Evil, Teens, and God

“I was raped by a man when I was 12,” a young man once told me.  A youth leader that I worked with, was sexually abused by her father for 8 years before she ran away at 13. Thousands of boys and girls are forced into prostitution each week. …Evil… sick, devastating wickedness is everywhere.

No wonder some teens and young adults have trouble believing that God exists. –Or, if He does exist, that He cares about us. There’s no easy explanation for the suffering in our world, but as I work with teens and young adults, I am learning how to respond. Here is a way to approach the question of evil which seems to work with teens and young adults…

 1. Start with the Heart.

No one that I have talked to about God and the existence of evil comes at this without some sort of personal pain. Often their real question is, “Why has God allowed suffering to come into my life?” It is so important that you hear their story before you go all “apologetic” on them.

Most people want an answer for their pain, for their unanswered cries to God, and their anger over His apparent neglect. Hear them out. Provide a non-judgmental listening space. And don’t be too quick to defend God’s honor or explain His reasons for allowing suffering to enter their world until they are ready to hear.

 2. Satisfy the Mind

Maybe, after you have shared in their suffering, they will still want some objective truth to satisfy the mind. If God is good and all powerful, why doesn’t He stop cruelty and evil?. The post modern critique is: “How can an all-seeing God stand idly by and watch rape, torture, terrorism, abuse, war, natural disasters and murder happen without stopping them?

The correct philosophical answer that has shut down all skeptics’ arguments since the 1970’s was proposed by Alvin Plantinga, professor at Notre Dame, in God Evil and Free will.   (You can watch him explain this on YouTube.)

What Plantinga has proved is that God’s choice to create free moral beings forces Him to allow them to make free choices that He may  not approve of. But Why? That is the harder question:

  • One reason he allows free choice  is so that when we choose Him instead of evil, it is not forced but genuine love.
  • Another reason is that if God did away with all evil, it would require a world wide flood (ask Noah!) None of us would escape punishment. None of us is completely innocent.
  • Lastly, despite all of the evil, God allows it for the greater good, that none of us can see yet but we will at the end of time.

 3. Tell the Truth about the Cross and Judgement

A. Show that he took the Punishment for allowing Evil.

For me, the most convincing answer is that God has taken, once and for all time, the responsibility for allowing evil in the universe upon himself. On the cross, the God-Man, Jesus, was tortured to death as the answer to all evil and suffering in the universe. In that act, God took all the blame for giving humanity free will.

 B. Explain that there is a Day where all Evil will be Judged

We don’t like the fact that God allows evil. But let’s be clear, God hates all evil acts. Evil doers will be punished. In our lifetime it doesn’t seem fair that people appear to get away with torture, destruction, and yes, even murder. We need to explain that God is not only a God of patience, mercy, love and compassion. He is also a God of justice. However, justice may not be served on our time table.  Still, we will all have to answer to God for our actions.

 The Bottom Line

We need to share that God cares so much about suffering and evil that He was tortured for it. Even with this, most people will always feel pain and confusion when they consider the extent of heinous acts inflicted on the “innocent” in this world. If we can hear their story and enter into their pain, there is more chance they will come to trust that God is good. Eventually they may even trust that He had sufficient reasons that we would never understand, and that He will bring judgement to deal with evil once and for all.

This is my response, but how do you deal with this question with people who you are talking to? I’d love to hear it.  –Ron.

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Ron Powell

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Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for taking time to write about this Ron! We just got done with a series tackling some of those tough questions. Its hard for teenagers to fully wrap their minds around this questions because like you said it usually stems from personal pain. We are always telling our volunteers to earn the right to speak into students lives… this gives them the opportunity to share to an open, objective student more often than not! Thanks again Ron… good stuff!

  2. Thanks so much Kent. It is great that you were brave enough to address the hard questions that a lot of people shy away from. From the emails that I am getting this morning I am realizing that it is not just teens that are working their way through these issues! — I really appreciate the feedback, Kent!

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