Continuing in this series of posts, it is now time to address the third most common question youth have about the Christian faith according to a YouthWorks survey published in 2011. As it turns out, number three on the list is, “How can I believe in a good God when there is so much suffering?” It should not be surprising that the problem of evil has made the list. After all, this is one of the most common, if not THE most common objection that people have to the Christian faith (and religion in general, for that matter).
So, let us turn our attention to the problem at hand. Why should a person believe in a good God when there is so much bad in the world? I think there are a number of points that should be addressed about this question. First, the Bible sheds light on why there is evil in the world and the New Testament teaches us what God has done, and will do, about the matter. In the Fall, humankind opened the floodgates for sin to enter this world and, with it, pain and suffering. The solution to this problem is a restored relationship with God the Father. But, this can only come through His Son, Jesus Christ, and the work He accomplished on the cross. While this does not make evil go away in this world, it does prepare the way for an eternity with God beyond this earthly life that is free from the evils that we presently experience. It also means that Christians are a force for good in this world and that we should be engaged in reducing evil wherever we find it. So, the Scriptures make sense of our predicament an offer a solution.
The events of the Fall in the Garden of Eden show that our original ancestors had a choice in the matter. In other words, they exercised free will. Now, I must confess up front that I am an Arminian and not everyone will hold to this theological position. But, this is my blog, so I am staying the course with what I hold to be true. The argument from free will, a precious gift of God, is the second manner in which I like to appreciate the problem of evil. God has given us a truly precious gift out of the storehouses of His love: the ability to make choices for ourselves. I believe that these are true choices, not the kind of choice a person makes when there is only one option (for instance, making a right turn in a hall when the hall only turns to the right). The problem for humans is that free will allows for the possibility of people make bad decisions. Some of these decisions lead to direct evil on self or others. For instance, a person who chooses to intentionally hurt others. Some of these decisions can lead to troubles down the road. For example, a person has poor diet that leads, in the long run, to disease. So, I believe free will accounts for much of the evil we see in the world. And, God, in His love for us and His desire for us to truly and freely love Him, has given us that free will.
There is the matter of natural evil, the bad that comes from nature itself. So, why do we have tsunamis, earthquakes, and tornadoes, etc.? While I do not know all the science behind this, there are others that have pointed out that if our earth did not have many of the natural features that it does, then life would not be possible. Earthquakes happen because of shifting tectonic plates, which are necessary for certain life sustaining features. The same can also be said for other natural phenomenon that can be considered bad by humans. While I think it is Hugh Ross that addresses these issues, I cannot be for certain off the top of my head. But, let me toss in there once again the idea of free will. No one forces us to build on the coasts where hurricanes and tsunamis hit, or near volcanoes, or on fault lines, etc. Nor are we forced to build structures that do not adhere to strict standards that help prevent destruction in the event of a natural disaster. So… I say all of this just to point out that we may have a certain degree of natural “evil” in the world because it is necessary for life, which is a far greater good.
Third, God may have reasons for allowing bad to happen that we do not yet understand. Let’s face it, we do not know all that God knows. It is possible that God has reasons that simply cannot understand. Perhaps a greater good will come from a particular evil that a person, or persons, may experience. In this case, it would make sense that God would allow certain evils to occur.
Moving along, I want to propose one final idea. This, is something that I have thought about for quite some time and that is not written about much at all. I have never liked the following equation:
a. God is all good
b. God is all powerful
c. There is evil in the world
d. Therefore, God is either not all powerful or all good
The problem that I have with this equation is the way it attempts to reduce God. There is more to God than Him being all good. When a person reads through the Bible they will find a host of attributes for Him. So, it would seem that we could easily replace statement a or b with one of those other attributes. But, even in those cases it would reduce God into something that is inaccurate. So, to make this equation more accurate, we would have to scour the Scriptures, find every attribute of God, and then come to a conclusion from that. The deity in the equation above is the deity in someone’s mind. I am under no obligation to defend a deity as you see it. I believe in the God of the Bible and do feel an obligation to defend Him. The God of the Bible, however, is beyond a simple formula.