Why does God allow evil and suffering? John MacArthur


I would encourage everyone who sees this to listen carefully and stop and look up all the verses that he cites in the Bible.  Work through this slowly.  I provide a lot of the outline below and intersperse my own comments also.

John MacArthur does an excellent job of showing how inadequate man made answers to the problem of the existence of suffering and evil in the world.   Larry King, the CNN interviewer for many years; told MacArthur that is the reason why he cannot believe in God, because of all the obvious evil and suffering that exists in the world, in history; therefore if God exists, then He allowed it; and Larry King cannot handle that.  That seems to be the root of all atheism and agnosticism – but it is at root an anger at God for allowing evil and suffering and pain.   MacArthur shows the inadequacy of limiting God’s sovereignty (that God cannot stop evil- Rabbi Harold Kurshner); process theology (that God is changing and just responding to events), Open Theism (those that believe God doesn’t know the future- Gregory Boyd, Clark Pinnock, John Sanders), and the “Free will argument” of Arminianism.

1.  Evil Exists in the world.

a.  Natural evil – natural disasters, microbs, viruses, tornadoes, earthquakes, Tsunamis, diseases, volcanoes, etc.

b.  Moral evil – wickedness, sin, selfishness, pride, transgression, lusts, greed, jealousy, hatred, sinful anger.  Genesis 6:5; Romans 3:9-23; Mark 7:20-23

c.  Supernatural Evil – demons and the Devil/Satan exist.

I add this:  Originally, the demons were angels – the Devil/Satan was called the anointed cherub in the garden of Eden in Ezekiel 28:13, 14, 17.  (the spirit behind the political powers like the King of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 and the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14:11-14 – the word “Lucifer” was derived from the Latin translation of the Hebrew word in verse 12 – “the shining one” or “star of the morning”)  Luke 4:5-6 shows that Satan is behind the political powers and wealth of the world.  “for it has been handed over to me.”  1 John 5:19 – “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one”.

d.  MacArthur calls hell, “the evil of hell”.    I would want to make it more clear that hell is not moral evil, but the suffering and eternality of it are so horrible . . . that seems to be reason he calls it a kind of “evil”.

I would have made more clear that Hell is God’s eternal justice against evil and Satan, and people who refuse to repent and trust Christ. (see Revelation 14:10)

2.  God exists.  The God of the Bible, the Creator, the Trinity exists and He is the God who is in charge.

God is Sovereign and God is in charge.

So many verses on God’s Sovereignty:

1 Chronicles 29:11

Lamentations 3:37-38

Psalm 115:3

Daniel 4:35

Deuteronomy 32:39

MacArthur:  “God is not trying to protect Himself from the idea that He might actually have a purpose for [allowing] evil.”

Exodus 4:11

Psalm 105:16

2 Kings 17:25

1 Samuel 2:6-8

Amos 3:6

Ephesians 1:11 – God works all things after the council of His own will

God is holy; He cannot do evil; He cannot look upon evil positively;

but He allowed evil to come into existence.

Isaiah 14:27

Isaiah 46:9-10

3.  God wills evil to exist.  God decided to allow evil to exist.

Isaiah 45:5-7 –

Isaiah 45:9 – Will the clay pot complain to the potter?

People don’t like this; so they try to come up with another explanation.

Unbiblical responses:  

God has limited power – God cannot stop evil.  (Rabbi Kurshner’s attempted solution)

Limited in His knowledge.  Process Theology; Open Theism

If God is limited in His knowledge, that makes it difficult to explain all the prophesies, especially

Psalm 22

Isaiah 53

Details of the crucifixion

The story of MacArthur’s talk with Guy Richie, Madonna’s husband, was hillarious.

Richie called John MacArthur (after he heard him on Larry King show on CNN) and they had a visit –  Guy Richie said, “You are so dogmatic . . . that you have upset the equilibrium of the universe!”

