The Atheist’s Best Question
The Atheist’s Best Question
Why Would a Loving God Allow Suffering and Evil?
By Micah Hackett
Many have admitted that the problem of evil in the world is the greatest difficulty for the Christian worldview. And let’s be honest with ourselves, how could we not be grieved by all the suffering and injustices that pervade society? Especially when something hits close to home for us do we tend to think about these things more. Are these meaningless thoughts? Do they deserve an answer? Are there even answers available? Before these questions get answers, we need to promise ourselves something: we will be honest with where the answers lead, wherever that might be. Whatever the case, be assured, they do exist!
So then, let’s take a look together at the issues. Sometimes what we find won’t be pretty, but follow it through to the end and you will definitely find hope there. For light to be emphasized in a picture, sometimes it will be surrounded by darkness; yet in the broad view of things it is beautiful as a whole. This will be similar to what we find.
Some Honest Observations
One thing we need to think about is the issue of atheism, because embedded in the question of evil there are two major problems for the atheist. One is this: since many atheists themselves affirm the problem of evil to be the most impactful point for their position, this tells us that science is not the main motivator for either atheism or agnosticism. This could be proven by the fact that it existed before Darwin, but it is also made obvious by this issue. When all debates of science are said and done, this question lingers, because it is what we really care about. And so, it is unfair to think that Christianity is absurd in believing in God merely by “faith,” while the atheistic community is purely scientific; we all care about these deep issues in life and usually make them our criteria for believing something.
The second problem is that atheism really has no ground for saying suffering or evil exists, because it has no basis or absolute standard to base that on. Atheism has to borrow from the Christian worldview to refute it. It goes even further, though, because not only does atheism/evolution have to borrow from Christian ideals, but it contradicts its main tenant: that the fittest must survive to preserve the favored races. So then, isn’t suffering good? Isn’t it good to eliminate the weak so the strong might survive and create a pure society without any hindrances in it? For the atheist to be consistent, he must ask the question “Why does suffering exist?” with the acknowledgment that such suffering is good – not viewing it as a problem, but rather seeing it as natural selection and progress in positive evolution. In reality, we are proposed with two seemingly cruel worldviews: the no-God scenario is cruel, and many would see the God scenario to be cruel. It isn’t fair for atheism to ask a question that it doesn’t deal with itself. The only consolation atheism can offer us in suffering and evil is to say “Deal with it!” Is this the answer we’ve been longing for? Surely there has to be something better! Let’s take a look at the Christian perspective and see what it offers.
The Christian Perspective
Since this is a question about God, it would only be logical to start with Who He is. Does the Bible say He is a loving God? Absolutely! In fact it says “God is love.” It goes so far as to say this: “For God loved the world in this very way, that He gave His only and unique Son so that whosoever puts his trust in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). We’ll see more about this later, but for now it shows that God is love. He has proven it! But he is also a God of unadulterated holiness. “Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the LORD our God is holy.” (Psalm 99:9). With these two pillars of Who He is in our minds, we need to apply this to the question of evil and suffering. Is God indifferent to suffering? Is He angry at the wickedness that pervades? “As I live, says the Lord Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways; for why will you die?” This comes from God Himself in the book of Ezekiel. Obviously He is not indifferent to either suffering or evil. You can be sure that God hates the evil even more than we do! So then, why does He allow it?
To answer this, we need to establish why evil and suffering exist at all in the world. If you would like to see the details, you can read Genesis chapters 2-4. In short, God made man perfect as well as the world that man was made to dwell in. God declared that what He had made was “very good.” Thus, suffering and evil were not made by God. On the contrary, it was brought about by one man: Adam. God made him perfect, but with a free will. In that freedom, Adam disobeyed the one rule that God gave him. This plunged the whole human race into wickedness and suffering. Scripture says “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin since all men have sinned.” Death and sin can be traced to one thing: disobedience. God was faithful; it was Adam that rebelled. In reality, then, since suffering must be traced to evil, this means that God must deal with evil first before He deals with suffering. This will be important to remember, because it narrows down the issue to not be about both suffering and evil but simply about evil.
