Terrible Evil and Suffering in the World
Evidence That God Does Not Exist?
By Vin Sparks
The reality of terrible wickedness, suffering and injustice has brought many to question the existence of God – both unbelievers and believers alike. This is known in the fields of Theology and Apologetics as The Problem of Evil.
How could God allow such things as deadly natural disasters, the atrocity of genocide and even the harm done every day through domestic abuse, rape, and senseless violence? The neglect of an infant, the abuse of an animal, the devastation of a tornado, the injustice of a dictator, the death of a child caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting – all lead to hard questions by even the staunchest of believers.
If God is God, then He is not good and if He is good, then He is not God. So goes the argument. If God is all-powerful and allows pointless evil to continue, how can He be a good God? If He is good, then He must be powerless to stop the wickedness and therefore, He cannot be God.
Believe it or not, this impasse can be addressed in several ways. Please allow me to discuss a few:
Are Natural Disasters “Pointless”?
Just because we cannot fathom a good reason for something terrible to happen, does not mean there is not one. Okay, I can hear it now, “What possible reason could God have to allow Hurricane Sandy to devastate the Eastern seaboard, kill hundreds of people, destroy homes and wreck lives!?” My answer? I do not have a clue, but my cluelessness does not mean there is not one – one that is beyond my capacity to understand. It might be said that this is blind faith. I do not agree. My faith, as will be seen, is based in solid reason. What is unreasonable is the faith we place in our cognitive abilities. We cannot conceive of a reason for what happens; therefore, we conclude there is not one. That is a little arrogant, isn’t it? I know that it is frustration that we feel, not arrogance, but we have got to think about what is being said. “If I can’t see why this happened, then there cannot be a reason.” Is that a rational thought process?
Why Does God Allow Such Evil in the World?
This objection to God is based on a sense of fair play and justice. For God to allow such evil would not be …well, right. Therefore, God must not exist. However, in a world without God, where does the sense of right and wrong fit in? There is no fair play and justice in a world without God. Believe it or not, the world’s sense of right and wrong has been molded by all the belief systems of the ages – religious belief systems. On the other hand, evolution advances through death, devouring of the weak and survival of the strong by any means. We do not find a sense of fair play or the protection of the vulnerable out in the wild. The arguer’s appeal to a sense of morality requires the existence of God, so the argument against God on moral grounds is invalid.
Good Overcomes Evil and Calamity
We find in life that good often has a way of springing up out of evil. In my own experience, asking the agonizing questions, “Why God? Why couldn’t it have been me that had cancer instead of my 14-year-old son?” Why did he have to miss out on a whole season of little league? Why did he have to do his freshman year of high school from home? Why did he have to endure the surgeries and chemotherapy? These are all questions I could not answer at the time and still cannot completely do so. I do know this, in ways too numerous and profound to explain, that battle with cancer made my son the man he is today – an intelligent, caring man, a loving husband and an engaged father. I would not go as far as to say that we are thankful for the sickness, but I know that he would not trade the character and strength he has gained by going through it for anything. There are some things that do not come but by way of adversity.
What Does All-Powerful Mean?
This is where I will lose some of you – maybe all of you. I hope you will hear me out. Could it be that we have it wrong? God is not all-powerful – not in the sense that He can do anything because clearly, he cannot. The first thing that comes to mind is a question that finds its way to us from the atheists themselves: Can God create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it. Of course, He cannot, but not because He is not God. It is because the power to do so does not exist. There are other things that God cannot do, He cannot lie. Nope, the Bible says that God cannot lie. God cannot violate our power to choose and therefore cannot always keep us from making poor decisions.
He cannot save us against our will. The Bible says that God …is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). So, according to His love and desire for us to obtain eternal life, He brings His considerable influence upon our hearts, but when it is all said and done, it has to be you and I that respond to God’s effort or it will be unfruitful. So, despite God’s power, there will be those who will be lost.
I often think of it in terms of technology. Computers have continually gotten smaller to the point where we now have personal devices with enormous power that can rest in the palm of our hands, but we cannot type on them and the screen is too small. So, we connect our flat screen televisions to the internet and stream programming in a large format, but we cannot take it with us. The technology to do so does not exist.
Maybe the design according to which God created a world, custom tailored to support intelligent life, comes with a few natural caveats. For instance, what are the dynamics at play in creating a perfectly balanced eco-system capable of providing everything humanity needs? Tides and winds cleanse and aerate the oceans which is critical for sustaining the food chain. Could it be that we just get in the way of that colossal power from time to time? Could it be that to question God about it is kind of like holding the computer industry to task for not creating a 72” flat screen TV that fits in our pocket, features resolution that can be seen perfectly in any light and comes with a full-sized pocket keyboard? So, maybe destructive natural disasters just come with the territory – a perfectly balanced eco-system on a planet inhabited by people who have incredible powers of choice.
Speaking of that Ability to Choose…
We need to grasp the fact that, given we have the capacity to choose our own way, we will live with the consequences of those choices and it is not just the cost of our own decisions that we must bear. This freedom to choose thing comes with some real impact! We live with the choices of those around us and with the choices of those who have gone before us as well. Think about it! Every person who has lived on this planet through the ages has made choices that not only affected their own lives and the lives of those with whom they lived but those choices have sent impact ripples through the generations that followed. These are explosions of consequence to an exponential degree of cause and effect. How is it that we still exist? I am in awe of the power of God to save us from ourselves as well as bringing an enormous amount of good from all the calamity and evil that has gone on before us.
So, it seems to me to be a bit irrational to assume that reasons do not exist for the evil we suffer just because we do not understand them. Unfair and unjust as it may seem, there is good that comes from it all. I believe that God is all-powerful in the sense that He possesses all the power that exists and that when we do get caught in something that devastates us, that power includes the ability to bring an incredible amount of good from it. As it is in your life today, the history of humanity is filled with examples of goodness and blessing coming out of suffering. I am sure an example comes to your mind – even now as you read this.