One of the many privileges I have as a pastor is to journey with people in faith, to see them grow and change, and to wrestle with some of the hard questions they have. It’s especially exciting to do this with young people who are not only trying to figure out who they are, but also deciding if believing in God is something worth doing.
This August, I had the chance to serve as the camp pastor at Camp Koinonia, one of our Mennonite Church Manitoba camps. There were several of us who went from Sterling to join the wonderful staff and councillors there for the camp’s youth week. The group was small, but that gave us the opportunity to really dig into some important topics. As I led the Bible study times, I found it necessary to have some space for the youth to share and ask questions about faith. So on the last day, I gave them a chance to put their questions into a question box.
I was blown away by their questions, and a little bit nervous about answering them on the spot. I felt relieved that as we went through different topics, other people spoke up to give their opinions and positions. It was a fascinating conversation. One of the questions I pulled out of the question box was, “Why doesn’t God stop the evil in this world?”
What a classic question, I thought. I remember asking the same thing when I was a teenager, wondering why God wouldn’t just take the evil thoughts away from me that caused me to do stupid things. I asked it when I went to Guatemala at the age of 16, wondering how it was possible for people to live in such poverty, in houses made of scrap metal. I asked it whenever I would hear about school shootings, kidnappings, terrorist attacks, wars, and genocide.
Even after coming home from camp, a time that was refreshing and spiritually renewing as we enjoyed the beauty of God’s creation, I was bombarded with news about the left-right war, racial hatred and violence.
So what gives? Why doesn’t God do anything?
First of all, God does. As dark as the world may seem at times, we cannot forget that light is stronger than the darkness. If we focus on the the light, we will find that its power penetrates and makes its presence known everyday in our world.
So where do we find this light? Well, throughout scripture, we find that God doesn’t act in isolation, but for better or worse, chooses to partner with humanity. Even in God’s greatest display of love, by coming into this world, God partners with Mary and Joseph to raise Jesus. When Jesus begins His ministry, He surrounds Himself with people who would follow and learn from Him. And when His time comes to leave earth, He puts His body, the church, in charge of inviting people into His new kingdom.
Light is found in people who decide they want to live in the Kingdom of God and who surrender their lives to Jesus, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform them into Christ’s likeness. This light will always defeat darkness, and I see it all the time. In my context, I only need to look to the many organizations that work on behalf of the church to bring hope, healing, relief, and justice to our world. I only need to look to people in my family and my church to find those who are actively stopping evil from happening because of their commitment to Christ.
Second of all, God will. That’s the promise in the book of Revelation. That’s the promise of the resurrection. Jesus has already defeated death and evil. All Christians look forward to the time when the kingdom of God will come in full, when Jesus will return. Yet, as we anticipate that reality, we are caught waiting in dark times. So why doesn’t God stop all evil in the in-between?
In order to answer that, we need to re-evaluate the question. When we ask it, I think what we mean to ask is, “Why doesn’t God simply come down in whatever form to stop evil from happening?” If God really is a good God, why would He just let bad things happen? By deconstructing this question, I think we find the problem.
We must first ask where the evil intent comes from. In the garden story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, we find that the decision to disobey God comes from their desire to be like God, based on the serpent’s lie which told them it was possible. In wanting to be like God, they chose to go against God, inevitable choosing death over life.
So when we question why God doesn't stop evil, what are we asking? Are we asking God to come stop evil people? Who are these evil people? Do we not all carry some of that evil intent? Adam and Eve, just like us, have the same opportunity to choose life or death (I recognize that not all Christians hold to this belief). In a sense we are all evil people, but we all have the potential to choose and live differently.
If each of us carries the capacity for good and evil, then maybe we are just asking God to stop people from making evil choices. Then what are we asking? Do we want God to make up our minds for us? To transform us into a new creation whether we like it or not? If so, we are asking God to take away our free will, our ability to choose to follow Him or not.
Therein lies the problem. If we really do want God to stop evil, then we would no longer exist as God created us to exist. We would no longer be human. We would be robots, bound to God’s will, and that never seemed to be what it meant to be made in the image of God.
God doesn’t micromanage. God created us with a free will. This means we have the freedom to choose to follow Him or not, as well as the choice to act with good will or evil intent. Furthermore, God has done everything possible to persuade us to choose life. He took on the form of a human to show us the way into God’s kingdom. He died for us to demonstrate the depth of His love, and conquered death to show us His power.
Perhaps the question we need to ask is not “Why doesn’t God stop evil?” but, “How can we invite more people to experience the life-changing life of Christ who offers us another way?” How can we show people that there is a legitimate choice before them to choose justice instead of power, freedom instead of oppression, love instead of hate, life instead of death?