Cain and Abel, by Gustave Dore
The Bible shows that God allows humans to have freedom of choice. He didn’t stop Adam and Eve from eating the forbidden fruit or Cain from murdering his brother (Genesis 3:6; 4:8). God didn’t prevent his own nation, ancient Israel, from sinning. The people were told to choose the way of love and life (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). But God didn’t prevent them from choosing the way of evil, which they did.
Paul also wrote about humanity’s choice to do good or evil. Once again, it’s plain that God wasn’t in the business of forcing people to do good things. He simply gave people over to “the sinful desires of their hearts” (Romans 1:24). They engaged in greed, depravity, slander, murder, and ruthlessness (verses 26-31). This hurt innocent people terribly. God was infuriated by what they did and pronounced their penalty (verse 32). But he didn’t stop them from being abusive to others. Why not? Why didn’t he — why doesn’t he?
If humans are to be free to make meaningful choices, the world must operate according to rules that make human freedom possible.
Preventing all evil
Suppose God changed the rules of life and prevented people from doing hurtful things to others. Would he halt all evil, or would he halt just some of it? How bad would the evil have to be for God to stop it? Genocide? Murder? Torture? Wife beating? Child abuse? A slap in the face? A nasty word? Would God stop people from writing bad checks, cheating on school tests, stealing office supplies? How far would God have to intrude in human life to stop human evil? If God were to prevent evil, he would have to intervene in everyone’s life virtually nonstop, wouldn’t he? That is, if he were to be consistent about it.
God would then be removing our freedom. We would be automatons, with God regulating every behavior of each person. We couldn’t make any moral choices because God would be making them for us.
To be responsible moral beings, as God wants us to be, we must have the freedom to choose what’s right for its own sake. We cannot have our decisions and choices made for us or have them forced upon us. We also have to be free to make wrong choices, and for consequences to result.
This world, so full of evil, operates according to these ground rules. God is not powerless to stop evil, as some think. The Bible tells a different story. Although God is outraged about people’s inhumanity to people, to preserve human freedom, he chooses not to stop every incidence of evil or wrongdoing. We may not like this moral order of things. We can hate it, in fact, because God does. Yet, that is how God, for his purpose (which is for our ultimate good), has chosen to run the world. Would any one of us want to live in a world without choice?
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
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This article was written in 1992. Copyright Grace Communion International. All rights reserved.
But God is not causing anyone to suffer. People are the culprits, human society is. That makes anything, from a Holocaust to the shooting of a loved one, a product of the human mind. It’s not something God does or wishes. (We’ll comment on evils in nature in a later chapter.)
The Bible, God’s word to man, attests over and over that unjust suffering exists. It will be ended only when God’s way is in its most complete manifestation on this earth. Then Christ will rule the world in righteousness (Isaiah 11:19). God will operate in human minds through the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-34). With this hope in mind we may find it easier to deal with an unfair world of suffering.