If God is a good God who is all-powerful and all-loving, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?
A common response is that we live in a world with sin, and Lucifer started the whole mess when “iniquity was found” (Ezekiel 28:15) in him. This is usually followed by the story of the fall in Genesis 3. And while this answer contains the truth about the origin of sin, it does not adequately answer the question of why sin continues presently.
In Matthew 13:24-30 Jesus tells a parable that gives a powerful analogy for why sin is allowed to pervade our planet. He tells of a man who sowed good seed in his field, and while he slept, an enemy sowed tares (weeds) among the wheat. When the farmer’s workers see the weeds, they ask what happened. He replies, “An enemy has done this.” Their logical follow-up question is “would you like us to pull up the weeds?” The farmer’s seemingly less logical answer is no, but he explains by saying the crop of wheat would be destroyed by the act of pulling up the weeds. He instructs his workers to allow the wheat and weeds to grow together until harvest time when the wheat will go into the barn and the weeds will be burned.
The disciples asked for a clearer explanation of the parable, and kindly Jesus obliged in verses 37-43. Jesus explained that the Farmer is God, the enemy is Satan, and the workers are the angels. The field is the world, while the wheat seeds are the “sons of the kingdom” and the weeds are the “sons of the wicked one.” In the end, the wicked are burned and the righteous saved.
The most notable aspect here is the response of the Farmer when His workers request to destroy the weeds early. He says no. Why? The reason listed is that the wheat will be torn up in the process. Applied to the question of the continuation of sin, what does this mean?
Questions of scripture are best answered with scripture. In 2 Peter 3:9, Peter addresses the idea that God is waiting too long to destroy evil, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” By making the statement that many wheat plants will be destroyed by the process of prematurely pulling up the weeds, Jesus speaks about the overall size of the final harvest. Both Matthew 13:29 and 2 Peter 3:9 reveal that God wants the harvest to be as absolutely huge in quantity as it possibly can. This means the harvest must take place at the perfect moment.
But who knows the right time for the harvest?
Revisiting the text, we see it is certainly not the wheat plants themselves who determine the harvest time. After all, they are plants. An eye-opening comparison emerges: assuming wheat plants are capable of logical thinking—or reasoning with the farmer—about the appropriate harvest time is exactly as absurd as believing we are capable of reasoning on God’s level about the right time for the second coming and destruction of sin.
So is the only real reason for the continuation of sin that God wants a higher head count in heaven?
To say yes would be to approach the Farmer’s response from a logical viewpoint only, but what about taking an emotional viewpoint? This particular Farmer happens to care a great deal about His young wheat plants. He implies this by His decision not to just tear up the whole field and start over. That would certainly be less work than waiting for growth, identifying the different plants, and sorting through the wheat and weeds at harvest time.
The careful Farmer understands that the wheat plants must develop roots that make them strong enough to withstand the weeds being pulled up, without also being uprooted.
That’s where it gets personal. How are our roots? Are we clinging tighter to weeds (sin) than our foundation (God and His word)? If the Farmer and His workers returned to harvest the field today and pulled up the weeds first, how many wheat plants would they find entangled with and clutching onto those weeds with their pitiful, stubby roots left hanging bare for all to see?
While God did not start sin (“An enemy has done this” [v. 28].), He allows it to continue until the time is right for its ultimate and eternal destruction. He guides His tender plants with His tough, loving care so they will have roots deep enough and strong enough to hold firm until the harvest time He determines by His infinite wisdom.