Metaphysical attempts to explain evil:

Eastern religions – Ying and Yang/Taoism/Dualisms (also:  Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism)

Westminster Confession of Faith 3:1

3:1. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass(Ephesians 1:11); yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, (James 1:13-14; 1 John 1:5; Titus 1:2), nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28)

See Also: The 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, chapter 3:1

Chapter 3: Of God’s Decree

1.  God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.
Isaiah 46:10; Ephesians 1:11; Hebrews 6:17; Romans 9:15, 18; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5; Acts 4:27, 28; John 19:11; Numbers 23:19; Ephesians 1:3-5 )

Romans 3:5 – “our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God”

Romans 10:3

Acts 2:22-23 – God sovereignly planned the atonement of the cross beforehand, and used sinners who did the sin against Jesus, for God’s own purposes and glory.  The most evil thing that people did – the killing of the innocent Son of God, God the Father planned it and predestined it.

Acts 4:27-28 – the Jewish leaders and people who followed them, and the Gentiles, and Herod, and Pontius Pilate – they did the sin; but God predestined it for His purpose.

Romans 9:20-23 – God demonstrates His mercy on vessels of mercy by allowing that evil and sinners and vessels of wrath to exist, in order to show His power and wrath (justice against sin) on vessels of wrath.  God demonstrates both His love and His justice, both mercy and wrath against sin – at the cross.

Romans 5:8 – God demonstrates His love for us in that while we yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Ultimately, we see the reason why God allowed sin and suffering was in order to show His mercy, love, and grace on vessels of mercy, and to demonstrate His justice and wrath on sin.  We would not know about His love and grace and mercy without allowing sin to take place; and we would not know about His justice and holiness and wrath against sin, without Him allowing it to come into existence.

Revelation 15:3 – 4

“Great and marvelous are Your works,
O Lord God, the Almighty;
Righteous and true are Your ways,
King of the nations!
“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy;
For all the nations will come and worship before You,
For Your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Job chapters 38-42 

When we demand that God answer us as to why He allows evil and suffering, God asks Job several chapters of questions for him to answer.  I encourage everyone who has never read the book of Job, to read slowly the whole book of Job.

Job realizes that he was wrong to demand God answer him:

Job 42:1-6

1  Then Job answered the Lord and said,

2 “I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
4 ‘Hear, now, and I will speak;
I will ask You, and You instruct me.’
5 “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
But now my eye sees You;
6 Therefore I retract,
And I repent in dust and ashes.”

“Lord, if we thought for a moment that You were not in control of evil, we would have no guarantee that evil would not appear again into heaven; and heaven would not be the heaven of Scripture, where there is no sin, and no corruption, and no death.”

About Ken Temple

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a sinner who has been saved by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:28; 4:1-16), in Christ alone (John 14:6). But a true faith does not stay alone, it should result in change, fruit, good works, and deeper levels of repentance and hatred of my own sins of selfishness and pride. I am not better than you! I still make mistakes and sin, but the Lord is working on me, conforming me to His character. (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18) When I do sin, I hate the sin as it is an affront to God, and seek His forgiveness in repentance. (Mark 1:15; 2 Corinthians 7:7-10; Colossians 3:5-16 ) Praise God for His love for sinners (Romans 5:8), shown by the voluntary coming of Christ and His freely laying down His life for us (John 10:18), becoming flesh/human (John 1:1-5; 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8), dying for sins of people from all nations, tribes, and cultures (Revelation 5:9), on the cross, in history, rising from the dead (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 28, Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; John 20-21; 1 Corinthians chapter 15). His resurrection from the dead proved that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, the word of God from eternity past; and that He was all the gospels say He was and that He is truth and the life and the way to salvation. (John 14:6)
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18 Responses to Why does God allow evil and suffering? John MacArthur

  1. Sam Shamoun says:

    Brother Ken, since Williams won’t allow for my comments maybe you can pass this on to him. In light of his recent butchering and manhandling of God’s Word: http://bloggingtheology.org/2014/01/25/muhammad-peace-be-upon-him-in-the-bible/

    I am challenging him to defend his lies and perversion in a debate on this same topic of Muhammad being prophesied in the Holy Bible. Ask him if he has the courage to defend his garbage against me in a live moderated debate. Thanks a bunch, brother.

  2. Ken Temple says:

    Ok, I left that message. Is he even willing to debate you? I have never seen him willing to debate you when you have challenged him before.

