When we observe the atrocities committed by terrorists such as those of ISIS or note the continuing string of mass shootings in our churches, schools and other public places, we often ask “Where is God while this is going on?” or “Why does God allow so much evil in the world?”. The answer, however, lies within us and not with God. We should be asking “Why do WE allow so much evil in this world?”. After all, God created humankind with free will, the ability to make choices. And why would he do that? Perhaps because he loves us deeply and wants us to love him in return and he knows that we cannot truly love someone (that is fully commit ourselves to them) unless we have the ability to choose whether to do so or not. If we were compelled to love God our love would not be true love. And perhaps also because God knew that we could not really appreciate goodness unless we had experienced evil.
So God placed Adam and Eve in an idyllic garden in the midst of which was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and told them not to eat of its fruit, because if they did they would die. He wasn’t saying that if they ate of the fruit he would kill them. He was warning them that if they did, it would kill them. (He of course knew all along what would happen and set in motion a plan to restore them to life.)
All was well as Adam and Eve enjoyed an intimate fellowship with God there in Eden, remaining innocent children, fully obedient to their heavenly father. Until, that is, the snake told them that God wasn’t being honest with them, because he knew that they wouldn’t die from eating the fruit, but would become like God himself. It was a bald faced lie, of course, a lie that we still too often believe, that if we become knowledgeable enough we can become godlike. And so, sure enough, they ate of the fruit and suddenly lost their innocence, becoming ashamed of their nakedness. And they became estranged from God, hiding from him in fear. Not wanting them to then be able to eat of the tree of life and so live in this condition forever he then banished them from the garden. In essence he kicked them out of home and told them they would have to fend for themselves from now on. They had made a decision to disregard his advice, so now they should use their newfound knowledge of good and evil to make their own decisions. He of course would still be available to counsel them if they asked him to, but it was entirely up to them.
Within one generation mankind experienced jealousy that led to hatred and murder and a journey began that has continued to this day, plumbing the depths of evil and depravity, as well as soaring to heights of goodness expressed in love for others, sometimes including self-sacrifice to the point of dying so others can live. And because God’s plan was executed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have also discovered that we can be born anew into eternal life and enjoy fellowship with God once again. However, choices between good and evil remain with us. We make them every day of our lives.
So when evil occurs we can either blame God, absolving ourselves thereby of responsibility. Or we can ask, “Why does mankind allow such evil to exist?”, still absolving ourselves of responsibility. Or better yet, we can ask “Why do I allow such evil to exist?”. As Rabbi Lawrence Kushner says in his book “God was in this Place and I, i did not know”:
“God’s ubiquity (omnipresence) does not mean that God is therefore in the business of causing, intending, or even tolerating human misery. Correcting those things is the business of human beings. That is why God made human beings in the first place.”