Brothers and Sisters,
In my former letters seeking to answer the question – what is God saying to us in and through the Covid crisis – we have seen that part of the purpose is to remind us of our mortality and teach us humility. In the last one we looked at what the book of Revelation has to say about plagues. This week I want to reflect upon the wider question that is often asked – why does God permit such evil and suffering in this world? It is a classic argument that is frequently used to undermine faith in our loving, heavenly Father.
The problem defined
God is all-powerful so could destroy evil and prevent suffering.
God is good so would want to destroy evil and suffering.
Evil and suffering exist so the good and all-powerful God does not exist.
I would normally give a 90-minute talk (see the link below) to work through this issue so doing so in a few hundred words is difficult, but I hope you find the following summary helpful.
Evil is a bigger problem for the atheist – If we start with the assumption that evil and suffering exist – then removing God from the equation does not help. Evil is still there but now you have no means to explain it, and nothing to ultimately deal with it. It was the argument from evil that drove the atheist C S Lewis towards Christ.
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust…? Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too – for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus, in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense. Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple” (Mere Christianity).
Of course, the atheist could always state that evil does not exist – but then they cannot complain about it – after all, why complain about something that does not exist?
The Christian answer
1. God did not create evil because it is not created
Did God create a perfect world and then get it wrong? Or did God create a perfect world that he allowed to go wrong? I love Augustine’s answer to this question.
a. God created all things.
b. Evil is not a created thing – it is the absence of good.
c. God did not create evil, but permits it for the good.
2. God permitted evil but brings even greater good out of that evil
“And, in the universe, even that which is called evil, when it is regulated and put in its own place, only enhances our admiration of the good; for we enjoy and value the good more when we compare it with the evil. For the Almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if he were not so omnipotent and good that he can bring good even out of evil” (Augustine’s Enchiridion, Ch. 11).
In order to be human there needs to be an element of free will, moral choice and love that is not just chemically predestined. Maybe for that to happen God created this world to be a ‘vale for soul making’, a physical and moral environment which allows us to live as free moral agents and to learn what we need to learn.
So God did not create evil, but permitted it. Why? For a greater purpose than if he had not permitted it. The next step…
3. God alone knows the end from the beginning and how to bring good out of evil
Sometimes we set ourselves up as though we were the judge and God had to answer to us – a complete reversal of the real situation. Read the book of Job to see how God answered a man who suffered more than most of us.
The infinite, eternal, omniscient Creator is far more likely to know about good and evil, and its consequences than his finite, limited, ignorant creatures.
But this is not enough. We do not want to be Job’s comforters or to be comforted by Job’s friends. We need to know not just the how and why of evil, but do we have a better solution than ‘suck it up and see’? Yes we do. God’s answer. Himself!
God’s answer to evil and suffering is Himself. Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, the Resurrection, the Healer, the Good Shepherd. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” The atheist is compelled to say it’s just luck and there is no answer. The Christian says, “I fear no evil”. That is the fundamental difference between the two worldviews.
The atheist says good and evil are an illusion. The Christian faces up to reality and says there is real evil, real darkness, real despair, but there is a real Saviour, who came to free those who all their lives are held in slavery by their fear of death. The practical consequences of these beliefs are phenomenal. The atheist puts a band-aid on the problem, the Christian gets to the heart of the matter. As regards Covid the most this world can offer us is a vaccine which only delays death. We can offer Christ who defeats death. For me that is the best lesson to learn.
This week’s resources:
The lecture on the Apologetic of evil is here.
Tim Keller’s Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is a great practical response to this question – here.
Your song this week is from our friend, Colin Buchanan – when we consider suffering, we should begin and end with the Cross…When I Survey the Wondrous Cross is a song of the glory and triumph of Jesus…. here
Finally, don’t forget the men’s Pre-Christmas Big Breakfast! Saturday the 12th of December at 8am in the Memorial Hall.
PS. As usual, free feel to contact me if you have any questions, suggestions or would even just like to meet up.