How Can Evil Exist if God is All Powerful?

“Is God All Powerful” by Phil Christian

Theologians have wrestled for centuries with questions like, Is God loving, good, dependable, or all-powerful? We’re starting this series where we look at these questions, which maybe you wrestle with as well. Maybe you’ve yet to say yes to God and you’re still waiting for answers to these questions.

These hard questions of the faith are part of the foundations of who we believe God is. They allow us to have an answer for the hope we have when we share the good news with others. They allow us to let people know this is a God they can get on board with.


Audio only

Think of the songs we sing about having an all-powerful God who can do all the things. We teach our kids that God is a big God as a foundation for everything we teach them later.

I took a sabbatical at a retreat center where I had to take a vow of silence. It was a serene, beautiful place in the middle of the woods. After enough silence, you find out that creation can be loud. The water, insects, birds, wind and trees can be so much that it’s overwhelming, like creation screams about the power of God.

God being all-powerful means He can do His holy will.

The implications of an all-powerful God are staggering. Those of us raised in the church might not have questioned it or considered the implications of the concept.

But it’s often the first question for non-Christians: Is God really all-powerful? To decide whether to trust God, I have to know if God is all-powerful. If he’s not, is some being or force more powerful, and shouldn’t we worship that instead? And if he’s not, can he really be God?

We often refer to God’s power as omnipotence, a latin term from “omni” (all) and “potent (powerful). It means God can do all of his holy will. Nothing in all of creation, including ourselves, can stop Him. The Hebrew language uses the name El-Shaddai, or almighty God.

From a human context, being all-powerful can be terrifying. We’ve seen what happens with the abuse of power in people like Hitler, Stalin, Caesar, or even your local HOA. In the wrong hands, power can be a dangerous thing.

God cannot do things outside of His character

But here’s the beautiful thing to know about our omnipotent God: The use of his power is qualified by his other attributes. In other words, God can’t do things outside of his character. So when we see that he’s loving, he’s just, he’s good, we know he can’t use his omnipotence outside of those traits.

The book of Titus tells us that God cannot lie. James tells us God can’t be tempted with evil. God is different than human dictators in his omnipotence because he cannot be corrupted.

If God is all-powerful, why does evil exist?

The condensed version

That leads to the million-dollar question: If God is all-powerful, why does he allow suffering to exist? Why is there evil in the world?

If God can do all things, why doesn’t he stop the evil in the world? We see the evils that exist and struggle with how an omnipotent God and all-consuming evil can both exist.

When we seek to understand what evil is, we see there are two types of evil in the world: Moral evil and natural evil.

Moral evils are the things that are opposite of God, opposed to him and his character. It’s the terrible things that humans can do. Natural evils are things outside of our control such as natural disasters, disease, famine, disabilities, etc.

We can look for scientific, historical and theological answers to why evil exists. Unfortunately, they won’t be enough. They won’t stop evil from happening and won’t make us feel better.

St. Augustine explained evil not as a thing in and of itself, but as something that was missing. He called it a parasite on goodness. If you have a hole in your shirt, the hole itself isn’t a thing, but an absence of fabric. In that regard, evil can be seen as an absence of goodness.

The implication of sin

We often underestimate the long-term implications of the Genesis story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God gave them a beautiful paradise to live in with one rule: Don’t eat from that one tree over there.

Of course, they do the opposite. God punishes them and sends them out of paradise. We often miss the implications of what he tells them as they’re leaving, that the following would happen:

  • Bearing children will be painful
  • The land is cursed forever
  • We will have to sweat and suffer through life
  • We will eventually die.

As we read on in Genesis, all of this happened. This wasn’t just that they made a mistake. It was more than simply “You disobeyed me and I’m disappointed.” It was more like, you’ve broken it.

Sin broke the world. Every facet of the world is broken, with the land being cursed. We experience pain, a shortened lifespan, sweating, and suffering. It’s all broken.

With sin, evil entered the world. Opposition to God exists.

The evil in the world leads many to conclude that God doesn’t exist. After all, a good and loving God wouldn’t allow bad things to happen. Or, if God does exist, does that mean he doesn’t care or he’s too weak to stop it? Does it mean he’s corrupt?

