It’s one of the questions that keeps popping up in conversations with teens: why does God allow evil? If He is all powerful, if He loves us, why does He allow bad things to happen to us? And why don’t Christians do any ‘better’ in this department than non-Christians?
While this is not a topic that can be dealt with to everyone’s satisfaction in a 20 or even 30-minute sermon, it is good to address it. You could do a follow up in the small groups with the sermon as a starting point.
I’ve picked the person of Job here as a basis to discuss this difficult question, as his story helps us to find answers. Because his story is important to understand the advice his friends give him, you may need to either read several passages from the Book of Job, or explain them yourself in a narrative way.
The first part about the devil talking with God about Job and the resulting actions usually raise a lot of theological questions, for instance if God still operates that way. These would be good to discuss in a smaller setting. Be prepared for these and answer them as best as you can. I really recommend studying up and reading some commentaries on this difficult book. That doesn’t mean you need to have all the answer; it’s perfectly okay to say you don’t know something.
Bible passages: Job 1:1-12, 2:1-13 (these two passages could be summarized, or be done as a narrative), 3:11, 3:16, 3:20, 7:17-21, 8:3-7, 40:8,9, 41:10b and 11, Romans 8:28
Key message: God allows evil to do good
Synopsis: Job has the perfect life and he lives a perfect life for God, until God allows Satan to nearly destroy him. As a result, Job starts asking ‘why questions’. He wants to know why God is ‘tormenting’ him. He also talks about his misfortunes and suffering with his friends. They tell him he is being punished for his sins, that he has to have done something wrong. His former riches had to have been a reward from God for being good, now that was being taken away. But when God finally answers Job, He shows a different truth. He is sovereign and He blesses whom He pleases and allows evil when it fits His plans. He is not required to bless good works, which is why we can’t earn our way into heaven. We need His sovereign grace. God allows evil for good for those who love Him, as Romans 8:28 shows. Do we trust God enough and know Him well enough to accept His plan?
Tips: Job is a ‘dangerous’ book to preach from. The reason is that it contains a lot of bad theology and misapplied truth in the responses of Job’s friends. If you were to read and preach only those parts, you could easily get the key message wrong. You could make a case that bad things happen because God punishes us for our sins for instance—a message contrary to the Gospel. The Book of Job is one of those Bible books where it’s really important to read the whole book and present the context clearly.
This topic is also one where theological differences between denominations become clear, especially when it comes to free will, providence, God’s sovereignty, etc. Make sure to be well aware of your denomination’s views in this.
There are two important theological missteps Jobs friends make that are good to explain to your students:
- Evil is not necessarily related to sin in our lives. In other words: God does not punish us for our sins, although he does allow us to experience the results of our sins.
- Blessings aren’t necessarily related to ‘being good’. God is sovereign and it is His free will to bless whom He pleases. Other Bible passage do link being righteous to being blessed, but God isn’t obligated to bless us.
One of the things that is important to stress, is that it is okay to ask ‘why’. Job does ask why a number of times and God doesn’t get angry with him for doing that. Young people often have these kind of questions and they need to know they are allowed to ask them to God. However, these should be asked respectfully and shouldn’t turn into accusations. You might also want to mention that grown ups don’t have all the answers either and that we still struggle with the ‘why’ of things as well. We’ll never have all the answers on this side of eternity!
It’s a fairly heavy topic, so for your students to really be interested and engage with what you’re saying, try to make the question relevant for their lives right from the start. What examples can you think of that may make them ask this question? Think of recent bad events, like shootings, accidents, family tragedies, etc. Make them care about the question before you share theology!