So then, in terms of the question of evil, we have two choices: either God could have made Adam without free will (thus allowing him no room for sin) or God could have made Adam with free will (thus allowing Adam to sin). The skeptic would complain about God’s allowing for sin. However, the only alternative is to be robot-like creatures with no will. But would not the skeptic complain about this notion too, since we enjoy the ability to have choice? Then there could be the idea that God should not have created at all, since He foresaw the evil that would follow. But at this the skeptic could still object by saying “How selfish for God to not create! If He is truly good, why would He not share that goodness with others?” The point we need to understand is this: we can always find something to complain about. Maybe the issue is not that the problem of evil is impossible to solve, but that we don’t want it solved since it gives us a “reason” in our minds to reject the notion of God. For now we need to admit that the problem exists and deal with it accordingly.
How, then, do we deal with this? More importantly, how does God deal with this? Because He is holy and righteous and without any inadequacies, He must deal with sin so that it will be duly rewarded – in judgment. In the question of evil, this should make skeptics rejoice; after all, isn’t judgment what they really want – judgment on the evil that is in the world? This is where the scene becomes dark for us. We so often look at the subject of evil as if it is “out there,” but the reality is that it’s “in here.” Evil is not some lofty concept; it is a daily reality for each one of us. Let’s be honest with ourselves. But this is something we don’t want to do, because it would imply that we are part of the problem. Yet that’s the thing: we are the problem! And the very judgment that we see fit for evil in the world is the very same judgment that is fit for you and me as individuals. So the question we need to ask when wondering why God doesn’t deal with evil is this: how much evil do we want Him to deal with? If we want Him to rid the world of all suffering, He must rid it of all evil, including ours. So then, by our very objections to God, we condemn ourselves! “Therefore you are without excuse, O man, every one of you who passes judgment. For in that which you pass judgment on someone else, you condemn yourself, for you who are passing judgment are doing the same things.” (Romans 2:1). How true.
This brings us to a sad reality that we can’t avoid. We want God to deal with the world’s evil – and He will – but that includes us too. By our own logic we condemn ourselves. The question of evil interweaves God’s love and God’s justice together in such a way that makes us condemned by His justice, all while we are emphasizing His love. Most don’t see that coming when they ask “Why would a loving God allow evil?” but it makes sense. Before we ever understand God’s love, we must understand God’s justice as well as a more accurate picture of who we really are. In Romans 1 we have that picture painted for us, and it puts disobedience to parents in the same list as murder and greed. In God’s eyes “there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). What is next for us? If we are so evil and if we would want God to be just (as the question of evil must imply), surely we are under judgment. And that is true. At the end of life, when man is done judging God and putting himself on the throne, God will reveal that He has been on the throne the whole time and that judgment will come from Him. In the same passage that says God doesn’t delight in the death of the wicked, it also says “The soul that sins, it will die.” Why? Because “The wages of sin is death,” not only physical death (though that’s true) but eternal death in Hell. Scripture says “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” The Lord said “Fear not him who kills the body but cannot kill the soul; fear Him Who has the power to kill both body and soul in Hell.” This is the judgment our sins deserve and demand. This is a very dark picture!
You might wonder at this point how any hope can come from this. Were any real answers given to the question? Is this how we will all end up? Remember at the beginning when we said that you must stay till the end? This is where that get’s meaningful, because we aren’t finished. Thankfully! You see, the same verse that says “The wages of sin is death” also says “But the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” We need to understand the big picture when considering the subject of evil. Yes, it began with Adam. Yes, it deserves God’s judgment. But with these things God had a plan – a plan to make His grace shine through in the midst of our great wickedness. Remember the illustration at the beginning of brightness being emphasized in a picture because of its dark surroundings? This is exactly what we see here. Even in the midst of our great need and darkness, God offers something we will never fathom. He offers grace, wonderful and free grace. In what way?