What we really need is expectation management

I had no real expectations when I saw the movie “Jurassic Park” as a child. Sitting in the front row, I was blown away by how dinosaurs came to life in front of me. It felt so real that I expected to find a Velociraptor outside the theater.

For me, the movie scored a ten out of ten. It set my expectations for when the sequel came out. I expected another ten, and it was a seven. The next one was a three, and it went downhill from there. The movies since were just not the same.

Our expectations of God often differ from how God uses his omnipotence. There’s a chasm between our expectations and what he does.

That’s because we try to project our humanness on God’s omnipotence. We want to be saved. Even though God does save us, the chasm exists because he didn’t save us in the way we wanted to be saved.

The example of the healing of a paralyzed man

Jesus made a point about this when he healed a paralyzed man in Matthew 9.

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over, came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man lying on a mat. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “take heart, son, your sins are forgiven.”

Matthew 9:1-2 (NIV)

These men expected their friend to be healed, but Jesus says his sins are forgiven. They’re thinking, “thanks, but it’s not what we came for.” He demonstrated the power of God by forgiving, but it wasn’t what they expected, so there was a chasm.

Some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “this fellow is blaspheming.”

Matthew 9:3 (NIV)

Blasphemy is essentially insulting God. You can insult God by raising yourself to his level, or bringing him down to yours. This is what the teachers thought Jesus was doing when Jesus said that the man’s sins were forgiven. To be honest, they weren’t wrong, but it wasn’t blasphemy.

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk?'”

Matthew 9:4-5 (NIV)

Another example of omnipotence was that Jesus could read their thoughts. He declares they’re opposed to God and asks which is easier: The thing you asked me to do or the supernatural thing that only I can do? Anyone could say that sins are forgiven but how do you prove it? Jesus shows how:

“But I want you to know that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up. Take your mat, go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

Matthew 9:6-8

Another example of his omnipotence is that Jesus has the power to heal. But he makes a point: “Only I can do that.” Jesus didn’t do what they expected but went further: He healed and forgave.

Is our questioning God’s power a form of blasphemy?

Jesus doesn’t always heal when we ask him to. People still suffer. Not all of the paralyzed are healed.

So we wonder if God is really all-powerful. A good God would stop this, wouldn’t he?

It’s pretty much us saying, “if I were God, this is how I would do it. I would only make good things happen to good people.”

Are we bordering on blasphemy when we do that? We raise ourselves to God’s position. We declare we know better than God does, that things would be better if He did it our way.

And here’s how God responds:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

Isaiah 55:8

We have no idea, do we? We’re not omnipotent. We’re not omniscient.

That’s a hard pill to swallow. But Jesus could perform miracle after miracle, and it would never be enough. We expect God to save us the way we want, because we deserve it. We want him to bail us out time after time. Not to mention everyone else who’s ever lived or who ever will live.

How does an all-powerful God fix that problem? He brought all-powerful Jesus to settle the score of evil once and for all.

We may also think that forgiveness isn’t what we’re looking for. But it’s what we need. It’s the thing that defeats evil once and for all.

We see differences in expectations at Jesus’s crucifixion

In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.

Matthew 27:41-42 (NIV)

People expected a savior to rescue them from Rome, for God to do as he did with Moses. They may have thought that if he could just come off the cross, they’d believe in him.

Getting to the heart of the question

We can look back, already knowing what would happen, and say ‘Don’t you get it?” But are we really all that different?

This wasn’t about God saving us from mortal suffering. He was saving us from evil. He was reclaiming his creation to himself through Jesus Christ.

We make the same arguments as the people who mocked Jesus. Just do this and I’ll believe. Perform this miracle and I’ll believe. It’s the same conversation.

This is why scientific, historical, or theological answers aren’t enough when discussing the question of evil. It’s not a head issue but a heart issue.

It’s an emotional question for us. We hate to see suffering. Ult5imately, we want to know: Does God care?Does it matter to him that we’re suffering, that life is hard?

This isn’t about whether God CAN do it. It’s about our frustration and disappointment in the fact that sometimes he won’t do it.

