8 Tough Questions Kids Ask About Evil and Suffering…and the Answers You Wish You Had When They Asked

8 Tough Questions Kids Ask About Evil and Suffering...and the Answers You Wish You Had When They Asked

In my own experience and in talking with other parents, questions from kids about the evil and suffering in our world are often the most difficult to answer. Some of these questions can leave us squirming to find the right words…and wondering if we just said something that is biblical at all! If you relate to that, you’re going to love today’s post.

Let me introduce you to Dr. Clay Jones, a Biola University apologetics professor who just had a book come out called Why Does God Allow Evil? Compelling Answers for Life’s Toughest Questions. I asked Dr. Jones if he would be willing to answer eight tough questions that kids often ask on this subject. He graciously agreed and provided his answers below.

Before you dig in, I just want to say that this is an excellent book. I had the honor of endorsing it, so I’ll share what I said: “It’s hard to imagine there could be a new much-needed book on the problem of evil when so much has already been written, but that’s what this is. Clay strikes a rare balance of theological depth and accessibility on this difficult subject, making it an ideal resource for anyone seeking to better understand how evil and suffering can co-exist with a perfectly good and loving God. He answers questions you’ve always had, questions you’re embarrassed to ask, and questions you didn’t think to ask but should have…all in an engaging style that makes you not want to put it down.”

So, if this is a subject you need to better understand (who doesn’t?), I highly recommend this book!

Many thanks to Dr. Jones for taking the time to answer the following questions.

 

8 Tough Questions Kids Ask About Evil and Suffering

 

1. The first chapter in your book is called, “Why do we suffer for Adam’s sin?” That’s a question many kids ask, including my own on multiple occasions. For many kids, it’s a question of fairness…”It’s not fair that Adam sinned and now we live with the consequences!” How should parents answer that (admittedly big) question?

Just about every time someone disobeys God, someone else gets hurt. If a child steals from another child, that child gets hurt. It’s not fair, but that’s the way sin works. It hurts people unfairly.

It’s the same way with all parents and children. Every parent in this world makes decisions every day that help or hurt their children. Sometimes parents cause accidents that hurt their children and even their children’s children. Sometimes parents make poor financial decisions that might cause their family to be poor and that might hurt their kids, their grandkids, and their great-grandkids. Sadly, children often suffer for their parents’ sins. In the same way we are all suffering because of the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve.

Adam and Eve are our great-great-great…grandparents, and their decision affected everyone who has been born since. God told Adam and Eve to rule the world. But Satan told them God lied when he said eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would cause them to die. When they believed Satan over God, they sinned and that had consequences. Their rebellion against God separated them from God, and it is only by having proper relationship with God that one can live forever.

Adam and Eve disobeyed their heavenly Father because they didn’t believe His rules were best for them. Good parents make rules for their children that are for their children’s good. Children who disobey their parents’ honorable rules are doing just what Adam and Eve did, which caused so much suffering.

The things that happened because of Adam and Eve’s sin are horrible, but there’s a huge lesson: if you want your life to go well, read the Bible and do what it says. The Father makes rules because He loves us and disobeying Him will always hurt us.

 

2. A related question kids often ask is, “Why did God put the tree in the garden if He knew Adam and Eve would sin?” How would you respond?

God didn’t want to create androids (human-like robots) that would only do what He programmed them to do. Androids can be programmed to say “I love you,” but they can’t really love. The Father wanted people to be able to really love, so He gave Adam and Eve free will. Free will is the ability to obey or to disobey God (or parents).

Children have free will, which means they can choose to be kind or cruel to other children. They can choose to share or be selfish. Parents try to teach their children to be kind and unselfish, but children don’t always obey. When they don’t, they hurt others. Because children have free will, sooner or later they will wrongly hurt someone. When they see that they’ve hurt someone, they can choose to continue to be unloving or they can say they’re sorry and choose to change.

Children usually obey their parents when their parents are watching them. But parents know what their children are really like by how they act when their parents aren’t there and no one is making them do what’s right. Parents hope that when their children do wrong, they will learn from their mistakes and choose to do right in the future.

All good parents give their children increasing opportunities where the child can choose to do right or wrong. For example, there comes a time when parents allow their children to drive a car even though they know their children might drive in ways that might hurt themselves or others. As children grow older, they get to freely choose whether or not they are going to obey their parents and God.

