Victims and Perpetrators of Evil

I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago with a self-described atheist who blamed his adamant disbelief in God on the abundance of evil in the world. We’ll call this man Chad. Chad told me he had been through way too much hell in his life to believe an all-powerful and wholly good God is sovereignly supervising everything that happens. I stood speechless as he shared some of his “hellish” experiences with me.

Talking with any unbeliever about the gospel can be challenging, but I find it especially difficult to engage people like this man—people who have suffered deeply at the hands of others people’s devilry. I can give an answer to Chad’s demand for justice. I can explain to him that God laid all the sins of those who trust in Christ upon Christ and then punished him as if he had personally committed those sins. I can explain to him that those who refuse to receive Christ and his pardoning benefits will be punished for their own sins in Hell.

But I can’t answer all the whys.

  • Why didn’t God restrain Chad’s father from treating Chad’s mother with such cruelty that she felt her only escape was to hang herself?
  • Why did God allow his deadbeat dad to leave him and his siblings after her suicide?
  • Why did God not intervene when Chad, for years, witnessed his sister being sexually abused by one of their caretakers?

And what about you and me? I’m sure we have similar questions. No one gets through this world without being taken out back and beaten by the wickedness within it. Why has the God who claims to love us permitted evil to inflict its pain and suffering upon us?

Some might argue God is unable to thwart the vicious schemes of men because he chooses not to violate man’s “free will.” However, even Christians who hold to that kind of theology still believe God at least foreknows all things that come to pass. In eternity past, God foresaw every evil thing that would transpire if he moved forward with creating the world, yet he still decided to move forward. He knew full well the atrocious acts men would commit against one another, yet he still decided to create them. Why?

No one is able to satisfactorily answer that question. But I do know one thing: if God did not tolerate evil, we would all be hopelessly damned. Evil is not merely some force outside of us that victimizes us; in our natural state, it is the dominating force within each of us. Apart from the cleansing and transforming grace of God poured out through Jesus Christ, we are all lovers and perpetrators of evil (Romans 3:10).

Though I didn’t get this far in the conversation with Chad (hope to when I see him later this week), I suspect he may have responded with something like, “I may not be perfect, and I might do small-scale bad stuff sometimes, but I am not like the vicious people who made my life miserable. I am not an adulterer or a deadbeat dad or a pedophile.” It is true that some people commit more heinous acts than others. However, even the vilest of deeds has its roots in a seemingly harmless attitude of the heart. Murder is birthed out of hatred, adultery is birthed out of lust, theft is birthed out of greed, etc. My point is this: if evil is to be vanquished, it must be vanquished in its most elementary manifestation—at the heart level. And this would be bad news for all of us because, in our natural condition, the thoughts of all of our hearts are continually evil (Genesis 6:5). If God did not currently tolerate evil, he would not tolerate you and me.

I can’t know all the reasons God decided to create a world in which he knew evil and suffering would thrive. But I do know that he is wholly good and merciful, and I do know he is presently patient toward evildoers because he desires for them to turn to him in faith for the forgiveness of their sins (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). If we refuse the great salvation he has provided in his Son, God will righteously unleash his wrath upon us in Hell. However, if you and I will simply look upon Jesus with eyes of faith and embrace all that he is for us—namely, our Great Substitute—we can know God’s wrath toward us was unleashed in full measure upon Jesus when he “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 9:26).”

Every evil committed since the beginning of time will receive a just retribution. The question we are each faced with is: will we persist in unbelief and receive our punishment personally, or will we seek forgiveness and refuge under the Cross of Christ?

  • Lyle Nelson

    You are so very right when you say that we will never know all the reasons for God’s permission of evil. He proved that in the story of Job, where He never did explain the reason for His actions to Job. We have no alternative but to trust that He knows what He’s doing, because our limited human minds could never fully comprehend it. I know very well how that is almost impossible for someone like “Chad” to accept. But the (perhaps partial) reason you’ve suggested certainly seems like it’s one “piece of the puzzle” that’s indisputably true, and provides us with a better understanding of God’s loving patience. Thank-you!

