Evil and Suffering

As we mentioned in an earlier blog, the existence of evil and suffering in our world is one of the most important evidences against the existence of an all-powerful and all-good God. [1]  Because of this fact, all religions attempt to address this problem in some fashion.  Understanding why evil and suffering exist in our world can teach us much about God and how he deals with us.

Sources of Evil

Who is responsible for the evil in our world?  The Christian religion places much of the blame on Satan who rebelled against God and then persuaded Adam and Eve to follow him.  In the book of Job, Satan causes all the disasters that fall upon Job but only with God’s permission.  While the people of that time blamed God for some of the disasters (Job 1:16), the book makes it clear that Satan was the responsible party (Job 1:12 and 2:6).  God was content with Job as he was but Satan wanted to inflict pain not for Job’s benefit but for a selfish reason, namely to win an argument with God.  Paul talks about his thorn in the flesh tormenting him and attributes it to Satan (II Corinthians 12:7).  John tells us the Satan will cause Christians to be persecuted (Revelation 2:10).  Therefore, we must ask:  If Satan is responsible for evil then why does God permit him to exist?  If God would end his reign over this earth now as opposed to later, humans would be spared much suffering.  So God still ends up responsible for evil because he could prevent it by defeating Satan now.

The Bible also gives another source for evil, namely us humans (see Romans 3:10-12, Isaiah 64:6, and Jeremiah 17:9).  We humans have an enormous responsibility for the evil that exists in this world because we are the ones who inflict so much of it upon each other.  Of all the parties responsible for evil in our world, the evil we human cause each other greatly exceeds the evil cause by all the other parties.  We murder each other, we enjoy all manner of luxuries while others starve, we start wars that kill millions, we do not follow the example of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) when others are hurting, we torture and kill each other sometimes even for what we perceive to be a good cause (the Inquisition, September 11th).

Much of the evil in this world is because we seek to deny free will to others.  We want others to do things our way and not the way they choose.  The 170 million people killed by their own governments in the 20th century are a prime example.  These governments were attempting to socially reengineer their country and the desires of their people were secondary. [2]  Much of the crime committed is an attempt to force someone to do something they do not choose to do.  Robbery, battery, assault, and rape are all methods of forcing or of attempts to force someone to do something against their will.  Even when evil is caused by Satan or nature or other humans, we could alleviate much of the suffering in our world if we wanted.

The Jewish physician and philosopher Maimonides maintained the causes of evil and suffering were three.  First, we exist in a material sphere.  Second, people cause each other pain.  Third, we bring suffering on ourselves and this is the greatest cause. [3]  The Stoics agreed that almost all suffering, except for physical pain, is self-inflicted.  What makes life hard is not the event but our response to the event.  “Nothing but the value that we place on things gives them any power to harm us spiritually or emotionally.” [4]  That is why many of the world’s great religions advise us to give up our attachment to this world.

In the next blog, we will determine why God permits evil.


[1]   Roy Weatherford, The Implications of Determinism (New York:  Routledge, 1991), p. 10.

[2]   See R. J. Rummel, Death by Government (New Brunswick, NJ:  Transaction Publishers, 2007).

[3]   Jacob Needleman, Money and the Meaning of Life (New York:  Currency Doubleday, 1991), p. 217.

[4]   Weatherford, p. 29.

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