That’s the way it was with Adam and Eve. God had the big picture of all people in mind when He created the earth and placed Adam and Eve on it. He wanted lots of people who freely chose to love Him to be with Him forever. But He also knew that people with free will would all eventually use it wrongly. Thankfully the Lord had a big plan that would rescue those who used their free will wrongly and wanted to change and use it rightly.

So He created Adam and Eve. God knew that sooner or later they would disobey Him. He gave them the opportunity to do that by giving them just one command and sometimes leaving them alone. When they disobeyed, He assured Eve that she would have a Child who would turn around the damage that Satan did on earth by deceiving her.

When there were more people on the earth, the Lord gave more commands that taught people how to love each other and Him. God knew that many people would live for themselves and disobey His commands. But He knew that others would learn the folly of disobeying Him. They would learn that His rules are for their best interest.

Sadly, Adam and Eve didn’t believe God that their disobedience would cause them to die. But it did. And the only kind of children they could have were children who had bodies like their own that would die—this is the bad news.

But, there is Good News. Although God knew that sooner or later Adam and Eve would disobey Him and bring on suffering and death to themselves and their children, God also planned to send His Child, Jesus, to pay the price for human sinfulness and make it possible for everyone to come back to Him through Jesus’ death on the cross. Now everyone who trusts Jesus will get eternal life and eternal life will make our suffering here seem tiny.

 

3. Perhaps the most common reason kids begin to ask questions about evil and suffering is that they experience the death of a friend or loved one. There are a few related questions that often arise. Let’s start with sudden, unexpected deaths, such as in a car accident. Kids will ask, “Why didn’t God prevent that from happening?” What would you tell them?

All people die. If people didn’t die, then those who choose to do really bad things, like torture other people, would hurt others forever. If the people they tortured didn’t die, they would suffer forever.

Initially, people lived very long lives—hundreds of years long. But the violence got so bad that God said He was going to shorten people’s lives on earth (Gen. 6:3). That did two things. First, it limited the amount of evil any one person could do. Second, it limited the amount of suffering any one person could endure.

So everyone dies. We will all die of murder, accident, or disease. It’s just a matter of when. Sometimes it’s when someone is young, and sometimes it’s when someone is old.

One reason God allows people to die from accidents is to teach other people to be responsible: to make cars safe and to drive safely, for instance. We don’t know how often God does intervene and prevent people from dying (Psa. 71:15). But other times God allows accidents so people will learn not to do unsafe things, like texting while driving.

 

4. Similarly, kids sometimes know someone who is ill and they pray fervently for healing, but the person dies. What do you say to the child who asks, “Why didn’t God answer my prayers?”

Everyone is going to die. There are no exceptions! That is a part of our suffering here on this earth and this helps us long for Heaven, our true home. Since God has appointed that everyone should die (Heb. 9:27), as a general rule, it isn’t God’s plan to keep everyone alive. Now, sometimes in response to prayer, the Lord may heal a person, but often the Lord has decided that it is that man’s or woman’s time to go. Remember also, that if people die knowing Jesus, they go to a much better place. As it says in Isaiah 57:1, “The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.” In other words, God often lets people die because He is doing them a favor by sparing them from more suffering in this life! This is also true for children. Those who die young will be better off than if they had lived a long time on this earth because Heaven is a better place to be. In heaven there will be no death or mourning (Rev. 21:4).

 

5. My daughter once saw a billboard for a Children’s Cancer Hospital and asked why God lets kids die. In other words, why doesn’t He at least let everyone live to a certain age?

Questions like why didn’t God prevent a particular child from being hurt or killed in an accident involve several different issues.

First, parents should ask their child whether God should ever let any child die in an accident. My experience is that everyone will reply No, God should never let any child, ever, die in an accident. Then ask how God would keep that from happening. In other words, how would God keep all children safe from accidents, at all times, unless God were to create a cartoon world? For example, Wile E. Coyote, while chasing the Road Runner, falls off cliffs, has giant boulders fall on him, is blown up by dynamite, and so on…but a few moments later Wile E. is fine. But that’s not a real world—that’s a cartoon world! In a real world natural laws must work in regular ways if our actions are going to mean anything at all.

Second, by allowing children to be injured or die, God is teaching parents and children that they aren’t safe from harm and so they need to be careful. If it was never ever in our experience that children were injured or killed, that would drastically change child raising. You could let your seven-year-old go free climbing, tease rattlesnakes, or play marbles in the freeway—they’d just bounce around a lot—because children would never get hurt. But if God is to teach us cause and effect, if God is going to teach us to be responsible, then He cannot allow us to live in a cartoon world.

