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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Did New Testament Writers Twist the Meaning of the Old Testament?

The 39 books of the Old Testament were written to and about the children of Israel, or the Jewish nation. Some critics charge that writers of the New Testament twist Old Testament passages and take them out of context to make them fit their views of Jesus and his teachings. What are these purported distortions that critics refer to?

For example:

Matthew quotes Isaiah 7 and declares that it was prophesied Jesus was to be born of a virgin and would be called Immanuel (Matthew 7:14). Critics point out that a full reading of chapter 7 of Isaiah shows it is more likely referring to the birth of Hezekiah, who became a godly king of Israel.

Hosea the prophet says when Israel was a child, God loved him and “called my son out of Egypt” (Hosea 11:1). We all know that God did in fact call his people out of Egypt. Yet Matthew says this was a prophecy about Joseph and Mary taking Jesus to Egypt and their later return. They did this to escape Herod’s decree to kill all the newborn Jewish males in Bethlehem.

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God's Will: A Top Ten List

Wouldn’t it be great if you could know God’s will every day of your life? Actually, you can, at least that part of God’s will that generally applies to all people and specifically applies to all those who follow Jesus fully. Here’s a Top Ten list of those things God wants you to do: 

1.  God wants you to believe in Jesus and accept Him as your Savior.

This is number one on God’s list of things He wants you to do. Contrary to what many people believe, God doesn’t want anyone to die in their sins without knowing Him personally.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

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The Haunt of History

History is a tricky thing. We’re supposed to recall and remember what happened in the past so we can learn from it. In our individual lives, history is a valued tutor, teaching us in a rear view mirror how to do better in the future.

Learning from history can take many forms. My father used to tell me, “Learn from the mistakes of others because you’ll never live long enough to make them all yourself.” That’s good advice, although there are also good things in our past we can learn from. For example, I learned long ago that I like chocolate chip cookies, and I’ve done my best to repeat that habit as often as possible.

Of course, we tend to forget what happened before, whether it was minutes ago—how often have you touched a hot plate in a restaurant right after the server warned you of its searing heat—or years ago. I don’t know why we forget important information, except that we believe we’re smarter than people who made mistakes in the past. 

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Why Understanding Criminal Motive Is So Important to Christians

Last night, as part of an apologetics series at Grace Fellowship Church, we examined the alternative explanations for the empty tomb of Jesus. One possible explanation suggests the disciples stole the body and conspired to lie about the resurrection appearances. As a skeptic, I believed this was perhaps the most reasonable explanation for the empty tomb, but the more I came to understand what motivates people to lie, murder (or commit any sin at all), the less reasonable this explanation became. As a homicide detective, “motive detection” became an important part of my work. When entering a murder scene, it’s tempting to become overwhelmed with the possibilities. Why did this happen? Who would do such a thing? What could have motivated this? When I was a young investigator, I was sometimes overcome by the possibilities. But as I worked case after case, however, I came to realize murders occur for only one of three reasons. As it turns out, these same three reasons lie at the heart of every other crime as well. In fact, every time you’ve ever done something wrong, you did it for one of these three reasons:

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Historic Heresies Related to the Nature of Salvation

Christians have historically relied on the canonical Scripture as the source of all truth about the nature of God, man and salvation. There have been times throughout Christian history, however, when leaders emerged with competing ideas and motivations, coloring the way they read the New Testament. We’ve been examining historic misrepresentations of Biblical teaching related to the Nature of God the Father and the nature and role of Jesus. Today, we’ll look at a few classic heresies related to Salvation. Distortions of this kind are typically connected to misinterpretations about the nature of Jesus. Did He die for us? Can we save ourselves? Here are some historic heresies:

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Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

The Bible contains 66 books authored by over 40 different people writing on hundreds of subjects, including who God is and how he interacts with his creation. Could all these different authors, who wrote hundreds of years apart, be consistent and in harmony regarding its message? Critics claim that is impossible and assert there are thousands of errors and contradictions in the Bible. Is this true?

