The “problem” of evil is probably the most common objection to theism in general, and Christianity in particular. So great is the problem that many books have been written over just this one topic (leave your recommendations below). Therefore, my answer to this question will not be comprehensive by any means. Before I directly answer the question let me preface my answer with some points.
- This is not an objection to God’s existence, only His goodness. There’s no reason God cannot both exist, and fail to meet our standard of morality. He would not be a good god (by our understanding), however. Personally, I believe God not only meets our standard of morality, but is the standard of morality. But I feel this point should be made first.
- In the naturalistic-atheistic worldview there is no absolute standard for morality. I am not saying atheists cannot act morally, of course they can! They often put me to shame. I am saying (on atheism) there is no explanation for an absolute moral law – which you would need in order to call something evil. Naturalism is bound to determinism. To quote Richard Dawkins, “DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” There is no moral code and therefore no moral accountability. We are simply dancing to our DNA. We have no choice. Before the atheist can object to the morality of God, they must first borrow from a theistic worldview that can account for absolute morals. For something to be truly evil it must violate the standard of good. There can only be an absolute standard of good within a theistic worldview. If evil exists, it only proves the existence God – far from the original objection. Some atheists accept that their worldview cannot account for an absolute standard of morality while others try to explain how it could be possible. Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape was a noble attempt to do just that, but apologists like William Lane Craig and Frank Turek revealed his assumptions and fallacies and left his argument found wanting. You can watch the debate between Harris and Craig here and decide for yourself.
- God does not cause evil, He allows it. God is not sitting on a throne thinking of ways to cruelly punish us. However, cruel things are happening and he doesn’t always seem to intervene. Therefore, let us understand that God doesn’t cause evil, but allows it (for the time being).
The following arguments are based on two assumptions: (1) God exists, and (2) The Bible is true. I’ve argued partially for (1) here and I’ve yet to argue for (2) on this blog; however, there are many good articles, books, etc. out there. Now then, some answers:
- God made humans with free will. Why? Because he values relationship with His creation. In order for there to be a genuine relationship there must be a genuine choice. If my fiancée had no choice but to say yes to my proposal, would it really be a relationship? Of course not. What makes it a relationship is the possibility of saying no. You can say no to God, but there will be consequences. The Bible traces the suffering of this world back to Adam and Eve when they decided to say no to God. This answer satisfies the general objection of how a good God can exist while there is evil in the world. But what about the particulars? How could God allow this to happen to me, specifically?
- It is perfectly reasonable to conclude that an all-powerful, all-knowing God has a plan we cannot always understand. I believe that God is powerful enough to create the entire universe. Surely, a being that powerful cannot be fully understood by a finite human, like myself (Isaiah 55:8-9). Sometimes, God’s reason for allowing us to suffer is clear as day. In other instances, it is not clear what the purpose is. However, the Christian can rest assured that although God is not causing evil, in his sovereignty, He is going to use it for a good purpose (Romans 8:28). A God powerful enough to create the universe is also powerful enough to use evil for a good purpose. We see this most clearly at the cross of Christ. Evil men executed Jesus even though he was innocent. Nonetheless, God used it to save the world from sin. He flips evil upside down on its head and uses it for good.
- The Christian worldview promises an end to evil and suffering. One day, God will deal justly with all who have done evil. In our human courts we often get the verdict wrong and let a guilty person go free (or vice versa). This will not be the case with God. All will be made right. Evil and suffering will be vanquished (Revelation 21:4).
- The Church should console those who are suffering. Not only is a good God consistent with a world in which we observe evil; not only does this God promise to make good of our suffering; not only does He promise to end evil and suffering; but He gives us consolation in the midst of our suffering right now. In my experience, people are not looking for philosophical answers in the midst of their suffering; they are looking for a loving friend. Christians are commanded to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and to love others like we love ourselves (Galatians 5:14). If you are suffering currently, I’d be more than glad to be there for you, just let me know!
In conclusion, the existence of evil points to an absolute moral code. This moral code only makes sense in a theistic universe. Humankind’s ability to make bad choices results in much suffering. The consequences of disobeying God also result in suffering. God uses this suffering for our good and His glory – sometimes in ways we cannot (yet) understand. There will one day be an end to evil and suffering. In the meantime, we trust God’s good plan, lean on His promises, and console one another. Ultimately, we all have the capacity for evil. Our hearts so easily turn away from God and his good purposes. We can be reconciled to Him by placing our faith in Jesus, who died in our place for this very reason.
Happy New Years everyone! What resolutions are you making?