    Dr. White challenged him also; but he refused. (saying Dr. White is a “fundamentalist”, therefore he won’t debate him. But the 2 English pastors he debated before were “fundamentalists” (believe in Bible’s authority, reliability, inspiration, inerrancy, etc.) Paul Williams is indeed a coward for unwillingness to debate you two, since he already debated a couple of conservative pastors in England before. It does not make sense.

    It is very insulting and cheeky of him to claim that Isaiah 42:3 is about Muhammad, rather than who is it really about, Jesus Al Masih.

  3. Ken Temple says:

    Thanks Sam! I used some of that from Keith Thompson’s article, which was very good summary.
    Yes, they both refute them for sure.

    • Sam Shamoun says:

      BTW Ken, even going by “them” in v. 27 still doesn’t help the Muslims since the word Most High is PLURAL! The Aramaic word Elyonin literally reads HIGHEST ONES/MOST HIGHS. Therefore, the plural pronoun them need not refer to the saints, but to the Most Highs who, in context, clearly refer to the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man. In fact, note what happens when we read Daniel 7:13-14 in light of vv. 18, 21-22 and 25-27:

      “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man CAME with the clouds of heaven, and CAME to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” vv. 13-14

      “But the saints OF THE MOST HIGHS (Elyonin) shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.” v. 18

      “I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; 22 UNTIL THE ANCIENT OF DAYS CAME, and judgment was given to the saints OF THE MOST HIGHS (Elyonin); and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.” vv. 21-22

      “And he shall speak great words against THE MOST HIGH (‘illayah), and shall wear out the saints OF THE MOST HIGHS (Elyonin), and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. 26 But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. 27 And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints OF THE MOST HIGHS (Elyonin), whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. ” vv. 25-27

      Note that in v. 22 it is the coming of the Ancient of Days which results in the triumph of the saints. This corresponds to the coming of the Son of Man, and therefore shows that the coming of the Son of Man corresponds to the coming of the Ancient of Days, thereby equating the two, which further explains why Elyonin is plural since it is referring to both the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days collectively. Thus, the Son of Man doesn’t symbolize the saints, even though he represents them, but corresponds to the Ancient of Days coming to save the saints and give judgment in their favor. This explains why in Revelation 1:13-18, John depicts Jesus as the Son of Man who has the same appearance of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9-10, i.e., the Son of Man is both distinct from and identified as/equated with the Ancient of Days. This is similar to John 1:1, where the Word was with God and was God at the same time. Check that out.

      Now what makes this even more interesting is that in v. 25 Daniel uses two words for Most High, the first is the illaya which is a singular adjective, and the second being Elyonin which, as I have already noted, is plural. This shows that Daniel knew of and could have used the singular illaya or Elyon in all of these occurrences, but chose to instead use the plural for the most part. Coincidence? I think not!

  4. Sam Shamoun says:

    BTW, I just discovered that James Hamilton confirms my assessment regarding the use of the plural in his book “With the Clouds of Heaven”: https://books.google.com/books?id=cOhTBgAAQBAJ&pg=PA151&lpg=PA151&dq=the+Aramaic+for+Most+High+daniel+7:25+is+plural&source=bl&ots=TOlZFcZcL9&sig=b3k9I3WAI4NGqNq8_9hEvCVGAPY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAmoVChMI-pnpwrnqyAIVgfMeCh2VBAm4#v=onepage&q=the%20Aramaic%20for%20Most%20High%20daniel%207%3A25%20is%20plural&f=false

    Read pp. 151-153 for his evidence since this provides further evidence for our interpretation, thereby affirming the essential Deity and coequality of the Father and the Son.

  5. Jim says:

    What does John Calvin say about this?

  6. Sam Shamoun says:


    Here are the relevant parts of Hamilton’s book which I am quoting in my paper. This explains why you find “bold, capital and underline emphasis ours” in parentheses even though the emphasis doesn’t show here. Enjoy!

    “These considerations lead to a final observation about the way Daniel deploys language to communicate what he saw in this Daniel 7 vision. Caragounis (1986: 74) observes that once Daniel has seen the vision (Dan. 7:1-14), curious lacunae stand in the interpretation (7:15-28):

    Of the vision elements which are not interpreted by name, the most conspicuous are the Ancient One and the [one like a son of man] … Why is [the one like a son of man] not interpreted? Or, is he perhaps interpreted, though without being named expressly, but implicitly, by way of associations made in the text?

