The God Question Part Four: If God Is Good, Why Is There So Much Evil and Suffering in the World?
Dave Fields, September 24, 2018
The Logical Problem of Evil
Revelation 19:6: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty – or as the King James puts it – our Lord God Omnipotent – reigns.”
1 John 4:16, “God is love.”
“…the goodness of God includes both God’s moral rectitude (or “righteousness”) and God’s deep concern for, and exertion on behalf of, the creatures God loves.” – John Stackhouse Jr.
If God is:
(a) all-powerful, he would be able to prevent evil, and
(b) if He is all-loving, he would want to.
But (c) there is evil in this world. Therefore, an all-powerful, all-loving God must not exist.
The Evidential Problem of Evil
- We cannot think of any justifiable reason – a good reason – why God would allow suffering and evil to continue…
- Therefore, God cannot have such reason.
There is an assumption that if evil appears pointless to me, then it must be pointless…that if I can’t see the point, there can’t be one.
For the skeptic who makes this argument there is incredible faith in his or her own understanding. “Because I can’t think of a good reason why God might permit intense suffering,” they say, “there can’t be one.” But do you see how much knowledge this position claims to have?
Just because you and I can’t see a reason for a certain tragedy, that doesn’t mean there can’t be one.
But that doesn’t get God off the hook. Why doesn’t God do something about evil and suffering? He did! He put himself on the hook of human suffering – on the cross.
Though we might not know what our suffering does mean, God deliberately gave his life for us tells us what our suffering can’t mean. It can’t mean that God doesn’t love us. “God demonstrates his love for us in this way: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
“Cast your cares on him, for he cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:7
(See also Psalm 22; 69; 88; 130. These Psalms give us language to pray our pain
The Presence of Evil Is Actually A Pointer To God
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust”?…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, them 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…Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.” – C.S. Lewis
Evil is the corruption of what is good. It’s the distortion of what is right. In order to know “evil” you need to know that good is – there needs to be some standard of good.
“God is light, there is no darkness in him at all.” – 1 John 1:5
God is the perfect standard of what is good and true and noble and just.
Comparing Worldview Answers to Evil and Suffering
Morals, for the naturalist, are just individual preferences or socially useful behaviors. Atheists, when they are honest – and some are – they have to admit that they have no way of actually calling evil, evil.
“As things stand now, everything is up for grabs. Nevertheless:
Napalming babies is bad.
Starving the poor is wicked.
Buying and selling each other is depraved….
There is in the world such a thing as evil. All together now – sez who? God help us!”
– Arthur Leff, Atheist Law professor
Journalist Arther Koestler interviewed a Japanese expert in Buddhism, who denied the existence of good and evil. Koestler asked: “You favor tolerance toward all religions and political systems. What about Hitler’s gas chambers?” The Buddhist replied, “That was very silly of him.” “Just silly, not evil?” Koestler asked. “Evil is a Christian concept. Good and evil exist only on a relative scale.”
For many Eastern religions, “evil” is not even a category that we can judge. Suffering is not something to alleviate or address but a state of mind to be brought into stillness.
Postmodern/Secular Humanism: Truth is relative. There is no objective measure of truth or morality. “All truth claims are power plays.”
Note: some truth claims are power plays, and Jesus pointed that out to the Pharisees who were using the Bible for their own gain not truthfully.
Winifred Galliger, in her work in Africa among women who were in sexual slavery, she realized that the claim that “everything is relative” is itself a religion. It is a dogma. It is a power trip and a way of excluding people. For the relativist working for justice – calling evil “evil” doesn’t work.
Take Home: The Christian worldview calls us to truly address the evil we see in this world. If we embrace a biblically informed Christianity, we have a reason, even obligation, to work for peace and healing and justice in our world (see Micah 6:8).
Suffering Is Meaningful
“Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered.” – Hebrews 5:8
So do we!
“For in all things, we know that God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his good purposes.” – Romans 8:28
“If somehow our suffering isn’t just chance, but our own suffering ends up in the lap of God, we can affirm that there is meaningful purpose in the pain that would otherwise never have taken place….Many of the people who know God most profoundly are those who have learned to trust God in deep suffering.” – Scott Haefmann
Suffering Is Temporary
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen in temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17
“In due course, God will end the wretchedness of life in this world [as we know it – full of evil and suffering]. And nothing but peace, prosperity, health, and wholeness await us. Hang in there—which is to say, as the Bible does, persevere unto the end.
But the only way to do that is to hold on tight to the hand of the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That’s the Christian answer, the Christ-ian one, to every question we want to ask in the depths of deep pain.” – John Stackhouse Jr.
Life Group Discussion Questions:
- The most common reason people give for not believing in God is the problem of evil and suffering. It often is put like this: how can we believe in a God who is all-powerful and all-loving (as Christian claim), when we know there is evil and suffering in our world?
a. Why do you think this is the most common reason?
b. Has this been a problem you have wrestled with? Why?
- Philosophers no longer consider the “logical problem of evil” to be a problem. The idea that an all-loving, all-powerful God could not exist does not logically hold, but that sort of argument still is repeated in conversations in coffee shops all the time. The Free Will Defense says that God created a world where humans are free – and therefore are also capable of moral evil too. If someone presented you with this problem over coffee, how might you address that question? What response could you give (perhaps based on some of the points from Pastor Dave’s message)?
- Dave made the case that the evidential problem of evil – that there is too much unjustified evil in the world, and therefore that God was highly unlikely – was based on a very large assumption. However, just because we can’t see a reason for God to allow evil doesn’t mean there isn’t one. What do you think of that idea? Is it a good argument? Why or why not?
- Read Romans 5:8. Though we don’t know all the reasons for our suffering, we do know that it can’t mean; it can’t mean that God doesn’t love us. Christianity is unique in that it claims that God the Son – Jesus – died for humanity “while we were still sinners,” in order to demonstrate his love and make a way for us to be renewed in relationship to him, each other, and the rest of creation. God experienced deeper suffering than we will ever have to experience. This means we can never say to God: “You don’t know what it’s like!”
a. How does the reality of God’s suffering, for you, shift our understanding of God and the problem of evil?
b. How does it encourage you?
- Read Romans 8:28-29.
a. What hope does Paul mention for those who trust in Jesus and the whole of God’s creation too?
b. How could the message in this text give you hope when you personally experience suffering?
6. Pastor Dave made the point: “If we embrace a biblically informed Christianity, we have a reason, even obligation, to work for peace and healing and justice in our world (see Micah 6:8).”
Talk about some examples you’ve seen where the Good News of Jesus has motivated Christians to work to alleviate suffering. Are there any ways that you personally need to engage (or re-engage) in having a heart for those who are suffering or in pain? What might God be calling you to do in response?