Evil and God’s Patience
How can an all-good, all-powerful God allow something like the problem of evil to exist? This is, indeed, one of the questions that many ask when they contemplate God’s existence. They further wonder, if God does exist, doesn’t this problem reflect the idea that He cannot be all-loving? Some have just given up altogether thinking that God has any place at all in this world anymore. Nietzsche’s “God is dead” sentiment finds a home in the hearts of many today as they see no relevant place for Him in their lives or minds.
Though the existence of evil may cause some to question whether the God of the Bible (loving and powerful) is real, the Bible itself gives a perspective on this that should not be overlooked. If the argument is that God ought to do something about evil, then the biblical answer is that He has and He will.
The problem of evil began with the abuse of free will, which leads to sin. Because God loves us, He has given us the ability to freely choose to love Him in return. Not doing so has consequences. God made creatures (including Satan) with the ability to choose their own way. Of course, His desire is that all free-will beings choose to love Him, but He does not force that choice (or it would cease to be a choice). However, being holy and just, God could not allow sin to go without consequences. The consequences are the result of bad choices, and we bear the responsibility for this.
Still, some wonder, couldn’t God have stepped in to stop it all? Why did He have to let it go that far? Bear in mind that God has put limits around this problem. Scripture tells us He has stepped in over the course of history in order to bring about judgment and resolution of the sin problem. He brought various nations to justice, as the prophets well show, and continues to rule over all the earth. Yet the Bible also tells us that He has done something even greater, and that He will step in one final time and bring about complete and ultimate justice. As Jesus taught:
“And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:27-29)
To deal with the problem of sin, Jesus came to this earth and offered Himself as a sacrifice, demonstrating both God’s just and loving nature. This provides the way for us to receive the forgiveness of sins, thereby avoiding the eternal consequences that sin would otherwise bring. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).
From the standpoint of eternity, this is far more important than any earthly problems we may have to endure for a brief time. As Jesus told the lame man He had healed, “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (John 5:14), so we understand that physical ailments and sufferings in this world are not the worst that can happen to us.
So why has God waited so long for bringing final judgment and ending the problem of sin? The answer lies in His longsuffering and desire for everyone to be saved from sin. God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). He does not hasten judgment, but is patient.
The apostle Peter defended this aspect of God in his second epistle (ch. 3). Follow the argument. Peter is reminding the readers of what had been spoken before. Mockers would come questioning the promise of God’s coming in judgment. In doing this, they forget that God has done this in the past, most notably in the deluge of Noah’s day. But the fact that God is waiting should not be taken as an indication that He will not bring about final judgment. God works in His own time, not ours. Therefore, we should consider God’s longsuffering to be an indication of His desire that no one perish, “but for all to come to repentance.” Nevertheless, let no one assume that final judgment will not come. Peter affirms that He will do exactly what was promised. Consequently, this period of God’s patience ought to be used constructively to live the way that God desires. Why? Because, in the end, we can receive a great reward.
The fact that God has not yet come in final judgment does not mean that He won’t. While we have the time, we should use it to His glory. Let’s not abuse our free will any further by turning against Him (cf. 1 Pet 2:16). His love and grace have been shown in unfathomable ways. Whether we are recipients of the full benefits of His lovingkindness depends upon how we use our freedom.