We saw earlier the words “God loved the world in this way, that He gave His only and unique Son.” Give His son to what? The cross. The cross of Jesus Christ is more than just a religious symbol. It is more than just the undeserved death of a good man. It is the place where God poured out the wrath that you deserve onto His precious Son, Who willingly gave His life in order that we might be brought out of the slavery of sin. The darkness and death that is due to us for our sin was taken by Christ fully and freely. He died for you. It really doesn’t make sense in light of what we are. It would be perfectly right for God to judge us. But even against what we deserved, He made a way that would free us from the penalty of sin and allow us to live in Him. That is a loving God!
And you were dead in trespasses and sins, wherein in time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air (the Devil), the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our lifestyle in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath made us alive together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)… That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. – Ephesians 2:1-9
But evil and suffering still exist, don’t they? How does what we have looked at answer anything? Well, first of all it gives us a context for the big picture when it comes to evil. It tells us God has dealt with it, thankfully not in unconditional condemnation, but in grace. Surely this is better than what we would propose! Secondly, though, we shouldn’t think that God won’t ultimately rid the world of evil and suffering. That day is definitely coming. But again, the only way for God to deal with suffering is to deal with evil; and when He deals with evil a worse consequence than physical sufferings comes to those who reject Him. So then, we should look at the existence of suffering as a sign of God’s grace still being extended for all to escape the greater suffering, which comes as judgment for sin.
Whatever the case may be, the question needs to be made personal. “What does this issue of evil and suffering mean to me?” It should first of all make us wonder why we have a standard of good and evil at all. It should make us understand that we know evil should be judged, thus leaving our own selves condemned. But God has allowed it to serve another purpose: to lead us to Him. If we understand what evil means, we will understand that somehow it needs to be dealt with in our lives. This is the point God wants to bring us to, which is why we read these words: “God commands every man everywhere to repent, for He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world by the Man He has appointed.” Judgment is coming, and we need to turn unto God for safety. Judgment is coming. But who is this man by Whom He will judge? It is Jesus Christ. But didn’t He die? Ah yes, He did, but He rose again, meaning death has no power over Him. God does have power over death. Where sin is, there must be death. That cannot change. But certainly God can make a way for us to face it without fear. This was proven in the resurrection of Christ. So then, we can be confident that by receiving Christ as Lord and Saviour, we can take part in this life, Yes, we will still have to face physical death, and perhaps even present suffering, but eternal life and bliss and glory await on the other side of death. This is God’s offer to you, even today. It has nothing to do with your ability to do good works to please God: we’ve already tried and failed to please Him. All He points you to is Jesus Christ and says “He is sufficient.” Is He enough for you? Oh that He would be! For, dear friend, be warned that the same Person Who offers you life will judge you should you reject Him. The responsibility is yours, then; will you receive Him or reject Him? Will you turn from your sin of ignoring God, or will you continue in your own way, which seems right for now, but ultimately leads to death?
Thank you for reading this far. We have come to the end. If the answer was not what you expected, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We have seen that evil exists. We have seen that we cannot separate our own evil from the evil that exists in the world. We have seen that God provides for evil in two ways: by granting life in free grace to those that receive Jesus Christ in faith, and also by ultimately judging those who reject Him when that time of judgment comes. It is no longer a question, then, of why God doesn’t deal with evil. He has. The real question is, which part of His dealing with evil will you cling to? Will you take His full and free salvation from eternal judgment? That certainly is offered! Or will you wait for evil to be ultimately vanquished, allowing yourself to be included in the final judgment? The choice is yours. Whatever choice you make, realize that God has done and is doing everything that is fitting and proper in light of the question of evil. The only problem that really remains is with ourselves if we choose to ignore what He has done. The final question for you, then, is this, “What will I do with Jesus, which is called Christ?”
Do you have any specific questions? Would you like materials to help you understand more about this subject? Check out Michael Penfold’s Conference on Origins at http://www.nashroadgospelhall.com/origins-conference-video. And don’t hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit heaven4sure.com or insidethebible.ca