When conservative Christian theologians say the Bible is without error (inerrant) they mean that, when all the facts are known, the Scriptures as they were penned by the authors in the original writings and as properly interpreted will be shown to be true and not false in all they affirm. This is of course the case if God is actually the author of Scripture. It stands to reason that if he inspired certain men to reveal his words, he would be sure not to contradict himself, so that his Word would be error-free.

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Has the Church Surrendered Its Responsibility to the Academy?

Last night I had the opportunity to train 80 high school students at Crossline Church here in southern California. My ministry partners (Brett Kunkle, Alan Shlemon) and I will spend a month with these students (just like last year), training them once a week to help them navigate the evidences for God’s existence and develop a Biblical worldview. After the session, I got on the phone with Brett (he’s training students at Capital Christian School in Sacramento this week), and we talked about how blessed we are to be involved in this important work. These students are capable and willing to engage the tough issues at a high level, and their churches and Christian high schools have embraced the mission. During my conversation with Brett, we talked about the growing number of opportunities students have to continue their education in Christian Case Making (Apologetics) at the University level, should they choose to do so. The number of degree programs in apologetics, Christian philosophy or Christian thought is growing every year. Students who begin training with us in high school can continue this training at the university level. While this is certainly encouraging, Brett made an important observation: The academy will never replace the Church.

We are definitely experiencing a renaissance in Christian apologetics, as evidenced by the number of programs emerging around the country. But I can’t help but wonder if Christian universities have simply recognized an important failing of the Church. These apologetics and philosophy programs aren’t, by and large, professional degree programs, after all. Few, if any, of the graduates from these programs become professional apologists (I’ve met many graduates from these universities who are working as tent-makers in other professions). The degrees they earn in apologetics will help them to think critically and develop a grounded Biblical worldview, but they probably won’t help them pay the bills. In this sense, apologetics programs are often more about personal growth than professional preparation.

Men and women often seek programs of this nature because there simply isn’t any other place where the case for Christianity is robustly studied, discussed, and evaluated. They are keenly interested in knowing more, digging deeper, and becoming more articulate so they can share what they believe with others. Gee, doesn’t this sound like something the Church should be offering? I can’t help but wonder if the explosion of apologetics programs at the university level is inversely proportional to the disinterest the Church seems to have in apologetics. As the Church continues to relinquish its responsibility to train Christians, universities are stepping in the gap. The less people receive in the Church, the more they are seeking at the Academy.

But here’s my concern. The church ought to be the place where we equip “the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). The university ought to be a place where we can also prepare vocationally. Sadly, many of us graduate from apologetics programs, equipped with the knowledge and wisdom we should be getting in our churches. It’s not too late to reverse the trend. It’s time for the Church to take back its responsibility to equip the saints. It’s time for pastors to recognize their responsibilities as trainers and case makers. While the academy may certainly continue to offer these important and valuable programs to those who want to reach higher levels of understanding, every church member ought to receive his or her “BA in Christian Case Making (Apologetics)” while training in the pews. The Academy shouldn’t replace the Church in this mission. It’s time for the Church to embrace its responsibility to train the family of God so we can all become good Christian Case Makers.

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Is Christian Education Simply a Matter of Religious Indoctrination?

My good friend Brett Kunkle and I have been working diligently to address a dilemma facing the Church: the departure of young Christians who walk away from Christianity in their college years. We’ve had great success with youth groups when we’ve been able to convince their leaders to stop teaching and start training. I’ve been writing recently about the model I employed with my own youth group using the acronym T.R.A.I.N. In response to a recent post, however, two commenters described this effort as nothing more than religious indoctrination:

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Did God Create Aliens?

Are we the only finite intelligent beings in the universe? Are there others out there somewhere that God created who are our “alien relatives”? Many have speculated that intelligent life exists somewhere in the distant universe—it’s just that we haven’t made contact with it yet.

King David wrote, “When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about human beings that you should care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4). The space that God created, in its vastness and wonder, is majestic and awesome and beyond our comprehension.

Scientists say matter is spread over a space at least 93 billion light-years across. There are probably more than 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, with countless billions of planets.  10 That blows the mind! And it may cause us to wonder, are we the only intelligent beings God created in this vast universe?

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