By: Kelsey Flowers
“But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.” Job 36:15.
The problem of evil is one of the most common objections raised against the Christian faith. It is a question that has both an intellectual and an emotional side. Intellectually, people search for a rational way to reconcile the existence of God with the presence of great evil in the world. Emotionally, people struggle with the idea that God would allow deep pain and suffering to occur in their own lives or in the lives of people around them every day.
While the problem of evil is one that has deep significance for both skeptics and Christians alike, the reality is that Christianity actually provides the greatest solution to the problem.
Antony Flew was one of the most well-known and outspoken atheists during the last half of the twentieth century. One of the primary reasons he doubted the existence of God was due to his struggle with the problem of evil.[i] After living most of his life as an adamant atheist publishing prolific writings in favor of it, Flew changed his mind – moving from atheism to deism. While claiming to be a deist and not believing in the afterlife, intellectually, Flew admitted that if there were a theistic worldview that would make the most sense it would be Christianity.
C.S. Lewis dealt with the problem of pain on both an intellectual and emotional level, writing after his wife’s death, “Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms… But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.”[ii] In the end, Lewis did come to terms with his grief and recognized that a loving God does exist despite suffering.
In considering the implications of evil in the world and in the lives of people, two arguments come to the forefront in support of God’s existence.
Without God there can be no objective framework by which to distinguish between good and evil.
In addressing the problem of evil in the world and the existence of God, Christian apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias often replies:
When you say there is evil, you are assuming there is such a thing as good. When you assume there is such a thing as good, you are assuming there is such a thing as a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. And when you assume there is such a thing as a moral law, you must pause at a moral law giver, but that is whom [you] are trying to disprove and not prove. If there is no moral law giver, there is no moral law. If there is no moral law, there is no good. If there is no good, there is no evil. What becomes of the critic’s question? [iii]
In the absence of God there is no absolute right and wrong that forces itself on human conscience.
When truly thought through, one knows that objective values do exist. Otherwise, we would not recognize that actions like chemical attacks on innocents or mass genocides are not simply socially offensive behavior but moral outrages.
Apologist William Lane Craig points out the following paradox: “Evil actually serves to establish the existence of God. For if objective values cannot exist without God and objective values do exist – as is evident from the reality of evil – then it follows inescapably that God exists.”[iv]
While in one view the presence of evil calls in to question the existence of God, in another deeper sense, it demonstrates His very existence.
If there were no God, evil could not be identifiable.
With God, there is hope in spite of suffering.
In the book of Genesis we learn that God created the world and people to live in peace with Him. However, man broke the law of God through sin, resulting in his fall from that place of perfect peace with God. Thankfully, God did not leave mankind without hope, and ultimately, His plan of redemption brought more glory to Himself and provided the solution to the problem.
Ironically, rather than being disproved by the problem of evil in the world, Christian theism is what actually provides the strongest solution. When considering the evil in the world, one wonders if God could possibly care about people at all. The answer is provided clearly in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God sent His son Jesus Christ to endure ultimate suffering on our behalf, taking on Himself the punishment of the sins of the world, separated from God so that mankind could be reconciled to Him. Because of what Christ did for us in exchanging His righteousness for our sin (1 Corinthians 5:21), the problem of evil is put in a new perspective. The real problem of evil is the problem of our own evil.
William Lane Craig said it well:
Filled with sin and morally guilty before God, the question we face is not how God can justify Himself to us, but how we can be justified before Him. So paradoxically, even though the problem of evil is the greatest objection to the existence of God, at the end of the day God is the only solution to the problem of evil. If God does not exist, then we are lost without hope in a life filled with gratuitous and unredeemed suffering. God is the final answer to the problem of evil, for He redeems us from evil and takes us into the everlasting joy of an incommensurable good, fellowship with Himself.
God is not disproved by the presence of evil around us; rather He is the solution for it.
[i] Flew, Antony, and Roy Abraham. Varghese. There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. New York: HarperOne, 2008. Print.
[ii] C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (Bantam Books, 1961), p. 4.
[iii] Zacharias, Ravi K. “Atheism Angles for Acceptance.” Audio blog post. Just Thinking. Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, April 10, 2013. Web. May 13, 2017.
[iv] Craig, William Lane. “The Problem of Evil.” ReasonableFaith.org. Reasonable Faith. Web. 13 May 2017.