Is the Problem of Evil Really a Problem for Christianity?

I just spent an amazing weekend at Green Bay Community Church, teaching adults and students about the reliability of the New Testament Gospels and the nature of truth. Troy Murphy has done a wonderful job assembling a powerful staff at the city’s largest church. GBCC’s youth pastor, Evan Gratz, opened up his youth group to me on Sunday night. As usual, the best part of the time with students was answering questions at the end of the evening. The problem of evil was raised by a teenager who described her recent conversation with an atheist friend. As an atheist myself for most of my life, I resonated with the objection and offered a brief response: If what we believe as Christians is true, evil and suffering are only a problem for atheists. The problem of evil isn’t really a problem for Christianity.

Evil and suffering are typically experienced and understood within the context of one’s life. As an atheist, I hoped for (and expected) a life of approximately ninety years. In the context of this span of time, if I had developed cancer in my forties, I would have been angered by the amount of time stolen from me as I battled the disease. In fact, if I had been diagnosed with a terminal disease at that age, I would have been outraged by the fact it was going to deprive me of fifty percent of the life I expected. When your life is only ninety years long, anything cutting the time short is evil, and any prolonged suffering along the way is unjust and intolerable.

But what if we could live more than ninety short years? What if our lives had a beginning, but no end? How would we see (and respond to) evil, pain and suffering in the context of an eternal life? How many of you who can remember the painful vaccinations you received as a child? If you’re reading this article at the age of thirty, the small period of your life occupied by the pain you experienced during those vaccinations has been long outdistanced by the years you’ve lived since then. As time stretched on from the point of that experience, you were able to place the pain within the larger context of your life. You don’t even remember it now. If you have pierced ears, ask yourself a similar question. The pain you experienced at the point of the piercing is nearly forgotten, especially if it has been years since it occurred. Evil, pain and suffering are experienced and understood within the larger context of one’s life.

If the Christian worldview is true, we are eternal beings who will live forever. We get more than ninety years, we get all of eternity. Our experience and understanding of pain and evil must be contextualized within eternity, not within our temporal lives. Whatever we experience here in our earthly life, no matter how difficult or painful it may be, must be seen through the lens of forever. As our eternal life stretches out beyond our struggles in mortality, our temporal experiences will become an ever-shrinking percentage of our consciousness. The suffering we may have experienced on earth will be long outdistanced by the eternal life we’ve lived since then. Our life with God will be a life without suffering, without pain and without evil. “God will wipe away every tear from (our) eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). It will also be a life where justice is realized, “for the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints,” (Psalm 37:27-28) and He “will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work” (Ecclesiastes 3:17). As our glorious eternal life with God stretches beyond our temporal experience, whatever suffering or injustice we might have experienced here on earth will seem like it occurred in the blink of an eye.

In the context of the Christian eternal life, pain, suffering and evil can be faced and endured with strength, hope and confidence unavailable in an atheistic worldview. What used to seem so unjust to me is now less egregious. What used to seem so unbearable can now be faced with hope. The problem of evil, from my new Christian perspective, isn’t the same kind of problem it was from my old atheistic perspective, because the problem of evil isn’t really a problem for Christianity.

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Why Would a Good God Allow Moral Evil?

For many, the presence of moral evil is evidence against the existence of an all-powerful, all loving God. The problem of evil is perhaps the single most frequent objection I hear when speaking to unbelievers, and it has been uttered by thousands across the span of history. Epicurus (the ancient Greek philosopher, 341-270BC) expressed the problem clearly:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing?”

There you have it: If a good, all-powerful, all loving God does exist, and we, as humans, are allegedly created in His “image”, why are people be so inclined to do immoral things? And why doesn’t this all-powerful God do something to stop evil, immoral behavior? A God such as this is either too impotent to stop evil, doesn’t care enough to act, or simply doesn’t exist in the first place.

But think about it for a minute. Which is more loving: a God who creates a world in which love is possible, or a God who creates a world in which love is impossible? It seems reasonable that a loving God (if He exists at all), would create a world where love is possible. A good God would create a world where love can be experienced and expressed by creatures designed “in His image”. But this kind of “love-possible” a world is, by necessity, a dangerous place. Love requires freedom.

True love requires that humans have the ability to freely choose; love cannot be forced if it is to be heartfelt and real. I cannot force my children, for example, to love me. Instead, I must demonstrate my love for them, provide them with the knowledge and moral wisdom necessary to make safe and loving choices, and then allow them the personal freedom to love one another and do the right thing. Eventually, as a parent, I have to let go, and this process of letting go is dangerous. In order for my kids to have the freedom to love, they also need the freedom to hate. Freedom of this nature is often costly. A world in which people have the freedom to love and perform great acts of kindness is also a world in which people have the freedom to hate and commit great acts of evil. You cannot have one without the other, and we understand this intuitively. Let’s consider an example.

Every year, millions of scissors are manufactured and sold in countries across the world. Everyone knows how valuable and useful scissors can be. No one is arguing for laws to prevent the manufacturing or sale of scissors; we understand how beneficial they are. Yet every year, hundreds of homicides and assaults are committed with scissors (I’ve actually investigated some of these). While scissors were designed for a good and useful purpose, they are often used to commit great evil. In a similar way, our personal “free agency” is a beautiful gift that allows us to love. It was intended to provide us the means through which we can love one another and even love God. But this freedom, like a pair of scissors, can be used for great evil as well if we choose to reject its original purpose.

As Christians, we believe that God created us in His image. We have the freedom to love and we are eternal creatures who will live beyond our short existence on earth. Our free agency allows us to love and perform acts of kindness, and our eternal life provides the context for God to deal justly with those who choose to hate and perform acts of evil. God will do something to stop evil, immoral behavior, He is powerful enough to stop evil completely, and He does care about justice. But as an Eternal Being, He has the ability to address the issue on an eternal timeline. It’s not that God has failed to act; it’s simply that He has not chosen to act yet.

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Is God Angry at the East Coast? God, Hurricanes, the Bible, and Pain

Global catastrophes sadden us. The images are terrifying and experiencing such moments in history are painful. Why does God allow this to go on? Is He causing it? Where is God in hurricanes and pain? Here are some answers that make sense biblically.

God Is Opposed to Storms

When God first created the world, He pushed back the chaos. He brought order where none existed. This is what much of Genesis 1–2 is about. This is why God’s focus at the beginning is the sky and the waters. He is pushing back the madness. He calls doing so “good.”

When God’s will is connected to natural disasters in the Old Testament—like the flooding of the earth—God is not happy about it. It’s a last resort. It means God letting His own work be undone.

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