Ask a Franciscan

Why Does Evil Exist?

Q. If God is all-powerful and all-good, why does evil exist? I have heard the theories of human free will, responsibility, and weakness after Adam and Eve’s fall. We simply don’t know why God allows what God allows. Some people say that suffering gets people to return to God. Others say that because Jesus suffered, we must also. Why is there so much unbearable injustice in the world, such as the Holocaust? Is God incapable of preventing evil? Is God as good and powerful as we originally thought?

A. The evidence of human suffering is undeniable. If someone uses that fact as a reason not to believe in God, the suffering doesn’t disappear. In fact, it may be even harder to handle. As a group, are atheists more compassionate than people who believe in God? I don’t see any evidence to support such a generalization.

Although some atheists work in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and similar services, they rarely, if ever, sponsor them officially. People are killed by hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, catastrophic fires, and other causes. But most people never cite these as reasons not to believe in God or not to believe in God’s overall providence.

No, what they do cite are obviously human evils: murder, theft, abuse of children or vulnerable adults, and genocide that fill our daily news. God did not have to create stars, rocks, flowers, birds, or people. God did all of that out of love, acting in perfect freedom. We never act with the same freedom, but every time we act in more genuine freedom, we are acting as people made in God’s image and likeness.

Most human suffering is caused by an abuse of human freedom. God could, of course, have created a world in which human freedom could not be abused. That would be the ultimate demonstration of micromanaging. In such a world, however, we could make no sense of authentic love or God-given freedom. 

The evil that we encounter all too often does not indicate a lack of due diligence on God’s part, but rather a failure on humans’ part to use their freedom in a way that acknowledges God as the ultimate source of our freedom.

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