Wickedness—Why Does God Permit It?
IF A friend of yours were robbed, raped or murdered and the criminal let go free, would you not feel frustration, hurt and anger? Such crimes and injustices are just a small reflection of what has befallen mankind.
2 History is a long record of brutal wars, crushing poverty, crime and oppression. As a result, some persons have come to doubt the very existence of God. We know that there is convincing evidence that the Creator exists. (Hebrews 3:4; Romans 1:20) But there is wickedness too. For this reason, even many who believe in God wonder, ‘Does he really care about us?’ They ask, ‘If God does care, why has he permitted wickedness for so long?’
3 Philosophers and clergymen have often dealt with this matter, but have no satisfying answers. What does God himself say?
GOD ANSWERS: ‘I DO CARE’
4 Based on our experience, we can appreciate the Hebrew prophet Habakkuk’s reaction to violence and injustice. He lived at a time when the Jews had fallen into many bad practices, which sorely troubled Habakkuk and moved him to ask God:
“Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.”—Habakkuk 1:3, 4, New International Version.
Though convinced of Jehovah’s righteousness, Habakkuk was distressed by the violence and injustice among his people. Also, at that time the Babylonians were on the rampage, terrorizing and despoiling other nations. It seemed that wickedness prevailed everywhere. The prophet Habakkuk wondered why God, who could see it, seemed to do nothing.—Habakkuk 1:13.
5 In a vision Jehovah assured Habakkuk that the seeming prosperity of the wicked was only temporary. God not only saw what was occurring, but also cared. He had an “appointed time” for meting out divine justice. Even if humans thought that this was delaying, Habakkuk was assured, “It will without fail come true. It will not be late.”—Habakkuk 2:3.
6 Further showing God’s care, he alerted Habakkuk to a challenge facing humans in the meantime. Jehovah said: “But as for the righteous one, by his faithfulness he will keep living.” (Habakkuk 2:4) Would Habakkuk meet the challenge, doing what was right and moral despite what those around him did? He needed to display faith that God would handle matters properly in his “appointed time.”
7 History tells us what happened. When the time arrived, God acted to end violence and injustice on the part of the Jews. The land was conquered and many of the people were taken captive. Later, God had an accounting with Babylon. As Jehovah foretold through his prophets, the Medes and the Persians under Cyrus defeated the seemingly all-powerful Babylonian Empire.—Jeremiah 51:11, 12; Isaiah 45:1; Daniel 5:22-31.
8 This small-scale illustration shows that our Creator does not close his eyes to wickedness. He is aware of it and he does care. (Compare Genesis 18:20, 21; 19:13.) That being so, why has God allowed wickedness to continue until now? To understand the Bible’s logical explanation, we need to go back to when human troubles began.
UNIVERSAL ISSUES ARISE
9 As recounted in Genesis chapter three, the Devil questioned Eve about her obeying God’s command not to eat from a specially designated tree. Eve answered that disobedience would bring the sentence of death. But Satan replied:
“You positively will not die. For God knows that in the very day of your eating from it your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.”—Genesis 3:1-5.
Satan here brought up challenges or issues that involved all of God’s creatures, men and angels.
10 For one thing the Devil challenged God’s honesty. Reflect on the implications of this. If God were not truthful in this matter, could he be trusted in anything else? Would his creatures on earth or in heaven always have to be suspicious about what God said? We know today how suspicious persons are of politicians who govern through the use of lies.—Compare Psalm 5:9.
11 Satan’s claim that God is deceitful and withholds things that are good for his creatures also raised the issue, Does God deserve to rule? The question of the rightfulness of God’s way of ruling involved all the universe.
12 Additionally, Satan was contending that humans can get along without God, that they can and should rule themselves. The question was put before men and angels, Can humans successfully govern their affairs independent of God?
13 Those serious moral issues demanded complete settlement. The way in which God chose to do that clearly shows his wisdom and his interest in our welfare, both now and in the future. God allowed time to pass, during which all intelligent creatures could see the evidence. To appreciate this, consider how you would act if someone publicly claimed that you were not a good family member, that you lied and exercised authority through instilling fear. An insecure person might loudly protest or even fight the accuser. But secure in the knowledge that the charge was false, you could dispel questions simply by allowing time for all to observe your ways and the fine results in your family.—Matthew 12:33.
14 What evidence has time revealed on the issues raised in Eden? As God forewarned, human disobedience has resulted in death, preceded by sickness and old age. So God was not dishonest in his warning, and there was no basis in this for challenging the rightfulness of his rulership. There is also proof that man cannot set his own standards, ruling himself independently of God. No form of human government has been able to prevent wars, corruption, oppression, crime and injustice. This confirms what the Bible says: “To earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23) Further, time has proved that men cannot end suffering; rather, that they often cause it.
15 The suffering is felt by sincere persons who are willing to accept God’s rulership and standards. With them in mind, God is going to act against those carrying on wickedness, even as he did on the small scale mentioned in the book of Habakkuk. Jehovah will eliminate all in heaven and on earth who are responsible for wickedness and suffering. Just as God told Habakkuk, there is an “appointed time” for this. We can be sure that “it will without fail come true. It will not be late.”—Habakkuk 2:3.
