Tag Archives: Pain

Why Did Jesus Allow Lazarus to Die?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most common complaints against God is that he allows evil to occur in the world.  Christians respond that God has good purposes for allowing evil, but can we back this up with Scripture?

Actually, there are many good examples from Scripture, but one of the best is the story of Lazarus in John 11.

Lazarus, a man likely in the prime of his life and a good friend of Jesus, becomes ill and dies.  Yale scholar Greg Ganssle  imagines the friends of Lazarus witnessing the evil that has occurred, the evil of Lazarus’ death, “and after three days of mourning [coming] to the conclusion that there is no reason for this.  Therefore, God doesn’t exist.”

Jesus arrives at Bethany after Lazarus has been in the tomb for 4 days.  Upon his arrival, Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, bemoan the fact that he did not come sooner to heal Lazarus; now it is too late.  Jesus’ purpose for not coming to heal Lazarus is a mystery to these women.

Now we all know what happened next.  Jesus commanded Lazarus to rise from the dead, and so he did!  What possible reason could Jesus have had for delaying his arrival, allowing Lazarus to die, and then resuscitating him?

He explains first, ““Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”  The resuscitation of Lazarus was done so that those who witnessed it could see the glory of God.

But there was a second reason.  In verse 42, Jesus prays to the Father and explains that his actions are meant to convince those who witness the resuscitation that Jesus was sent by God.

The effect was so dramatic that many who witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus placed their faith in him.

Now, it certainly seemed at first that there was no good purpose for allowing the death of Lazarus.  But subsequent events placed his death in a completely different context.  According to Ganssle, “In light of this context, Lazarus’s death is seen to be part of a much greater good than anyone in Bethany could imagine.”

Just because we cannot see a good purpose for some evils does not mean that there aren’t good purposes.  Since God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnisapient, he can bring good out of all sorts of evil.  We may not be able to immediately see the good reasons for every evil, but we can be confident that the reasons exist.  The story of Lazarus beautifully illustrates this principle.

Is God’s Power Limited?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

The classical Judeo-Christian belief has always been that God is all-powerful, or omnipotent.  He can do whatever is actually possible to do, but not what is actually impossible to do.  We previously covered this topic in “Can God Make a Rock So Big He Can’t Lift It?

But there are some who deny that God is all-powerful because of the problem of evil.  An all-powerful God, they say, could defeat evil, but there is still evil in the world.  Therefore, God cannot be all-powerful.

This is exactly the view that Rabbi Harold Kushner took in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  Kushner’s son died of a horrible disease at the age of 14, and Kushner decided that even though God loved his son and wanted him to live, God could do nothing to stop the onslaught of the disease.  God is handcuffed by the laws of nature.

In essence, Kushner believed that God was either limited in power or not infinitely loving.  Kushner could not stand to worship a God who was not infinitely loving (a God who didn’t care about his son’s suffering and death), but he could stand a God who wanted goodness to reign on earth, but could not make it happen.

Contrary to what Kushner believes, there is another option.  God could be all-loving and all-powerful.  In fact, Christians believe that if God is not all-powerful, then his love is impotent.  Why should we worship a God that wills goodness but can do nothing about making sure that goodness will be victorious?  The God Kushner worships cannot guarantee that evil will ever be defeated and that good will prevail.

The true God is allowing evil for a time, but promises that in the future, all accounts will be settled.  Evil will be defeated and the suffering that humans endure in this earthly life will seem trivial.  Those that love God will spend their afterlife with him, and those who reject God will spend their afterlife away from him.

Rabbi Kushner’s dilemma is resolved by the future promises of God.  This is the blessed hope that all Christians have.

Note: If you would like to see Rabbi Kushner debate the issue of God’s omnipotence, in light of the problem of evil, with Norman Geisler, please order the DVD’s from The John Ankerberg Show.  It is a fascinating discussion.

Who or What Is the Cause of Moral Evil?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In a previous post, we showed that God is not the direct cause of moral evil.  But if God is not the cause, then who is?

Christians answer that free creatures are the direct cause of moral evil.  How does this work?  God gave human beings the power of free will.  Free will is defined as self-determinism.  It is the ability to make choices that are not forced by an external state or condition.

Free will is a good power that God gave human beings.  Nobody marches against free will.  In fact, to argue against free will is to use free will!  Every one of us is happy that God has given us this power.  It was supposedly Socrates who said, “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.”

But there was a price to be paid for giving finite creatures free will.  By giving us this power, God introduced the possibility that we would abuse or misuse this good power.  According to Christianity, that is exactly what happened.  When given the choice to love God or to reject God, humans rejected him.  This is known as theFall.  Ever since the Fall, humans have been actualizing moral evil upon themselves and one another.  Every person who searches his heart for even a moment realizes that they are tinged or stained with evil.  We think evil thoughts and we often act on those evil thoughts.

God is responsible for creating the possibility of evil, but free creatures are responsible for making it actual.

One final note.  Many people, when they hear this argument, blame God for giving humans free will.  They argue that he could have done better.  I’ve noticed, however, that the very people who blame God for allowing evil to exist refuse to relinquish their own free will in order to make the world a better place.  The truth is, almost every person would rather live in this world which contains both good and evil than live in a world where they aren’t free.  Until the critic of God agrees to be the first to give up his free will, his protests ring hollow.

Did God Create Evil?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Now here is a question that many people struggle with.  Here is how the argument generally goes:

  1. God is the Author of everything.
  2. Evil is something.
  3. Therefore, God is the Author of evil.

This is a valid syllogism, meaning that if premises 1 and 2 are correct, then the conclusion follows.

Looking at premise 1, is God the author of everything?  Well, if he isn’t, then we don’t have a sovereign creator, but that’s what the Bible teaches.  We can’t reject this premise.

Looking at premise 2, if we deny that evil exists, then we deny a basic truth about reality.  There clearly is evil in the world and we all know it.  To deny the existence of evil would be to deny a fundamental aspect of life.

Are we stuck?  Not exactly.  It turns out that premise 2 is problematic because it misunderstands the nature of evil.

Christians argue that evil is not a thing or a substance.  There is no glob of evil floating around the universe.  Instead, evil is a perversion of a good thing.  It is a privation or lack in something good.  Evil takes what ought to be and twists it into what ought not to be.  According to Norm Geisler, “Evil is like rust to a car or rot to a tree.  It is a lack in good things, but it is not a thing in itself.  Evil is like a wound in an arm or moth-holes in a garment.  It exists only in another but not in itself.”

That last statement is extremely important to understand.  Evil cannot exist by itself.  It can only exist where there is already good.  You cannot imagine a creature who is pure evil, for instance.  Even Satan has many good qualities: 1) he is persistent, 2) he is beautiful, and 3) he is intelligent.  What makes Satan so evil is that he was originally created so good!

Good and evil are not opposites, contrary to what many believe.  You can have good without evil and that is, indeed, what God promises to those who believe in Christ and dwell in heaven with him.  Evil is truly a parasite that leeches on to good and ruins it.  Evil is not a real substance, but it is a privation or lack in a good substance.  If evil completely destroyed a good thing, then there would be no evil left, because nothing would be left.  According to Geisler, “A totally rusty car is no car at all. And a totally moth-eaten garment is only a hanger in a closet.”

So how would the Christian re-frame the argument?

  1. God created every substance.
  2. Evil is not a substance (but a privation in a substance).
  3. Therefore, God did not create evil. 

Who is responsible for the evil in the world if God did not create it?  That’s a question for another post!