"If God existed there wouldn’t be evil and suffering in the world. If he were all good, he would want to stop evil, and if he were all powerful he would have the ability to do so. Since evil exists, then an all good, all powerful God cannot exist."
Problems with the argument
This argument is powerful on the surface, but it plays into our emotions and makes several false assumptions. First of all, it assumes God will never stop evil and suffering when the Bible is clear that he will (Revelation 21:3-4). Secondly, it sets up a false dichotomy. It claims that if evil exists, God must be either all good or all powerful, leaving out a logically compatible third option: That an all good, all powerful God allows evil because it brings about a greater good. The obvious next question should be, "What greater good could evil possibly bring about?" Thankfully, the Bible gives us an answer. There is a high level, primary reason God allows evil and many secondary reasons that support the primary reason.
Primary reason God allows evil and suffering
If Christianity is true, then the greatest possible good isn’t human flourishing, happiness or comfort—it’s for God to be glorified (Romans 11:36, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 1:15-20). This is the purpose of all creation wether we like it or not. Evil and suffering indirectly bring God glory by making it possible for him to display his attributes of justice and grace. He demonstrates his justice by punishing unrepentant sinners (Romans 9:22-23, Exodus 14:17-18) and his grace by dying on the cross to save sinners who trust in him (1 Timothy 1:16). Without the context of a fallen world, the drama of redemption couldn’t play out, and there would be no way for God to exercise these core attributes; they would remain abstract concepts without real meaning. We may not like that our happiness and comfort are less important than God’s glory, but all that’s required to defeat the challenge is to show that God’s attributes are logically consistent with the existence of evil and suffering.
Secondary reasons God allows evil and suffering
Evil and suffering serve many secondary purposes that reinforce the primary purpose of bringing God glory. Sometimes God allows evil and suffering to punish the guilty (Habakkuk 1:6, 28:25, Isaiah 10:5-7), discipline and strengthen believers (1 Peter 1:6-7, Ephesians 2:10), and motivate unbelievers to repent so they can receive eternal life (Luke 13:1-5). He sovereignly choreographs humanity’s evil actions to bring about his ultimate will (Genesis 50:20, Proverbs 19:21). For example, when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, God guided a series of events that saved Israel from famine, sanctified Joseph, and brought his brothers to repentance (Genesis 37-47). Israel then became enslaved in Egypt, freed by Moses, and eventually birthed the Messiah, who was killed by evil men so he could bring salvation to all nations. Joseph’s story demonstrates how even evil and suffering work out for the good of God’s people and bring him glory (Romans 8:28). This ripple effect of good and evil events makes it impossible for us to conclude that God is unjustified for allowing any specific evil act. We simply don’t have visibility to the final outcome, or how our current trials will bring us greater joy in the eternal world to come (2 Corinthians 4:16-17).
Hope in suffering
No one wants to experience suffering, but this broken world gives us the opportunity to be God’s objects of eternal love and grace. Though we’re guilty of evil, we get to experience redemption, and a deep relationship with the creator that would be impossible without a fallen world. All things, including evil and suffering, work for the good of those who put their trust in Christ (Romans 8:28). God uses struggle, heartbreak, and tragedy to prepare us for heaven by shaping us into the people he wants us to be (Romans 5:3-5). Even when the most unredeemable evil act is committed against us we can know that justice will be served, and our worst pain will seem like a "light and momentary affliction" when compared to the eternal bliss we’ll experience with Christ (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Romans 8:18). That said, I don’t expect the Biblical answer to be emotionally convincing to skeptics since it requires admitting that God’s glory is more important than our happiness and comfort. However, despite this emotional hurdle it adequately answers the challenge that there’s a "logical problem of evil" between the existence of a loving God and evil in the world.
"It’s egotistical for God to create a universe for his own glory."
This statement only makes sense if you project fallible human traits on God. Egotism is defined as having an undue sense of self importance. However, if the Bible is correct that God is the greatest conceivable being who created and redeemed the universe, then it would be impossible for him to have an undue sense of importance (1 Chronicles 29:11). Nothing would exist without him (Colossians 1:16). Not only is it appropriate for God to receive glory, but giving us the ability to glorify him is the greatest thing he can do for us. It gives our lives meaning, and those of us who have experienced God’s grace know the joy of a life that glorifies him.
"The existence evil and suffering doesn’t bring God glory, it makes him look bad. Wouldn’t he get more glory if he created a world of perfect people who never hurt each other?"
Ironically, evil and suffering indirectly bring God more glory than if it never existed. Only in the context of a fallen world could Jesus suffer and die at the hands of evil men to pay for our sins. If the world were full of flawless people, none of this would be possible and God’s greatest attributes would never be known. Evil and suffering give us a backdrop to truly understand his core attributes of justice, grace, and holiness. This may seem strange to us, but if the purpose of creation is to glorify God then it’s absolutely necessary for us to understand his character in a tangible way. When sinful people are saved by God’s grace, they have a deep understanding his sacrificial love and bring him glory in a way that even sinless angels can’t. The final, perfect state of creation will be far greater than any hypothetical world where God never judged or redeemed fallen creatures.
"If God is good, why doesn’t he stop evil right now?"