    “Caragounis (1986: 75) next observes that the normal Aramaic term used in Daniel to refer to God as ‘Most High’ is… ‘illaya’ (Dan. 3:26, 32; 4:14, 21, 22, 29, 31; 5:18, 21; 7:25). In contrast with this, in the phrase ‘saints of the Most High’ (7:18, 22, 25, 27), Daniel always uses the form… ‘elyonin. Gentry (2003: 73) builds on these observations from Caragounis, noting that… (‘illaya’)

    is an Aramaic adjective, definite and singular, and may be rendered the Highest One or Most High. It refers to Yahweh, the one God of Israel and is standard in the Aramaic part of the book either as a modifier of God or as a title for God … By contrast [… ‘elyonin] is an honorific plural or plural of majesty of [… ‘elyon], the Hebrew adjective for highest plus the Aramaic plural ending.

    “Daniel uses the two terms side by side in 7:25, ‘He shall speak words against the Most High [… ‘illaya’],/and shall wear out the saints of the Most High [… ‘elyonin]’, prompting Gentry (2003: 73) to ask:

    Why does the author use a Hebrew expression (with Aramaic ending) for the Most High in the Aramaic section and side by side with the expression standard in Aramaic? It seems a deliberate attempt to draw some distinction between a divine figure associated with the saints and yet perhaps distinguished from Yahweh in some way.

    “Because of the similarity of the statements in Daniel 7:14 and 7:27, we can be certain that the Most referred to with (… ‘elyonin) and associated with the saints in the phrase ‘saints of the Most High’ is the ‘one like a son of man’. Considering these two texts side by side will bring out their similarity (see table 6.2).

    “The referent of the two third-person masculine singular prnoun at the end of Daniel 7:27, ‘his kingdom … obey him’, is the Most High [… ‘elyonin]. The word ‘people’ [… ‘am] is also singular and thus could be the referent of these third-person pronouns, but for the following reasons Most High is more probably the referent. First, ‘Most High’ stands between the third singular pronouns and ‘people’, and the nearer substantive is more probably the referent. Secondly, the ‘people’ are referred to throughout the passage with the plural ‘saints’ (Dan. 7:18, 22, 25, 27), and ‘saints’ is closer to the pronoun than ‘people’. If the pronouns referred to the ‘people of the saints’, they might be plural rather than singular. Finally, the reuse of a phrase from Daniel 7:13 in 27 identifies the ‘one like a son of man’ with the ‘Most High’. Daniel 7:14 states that peoples, nations and languages will ‘serve’ the son of man, and the same Hebrew phrase is used in 7:27 (… leh yiplechun) to state that all dominions will serve the Most High. This is language used elsewhere in Daniel to refer to the kind of service one renders to what one worships (cf. the use of the verb in 3:12, 14, 17-18, 28; 6:17, 21 [MT]), and it is more probable that such service would be rendered to the Most High than to the people. Here again, Daniel used the Hebrew adjective with the Aramaic plural ending (… ‘elyonin) to refer to the ‘one like a son of man’ as Most High, distinguishing him from the Ancient of Days, for whom he used the normal Aramaic expression (… ‘illaya’) when designating him as Most High.

    “By using these distinct forms for ‘Most High’ consistently, Daniel identified BOTH the Ancient of Days AND THE ONE LIKE A SON OF MAN AS THE MOST HIGH, even as he distinguished them from one another. In this passage, Daniel communicates that the one like a son of man will be enthroned alongside the Ancient of Days, that he comes with the clouds AS YAHWEH DOES ELSEWHERE (e.g. Pss 18:10; 97:2; 104:3, etc.), that he receives service and worship – described with terms ONLY elsewhere used for describing obeisance done for deity (Gentry 3003: 72-73), and that he will receive the everlasting kingdom which shall not pass away, which is exactly how God’s kingdom is described. The Ancient of Days is described as the Most High with one term, while the one like a son of man is described with another. And the term used to describe the one like a son of man as Most High is always used in the phrase ‘saints of the Most High’, apparently because the Psalm 8:5 son of man who receives dominion over the beasts, the Psalm 110:1 Lord of David who sits enthroned at Yahweh’s right hand, will be king over the saints, their representative who is somehow both identified with and distinguished from the Ancient of Days, even as he is both a descendant of David and a divine figure.” (James M. Hamilton Jr., With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology (New Studies in Biblical Studies) [IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL 2014], pp. 151-153: https://books.google.com/books?id=cOhTBgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)

