(Author’s note: This continues a series answering objections to the Christian worldview. A week or two ago I made a call for folks to send me their “best shot.” For the other posts in the series, simply follow the links and the pingbacks in the comments section.)
When it comes to objections to the existence and goodness of God, the “problem of evil” pops up the most often. Sometimes it is merely a smokescreen to suppress the truth, but other times it is a real doubt in reaction to real pain.
It can be difficult to affirm the goodness of God if your fiance’ perished on September 11.
Our hearts ached in reaction to the men and women who died in the Columbine massacre; many of these men and women were in the prime of their lives.
If a loved one died in the Tsunami in India, it all seems so gratuitous and undeserved.
With events like these, we quite understandably cry “why, God?”
I wonder: why do we never utter that cry when the evil makes us feel good? What about all the lies uttered on September 11? What about the affairs consumated the same day as the Tsunami? What about all the college students who cheated on their exams that semester, leaping over those who earned their grade by honest means? What about when we backstab others? What about when we ignore the pleas of the homeless? What about our deaf ears to the cries of the unborn slaughtered by a pair of forceps?
I don’t see any “why God?” headlines when it comes to those things.
Despite the fact that some are honestly wrestling with this problem, we have a huge blind spot. There’s a bit of hypocrisy in our questioning. The problem of evil, you see, is bigger than our objections; it includes what God objects to as well.
When seen in this light, it becomes clear that we, too, are outlaws. We are part of the problem. As C.S Lewis once quipped, “If God got rid of all the evil tonight at Midnight, where would you or I be at 12:01?”
To illustrate, consider my students. Every year about midway through, I give them a writing assignment: what do you think I need to do to improve the classroom? One of the most common answers goes something like, “don’t tolearate the kids who disrupt. Kick them out of class.” I am always amused at this answer, for many of the kids who write that are the clowns that are doing the disrupting. They can’t conceive that I’d ever round them up too.
This shows that God is not unwilling or unable to deal with evil. Trust me, one day He will, and it will be a complete job. What keeps the hammer of His justice from falling is not callousness or aloofness, but patience. He is giving us time to repent and accept His solution, Jesus.
Also keep in mind that the picture of God we see in Jesus is of a God who is near. He does not stand at a distance, clucking disapproval or mystically staring into space. God, in Christ, has played the game of life by His own rules. As the book of Hebrews points out, Jesus is a High Priest that can sympathize with us in our weakness, because He has gone through it all, but without sin.
The shortest sentence in the Bible, “Jesus wept,” demonstrates a profound truth: God, in Christ, felt pain. This is confirmed all over the Bible.
Countless brothers and sisters in Christ have entered into this truth in deep and mind-boggling ways. As they continue to praise God in the midst of intense suffering, their experience of Christ deepens. Their eyes often betray a love and intensity of relationship with Christ that cannot be had in a time of comfort. This is something they would not trade for the world.
I can only marvel at the lives of these brothers and sisters.
We also must take note that if the Christian worldview is true, evil and suffering is not the final answer. We experience in this age, but it’s reign is only temporal. There is resurrection after the suffering of the cross. The hope of the empty tomb is a hope that is unique to the movement started by Christ.
I am convinced that outside of Christ, there is nothing but despair in reaction to evil and suffering. Without Christ, evil and suffering makes life utterly absurd. But praise God, literally, that Jesus is risen indeed!
The cross puts the Christian answer head and shoulders above the answer atheism gives to evil. Evil and suffering is a problem for *every* worldview, you know. Atheist Bertrand Russell once famously quipped, “how could someone speak of God at the bedside of a dying child?”
William Lane Craig’s answer to Russell’s question shows the stark contrast between worldviews: “what would the atheist say? Bum deal? That’s the way it goes? Sorry, too bad?”
All the atheist has is, “bummer.” It’s all just DNA causing things and atoms colliding. There isn’t even real evil on the atheistic worldview. It’s such a polemical shot in the foot that I wonder why they press the issue so hard with Christians.
But Christians can speak of an empty tomb, and, as we will find out later, this is no placebo hope.
Elie Wiesel, in his holocaust memoir Night, tells of an excruciating execution he witnessed while encamped at one of the prison camps. Along with the other prisoners, he witnessed the hanging of three young men. The first two died quickly, but the third one, a particularly young boy, struggled in the noose, because of his light weight. Behind him in the crowd, Wiesel heard one prisoner utter the questions, “where is God in all of this?” Wiesel’s answer? “He is there, hanging on the gallows.”**
That was Wiesel’s artful way of saying that was the moment when he lost faith in God…but I daresay that his words had a deep truth of which he was not aware.
In the cross and empty tomb, to paraphrase Ravi Zacharias, He has not conquered in spite of the dark mystery of evil; He has conquered through it.
Check out this very pertinent video of Ravi Zacharias treatment of the existential side of this issue:
Author note: in writing this post, I consulted Greg Koukl’s excellent response to the problem of evil.
**Zacharias makes capital of this passage in many of his treatments of the problem.
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