Third, although no Scripture unequivocally assures us that children will be saved, there is Scripture which suggests that children will be saved. A majority of Christian theologians agree that children who die before the age of accountability (they differ on when that might be) will be saved. Children who die then end up in a better place even if their parents and friends miss them. But we will all be reunited in Heaven!

Finally, if, say, God didn’t let a child die until twelve years old, would we not question God’s fairness for letting a child die at thirteen, etc.? Is there really any age that wouldn’t upset us when one of our children died?

I cannot emphasize too much that Christian parents need to look to eternity, and begin to teach their kids to look to eternity, where, as it says in Revelation 21:4, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” That’s the Christian hope and we should not put our hope in this world.

 

6. Now let’s tackle some common questions about heaven and hell. First, if heaven is going to be so wonderful and perfect, why did God choose to create this world with evil and suffering first? Why not just create heaven instead?

If God is going to give us free will in heaven where we won’t sin, then God needed to first let us live in a world where we learn the horror of sin, and that’s exactly what we’re learning here. We are learning that sin is stupid. How many teenagers think their parents are unfair or unwise in the rules they set down? But most children learn, as they mature, that, at least on many points, their parents were right. All of us humans are learning here that sin is stupid and that prepares us to inherit God’s Kingdom where we can do what we want to do without sin. Of course there’s much more to say about this and in my book I give seven reasons why we will be able to have free will in Heaven but not sin. The major one is what I stated here: without learning the horror of rebellion against God here on earth, we could not have free will in heaven and not sin. This is where we learn that sin is stupid and that our Heavenly Father is right.

 

7. Even when parents explain that God is just and therefore there must be consequences for sin, many kids still think God must be “mean” for creating hell. How would you address that concern?

This is the hardest question of all and I devote an entire chapter to it in my book. God originally created hell for the angels who rebelled against him, including Satan. He didn’t create it for people. God created earth for people to rule. But when Satan tricked Eve into disobeying God, Satan became the ruler of the earth. People who decide they do not want God to rule over them can’t go to heaven where God rules. That would bring suffering to heaven. Instead, they go to be with Satan and the other rebellious angels.

In short, I agree with many, if not most Christians, that there is a sense in which the gates of hell are locked from the inside. In other words, those in Hell won’t want to be with God. I use the following illustration in my book:

After enduring five miscarriages, my wife and I took in foster children. These kids, prior to their living in our home, led police-blotter lives—they were abused, sexually molested, criminally neglected, and living in one ramshackle hotel or county group home after another. After a couple years in our home and much to our surprise, one girl ran away and returned to her former squalor. About a year later she called, sad because she knew, in her words, that she had ruined her childhood. My wife Jean E. asked her why she had run away. She replied, “Because you wouldn’t let me have a boyfriend.” She was 12! She had left because she didn’t want to live under our rules. We even gave her the opportunity to return but, again, she would rather live on the street, in poverty, without dental or medical care, than have to follow our rules.

In the same way, the occupants of hell will not want to live in God’s kingdom so God gives them what they want—a place of separation from Him.

 

8. Sometimes when parents tell kids that they can look forward to an eternity beyond evil and suffering, kids respond that heaven sounds boring or that they don’t even WANT to live forever. What would you tell them?

The only reason kids wouldn’t want to live forever is precisely because heaven sounds boring. What Satan has done to make Heaven look like a place no one would want to be, I kiddingly call Extreme Makeover: Metaphysical Edition. Heaven is portrayed as a bunch of angels sporting flightless wings, sitting on clouds, and strumming harps. No wonder that one college student fought back tears as she admitted to me that she was afraid she didn’t want to go to heaven. If heaven was like what is commonly portrayed by the media, I wouldn’t either! Who wants to be a cloud potato?

How heaven relates to our suffering here is so important that I have three chapters on it in my book and one of the chapters is dedicated to answering whether heaven will be boring.

Let me briefly correct the misconceptions.