    Hamilton’s concluding remarks are most pertinent to our discussion, and we therefore cite them in full:

    “In this chapter I have argued that none of the other heavenly beings in Daniel can be confidently identified with the ‘one like a son of man’ in 7:13. Apart from such an identification, it is difficult to imagine Daniel intending his audience to understand that the figure he saw in that heavenly throne room scene in chapter 7 was the same figure who delivered his friends in the fiery furnace in chapter 3 or who appeared to him in chapter 10. Having examined the way that Daniel describes these other heavenly beings, the remarkable features of Daniel 7 present a figure both human and divine, identified with and distinguished from the Ancient of Days, who represents the saints as their king.

    “In Daniel 7, Daniel recounts his vision of the way that the Ancient of Days will be enthroned once the four kingdoms have enjoyed their appointed time and season, a vision of the way that the Davidic king will defeat the little horn from the fourth kingdom and receive the everlasting kingdom with his saints (7:21-27). The one like a son of man is called Most High by using a different expression from the one used to designate the Ancient of Days as Most High. He is clearly the Davidic king, and he is clearly a participant in the heavenly scene, traveling as Yahweh does, on the clouds of heaven.

    “This does not demand that Daniel understood the Trinity as that doctrine progressively came to be revealed. Everyone was surprised when Jesus began to exercise divine prerogatives. What Daniel saw and described, however, fits perfectly with what would later be revealed with greater clarity. The New Testament even speaks of Jesus as begotten of the Father (1 John 5:18; cf. John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9; cf. John 5:26), another concept that fits well with there being an Ancient of Days and ‘one like a son of man’ (cf. Caragounis 1986).” (Ibid., pp. 153-154; bold and underline emphasis ours)

  7. Ken Temple says:

    All excellent material! Thanks Sam!

  8. θ says:

    There are some fundamental questions on the limitation of knowledge of future in Bible’s God, his unexpected reaction of the unexpected action of the evil men,
    Before showing a suicidal mentality (by offering the son), the Bible shows an exaggerated remorse of God, that he could have wished, as it were, that he had never made humans at the first place, since they are later found “so surprisingly” to be bad.
    Gen 6
    6. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
    Gen 1
    31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

    In reality, the evilness keeps striving, evolving, growing after the time of Noah, even keeps unchanging after the death of hi son. Nothing in the men’s heart changes dramatically after the events.

    The Bible depicts the Bible’s Deity lower than a human potter. A human potter, before beginning to form a vessel, certainly planned a “good” design, from many aspects that please him, and he certainly makes his pottery with a good effort.
    Now, it is so weird if suddenly he “found” himself unhappy of having an unpleasant pottery.
    It is strange if suddenly he found himself to get forced by his regret for having a good design and a good effort, but he can’t foresee a fatal flaw on a pottery he has made it.
    It is unbelievable if suddenly he takes it and breaks his pottery in pieces because of a bitter fact that he is ignorant and can’t fulfill his own design.
    It would be questionable if he can’t anticipate an error in his good design before preceding to make a pottery, let alone to show aversion of it later.
    It would be bizarre then if he resolves within himself to destroy his pottery.

    The Bible’s God can’t foresee the flaw in the heart of men?
    Gen 6
    5 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
    Gen 6
    8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

  9. θ says:

    The Bible’s God now has two surprising remorse: having a suffering son and a still flawed heart of men just as before.

  10. θ says:

    Is God the One that is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect? Yes, but so far He is so toward angels of heaven only. God preserves angels from evil temptation, from death, and from physical suffering.
    Toward the humans on the earth God still imposes some trials of life.

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