It’s common for people to ask why God doesn’t “do something about it” when evil things happen.
We easily think of God as the one who has the power and resources to change things. We’ve also been told that God loves us and cares about our lives. But what exactly do we want Him to do regarding evil?
We certainly don’t want God to run the world on a principle of immediate justice. This would bring judgment down on everyone! Since we’ve all sinned and the wages of sin is death, living sinners ought to value how God’s mercy and grace restrains judgment.
Herein lies a problem. For God to allow the world to go on with sinners living in it seems to involve certain risks. Expect bad things to happen when you live in a world where sinners are permitted to make choices with real consequences.
It’s not entirely strange that we long for a better world. Perhaps even our impatience toward God points to something important about human nature. This pervasive awareness of how things are not the way they ought to be and universal longing for a better world testifies to something profound about humans.
Why do we so strongly oppose evil and long for a world without it? Why do we cry foul? Why do we long for a lost Paradise? Why do we even think in terms of good and evil?
A worldview based on a strictly impersonal evolutionary development of humans should not logically lead one to these kinds of expectations. Universal longings for justice, love and meaning are inexplicable on purely scientific grounds. Yet we are beings who think, feel, and choose in profoundly moral and relational ways.
The original arrangement:
Before we’re too quick to look at what’s wrong with the world and blame God, we should consider these facts:
- God originally gave humans responsibility to “fill the earth and govern it. To “Reign over” or “rule over” all of the sub-human order (Genesis 1:28).
- The repeated phrase, “I give you every…” in Genesis 1:29-30 reveals how the earth was originally God’s gift to us for our benefit.
- When originally given, it was (in God’s own words) “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
- So the earth is in a sense ours “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).
- Although in the ultimate sense “the earth is the Lords…” (Psalm 24:1:I Corinthians 10:26), we have been entrusted with it as stewards.
As beings made in God’s image, we have God-like capabilities to rule the earth in creative ways that make it serve beneficial actions. But we don’t always use our God-given abilities for good. The same minds that invent life-saving machines and medicines, devise instruments of war and torture.
We have God-like moral sensibilities that allow us to recognize right and wrong and participate in benevolent activities. We are capable of distinguishing justice from injustice; love from hate and freedom from oppression. Yet our vision of these things is consistently blurred in self-serving and evil ways.
We are truly paradoxical beings, Jekylls and Hydes; combinations of dust and glory. We have plenty of empirical evidence for these realities but what is there to account for this narrative? Were we made from the dust into the glorious image of God and sent back to the dust as those who rejected our Creator’s rule?
Walk back in time
Early in human history, God grieved over the world because He “saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled” (Genesis 6:5-6).
Again, the historian tells us, “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways” (Genesis 6:11-12).
God’s grief over human wickedness unleashed His judgment against mankind. God said, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them” (Genesis 6:13). Gratefully, there was one man who “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” and was spared along with his family (Genesis 6:7).
After God’s judgement was issued and only eight people remained, God once again handed responsibility over to humanity. Of all the possible ordinances God could have given for life in the “new” world, consider the implications of the one he gave:
“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind” (Genesis 9:6).
Once again, God gave responsibility for conditions on the earth to humans. This ordinance teaches that it’s partly our responsibility to restrain evil and violence in the world. This does not diminish God’s sovereignty but is the way He chose to order things. It also doesn’t mean God doesn’t have other means for restraining violence. When parents fulfill their calling, they play a critical role in protecting society. When they abandon their roles, society as a whole suffers.
So what is God’s involvement in the world? Does God look on the evil with deep sadness while being unable to change things? Does He mean well but lack the power? Does He arbitrarily pick some people to protect and leave others unshielded? Is He too busy answering prayers for sunny days to be bothered with the really big tragedies in the world?
Answering these kinds of questions involves multi-layered considerations but we must at least be clear that (according to Scripture), God “does according to his will in the host of heaven, and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off his hand or say to him, What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35). The God revealed in the Bible is repeatedly recognized as absolutely sovereign over everything. The Psalmist, for example, declared that “the Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and in their depths” (Psalms 135:6).
We must learn to think of God not only in relation to His sovereignty and benevolence but also in terms of His heart or desire and His patience, mercy and grace. There is also an evil one who is at work in the world. There is a great bit of wisdom in the advice from Ecclesiastes 5:1 – “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”
We should also give much more consideration to the stewardship and responsibility God has given humans for conditions here on earth (see: Romans 13:1-5). Let’s be quick to ask what we should be doing in the face of evil. God’s will for human authorities is that they would “punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (I Peter 2:14). God’s will for parents is that they would bring their children up “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1). God’s will for the Church is to be salt and light to the world and to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 5:13-16; 28:18-20).
More faithful attention to these three God-ordained means of influence would bring many good changes to the world.
We don’t get to tell God what His care should look like.
We know that He cares for many reasons. His general care is observed in that, “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17). In fact, God is even “kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35).
We are told in Scripture to humble ourselves under God by casting our all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (I Peter 5:6-7).
But the greatest demonstration of God’s care and kindness did not come through words but when “God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). When “the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5).
God’s final expression of care for us is in the place He is preparing for our eternal home. In this place, “God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).