In the last post, we saw why the undeniable existence of evil does nothing to undermine the case for the existence of God. On the contrary, the fact that we can identify evil in the world is proof that there must be some kind of objective standard for calling it so — and that objective Standard is what we call God.
But that doesn’t end the debate (in case you haven’t noticed). There’s a reason this whole topic is usually referred to as “the problem of evil.” It’s a problem for sure. But remember, it’s a problem for everyone and everyone wants an explanation. The point of the last post was to show that evil eliminates atheism as an explanation because atheism can’t explain the basis for judging anything as evil in the first place. It turns out atheism has no basis for saying anything is wrong, or bad, or evil beyond the fact that atheists don’t like it.
Evil is proof that God exists.
Theism is the only game in town but it leaves us with the burden of trying to understand — with all the evil things we see go on in the world — why a good God is more plausible than an evil God?
The Free Will Defense
The key to understanding this is to acknowledge the power and importance of free will. Here are a couple of short videos that give a good summary of what we mean by the “free will defense” and how it points to a good God:
In a nutshell, our ability to love requires free will, and free will entails the possibility of committing evil. Unfortunately, we humans are pretty adept at exploring that possibility all too often and in some pretty astounding ways. But that is a reflection on us, not on God.
The free will defense is fine for explaining why there is moral evil in the world, but what about “natural evil” — things like earthquakes, and tsunamis, and cancer?
This is a far more difficult issue because these kinds of things seem to inflict unnecessary suffering on humans and, in some cases, on animals who have no moral agency at all. But a little closer look reveals that there is more to natural evil than first meets the eye. I think there are three categories of natural evil that make sense in the theistic world in which we find ourselves:
Processes Required For Life — Some of the things we look at as unnecessary “evil” are actually features of the world that are required for us to even exist. For instance, the water cycle and the uneven heating of the planet create sometimes violent weather events but without both of those features, the planet could not sustain life at all. The same goes for plate tectonics. It causes earthquakes and triggers volcanic action but without it, life sustaining nutrients would not be available to us. In short, we live in a churning ecosystem that threatens life but also sustains it.
Repercussions Of Human Choices — Related to the above, some of the suffering humans endure is the result of ignoring the processes that allow and support life. We build resorts on waterfront property of all kinds, suffer when catastrophic weather and flooding events occur, and then rebuild in the same locations. Is the suffering the result of some unfair, evil characteristic of the world, or just a secondary effect of human free will?
Pain Perfects Us — No one likes suffering. We understandably go to great lengths to avoid it. But suffering also causes us to realize we are not self-sufficient and that we are not invincible. It confronts us with our mortality. It forces us seek and provide mercy. It molds and improves our character. It is the reason that someone like Joni Eareckson Tada, who has been a quadriplegic since age 17 because of a diving accident, can say that her accident was the best thing that ever happened to her.
“God is more concerned with conforming me to the likeness of His Son than leaving me in my comfort zones. God is more interested in inward qualities than outward circumstances – things like refining my faith, humbling my heart, cleaning up my thought life and strengthening my character.” ~ Joni Eareckson Tada
None of these makes the problem of natural evil go away, but they do show that there are ways to make sense of its existence in the world we live in. It is also important to see that each of these explanations makes sense only in a theistic universe and that is the point we are trying to make.*
The Uniqueness of Christianity
In the end, a theistic worldview is the only way to make sense of objective morality, and to explain both moral and natural evil in the world. At this point, that is the only argument I am trying to make. But, I would also like to add one more thing to the discussion that specifically sets Christianity apart from every other world religion when it comes to the problem of pain, suffering, and evil. It is this — through the incarnation (the act of God lowering himself to take on the flesh and blood existence of a human being), Christianity’s unique approach to the problem of evil is that it not only includes the God who allows us to love by our own free will, but that same God also participates in our pain by sharing in the human experience of physical suffering. He loves us in spite of our rebellion against Him, and offers Himself as a rescuer from its consequences.
No other God does such a thing.
Greg Koukl’s two-part Solid Ground series on “God, Evolution, and Morality” is an excellent resource for explaining why Darwinian evolution cannot account for objective morality. Access both here: God, Evolution, and Morality (Part I) God, Evolution, and Morality (Part II)
*J Warner Wallace’s blogpost, “Why Would A Good God Allow Natural Evil?” is a great discussion of these issues, but categorizes them a little differently.
Norman J. Geisler, If God, Why Evil?
William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Part III, Chapter 4, pp. 172-182) gives a classic defense of the moral argument for God
“The Cries That Bind”: An essay on the common human tendency to wonder where God is when we see or experience suffering, and how asking that question puts us in the company of faithful giants.
“Biblical Glass Houses”: Are we hypocritical in saying that there is a difference between the violence we see perpetrated by Israel in the Bible and the jihad we see being perpetrated by Islamic terrorists today?