God temporarily allows evil because he’s patiently giving us time to repent and trust in Christ (2 Peter 3:9). If he were to completely destroy all evil right now, he would have to destroy every one of us since we’re all part of the problem (Romans 3:23). A perfect world wouldn’t be perfect with sinful people living in it. At the end of the age, God will purge the world of all evil. However, the only way we’ll survive this final purge of evil is if we repent and put our trust in Christ, who cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9. Titus 2:14). There may be millions of people God has yet to create and save so they can enjoy the final, perfect state of creation with him. We should be thankful that God is gracious and patient enough to give us time to repent, trust in Christ, and be saved from final judgment.
"If God created everything, does that mean he created evil?"
God didn’t directly create evil, but allowed it by giving humans the freedom to rebel and sin and against him (Romans 5:12). That said, the Bible never hides the fact that God preordained evil’s existence and uses it to accomplish his will (Genesis 50:20, Romans 9:17). This doesn’t make God guilty of being evil since he didn’t directly cause it and has good reasons for allowing it. Furthermore, it’s irrational to refer to God as evil since He’s the only possible objective grounding for morality and goodness (1 John 1:5). To say God does evil would be like saying a flame emits darkness. Only things that contradict God’s nature can be called evil. The person who says God is evil merely expresses their opinion based on a subjective definition of the word evil. There is simply no way to ground objective morality without a transcendent law-giver.
"Why would God give people the option to sin by placing the tree in the garden of Eden?"
The forbidden tree gave man the freedom required to do evil so God’s plan of redemption could play out. When Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, it gave Jesus the opportunity to suffer at the hands of evil men and die on the cross for our sins. God knew we would choose evil and created us anyway, so that he could save us we would praise him throughout eternity for his sacrificial love. In short, God gave us the freedom to sin because it brought him more glory than if he didn’t.
"Are natural disasters and freak accidents judgments from God?
When thinking through these issues, we must remember that death is a result of our decision to sin against God and he doesn’t owe us happy, healthy lives (Romans 5:12). We are all guilty and he is just in taking our lives whenever he chooses, wether it’s by a tsunami or at an old age in a hospital. In neither case has God done wrong. All things were created by him and for him, and he has the authority to create and take life (Colossians 1:16).
At times God has judged evil people with war and natural disasters (Habakkuk 1:6, 28:25, Isaiah 10:5-7, Amos), but it must be pointed out that judgment is not the only reason bad things happen (Luke 13:1-5, John 9:1-3). We live in a fallen world where bad things happen, and we’re simply not in a position to make assumptions about God’s motives behind allowing specific catastrophes. When Eliphaz and his friends assumed Job’s suffering was punishment from God, God rebuked them for inaccurately representing him (Job 42:7). Behind every earthly catastrophe, there are thousands of specific purposes and a ripple effect throughout history that brings about God’s will. We may not know all of God’s specific reasons behind any given tsunami, famine, or war, but Jesus did make one thing clear—tragedy should cause us to reflect on our own mortality and motivate us to repent of the evil in our own lives (Luke 13:1-5).
"How is the Biblical answer to the problem of evil supposed to help when tragedy strikes? It won’t comfort the hurricane survivor whose entire family died, or those in a war torn country without hope."
Even if we don’t find the Biblical answer to the problem of evil comforting in times of tragedy, it doesn’t make it untrue. It may be difficult for us to like the answer, but as demonstrated above, there’s nothing logically inconsistent between the existence of an all powerful, all loving God and evil in the world. It’s dangerous to accept or reject ideas based on wether we find the answer emotionally satisfying.
That said, I do think the Biblical answer offers believers comfort in the midst of even the darkest tragedy. If the God of the Bible exists, then we aren’t merely purposeless organisms being weeded out by indifferent, chaotic forces of natural selection. Rather, our lives have an ultimate purpose and a loving God is in control of everything, even when bad things happen to us. He partook in our suffering by dying on the cross to take away our sins, so he could destroy evil once and for all without destroying us. If we put our trust in Christ we will experience an eternity of love and fellowship with him that will make the worst thing that’s ever happened to us seem like nothing by comparison (2 Corinthians 4:16-17, Romans 8:18).
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
- 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
"Isn’t the best answer to the problem of evil Alvin Plantinga’s free will defense?”
Summary of the free will defense: "A world with morally free creatures (angels and humans) is more valuable than a world without. In order for us to be capable of moral good, we must be capable of moral evil. This means God can’t force us to do right or it would take away our free will. Unfortunately, some of God’s free creatures chose to do wrong, and this explains the source of moral evil. But the fact that God’s free creatures sometimes chose evil doesn’t take away from God’s omnipotence or goodness."
Christians shouldn’t use this argument because it ignores the Biblical answer to the problem of evil. First, the premise that a being must be capable of moral evil in order to be capable of moral good is false. God himself is incapable of moral evil, yet it doesn’t mean he’s incapable of moral good (1 John, James 1:13, 1:5, Titus 1:2, Malachi 3:6). Secondly, the free will defense completely misses the Biblical point of why God allowed evil. Yes, God allowed evil because it indirectly served a greater good, but that greater good isn’t human freewill; it’s God’s glory. He needed evil creatures to exercise and display his attributes of justice and grace, which bring him praise and glory (Romans 9:22-23). And finally, the freewill defense gives the false impression that we aren’t enslaved to sin. We are all sinners and even our good deeds are tainted with sinful motives (Romans 3:10-17, Isaiah 46:6). Technically we have the freedom to choose good, but apart from God’s influence we lack the motive and ability to do so. While the free will defense is appealing to some, it’s not helpful for the Christian trying to defend the God of the Bible.