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Basic Bible Teachings

3.1  |  Why Do Suffering and Evil Exist? Lesson 3.1  |  Why Do Suffering and Evil Exist?

Lesson 3.1

Why Do Suffering and Evil Exist?

When you complete this lesson, you’ll be able to explain from the Bible why suffering and evil exist and why a loving and almighty God has allowed suffering and evil to continue until now.

Begin Lesson

In this lesson, we’ll answer two important questions:

  1. Where do suffering and evil come from?
  2. Why has God allowed suffering and evil until now?

In the next two lessons, we’ll examine what God will do about suffering and evil.

1. Where do suffering and evil come from?

In the previous lesson, you learned from the Bible that the first humans, Adam and Eve, chose to disobey God and join Satan’s rebellion. In this lesson, you’ll learn that by doing this they brought on themselves and their children two root causes of suffering and evil:

  • Sin
  • Bad rulership

This video clip explains how sin entered the world of mankind.

To understand how suffering and evil began, we need to look into the Bible’s account of the first sin. On this page and the next, we’ll examine the first book of the Bible to get the details. Click the highlighted words for an explanation. [?]

Genesis 3:​1-3

“Now the serpent was the most cautious of all the wild animals of the field that Jehovah God had made. So it said to the woman: ‘Did God really say that you must not eat from every tree of the garden?’ At this the woman said to the serpent: ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden. But God has said about the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden: “You must not eat from it, no, you must not touch it; otherwise you will die.”’”

The serpent was not speaking to Eve on its own but was being used by Satan as a puppet. For this reason, the Bible calls Satan “the original serpent.”​—Revelation 12:9; 20:2.

God’s simple command not to eat from this one tree provided an opportunity for Adam and Eve to show their loyalty to Him. This tree, called “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad,” was a symbol of God’s authority to set the standard of what is good and what is bad.​—Genesis 2:​16, 17.

How did Satan respond? Let’s examine more of the Bible’s account. [?]

Genesis 3:​4-6

“At this the serpent said to the woman: ‘You certainly will not die. For God knows that in the very day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and bad.’ Consequently, the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was something desirable to the eyes, yes, the tree was pleasing to look at. So she began taking of its fruit and eating it. Afterward, she also gave some to her husband when he was with her, and he began eating it.”

Through the serpent, Satan told the first lie, making him “the father of the lie.” (John 8:​44) He must have known that Eve would die, just as God had stated.

Satan here offered Eve the prospect of making her own rules. He suggested that she could decide for herself what is good and what is bad. He thus implied that she would enjoy life more fully without her heavenly Father’s rules and His rulership.

By disobeying Jehovah God, Adam and Eve sinned and rejected Jehovah as their Father. They also refused to acknowledge his right to decide what is good and what is bad.

When Adam and Eve broke God’s law, they not only sinned but also joined Satan’s rebellion against God. That rebellion was the start of bad rulership and has led to evil and great suffering. Click the arrows on the picture to compare the effects of Jehovah’s good rulership with those of bad rulership independent of God. [?]

The Bible says that God created Adam “out of dust from the ground.” (Genesis 2:7) Read God’s statement to Adam found at Genesis 3:​19, and then answer this question: What eventually happened to Adam after he disobeyed God?

Many have been taught that those who disobey God are punished in a burning hell. However, God told Adam that he would die if he sinned, not that he would burn in hell. Would it have been fair for God to give Adam a punishment He had not first warned him about? (Genesis 2:​17) The teaching of hellfire is contrary to Jehovah God’s qualities of love and justice.—Deuteronomy 32:4; 1 John 4:8.

That’s right. Just as God had stated would happen, when Adam died he ceased to exist. Before God created Adam, Adam did not exist. Likewise, after Adam died and returned to the dust, he no longer existed. Check out the links at the end of this lesson for more on the condition of the dead.

Some believe that Adam was carrying out God’s plan when he ate the forbidden fruit and that he was ultimately blessed with eternal life. But the Bible shows that Adam was following his own selfish desires, not doing God’s will. That is why God was so displeased with Adam.​—Genesis 3:​17-​19.

How does Adam’s sin affect us? The Bible says: “Through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world and death through sin.” (Romans 5:​12) Just as a stain on a master document will cause all photocopies of it to be flawed, Adam’s sin caused all his descendants to be born imperfect, subject to suffering and death. [?]

Summary of Section 1

Suffering and evil are caused by sin and bad rulership. The first humans, Adam and Eve, chose to disobey God. They thus brought sin into the world and rejected God’s authority over them.

2. Why has God allowed suffering and evil until now?

Why didn’t Jehovah just destroy Satan, Adam, and Eve and start over? How much time will God allow to pass before he eliminates suffering and evil? Let’s see what the Bible says.

This video clip illustrates why God has allowed suffering and evil to exist until now.

Why didn’t Jehovah destroy the rebels in the garden of Eden and start over?

This view is common. Some believe that if God cared about the human family, he would have prevented the suffering and evil that have resulted from the rebellion in the garden of Eden. However, the Bible assures us that God cares deeply about his children on earth.​—John 3:​16.

Many who believe in a loving God feel that he must not have the power to prevent suffering and evil. Yet, Jehovah’s power is unlimited. (Job 42:​1, 2) His qualities include not only love and power but also wisdom and justice. (Job 37:23; Romans 11:33) We’ll see that he has displayed all these qualities by the actions he’s taken to deal with the rebellion that took place in the garden of Eden.