God’s response to evil

This brings us back to the idea of evil in the world. By recognizing good and evil, we imply that a moral standard is rooted in each of us.

Where did that standard come from?

This is about basic human dignity. It’s about what separates us from the animals: we don’t eat our young, it’s not kill or be killed or how only the strong survive.

But let’s not give ourselves too much credit: If not for the moral imperative that comes only from God, we might not be any different. Our empathy towards others in our species indicates an all-powerful creator who cares. He cared enough to instill these feelings in us when he made us.

In a strange way, wrestling with this question actually shows a thread of faith. We believe God could do something, that God is powerful enough to fix it. We’re just questioning why he doesn’t.

The struggle is an indication of faith. We’re assuming or at least expecting the best of God. We see that God sometimes does as opposed to doing nothing at all.

God may not answer our prayers the way we expect. However, he does act.

When Jesus died, his followers felt God was defeated. Expecations were dashed. But then God came back to life. In the end he goes beyond our expectations.

We don’t always understand why God does things the way he does.

We don’t always understand what God is doing in the world but we can trust these words from Jsus

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. for I am gentle and I’m humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light

Matthew 11:28-30

A yoke is an incredibly heavy and burdensome device that couples oxen together as they plow fields.

Jesus says when you take the yoke, you’ll find rest. He doesn’t say there won’t be a burden. There is still a yoke. It’s just that compared to what we’re doing, his way is easier.

Jesus didn’t escape the hard life, but he experienced rest and refreshment in the midst of it. Following him won’t escape a hard life. We’re not promised freedom from illness or suffering.

However, we do experience God’s sustaining grace. Therefore, we’re not crushed or driven to despair when suffering comes.

That’s why so many Christians proclaim Jesus as Lord even as they suffer. Then sings their souls.

Why? They would tell you that it’s because God is still God. Even in their suffering, they know he is still the all-powerful, omnipotent God.

who are suffering all over the world proudly proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. Then sings their souls. Why? They would tell you that it’s because God is still God. Even though they suffer, they know He’s still all-powerful, omnipotent God.

The thing that makes God attractive and the thing that makes God worthy of worship is not his power, but his goodness.

The Bible does not exalt God’s power for power’s sake, but it exalts God’s moral qualities: his goodness, his holiness, his righteousness, and how his love controls and moves his power. This is where we must allow God to be who he is, not who we want him to be. We take comfort in a God that is strong enough to take it all on. It’s in his love and mercy that we find our own sense of self.

He’s everything we need. Just not everything we want. Our lives are a reflection of the power of God to do the miraculous and impossible.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person somewhat might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

We were powerless to fix our own situation or earn our own salvation. We can’t fix the evil in the world. But we can rest in a God who can.

God’s goodness is reflected in his giving us a choice

If you fall on your knees to worship a run-of-the-mill dictator, it’s not willingly. It’s not out of free will but because you’re forced to.

We don’t want a God who mandates everything or forces us to serve him. This is where God is different. We have a God who gives us freedom of expression and choice. We have a God who says, “I want you to choose me, to decide for yourself that I am who I say I am.

That’s what a powerful and omnipotent God does. He balances his grace and goodness and power, allowing us to choose and receive Him.

When we do choose Him, we get the ultimate gift. We might stumble the whole way, but we get to live forever.

He’s all powerful, even in the midst of our suffering.

When we use our will and freedom to make choices pleasing to God, we reflect his character. We bring glory back to Him.

A favorite song of mine is Desert song. It’s become a prayer for me in the desert, when things aren’t going well. The last part of it undoes me every time I hear it:

All of my life, in every season, you are still God. I have a reason to sing, I have a reason to worship.

Desert Song by Hillsong United

The first time I heard it, it was a slap across the face. I want that to be true about my life, in every season. He is still God. That’s more than enough.

When we look at this and other attributes of God, I want you to remember that God loves you. He does care. We might feel far from Him.

It’s not bad to question what God is doing. I do it all the time. But questioning doesn’t draw us away from God. It can actually draw us closer, allowing us to fully put our hope and faith in him in the midst of all the things of the world.

He’s still the standard, he’s still God. I still have a reason to sing and worship.