One of the most common objections to Christianity, if not the most common objection to Christianity, is an argument that we now call the problem of evil.
Whenever I have conversations about the existence of God with others, it’s rare that this question doesn’t come up. The question, of course, is this: “How can an all-powerful, all-good, and all-loving God allow evil and suffering?” The question is typically launched at the Christian God, Who claims all of these characteristics for Himself.
As a Christian, I believe in an all-powerful, all-good, and all-loving God, and I am also aware that there is more suffering in the world than we can even comprehend. What people want to know is how I can possibly reconcile the idea that this sort of a God exists and yet there is still evil?
At first glance, the argument looks pretty air tight. Christians are often told by those who aren’t Christians that the God of the Bible cannot exist because if He is all-powerful, then He could stop all of the evil and suffering in the world.
Yet miscarriages still happen. Wars still take place. People still die of disease. There is so much suffering. It seems so unfair.
The question than becomes how can God be all-good and all-loving if He is clearly able to stop evil and He doesn’t.
Or it can be argued the other way around. Perhaps God is all-good and all-loving. Then He can’t be all-powerful because there is still evil and suffering. Maybe, then, God is all-good and all-loving but He is just not capable of putting a full stop to evil.
Therefore, it is argued, since the God of the Bible must have all three of these attributes: all-powerful, all-good, and all-loving, then the God of the Bible must not exist in the first place.
It’s worth noting here that logically speaking, this argument cannot rule out the existence of a creator of the universe in general. It only attempts to rule out certain ideas for who that creator of the universe is, if there is one at all.
Now, having been a Christian my whole life, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard this argument made. Thus, I’ve had at least fifteen years to think this through. After years of analysis, I still don’t believe it holds water.
The Problem with the Problem of Evil
As mentioned above, the argument claims that an all-powerful, all-good, and all-loving God would never allow evil and suffering to take place.
The problem is that there is no possible way that anyone could know this. When we’re talking about the God of the Bible, we need to add another attribute to the picture that the Bible makes very clear. It’s that God is all-knowing.
Now, we need to ask ourselves the question: If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, meaning that He has infinite wisdom, why would I jump to the conclusion that He doesn’t have any morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil that I as a finite being just don’t see right now? Is it reasonable to believe that just because I don’t know why God does anything means that He doesn’t exist?
Philosophers and theologians have proposed many ideas as to why God allows evil and suffering. However, while there have been many reasonable explanations for why God may do so, the fact of the matter is that finite humans are in no place to say that God doesn’t exist simply because we don’t understand the way He thinks all of the time.
In fact, if we did perfectly understand how God thinks, then we may actually have reason to be suspicious of the God of the Bible. Does it really seem logical to suggest that finite human beings such as ourselves would always agree with a God that has infinite knowledge and wisdom?
Skeptics may charge that the idea of a God with infinite knowledge and wisdom is absurd, but that is a post for another time. Suffice it to say that I believe there are reasonable answers to this objection. Right now, I am simply evaluating the problem of evil on its own merits. If we grant that God is infinitely wise and has infinite knowledge, than we should expect our finite minds to disagree with Him at least from time to time. After all, it doesn’t seem very reasonable to me to disagree with the One Who gave you the ability to disagree in the first place.
With that said, we have established that under no circumstance can we really know that God has no morally sufficient reason for allowing suffering and evil in the world. God even says this Himself when speaking to Job in the Bible.
If you’re not familiar with the story of Job, he was a wealthy man and a servant of God that had just about everything he wanted. That is until God allowed Satan to destroy nearly everything Job had, took away his health, and his children. Job went through all of this without the proper support of his wife, who gave him some very bad advice throughout the time of suffering.
Eventually, Job questioned as to why God would allow all of this to happen to him. Note, it wasn’t the question itself that was wrong, but it was that Job was accusing God of wrongdoing,
God responds to Job’s questioning:
“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?…” (Job 38:2-5)
God spends quite a bit of time making statements like this to Job, until we finally get to chapter 40, when God finishes by saying:
“Will the one who contends with the almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” (Job 40:1-2)
Job soon realizes that he has spoken to God wrongfully. God’s point was very clear: Why would you question the competency of the One Who knows all things and created all things?
The Solution to Evil
Many people are so intent on wondering why God allows for evil that they don’t think about the fact that God provided an ultimate solution for it.
We don’t know fully why God allowed for evil, but we do know how it got here. We can trace that all the way back to Genesis chapter three, where Adam and Eve, the two first humans, rebelled against God.
We sinned in Adam, and we sin every single day. We violate God’s law. Therefore, we deserve God’s wrath. This is the explanation for why there’s death and suffering in the world. A world in rebellion against God is a world that isn’t safe.
Therefore, God provided a solution for us. Instead of giving us what we deserve, which is the wrath and judgment of God, God sent His Son Jesus to take on that punishment for us. In essence, God took His own wrath upon Himself so that we wouldn’t have to. He did so by dying on the cross and rising from the dead three days later.
This gives us hope because we know that Jesus not only paid our fine for us so that we could go free without punishment, but Jesus’ resurrection indicates that Christ has conquered death.
Jesus offers this free gift of salvation to anyone who will receive it. (John 3:16) God’s wrath is coming for those who stay in rebellion against Him, but for those who accept His free gift He will give eternal life. (John 5:24)
God will come and He will establish a place for us where there is no more evil and no more suffering. (Revelation 21:4) This will be the end of the problem of evil.
With this in mind we must understand that we need not deny the existence of God just because we do not fully understand Him. We need only realize that there are good reasons to believe in Him, and that when God reveals Himself to us, we can trust Him despite all of the evil that exists in this world.
I think that the failure to consider these factors when examining the problem of evil would be rightly considered intellectual suicide. Let us instead think reasonably about these matters. That is when, I believe, we will come to a knowledge of the truth.