  • CrossHugger

    When I came to Christ, I saw that He was using all those nasty things in my life to open doors to help others. I could empathize with the folks in my life because God had brought me through it and used it for His good. This is the difference between a believer and unbeliever. Our lives have not been a bed of roses in many circumstances but when you see the hand of God in your life you find the joy and forget about the bad stuff. My mother immigrated here after World War 2 from France with my dad who was in the Army. She left a lot for him. When my baby brother died from cystic fibrosis, dad turned to booze and was very verbally abusive. I am sure she thought well maybe I should go back but she didn’t. My dad got worse and I found he didn’t care for me much. When my sister came along he made a point of caring more for her than me. My mother lost both of her breasts because back then they just lopped them off, there was no chemo. If there was we would have never been able to afford it because we were pretty close to poor. Dad was unskilled and moved around in various jobs. When my mom needed money for food or rent, he would get so mad that he would pull whatever he had out of his pocket and throw it at her. She always had the bills paid, rent paid and groceries bought. We never had a house and each time the rent went up, we moved. My moms family all died in France and mom never made it back because we had no money for that. The catholic church kicked mom out because dad had been married before and she hurt. My mom lost a lot but she never gave up on God. Years later she served side by side with the catholic church when they built a ministry in my hometown outside of Pittsburgh. I look back now and see the beautiful picture God painted. In my own life, I was not able to have children but God provided a path and now we have 3 grandkids. It would be easy to be mad at God and to me that is the easy way out. When I look back and compare to where I am today, I see nothing but learning experiences. Learning that God loves me and can make all things work for His glory.

  • Beth

    We ate the apple from the First Tree (Knowledge of Good & Evil) this opened the door to evil in our hearts and circumstances. The Great Mercy of God banished us from the Garden where the Second Tree remained. (Remember God placed a 24/7 guard on this tree.) If not, we would have eaten of the Second Tree which would have resulted in ETERNAL EVIL. Right now, we suffer under the knowledge & experience of evil, but it’s only temporary. (2 Corinthians 4:17,18) Some people experience more evil than their fair share. And God does not forget that. I am so grateful to be Under the refuge of the Cross of Christ.

  • Lynn Cole

    “He knew full well the atrocious acts men would commit against one another, yet he still decided to create them. Why?” This question can not be answered to my satisfaction, and I have heard all attempts to explain it. Its the BIG questions isn’t it? For me in light of the divine intervention in my life, deliverance from many fears and bondage’s, and greatest of all my change of heart, I have to conclude it does not really matter. He is God and He will do what He wills. It is just so much bigger then me regardless. My consolation is in His promise to do away with Evil in the end, and that he tells us it is a “light affliction” compared
    to what is to come. “Though he slay me yet will I trust Him” as Job said is a hard pill to swallow for many, but for me it brings peace.

    • nickalh

      In my opinion, the book “The Shack”, despite its controversies, deals with this question in the best way I have ever seen. Also, Todd White has a sermon on youTube discussing “anger at God” which also deals with the topic. Both especially the first have been used to bring healing into my life.

  • A while back, I told someone in our Bible study group about my past and the horrible things of it; the suicide of my best friend; my stepmother telling me that my best friend was burning in hell; my grandfather being a pervert (he molested my mother and fathered a child with her sister); his physical abuse of me and justifying it with the Bible; the guy who tried to rape me; parental neglect.
    He asked me point blank “How do you believe in God? You had all these things working against you, but you still believe. Why?
    My response was “Because He is.”
    Horrible things happen to people. Some people believe in God, despite these horrible things. Some want to believe, but can’t. Some will not believe, because they think a just God would not allow these things to happen. Others (like myself) need a good kick in the pants to get back to God.
    We don’t know why bad things happen. Every once in a while we understand why the bad things happen: they are so that we can show others empathy when we find out they are going through a similar situation. We can use these times to minister to those who are hurting.

