If God is love, how can he allow evil?

[A Quiner’s Diner reader asked about the nature of evil. I am reposting my essay on the subject from December of 2015 which followed a mass shooting.]

By Tom Quiner

God teased us.

St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine of Hippo

When Moses asked who are You, He responded:

“I am what I am.” (Exodus 3:14)

That tells us a lot, doesn’t it?

Fourteen centuries later, Jesus asked His disciples,

“Who do they say I am?”

And they replied in Matthew  16:14 – 20:

14 “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

St. John distills the essence of God’s response to Moses into a single sentence:

“God is love.

He says this love is real and tangible:

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)

If God is Love, and if God made us, that suggests that our lives are significant, that they have purpose.

This Advent, more than most, I await God’s coming with the expectancy of a child. I join the chorus, “the whole world is waiting for Love.”

I join the chorus in light of the prevalence of evil in this world.  Recent mass murder in San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, and Roseburg, Oregon have left us shaken, on top of so many, many more in recent years.

The faithful are once again challenged by the world’s skeptics to explain how could there possibly be a god in light of non-stop carnage, year-after-year, decade-after-decade.

Twenty centuries since Jesus walked the face of the earth, men still kill men.  And yet last week, a husband and wife murdered 14 people who had befriended the couple, even throwing the wife a baby shower.

If God is real, if God is Love, how can He allow so many innocent people to be butchered like this?

That doesn’t seem very loving, does it?

St. Augustine formulated the dilemma this way:

If God is all-good, he would will all good and no evil.

And if God were all-powerful, he would accomplish everything he wills.

But evil exists as well as good.

Therefore, either God is not all-powerful, or not all-good, or both.

The key words here are that “evil exists.”  But what is “evil?”

St. Augustine explains that evil is the absence of good.  In other words, evil isn’t a created thing.

Christian apologist,  Gregory Koukl, explained the Augustine philosophy regarding evil this way:

First: 1) All things that God created are good; 2) evil is not good; 3) therefore, evil was not created by God.

Second: 1) God created every thing;  2) God did not create evil;  3) therefore, evil is not a thing.

Augustine built on the premise:

“Evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name ‘evil.’  All which is corrupted is deprived of good.”

Mr. Koukl clarifies:

The diminution of the property of goodness is what’s called evil. Good has substantial being; evil does not. It is like a moral hole, a nothingness that results when goodness is removed. Just as a shadow is no more than a “hole” in light, evil is a hole in goodness.

Augustine says we can’t choose evil, we can only turn away from the good:

“For when the will abandons what is above itself, and turns to what is lower, it becomes evil–not because that is evil to which it turns, but because the turning itself is wicked.

When you think back to St. John’s description that “God is Love,” the possibility of evil makes sense.

If God is Love, and if He made us in His image, then He made us to love.  Humanity has the potential to love.  But love is a choice.

You can’t love if you’re lacking in free will.  Otherwise, your existence would be defined as mind control.  Your existence would be much the same as a puppet on a string.

God didn’t make us that way.

He allowed us the free will to turn away from goodness, and the encouragement not to.

Our time in this life is intended to be a time of moral growth, a turning toward the good.

In a perverse way, evil contributes to the greater good, according Mr. Koukl:

… certain virtues couldn’t exist without evil: courage, mercy, forgiveness, patience, the giving of comfort, heroism, perseverance, faithfulness, self-control, long-suffering, submission and obedience, to name a few. These are not virtues in the abstract, but elements of character that can only be had by moral souls. Just as evil is a result of acts of will, so is virtue. Acts of moral choice accomplish both.

There’s a sound reason why God has allowed evil. It doesn’t conflict with His goodness. God is neither the author of evil, nor its helpless victim. Rather, precisely because of His goodness He chooses to co-exist with evil for a time.

Let us together pray for the victims of these ongoing mass killings.  Let us pray for God to console their family, their friends, their community.

In this Advent season of 2015, may this tragedy serve as a catalyst to turn us toward God.  God is Love.  May His Son, the Prince of Peace, dry our tears.


  1. shelley pitts on March 2, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    A very good commentary, on a question, i think if we are all honest….we ask this quite often.

  2. sklyjd on March 2, 2018 at 9:54 pm

    All I can say this is this issue must be as confusing for Christians as it is for everybody else.
    Many Christians believe God creates everything that happens, and evil exists in the form of something created by God such as Satan and take this passage as evidence.

    “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” Isaiah 45:7

    From an atheist point of view, when you consider the fact that evidence suggests we all live in a world where events are based on the law of averages, probability theory, randomness, human judgements and good or bad human actions it proves the point that good and evil people will always be part of this cycle similarly to naturally occurring ecosystems on Earth and is therefore undeniably part of our natural human world.

    Whether a person becomes an evil person through something negative happening in their life or they have a mental health issue does not always suggest they will become a bad or evil person. What makes them become an evil person is a very complicated neuroscientific subject and much of it we understand is influenced by many different aspects of human development from birth to death.

    This evil in humans does not always exist because they decide to turn to evil, or of good being removed because these people can have dissociative identity disorder or psychotic illnesses from childhood trauma that can lead to long-term negative changes in the brain. According to statistics having had a troubled childhood, having problems with drugs and alcohol abuse are more predictable as violent offenders.

    Sadly, many of these people believe they are doing good or can justify their evil actions.
    However, the default is that basically people are good and good intent is a naturally evolved animal survival condition and social moral code that we aspire too, because we know only too well that this is paramount for our existence and a good quality of life.

    • quinersdiner on March 3, 2018 at 12:09 pm

      True. The nature of evil has been discussed and discerned by theologians, philosophers, and scientists from the dawn of time. I like St. Augustin’s take on it, as I posted in this blogpost. However, we haven’t heard from St. Thomas Aquinas, who was perhaps the Church’s greatest philosopher. I will post on him shortly. Thanks for writing.