat! However, God is not mocked. He reminds the unconverted of the unbearable judgment to come by sending smaller, temporal judgments. He will be glorified forever in the just condemnation to endless torment of those who remain impenitent.
If you are a faithful, repentant believer in the wonderful Savior, "fret not yourself because of evildoers". The Lord is not standing afar off, He is neither impotent nor uncaring! In the 73rd Psalm, Asaph complains of the painless, easy existence of the prospering wicked, until he perceives their end. Your immediate concern may be regarding a fiery trial of persecution you are enduring. It may be that you are experiencing doubts as you consider the violence and malice all around us in today's world. Lord, can't you do something? God, are you there?
Indeed He is! He is the omnipotent God of justice and love! We have seen that He has acted, is acting, and will act with regard to the wicked! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
Keith Graham, August 1993