  • First, heaven isn’t all white; if anything, it is jewel toned (Rev. 4:3-6, 21:9-21).
  • Second, we won’t have wings; we’ll have bodies like Jesus’ glorified body, which could enter locked rooms yet still be hugged and eat.
  • Third, we won’t all be strangers as if God lobotomized us; we’ll know and enjoy each other (Mat. 25:8, Num. 31:1-2, Mat. 8:11).
  • Fourth, heaven won’t be full of prudes; rather, heaven will be full of prostitutes like Rahab, murderers like Moses, adulterers like David—but they will all be repentant! Hell will be for the unrepentant murderers, Pharisees, and haters.
  • Fifth, Heaven won’t just have angels; heaven will have exotic creatures. One example: “And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within” (Rev. 4:6-8).
  • Sixth, we won’t just be singing; rather, our eternal occupation will be reigning with Christ over the Kingdom forever (Rev. 22:5). In other words, the Lord is putting us in charge.
  • Seventh, rather than just staring at God forever, as is commonly portrayed, Scripture most often compares heaven to a party where we will eat and drink and enjoy the Father and each other forever and ever (Isa. 25:6, Mk. 14:25, Rev.19:9). What’s not to like?

 


Clay JonesClay Jones (DMin) is an associate professor of Christian apologetics at Biola University and the chairman of the board for Ratio Christi, an international university apologetics ministry. Previously he hosted the nationally syndicated talk radio program Contend for Truth and served on the pastoral staff of two large churches. Clay and his wife, Jean E., live in Southern California.

 

7 Comments

  1. Jana on August 24, 2017 at 11:46 PM

    Thank you for this post Natasha he gave very good answers, and his book is definitely worth getting a hold of. Do you think that this book can also be given to an Atheist to read?



    • Clay Jones on September 18, 2017 at 10:12 AM

      I don’t think it is best for the atheist, Jana, because I wrote it for the Christian and I talk about the wonders of heaven too much.



      • Jana on September 18, 2017 at 10:45 AM

        Hi there Clay thank you for your reply. I did grab a hold of your book in the meantime and I realized that it will not work to give the book to an atheist. Your book provided me with answers to give though, it was easy to read and understand and I am more homesick for heaven than I have ever been before. I just want to say great book!



  2. […] 8 Tough Questions Kids Ask About Evil and Suffering…and the Answers You Wish You Had When They Ask… by Natasha Crain […]



  3. Jason Dulle on September 6, 2017 at 10:29 PM

    What about babies? If the reason God couldn’t create us originally in a heavenly state is because we would use our freedom to choose evil even in such a state, and so He created us in an earthly state where we could learn that choosing evil is a horrible choice and be inoculated against doing so again in the heavenly state, then what about aborted babies? They never (consciously) experienced the horrors of evil in this life. Since they were not inoculated against evil through experience, couldn’t they choose evil in the heavenly state?

    If we say they will still not choose evil in the heavenly state because they will be glorified and in the beatific presence of God, then isn’t that an admission that 1) this earthly state was not necessary to ensure that people wouldn’t choose evil in a heavenly state or 2) that God could have ensured we would not have chosen evil simply by creating us in a heavenly state in which we were glorified and in his beatific presence?



    • Clay Jones on September 18, 2017 at 9:47 AM

      Hi Jason,

      My short answer is that aborted babies will be present at the Judgment and that will be an amazing education on the stupidity of sin. Here’s what I wrote in my book about the Judgment.

      What we didn’t learn about the horror of sin in this life will be declared to everyone at the Judgment. Every evil intent and rank rebellion, even those cloaked with goodness, will be exposed for exactly what it is to all the redeemed and angels. They will all be unmistakable because the Judgment will reveal them for what they really are.

      Let’s review what we are told will happen at the Judgment. Paul wrote in Romans 14:10 that “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” He also said in 2 Corinthians 5:10 that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

      In 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, we learn that Christians will judge men and angels, so it isn’t as if we won’t have to attend the judgment of other beings, whether angelic or human. We’ll not only be attending, we’ll be participating in the entire Judgment. And what information will come out at the Judgment? Everything. Jesus said in Matthew 12:36 that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” Not only will intentionally hurtful words be judged, but even careless words.

      And it isn’t just the things that are public knowledge that will be judged. Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 12:14 that “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Paul wrote in Romans 2:16 that “God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” In 1 Corinthians 4:5, Paul said that when the Lord comes He “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” So even our motives will be judged. In Hebrews 4:13 we learn that “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

      In Revelation 20:11-15, John provides a sobering picture of the Judgment:
      I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

      Imagine not only seeing every evil deed ever done, but every evil intention whether accomplished or not. Imagine as well the revelation of good deeds done with evil motives.