BENEFITING FROM THE TIME ALLOWED
16 As to God’s permitting evil, many persons think only about man’s suffering. They fail to appreciate the important issues that are being settled. Also, they may overlook the benefits that they can receive because God has allowed time for the settlement.—2 Peter 3:9.
17 The time God has allowed for settling these matters has been sufficiently long for us to be born. Whatever pleasures we have enjoyed, it is because of God’s time allowance. Further, we have been given the opportunity to prove our love for and loyalty to God. As a challenge, Satan argued that no human would prove faithful to God, not even one of whom God could say, “There is no one like him in the earth, a man blameless and upright, fearing God and turning aside from bad.” We see this from the Bible book of Job, chapters 1 and 2. Concerning the upright man Job, the Devil said: “Is it for nothing that Job has feared God?” Satan claimed that Job did it for selfish reasons, because God gave him prosperity, but that if Job were to lose that he would curse God. (Job 1:7-12) Could Satan turn all men away from God?
18 God let Satan bring many troubles on Job. Job lost his wealth. His children were killed. He was struck with a loathsome disease. Though not knowing that Satan was making him the object of special attack, Job remained faithful to God. (Job 27:5) He was sure that Jehovah would not forget him and that the Creator would even resurrect him if he died. (Job 14:13-15) Jehovah never abandons his loyal ones. In time he stepped in and undid the damage that Satan had caused. Job’s health was restored. He came to have 10 more beautiful children, together with great prosperity and a long life. You may read the encouraging details in Job 42:10-17.
19 This account also helps us to see why God has permitted wickedness. In this way it was proved that some humans would love God despite life’s problems and be loyal to him under any test. We do well to ask ourselves, ‘Is that how we have reacted despite suffering? Is it how we want to be, thus helping to answer the challenge Satan raised?’ (Proverbs 27:11) The book of Job also gives us reason to be confident that God can undo any suffering that humans face while wickedness is being permitted.—Compare 2 Corinthians 4:16, 17.
20 As God observed and approved of Job and Habakkuk, He is now taking note of humans who are loyal to him in the face of evil conditions, and he will not fail to reward them.—Malachi 3:16-18.
DO YOU WANT TO LIVE WHEN WICKEDNESS IS GONE?
21 The Bible assures us that God purposes to restore the earth to a paradise condition, such as Adam and Eve enjoyed before being disloyal. (Luke 23:43; Revelation 21:4, 5) Then there will be complete fulfillment of Bible promises such as:
“The wicked will disappear; you may look for them, but you won’t find them; but the humble [or, meek] will possess the land and enjoy prosperity and peace.”—Psalm 37:10, 11, Good News Bible; Proverbs 24:1, 20.
22 Many persons complain about evil and suffering, even blaming God for these. But do they truly want the elimination of wickedness, or just of its penalties? Much of his suffering man brings upon himself; he reaps what he sows. (Galatians 6:7; Proverbs 19:3) Immorality produces venereal disease, abortions, divorces. Smoking leads to lung cancer. Drunkenness and drug abuse damage the liver and the brain. Breaking traffic laws causes fatal accidents. Do those who say, ‘Why does God permit wickedness? When will he stop it?’ really want God to do so? If he did so right now, by preventing these practices, many would complain that he was restricting them.
23 Hence, God’s allowing wickedness lets us show where we stand, what is in our hearts. God told Habakkuk: “As for the righteous one, by his faithfulness he will keep living.” That requires cultivating a hatred for what God shows to be bad or evil. (Habakkuk 2:4; Psalm 97:10) Living that way may make us unpopular with some neighbors and associates. (1 Peter 4:3-5) Job and Habakkuk were willing to be different so as to be loyal to God and have his approval. And millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses today are likewise proving that it can be done and are enjoying richer, more contented lives.
24 Persons who are following this course are adding to the evidence that Satan is a gross liar. They are proving that humans can be faithful to God, confident of the rightfulness and righteousness of his way of rule. God, in turn, knows that such persons can be entrusted with caring for the paradise to be restored on earth. Life then will be so delightful that the sorrows and evils of the past will not come to mind. They will be forgotten just as we have forgotten the pain and sorrow we felt years ago when, as children, we may have scraped a knee.—Isaiah 65:17; John 16:21.
25 That is a delightful prospect and it helps us to see that God’s permission of wickedness is just a brief interlude in the outworking of his eternal purpose. The legal, moral issues giving rise to it will be settled for all time.
26 But even understanding why God has permitted wickedness, we rightly want to know: When will it end? When is the “appointed time” for God to end wickedness earth wide? Let us now see.
Why is it reasonable to examine what the Bible says about wickedness? (1-3)
What can we learn from Habakkuk on this matter? (4-8)
How did universally vital issues arise in Eden? What were they? (9-12)
In what way were the issues to be settled? (13-15)
How are we involved in another issue that needs settlement? (16-20)
What prospect does the Bible hold out? Meaning what for us? (21-23)
How can we lastingly benefit from God’s having permitted wickedness? (24-26)
[Box on page 131]
Dr. W. R. Inge, who was dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, some years ago said:
“All my life I have struggled to find the purpose of living. I have tried to answer three problems which always seemed to me to be fundamental: the problem of eternity; the problem of human personality; and the problem of evil. I have failed. I have solved none of them.”
[Picture on page 137]
Suffering did not turn Job against God; he endured and was blessed