    • Bryan Matthews

      Hey Brother,
      We haven’t talked in a while and I ran across this post and questioning if a palaver is imperative. Before we do, however here is a sundry docket for your scrutiny.
      – What scripture could authenticate this purport when it’s rancorous and indignant practitioners are viewed, even by the most hardened prisoners, as a scourge, a besetment to be annihilated, most ricky-tick?
      – Who asked you candidly if you regarded God as sacrosanct?
      – What do you predominantly answer as catechizment if asked God’s desideratum being acquiescent with the vast cataclysms that humanity endures?
      Talk to you soon.

  • Regan DuCasse

    I’ve found that once you see ugliness, I tend to respond with more resolve to be a better person, just because it’s needed and that’s what anyone SHOULD do.
    I went on so many calls on police ride alongs (and other calls) that involved the very abuses of females and children you all are describing.
    I was the lady NOT in uniform, but mostly in jeans and fancy cowboy boots. I didn’t have a side arm, but I had lollipops I found make great pacifiers, even for the adults undergoing such trauma.
    Children, most of all, have the hardest time of course, reconciling what’s in front of them, with information about things and beings, too vast for them to grasp.
    Which is probably why so many of you rejected God and Christ when you witnessed what you did while so young, but are asked to believe what isn’t there in the tangible sense.
    What a person CAN do, is go in the opposite direction of the bad they see.
    Some children of alcoholics and addicts, will work quite diligently and successfully and never touching those substances.
    They will advocate against domestic abuse and sexual exploitation (entering professions like law enforcement and social work or civil rights activism).

    These are the tangibles that children see. The strong human being who held them and kept them safe from the bad things and bad people.
    The person of indestructible character who has navigated many tough things without losing their way, ever.
    To this they can relate and see in themselves the potential to be that strong person, who can resist passing on the same harm to themselves and others.
    The difference between expecting angels, and BEING one.
    I have a story told to me by a VERY religious man (not a Christian) about my heritage within his religion that’s turned into exactly the destiny he said I had coming.
    It’s been kind of amazing how right he was.
    But that’s for people open to hearing that some roads might be different, but if they all lead to making others be loved and cared for, that’s all that matters.

    • Milton Orgeron

      “The difference between expecting angels, and BEING one.”
      Lived-out Christianity should include both being angels (which are ministering and messenger spirits) and expecting angels and the Holy Spirit, who Jesus promised to all believers. Jesus fed thousands with bread and fishes and also told them to work for the food which never perishes but leads to eternal life.

      James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote that faith without works is dead and that we must help those around us in both spiritual and tangible ways.
      James 2:14-17 14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

  • Wanting to see…

    I hope that’s not Chad’s pic up top, or if it is, next time meet him at a Starbucks or somewhere well-lit, seriously the pic is scary.
    It’s depressing but I think you’re right or the book is right: “we are all lovers and perpetrators of evil. . . it is the dominating force within each of us.” All the world is only always evil. I can accept that, what I don’t get is why is this country which was started as Christian and has been so for 200+ years so unChristian? China which is authoritarian and atheist has 570,000 less of its people in prison even though it’s population is over 4 times as large, Russia has over 1.5 million less. Middle eastern communities, mostly Muslim, have a practice of honoring and welcoming strangers that is real, unlike walking into a majority of churches where you can go in and out unnoticed. One of the main Christian exports of America is no longer missionaries, but the prosperity gospel, which promises blessings for giving, which I think would discourage Christian believers in North Korea, Pakistan and most of the world that they’re not worth blessing. And the reports, if they’re true, is that 80% of born again evangelical Christians supported and helped elect a man who openly ridicules handicapped people and prisoners of war without apology. I appreciate you have doctrine to try to answer Chad’s questions, but where’s the reality? The church is so unlike its Jesus. Show me the reality and maybe then I can listen to your words. Hey man, I’m not saying your faith is untrue, I’m just asking where the reality of God is. I’ve known good people who are Christians but also those who are Muslim, Hindu, even atheist, people making their way in this world the best they can according to what they believe with various degrees of success and failure. If the Christian doctrine has mainly to do with the next life maybe there’s something true but yet to be determined, but from what I see most Christians like what Jesus says and they say they believe him, often sincerely, but don’t actually do what Jesus said or even try to. Christians believe that Jesus said to love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, lend expecting nothing in return, wash one another’s feet, don’t judge others lest you be judged, humble yourself to be others’ servant, renounce all you have so you can be a disciple. When I hear these things from Christians, I believe they honestly think they believe them, up to the point where they have to do them. Let me ask you as a Christian, how many people do you know actually live like Jesus? It just seems like there’s a lot of people who pay him homage but don’t actually want to be like him, at least enough to do what he says.