      This is all going to take a long time, and that fact is often absent from this discussion. I’ve never seen anyone attempt to estimate how long it will take to judge an individual human or angel’s every thought and deed. Obviously, I don’t know. But I’m going to throw out a number that I think is probably way too low: ten minutes. I don’t see how it would take only ten minutes to examine and then pronounce judgment on a human’s or angel’s sin, but there’s a point I want to make, so I’ll go with ten minutes.

      So we multiply ten minutes by however many beings will be judged. By 2012, it was estimated that the world’s population had reached seven billion. Although there are more recent estimates, let’s stick with seven billion because it is a nice, round number. Seven billion persons times ten minutes a person is 70 billion minutes, or 133,090 years! Wow, right?

      Again, I don’t know how long each judgment will take, but ten minutes seems like a bare minimum to expose every thought and deed and to pronounce judgment—bringing us, at minimum, to 133,090 years.

      Now, estimates vary on how many humans have ever lived who are not presently alive, but let’s make it another seven billion (that number is probably too low, but again, I’m just trying to make a point). That would give us another 133,090 years, for a total of 266,180 years. Of course, this doesn’t include angels, and I’m not even going to try to guess at how many of them there are (it will probably take a lot longer to judge angels, as they will have lived much longer than humans), but that makes the grand total even more immense. Even a small child who dies but is present at the Judgment will know an awful lot about the stupidity of sin after 266,180+ years of Judgment!

      A student last summer got mad that I would even suggest a number because I didn’t know how long it would actually take. But that’s not the point. The point is, no matter what numbers you use time-wise, ultimately, the Judgment is going take a long time. If this sounds daunting—and it certainly sounds daunting to me—then remember that we won’t suffer fatigue, and the Judgment represents the culmination of all things. And because we’re actually participating in the Judgment (1 Corinthians 6:2-3), I don’t see how anything that would supposedly be accomplished in purgatory couldn’t be accomplished then.

      ​Aborted babies will get quite an education about the horror of sin at the Judgment! In fact, they will probably witness the judgment of those who murdered them!



  4. Jason Dulle on September 29, 2017 at 12:12 AM

    Thank you for the reply Mr. Jones. I think this is a good explanation for how babies might be inoculated against sinning in heaven despite the fact that they never consciously experienced sin prior to the resurrection. But if all it takes to inoculate us against using our free will to sin against God is to see God’s judgment on the sin of others, then again, our present world of sin and suffering seems unnecessary. Let me explain.

    Rather than waiting to judge angels at the end of time, God could have chosen to judge them immediately after the creation of human beings. As you noted, there’s a lot of angels to judge and a lot to judge them for, and this would be quite an education for us newly created human beings who had never experienced or chosen evil. If witnessing God’s judgment would inoculate aborted babies against sin after the resurrection, why wouldn’t it also work for newly created human adults at the beginning of creation as well? Witnessing the severe judgment of God on sin, coupled with our glorified state, would be sufficient to inoculate us against sin. There was no need for us to choose sin in this life to prevent us from choosing sin in the next.

    You might respond, “God’s judgment of the angels after the creation of Adam and Eve may be enough to dissuade them from choosing evil, but their children could still choose evil since they were not present to witness the angelic judgment.” Sure enough, but there is no reason to think God needed to limit Himself to two humans in the beginning. He could just as well have created a world full of glorified humans from the very beginning and dispensed with sexual reproduction for the propagation of our kind (just like God will do in the final state of human existence).

    You might respond that all of this is mere speculation, and God may have His reasons for choosing not to do things this way. I would agree that it’s speculation, but counterfactuals are a way philosophers test ideas like the one you put forward. And it seems to me that the counterfactual scenario I outlined above would obviate the need for humans to ever commit/experience evil and suffering. It shows that this world is not necessary to achieve the next world. The next world could have been achieved from the beginning, using the same methods you argue that God will use to achieve the next world. So why didn’t God do so, then? We are left trying to explain why God would create a world in which humans would choose evil and experience great suffering when such was not necessary to achieve a world of righteous human beings. Perhaps our only recourse is to abandon the humans-must-choose-evil-now-to-avoid-choosing-evil-in-the-next-life and just affirm that God must have morally sufficient reasons for allowing us to choose/experience evil and suffering first. I’m willing to trust in God regarding this, but it will be a hard pill to swallow for many non-believers. Thoughts?