The Problem of Evil

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I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a former Jehovah’s Witness who has become an atheist that sometimes attends a Unitarian Universalist church. When I asked her to describe to me the God that she rejects, she listed off objections, some of which were directly related to her experience with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but most that had to do with the presence of pain, sorrow and death in the world. The classic problem of evil.

I thought this would be a great opportunity to discuss this issue. I have to confess that I’ve never understood the problem people have with this issue. In fact, the question I’ve asked this individual so far is where she believes her sense of morality, justice or logic come from. The problem of evil is only a problem if your worldview doesn’t provide an explanation for the problem or a solution to the problem. As believers in God’s revelation given to us in the Bible, both of these are provided for us.

The Origin of Evil

God did not create evil, pain, or sorrow. God created the potential for these things through allowing us a clear choice between obedience to His laws, responding to Him in love, receiving His gifts and the rejecting those very things. Our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, chose to reject God’s command, forfeit the relationship they enjoyed and suffered the consequences of a broken relationship with creation, each other and God.

Some atheists would object that if God is all knowing and all powerful, then He should have: 1) not created the world if pain, suffering and death would result, 2) that He should have created us without the ability to reject Him, 3) that He should have not created those humans who would reject Him if their presence would cause this evil or end up in their spending eternity in hell. 4) God should intervene and stop all pain.

I will repeat again that the atheist has no ground to say what should or should not have been done as their worldview does not provide reasoning for justice or right and wrong. However, let’s discuss these objections.

The first possibility is for God to have not created if the result would be evil. If it is God’s will to create, and His creation is good, and His creation is necessary for our existence, this argument isn’t very logical.

The second possibility is for God to have not created us with choice. This option eliminates any possibility of love. Love does not exist without the ability to choose love or reject it. What those who propose this alternative are asking for is to live a life of numbness, without feeling, without the ability to think logically, process alternatives, or have personal freedom.

The third possibility is for God, in His foreknowledge, to have not created those individuals who He knew would reject Him. However, all this creates is a new pool of individuals which create a completely different set of cause-result circumstances, which completely changes the foreknowledge of God, which includes still people who would reject Him, cause pain, and end up suffering eternal punishment in hell. If God continued to reconstruct the creation with each new set of circumstances, it would ultimately result in one person or couple, which as we see in Adam and Eve, still would inevitably end up rejecting God, causing pain and death and suffering eternal punishment in hell.

The fourth possibility is for God to intervene and stop all pain from occurring. There are a couple of problems with this proposed solution. The first is that it robs God of the ability to administer justice or consequences, which then makes our choices null and void. Any parent can see that this isn’t a real option, and only reinforces negative choices by our children. While its hard as a parent to watch our children suffer consequences for the negative choices they make, we also see that these consequences serve as tools to teach them that our rules are there to create boundaries and that they are given out of a desire to love them, protect them and provide for them.

The other problem with this option is that the presence of pain, and our ability to feel pain, serves the purpose of telling us that there is something wrong. When we put our hand on a hot stove, while it is unpleasant to feel the pain of being burned, we would rather feel that pain, have our bodies alert us that something is wrong, and prevent the loss of our hand or possibly our entire bodies catching on fire. The presence of pain, sorrow and death in our world serves the very purpose of alerting us that there is something wrong, that this indeed is not the way things are supposed to be. The problem is that atheist who state this objection as the reason for their atheism are stopping at the recognition of the problem rather than looking for the solution to the problem.

The Solution to the Problem

What the atheist miss when they make the objection to the Christian God allowing evil is that the same God presents Himself as the solution to the problem. I should state that God has absolutely no obligation to do so. The problem of evil is a human problem. Our first ancestors rejected God, caused the problem. We also reject God, every one of us. Every one of us deserves the pain, sorrow, death and punishment that comes as a result of choosing our will over God’s will. It is not the role of the clay to reprimand the potter. Nor does the atheist, or any human being, have the right to object to God’s presence on the basis of how they think He is doing at His job.

The amazing news is that God didn’t sit in the heavens, point His finger, give us a good scolding and then leave us to get ourselves out of the mess we have created. The Christian gospel is that God inserted Himself into the sin-tainted creation, became a human being, suffered poverty, suffered physical, emotional and spiritual pain. He was tempted in every way, yet was without sin. He truly walked in our shoes, so is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses.

God not only became one of us, but took our punishment upon Himself. Jesus, who committed no sin, became sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God. God not only presented a solution to our problem, He became the solution to our problem.

The Problem of Perspective

The other major problem for the atheist is that this life is all they have to form their perspective of justice. When they look around and see individuals living shortened lives, being born with debilitating illnesses, or living their entire lives in less than ideal circumstances, they object to the “fairness” of this reality.

The Bible, however, gives us a much different perspective. Eternal life makes this life seem incredibly short. The biblical writers speak of our existence as grass that withers or a vapor of mist. They make it clear that trials serve the purpose in this life of conforming us into the image of Christ, who lived a life of complete self-sacrifice, serving and loving others with no thought of what He would receive in return. They further make it clear that our “light and momentary” troubles are not even able to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love Him.

The Call of the Problem of Evil

To my atheist friends, and even to my Christian friends, I present that the “problem” of evil is a call to action.

To those who object to God on this basis, I urge you to search out the justification or explanation of your sense of morality, love, justice and your ability to think logically, or even the presence of logic itself. I also urge you to not just stop at recognizing the problem, but seek out the solution to the problem.

To all of us, the problem of evil calls us to action. As an individual we do not have the ability to eliminate suffering. Jesus said clearly we would always have the poor with us. The New Testament also makes clear that the world will progressively become worse and fall into more evil, and that ultimate peace and the elimination of suffering, pain, sorrow and death will not be accomplished until Jesus returns, establishes His kingdom and ultimately when those who have placed their entire trust in God’s solution to the problem of evil dwell with Him in heaven for eternity.

Yet, the presence of evil does serve as a clear announcement that something is wrong. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, believers have the ability to love sacrificially and to follow the leading of the same Holy Spirit into the good works created for us to do by the very God who created the world and called it “good.” The ultimate solution is found in our message, the gospel, which allows individuals to experience freedom from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and ultimately the penalty of sin. By His grace, we can also participate in a small way, in eliminating the temporal suffering, pain or sorrow of fellow members of God’s “good” creation.