[Originally a short paper written for partial completion of Liberty University’s Apologetics class]
One would have to be blind to not see the existence of evil in this present world. Evil and suffering affects the hard-hearted atheist and the most tender-hearted Christian. Many Christians can have a crisis of faith when he or she experiences evil or suffering; or a loved one experiences catastrophe. If one were to try and answer every honest problem, they might as well try to pluck all the weeds out of cornfields from one side of the Midwest to the other. Yet, God has adequately explained the root, the rule, and the resolution of evil in His revealed Word.
Most people have heard the phrase, “The love of money is the root of all evil”, but few know that it is from the King James Bible, and fewer know that it is only part of 1 Timothy 6:10. The context of that verse refers to false teachers who try to turn people away from the true doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ. The verse actually says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10 ESV). When one considers the context, he or she can see the love of money isn’t the root of all evil but of all kinds of evils, the passage makes more sense.
The root of all evil and suffering stems from disobedience to God. For humans it starts with the third chapter of Genesis. Adam and Eve, who were originally created good, were deceived by Satan and rebelled against God by trying to gain wisdom outside of God (Genesis 3:1-7). In response, God cursed the serpent, Eve, and Adam (vv. 14-19) This shows that God is not the cause of evil, Satan and humanity are ultimately responsible for evil. Suffering and death are the consequences for Satan, and the first parents rebelling against an innocent, holy, pure God.
This is contrary to mankind’s normal way of thinking. Most people will attest to their own goodness. They hate anyone who points out they are actually evil. This is the reason Jesus gives for his brothers’ and the world’s unbelief (John 7: 7). People hate God as a criminal hates a righteous judge. People would rather accuse God of wrongdoing when it is in fact mankind’s way which is evil (Ezekiel 33: 17).
One person who accused God of wrongdoing was Jonah. Jonah was commissioned by God to proclaim his judgement on the evil Ninevites (Jonah 1:1). Jonah did not want to go to the Ninevites because he did not want God to forgive Israel’s enemies (4:2). In fact, the Hebrew gives the idea that Jonah saw the Lord’s act of forgiveness to the Ninevites as evil. “וַיֵּרַע אֶל־יוֹנָה רָעָה גְדוֹלָה וַיִּחַר לוֹ׃” translates to “And It looked exceedingly evil to Jonah and he was greatly angered.” This is ironic because God had previously showed Jonah mercy after he sent calamity to Jonah for disobeying God’s command to preach to the Ninevites (1:3-17, 2:10). In this episode of history, the Ninevites and Jonah have their own personal moral evil that God responds to by promising and sending natural evil to the guilty parties. When they repent, God relents of the disaster that He sends.
It is interesting that in Hebrew the word for evil is רַע and it has the semantic range of, “bad quality, inferior, disagreeable, unwholesome, evil, morally depraved, bad, cross, discontented, or to cause disaster.” It can refer to both moral evil and calamity. This word is used over two hundred and twenty- five times. It is the same word used in the name tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and is used nine times in the book of Jonah.
In the cases of the false teachers, the first parents, Jonah, and the Ninevites, there is one thing in common between all groups. They all were pride filled. They believed they had to go their own way in order to get what they wanted. This resulted in terrible catastrophe that God either would send or promise to send for their crimes if the guilty parties did not repent.
Since God is not the original cause for evil and is not to blame for it, one might ask if He has any power to stay or stop it. Where does God’s rule end and evil’s rule begin? One might as well ask is evil the rock too big for God to lift? While the Hebrew word for evil encompasses both moral evil and natural evil, there is a distinction made between the two in the Bible. The Bible says that God cannot commit moral evil such as to lie, or do anything but good (Numbers 23: 19, Genesis 18: 25).
In the book of Jonah God is certainly not responsible for the evil or Jonah or Nineveh but God did send the storm that caused Jonah to be thrown into the sea (Jonah 1:4). God was not thwarted by the rebellion of Jonah. He did what was necessary to cause Jonah to repent and preach to the Ninevites. God used Nineveh’s repentance to demonstrate to Jonah the need for compassion, and forgiveness of sin (3:6- 4:11). God used all of Jonah’s calamity to teach him character, repentance, and hope of restoration (2: 2-9). Considering most conservative scholars believe that Jonah wrote the book, Jonah learned his lesson.
God will never let evil go farther than what it was meant to go. Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil but they were kicked out before they could eat of the tree of life (Genesis 3:22- 24). The people at the tower of Babel had their languages confused so they would spread over the whole earth (11). God only allows evil to go on as the evil fits his ultimate plan.
The book of Job is the ultimate case of suffering in the Bible. Job was the classic bad things can happen to good people scenario. Job was not just the victim of circumstance. God removed his protection of Job from Satan to show Job’s character (Job 1:8- 12). Even though Job was blameless in God’s sight, Job lost all his possessions, all but three of his slaves, his children, and his health (1:13- 2:10). Each time Satan tempted Job to curse God, he had to do it with God’s permission, and under God’s limits. Evil can only go so far.
God is not ultimately responsible for evil, though He controls evil, and He uses evil for good. This leaves many with a terrible taste in their mouth. How can God be good when He allows evil to exist, forgives evil people, and lets his people suffer? The answer is God is going to make all things right again, and He already started two thousand years ago at the cross.
The first and biggest problem God had to deal with is the root of evil, evil desires in wicked human beings. There is no one who is righteous or good (Romans 3:10- 12). God must punish the wicked (Isaiah 13:11). So, Jesus provided righteousness through his propitiation for the sins of those who trust in him (Romans 3:21- 26). A propitiation is the Greek word hilasterion which means, that which serves as an instrument for regaining the goodwill of a deity.” Jesus took on the sin of those who believe in him, payed their fine, and gave them the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus also rose from the dead promising a resurrection of believers in a new kingdom where God is glorified, creation is restored, and believers live in perpetual holy pleasure (1 Corinthians 15, Revelation 21-22). All that evil, sin, and death destroyed God will restore. Those who are outside of Christ, will experience eternal conscience torment in the resurrection of the wicked (Revelation 20:11-15). Ravi Zacharias said,
Here we may see the ultimate paradigm shift … Wickedness was at its most visible when pure love was resisted and crucified. With the cross at the center, the focus shifts dramatically. The problem of evil is first an internal issue before it is a cosmic one … The answer Hayward sought was in an inner miracle. That is what Jesus offers to answer the problem of evil, because it began within.
One can trust that God will make all things right because he did not spare his only son so that his people could be forgiven (Romans 8: 28- 32).
This survey does not solve all questions that revolve around suffering. The author of this paper has had to suffer with his first child miscarrying, and trusting God to make all things right in the end. God is not ultimately responsible for evil; humans and Satan are. God does limit and control evil sinlessly; however, God has provided an answer in Jesus by having him suffer on the cross, rising from the dead, forgiving sinners, and sending Jesus to come again and make all things right.
Alt, Albrecht, et al. Torah, Neviʼim u-Khetuvim: Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1997.
Danker, Fredrick William. A Greek – English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature Third Edition. Chicago, Illinois. University of Chicago Press. 2000.
Holladay, William L. A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1971.
Wigram, George V. The Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance of the Old Testament. Peabody, Massachusetts. Hendrickson Publishers. 2009.
Zacharias, Ravi. Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend. Nashville, Tennessee. Thomas Nelson. 2007.
 Jonah 4:1 author’s translation.
 Ibid. 341.