If God is just, then why is there so much evil in the world? The question is often asked as a challenge to the authority or reality of God. It is often asked in skepticism of what someone says about the God of the Bible. The line of argument suggests that since there is evil in the world, then either God must be unjust or not exist at all. But the Bible tells us not only that God exists and that He is indeed just, but it also tells us why there is injustice and evil in the world. God is just. God will always act in a just way. But God is also merciful and long-suffering. He often does not immediately punish sin, but that does not mean that He condones sin or that He will overlook sin. But if God is going to be merciful, then there will be injustice in the world, because people are often unjust. If God is merciful, then there will be injustice by people. Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” Because God does not always immediately (speedily) punish an evil work, the hearts of people are fully set to do evil. The Bible makes clear that we have a sin nature, and given the option, we will often reject God in favor of sin. That does not mean that a person does everything wrong that he possibly could, nor does it mean that a person is completely incapable of doing something that seems right. But it is in our nature to turn from God and do the wrong thing. Because God is merciful, He does not always punish sin immediately. But because He does not always punish sin immediately, the hearts of people are set to do evil. So if God is merciful, then there will be injustice by people.
We as people often speak of desiring justice and fairness, but we often have a different idea of what is “fair.” In reality, most of us do not have a good idea of what is truly just and fair, and our ideas of “fairness” are often tilted in our favor. As Calvin once said after hearing that the world isn’t fair (not John Calvin, but Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes), “I know, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?” If we evaluate ourselves honestly, we will find that we often have this attitude, whether we would voice it in those words or not. When someone does something wrong against us, then we want justice. We want them to be punished for it, and if we do not see punishment soon, then we think God is unfair for allowing evil. But when we are the ones doing something wrong against another, then we want mercy, and the thought of God punishing sin as it truly deserves seems repulsive. Part of the reason that we struggle with God’s justice is that we have a skewed view of what justice even is. This is why God’s justice is often challenged from two directions. On one hand, when someone looks at evil in the world, he may say, “If God was just, then He would not allow this evil in the world.” But at the same time, when that same person looks at the account of the Flood in Genesis or the punishment of the nations of Canaan in Joshua, he will say, “If God was just, then why would He command all those people to be killed?” But we cannot have it both ways. We cannot say God is unjust when He permits evil for a time out of His mercy, and then also say that He is unjust when He punishes evil. Throughout most of the Bible (and history), God has been very merciful by not punishing sin immediately. Even the accounts of the Flood and conquest of Canaan show God’s mercy, as God announced the Flood 120 years before it happened, and God told Abraham that his family would be in Egypt for 400 years before God punished Canaan. But when it comes back to it, our view of justice and fairness is skewed, because we are looking at justice from our perspective with a sin nature.
Ultimately, God is just. All sin and evil in the world will be punished, as is just. Often we may hear it said, “Well, as long as my good outweighs my bad, God will let me be all right.” The idea is of a scale on which our “good” is placed on one side and our “bad” is placed on the other side. As long as the scale is tilted in favor of the good, then we will be all right. That is what many hope for from God. But that is not what God says is just, and that actually is not even what we often say is just. If someone gets pulled over for speeding, he cannot say, “But officer, I have traveled this road within the speed limit 100 times, and this is the only time I have sped. My good outweighs my bad, so I should not receive a ticket.” This will not prevent us from getting a ticket. When we have broken the law, it does not matter how many other times we kept it. We still face the consequences of breaking the law. Our idea of justice is often skewed, and even the justice system in a country can be skewed. But this is one area where it is correct. When we have broken a law, it does not matter how many other times we kept the law; we still face the consequences of breaking it. The same is true of God’s law. It does not matter how many times we have kept the law; if we broke God’s law, then we still face the consequences of breaking it, and God is just in punishing that sin. So all sin and evil in the world will be punished. The question for us is whether we will bear the punishment of our sin ourselves for eternity or whether we will accept God’s gift of salvation, recognizing that Christ bore the consequences of our sin in our place.
Ecclesiastes 8:12-13 concludes, “Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.” Solomon concludes that even if someone does evil a hundred times and is not immediately punished, it is better for those who fear God. The wicked who do not turn to God in repentance will be punished for their sin, even after God shows them a long time of mercy and opportunity to repent. But the one who fears God, the one who recognizes the consequences of his actions and turns to God for mercy, that one will receive God’s mercy when he places his faith in Christ alone for salvation from his sin. It will be well with them that fear God. God is just, and He will punish sin. But God is also merciful. But if God is merciful, then there will be injustice by people. When we see the evil and injustice in the world, we are reminded that we live in a fallen world that needs a Savior. But praise God that He did provide a Savior. Even as all sin will be punished, we have the opportunity to receive salvation from sin as Christ bears our punishment for us.