In response to the evil we encounter in the worlds, many atheists seem to be conversant with the following argument:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
This is often attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, but there is some debate about whether he actually taught this. Regardless of where it originally came from, the argument is nevertheless common, and many people use it to argue against God.
One problem with the above argument is in the third question, “Is he both able and willing?” The implication is that since evil exists, God could not be both able and willing to eliminate it. This is a false premise, for God can be both able and willing, but merely has not destroyed evil yet. God will indeed destroy evil, but has no requirement to destroy evil immediately. This is true for several reasons.
If God stopped all evil before it started, He would also prevent a greater good. The only way we can have bravery is to have risky situations that can result in death. The only way we can have compassion or altruism is to have people in need. If God prevented all evil, He would have to prevent freedom, for human freedom is the source of much evil, but human freedom is also one of the greatest goods. If God prevented all evil, He would be preventing the greater good and creating a world of pre-programmed robots, forced to do His will. Such a world would prevent the greatest good of all, love.
Further, merely asking why God would wait to destroy, or pointing out that we do not know God’s purpose for evil, does not prove that God has no greater purpose. In fact, merely asking the question does not prove anything at all.
The Bible tells us that in the end, God punishes all evil and rewards the good. The fact that He has not yet done so speaks of His mercy in holding His hand of judgement, and desiring love between Him and His creatures.