I recently sat down for an interview with a host who expressed his concern about the problem of evil in our world: If there is an all-powerful, all-loving God, why would he allow evil to exist in His creation? Is He unable to stop it? If so, He isn’t all-powerful. Is He unwilling to stop it? If so, He isn’t all-loving. While I wish I’d had enough time to respond properly to the interviewer’s concerns, I recognized the sometimes daunting challenge of responding to objections of this kind. The problem of evil is multi-faceted both in its rational form and its emotional response. There are times when a reasonable explanation will suffice and times when a sensitive, empathetic ear is more appropriate.
I’ve written quite a bit about the problem of evil at ColdCaseChristianity.com, and I’ve responded to five forms of the objection. This brief summary links to the articles on the website and it is also available as a free, downloadable Bible Insert:
Why Would a Good God Allow People to Harm Each Other?
A Loving God would create a world in which love is possible. True love requires humans to have the ability to freely choose; love cannot be forced if it is to be heartfelt and real. A world in which people have the freedom to love and perform great acts of kindness is also, however, a world in which people have the freedom to hate and commit great acts of evil. You cannot have one without the other.
Why Would a Good God Allow Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Disease?
Some “natural evil” may be the result of necessity. God may tolerate some natural evil because it is the necessary consequence of a free natural process making it possible for freewill creatures to thrive. God may also tolerate some “natural evil” because it is the necessary consequence of human free agency. Humans often rebuild along earthquake fault lines and known hurricane pathways; there are times when “natural” evil is either caused or aggravated by free human choices. In addition, God may permit some “natural evil” because it challenges people to think about Him for the first time. Finally, God may permit some “natural evil” because it provides humans with the motivation and opportunity to develop Godly character. A world such as this requires human beings to cooperate and peacefully co-exist in order to successfully respond to its challenges.
Why Would a Good God Behave So Badly in the Old Testament?
If God exists, His relationship to the Creation can be considered by way of analogies. God is the greatest artist; all art belongs to the artisan. He has the right to create and destroy what is His, even when this destruction may seem unfair to the artwork itself. God is also the greatest physician; treatment plans belong to the doctor. He has the wisdom and authority to treat us as He sees fit, even when we might not be able to understand the overarching danger we face if drastic action isn’t taken. Finally, God is the greatest Savior. The Christian Worldview describes human existence as eternal. If there is a God, He is certainly more concerned about our eternal existence than He is about our mortal comfort. He is more concerned about saving us for eternity than He is about making our mortal lives safe.
Why Would a Good God Allow Christians to Behave So Poorly?
History has demonstrated a human predisposition toward violence. Regardless of worldview, humans will try to find a way to justify their evil actions. The question is not which group is more violent but which worldview most authorizes and accommodates this violence. Christians who commit horrific evil toward other humans actually have to act in opposition to the teaching of their Master, Jesus Christ. But in an atheistic worldview (where humans are not specially designed in the image of God), there is little or no reason why any of us should feel compelled to treat other people with the respect that Jesus taught his followers to have for their enemies. Unlike Christians, atheists can commit genocide without ignoring their worldview; atheists have the freedom to eliminate competing groups as a faithful expression of their worldview.
Why Would a Good God Allow Pain and Suffering At All?
A good God values character over comfort. Creature comforts are temporary, but character transcends time. Unfortunately, character is often best developed as a result of our temporary pain and suffering. In addition, a transcendent God understands love is the perfect balance between mercy and justice. We could hardly say we loved our children if we didn’t care enough about their future to discipline them, and discipline often feels painful. Finally, an eternal God provides humans with an existence beyond the grave. Our desire for happiness, love, mercy and justice need not be satisfied in this life; all these desires can (and will) be satisfied in eternity. God, therefore, may allow some level of pain and suffering because he knows (and has communicated) the fleeting, short nature of our mortal experience.
These brief responses may begin a conversation about the problem of evil, but they aren’t likely to satisfy these objections unless we, as Christian Case Makers, are willing to listen, patiently interact and thoughtfully consider the depth of the concerns people have related to their objections. Tuck this Bible Insert into your Bible; it may help guide you through the early moments of an important conversation about the problem of evil. You can download it, along with all our free Bible Inserts, from the link in the right toolbar on the homepage at ColdCaseChrstiainity.com.