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Why does God allow evil?

Regular columnist James Knight offers an explanation as to why God allows evil to take place in the world.

The most popular and long-standing objection to God's existence is a modus tollens argument that if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent then evil should not exist in the world.
The standard Christian response has always been that there is a big battle going on between good (those on the side of God) and evil (those on the side of the Bad One), and that thanks to God's awesomeness good will eventually triumph over evil. What they mean is that God is opposed to evil but that for now He will allow Satan to corrupt creation until Kingdom comes.
God will be the ultimate victor over Satan (as the book of Revelation explains), but if God is so opposed to evil why does He allow it to happen when He has the power to stop it? The question becomes even harder when we dig deep into the Bible and find not just that God doesn't discontinue evil, but that at times He seems to actively encourage its appearance.
The story of Job tells us how God allowed Satan to subject Job to all kinds of hardship, including taking away his possessions, killing his family and afflicting his body with sores. Later on, God also allows Nebuchadnezzar to rule a Babylonian Empire that subjected the disobedient people of Judah and Jerusalem to all-conquering torment and hardship.
The answer to the question of why if God opposes evil He allows it to happen is apparently that He will use all things, including evil, to show us His love, grace and goodness. Even the cross, which is the primary exhibition of God's love, grace and goodness, is the result of God allowing evil to subject Christ to torture and death.
Consider when Shakespeare writes a tragedy, like Macbeth or King Lear, that pits goodness against badness. Shakespeare writes badness into Lord and Lady Macbeth's characters to demonstrate, among other things, how the selfish pursuance of power and ambition corrupts those with little self-control. Similarly, Shakespeare uses the badness of Edmund, Goneril and Regan in King Lear to show the goodness of Cordelia.
The difference between God and Shakespeare here (well apart from the fact that Shakespeare is a flawed human and God is perfect) is that while we never see Shakespeare make an appearance as himself in his plays, we do see God make an appearance in His own creation story in the person of Christ. So, it's not just the case that God allows evil to happen in the world, it's that He allows himself to be subjected to it through the person of Christ for our salvation.
Christ being the light that allows Himself to be subjected to darkness may well be a good metaphor for why God allows Satan to run amok in these present times. Without darkness, we would have only light, and no way to distinguish the light as being distinct from an absence of light. If it is the light of Christ that enables us to know God, it is the darkness that enables us to see the light of Christ.

James Knight is a local government officer based in Norwich, and is a regular columnist for Christian community websites Network Norfolk and Network Ipswich. He also blogs regularly as ‘The Philosophical Muser’, and contributes articles to UK think tanks The Adam Smith Institute and The Institute of Economic Affairs, as well as the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC).


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