    • Wanting to see. . .

      Can I make a humble suggestion to the blog owner? I checked back in this morning to see if there was any feedback to my comment and question above I left a couple of days ago. Maybe it got no response cause people thought I was trolling, or maybe it wasn’t worth a response cause it was stupid. For what it’s worth, it was meant genuinely, is Christianity more than just words and doctrine? Is there something real of God found in Christians that they act like Jesus? Years ago, I had attended a church and the preacher gave sermons that were great oratory, he told the meanings of the greek and hebrew, and he knew his doctrine, but if you talked to him afterwards, you realized that he didn’t really care about people. You could talk about his sermon with him, but you couldn’t tell him about what you were going thru. You could tell him, he just didn’t care. My reason for mentioning it was that I went and scrolled thru the comments left on the 10 most recent posts on the home page, and even tho one post had over 200 comments, not one was by the blog owner, on any of the posts. There were a comments by those who disagreed with you, but also questions from those who agree with you that seemed genuine, all ignored. I’m not sure if you never read the comments, or if you read them and never respond, but my humble suggestion is that you care about the people who agree with you and sometimes leave a response. You don’t need to get back to me, I’m just a one-timer who won’t be back, but you may want to consider them.

    • Wanting to see. . .

      It was unexpected that my followup comment was deleted. It wasn’t rude or even critical, it was simply an observation based on counting. It was true.
      I don’t know you other than thru your words, you are probably a better person than I am. I hope you are able to make your faith mean more than the good pastor I had mentioned. There was no offense intended. At least we understand each other now.

  • Bryan Matthews

    There are many things that happen in our lives that God has nothing to do with, we bring them on ourselves. Then there are actions that people take that God does allow things to happen in a life in an attempt to show the error of a decision.
    Blasphemy has always been considered a serious sin in His eyes. I think one of the most exceptionally flaunted acts of blasphemy is when the rainbow flag was adopted by the gay community to be the symbol of its dogma.
    The rainbow was given as a holy promise that the world would never be destroyed by water again. Almighty God, Himself even called it His bow! Then to have hasatan slip this holy symbol into the mind of a people, not to be shown as its intended purpose and meaning, but to be muddied and misrepresented as the symbol of that which is contradictory to the pure nature of God’s promise

  • ROBIN

    The manifestation of sin runs rampant on earth. It operates via shame in silence as well as under threat of reprecussion. There are many references in scripture as to the nature of sin in the world. I have found it difficult to even conceive of the depth of depravity that exists as well.
    Why then would God bother with mankind at all you ask?
    I believe it’s purpose is to uproot Satan from his very core. To lay open for all to see the sick rebellion he fostered in ancient times. Once the story has finished we will all see the recompense of the wicked. We will understand God’s reasons. It’s revealing will be so wonderful, so full of grace, so awe inspiring, we Will BE OK With IT. We will understand that We are Not God, and never could be, but overwhelmed by the by the Father’s love.

  • ninafikiri

    Thank you Matt. That was a very helpful blog.