Probably the biggest problem for many atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and even God fearing folk is what is commonly known as the problem of evil and suffering. Simply put, how could an all loving God allow suffering and evil to exist?
Often times, people will bring up things that we believe are evil like cancer, starvation, war, rape, etcetera, and then ask “why?” While some people would prefer the harsh and discourteous language of writers such as Richard Dawkins on this issue, a couple kinder, and more logical arguments would basically go like this:
Argument From Evil #1
- God is the author of everything
- Evil is something
- Therefore, God is the author or evil
Argument From Evil #2
- If God is all-good, he would destroy all evil
- If God is all-powerful, he could destroy all evil
- Since evil has not been destroyed such a God does not exist
So how do we tackle this objection? It is my belief that the so-called problem of evil should not be used as an argument against the existence of God, but instead as an argument for the existence of God.
But before we do so, we have to define what the word evil means, and according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, evil is defined as something that is ‘;morally reprehensible: sinful, wicked. Arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct.’ Another way we could put it is: ‘;evil is a departure from the way things ought to be.’
Evil as Evidence
Could God be the author of evil as Argument #1 insists? In breaking down this argument, we must first point out that evil is not something. To say that it is implies that it is an object; meaning that we can see, touch, or taste it. But I think it is reasonably safe to say that we can do none of these things with evil. But if it does exist, what is it?
To answer, I would point out that evil is like logic, being that it is what we call conceptual by nature. Meaning that its recognition is built into our minds and thoughts, but does not exist in physical reality. While we surely classify certain thoughts or actions as evil (i.e., lust, lying, rape and murder), our doing so does not somehow transform that incident or that idea into the very thing we call ‘;evil,’ but rather we recognize that the event in question is going against what we know to be right or good.
But the question must be asked, “if God doesn’t exist, then where do we get our moral foundation, our sense of right and wrong, from?”
Skeptics often reply by saying that, “somewhere along the line we developed morality as a way to ensure that our species would continue to thrive and live on.” While this answer may sound good at first, it fails to recognize a key issue. If God doesn’t exist, then there is no real consequence for the things we do, no one to whom we must answer. When we die, we simply return to dust. As a result we are permitted to lie, cheat, rape, steal, and even murder without needing to think twice about it.
“But it is wrong to cause pain and suffering,” our skeptical friend may claim. But why? If God doesn’t exist, why should I refrain from causing pain and suffering? Especially if it will ensure my own survival?
Alvin Plantinga, who is almost unanimously considered the greatest Christian philosopher of our time once asked, “could there really be any such thing as horrifying wickedness if naturalism were true? I don’t see how.”1 In other words, if everything we see is the result of natural chaos without the guiding hand of God, then there really is no such thing as good and evil. Even Nietzche, the 19th century atheist German philosopher, was noted as saying that Morality “has truth only if God is the truth - it stands or falls with faith in God.”2
So here we have both a well known theist philosopher and well known atheist philosopher agreeing that if God does not exist, morality is a deception of the mind and is of no use to us. Nietzche understood that theists believe that we have been created with morality built into us (Rom 2:15), but if God does not exist, then it is all a joke. In fact, he was known to even chastise people who would claim that God did not exist but who would also insist that murder is wrong, stealing is prohibited, and rape is vile.
For the non-theist, to make the claim that morality exists is the same as saying that God exists. In short, they are trying to cut off the branch they are sitting on! Good and evil are words without meaning on their view! However, as Christians, when we desire or do something that is contrary to God’s will, we recognize it as evil. When we do what is in line with God’s will, we recognize it as good.
The Origin of Evil
While according to John 1:3, which says that ‘;through him (God) all things were made,’ it is important to point out that God did not create evil. In Genesis 1:31, we are told that, ‘;God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good,’ which if accepted would mean that creation was devoid of evil.
So what happened? Why is there evil?
As Christians, we believe that when God made man, he freely chose to give us free will. It is one of the many great gifts he has given to us. But with free will we are given a very important responsibility in that with it we can either do good or do evil.
God has told us that he wants us to choose to do what is good and that he wants us to love and serve him, just as he loves and serves us. But some might ask, “then why couldn’t God just simply force us to do these things? Why couldn’t he program goodness into us?” To answer it simply, it is logically impossible to force someone to freely choose to do good. While you may program a machine to sing songs about you or tell you, “I love you”, you cannot program a machine to worship or actually have deep seated emotions for you.
Adam and Eve, the first two humans in existence, were given a command from God (Gen 2:16-17), and with their ability to choose, they decided to do what was forbidden of them when Satan tempted them (Gen 3:6). It was through that one act of disobedience to God (sin) that evil entered the world, and as a result we have continued to grow more and more vile ever since. Why evil? Because we have turned our backs on God.
This is the primary reason that God came into human history as the person Jesus Christ. That is, to save us from the punishment that our sins have earned us by dying in our place as an innocent victim who was guilty of no sin. By his sacrifice we are able to go under a ‘;spiritual surgery’ which will over time seek to remove from us the sin that has infected our lives since birth.
When Will Evil End?
In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says, “I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when he does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over.”3
It is important to understand, that if God does away with evil… then he has to do away with us as well, because we ourselves are evil (Rom 3:10-11; 3:23). According to the Bible, there is a time coming when God will do away with all that is evil just like everybody wants. But the Bible also says that during that time, more than half of the world’s population will be annihilated. For the person who has not accepted Christ’s gift of salvation this should be a very scary thought!
While people may complain that God is taking too long, we can trust that the clock is indeed ticking and by looking at 2 Peter 3:8, we can see that “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” In relation, C. S. Lewis closes out his section on this topic by saying “Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.”4
In the end, the problem of evil, is actually a problem for skeptics, not Christians.
- Clark, Kelly James. Philosophers Who Believe: the Spiritual Journeys of 11 Leading Thinkers. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993. 73. Print.
- Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols and the Anti-Christ. New York: Penguin Books, 1968. 70. Print.
- Lewis, C. S. "Mere Christianity." The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: HarperOne, 2007. 60. Print
- Ibid. 61