This article will discuss the amount of evil and suffering in the world as it relates to the ultimate playing-out of events, or the complete description of this possible world. While much could be written I chose to focus on the amount of suffering in light of character development.
Because each and every member of mankind is a sinner in need of redemption, evil exists (Romans , ). Most people intuitively believe this and will not deny it; when pressed, most will even admit they have committed a moral imperfection themselves. Because evil exists mankind must be saved. Jesus Christ provided this benefit as available to all men, and God’s “goal” as it were is to see every member of mankind accept Jesus’ sacrifice and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Of course, this will not happen. This accounts for the perseverance and scope of personal acts of evil done by the free will of man.
When coupled with natural evil (or essentially pain) we naturally wonder why God does not permit less of it (or even any of it!). As famously said by C.S. Lewis, “God…shouts to us in our pain.” Experiencing pain and evil is often character-forming. There are painful experiences in my life that helped shape me into the person I am today. While I cannot be sure, I quite readily imagine I would not have learned the lessons I did without those same painful experiences.
But couldn’t I have learned the lessons with a little less pain than I in fact did? If not me, then couldn’t someone else who has experienced a significant amount of pain have their character formed with less evil? There are a few problems with this. First, we have no way of knowing the counterfactual truths involved. William Lane Craig pointed out that even in the instance of a stubbed toe, we simply aren’t in a good epistemic position to say this evil is ultimately pointless (perhaps it is combined with other events that day which bring about an ultimate good, even if years off, which justifies that evil).
Lewis asserts, “suffering is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God.” Geisler adds, “based on the fact that God is both all-good and all-knowing: It [pain and suffering] won’t be too long, and it won’t be too much.”
I am reminded of an article about rules in sports I read recently. One comment that struck me as profound was the distance in baseball between first and second base:
90 feet. If it was 89 feet, the author asserted, there would be too many Rickey Henderson’s (for stolen bases). If it was 91 feet, there would be too few. How much was the distance in baseball between the bases? Just enough to accomplish the right amount of bases stolen. How much evil is permitted by God in this actual world? Just enough so that people have a way of responding to God and being rightly related to him. Just enough to form our character.
 Norman L. Geisler, If God, Why Evil? (
: Bethany House, 2011), 92. Grand Rapids, MI
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