It might appear that Jehovah is ignoring the rebellion that Satan started. However, the Bible says that Jehovah “cannot tolerate wickedness.” (Habakkuk 1:​13) If God had ignored the rebellion and done nothing, both angels and humans would rightly have wondered whether they could trust him. In the next two lessons, we’ll see that Jehovah has already taken action to address the issues raised by the rebels.

Correct. God passed judgment on the rebels when they sinned, but he did not enforce the penalty of death immediately. (Genesis 3:​14-​19) Instead, he allowed time to pass in order to answer the questions that had been raised: “Is Jehovah’s way of ruling the best? Would some of his creatures choose to obey him of their own free will?” Yet, during this time, Jehovah has kindly made arrangements so that humans could again have a friendship with him.

In the video you watched earlier, the teacher allowed time for the rebellious student to try to show that his methods were better than those of the teacher. Similarly, Jehovah has allowed thousands of years for humans to try many forms of rulership, but all of these have failed. The Bible shows that the time for human rule is almost over. (Matthew 24:3-8) Slide the circle to change the picture. [?]

Let’s examine from the Bible another reason why God is allowing time to pass before he eliminates suffering and evil. [?]

2 Peter 3:9

“Jehovah is not slow concerning his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire anyone to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.”

Jehovah has not removed suffering and evil as quickly as some would like. Yet, he will keep his promise to remove them​—right on time. The Bible says: “Even if it [God’s promise] seems to delay, wait eagerly for it! For it will without fail come true. It will not be late!”​—Habakkuk 2:3, footnote.

Jehovah has patiently allowed suffering and evil to continue for a time because he wants as many people as possible to learn about him and gain everlasting life.

Summary of Section 2

God has allowed suffering to continue for a limited time in order to (1) prove that his rule is best and (2) allow as many people as possible to gain everlasting life by learning about him.


Now let’s review some key points to help you remember what you’ve learned.

Review 2 of 3

Pick the phrase that best completes the sentence. Suffering and evil began because . . .

Many who believe that God controls everything feel that suffering and evil must be caused by God. Yet, the Bible teaches that God doesn’t test people with evil things. (James 1:​13) Suffering and evil must have come from another source.

The Bible supports your answer. It puts the primary blame for suffering and evil on the first man, Adam, when it says that “through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin.” (Romans 5:​12) Of his own free will, Adam chose to sin and reject Jehovah as his Father.

Satan is certainly the enemy of both Jehovah and humans. However, Satan did not force Adam and Eve to sin and join his rebellion. Instead, he tricked Eve into believing that God was lying to them and that they would be happier if they could decide for themselves what was good and what was bad. Adam chose to be disobedient.​—Genesis 3:​4-6.

Review 3 of 3

True or False: Jehovah has allowed suffering and evil to exist until now because he doesn’t care about us.

God does care deeply about the human family. (John 3:16) In fact, the Bible shows that he feels pain when those who are loyal to him suffer. It says: “During all their distress it was distressing to him.”—Isaiah 63:9.

Very good. Jehovah has been patient “because he does not desire anyone to be destroyed.”—2 Peter 3:9.

Dig Deeper

We can learn much about Jehovah God from his response to the rebellion against his rule. Which of the following responses reflects his qualities of love, wisdom, justice, and power?

God certainly has the power to crush any rebellion. However, the rebellion led by Satan did not challenge God’s power. Instead, Satan challenged God’s honesty and implied that humans would be better off if they were independent of God. (Genesis 3:​4, 5) Rather than crush the rebellion immediately, Jehovah has shown wisdom by allowing time for the issues that Satan raised to be settled once and for all time. He has also shown love for us, giving us an opportunity to become his friends despite being descendants of the rebel Adam.​—Psalm 51:5.

Your conclusion agrees with what the Bible teaches. Jehovah has exercised his qualities of love, wisdom, justice, and power in perfect balance to deal with the rebellion. He has temporarily allowed it to continue in order to settle the issues that it raised and to give as many people as possible the opportunity to become his friends.​—2 Peter 3:9.

Many believe that God has allowed suffering and evil on earth because he doesn’t care about the human family. But the Bible makes it clear that Jehovah could never simply ignore suffering and evil, because he is a God of justice. (Deuteronomy 32:4) He loves and cares for humans, and he will not tolerate suffering and evil indefinitely.​—Acts 14:16, 17.

It can be tempting to think that Jehovah should have prevented a rebellion from happening at all. To do that, however, he would have had to take back the gift of free will that he had given to his intelligent creatures. That would have been contrary to his love and justice and a misuse of his power. How would you feel if God took away your free will and forced you to obey him? We can be thankful that Jehovah allows every one of us to choose whom we will obey.—Deuteronomy 30:19.

Lesson Summary

  1. Suffering and evil are caused by sin and bad rulership
  2. God has allowed suffering and evil until now so that

    • The questions raised in the garden of Eden could be answered
    • As many people as possible could learn about him and gain everlasting life

What’s next?

Go to the Next Lesson

Will God ever do anything about suffering and evil? The answer is discussed in the next two lessons, beginning with Lesson 3.2, “How Does God Save Us From Death?”

Attend a Group Study

You’re welcome at our meetings. There we examine what the Bible says and how we can apply its teachings in our life.

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Would you like more help? We’ll be happy to contact you at a time and place convenient for you.

Why Do Suffering and Evil Exist?