I can think of little else that angers me more than child abuse. In many cases little children four or five years old suffer unspeakable atrocities at the hands of their own parent/ parents. Some depraved people get pleasure out of the pain and misery of others, especially the most helpless ones. It makes no difference to them that the victim is their very own child. The poor child cries out for mercy yet none is shown. The suffering of these little ones is enough to make even calloused hearts boil and to cry out for justice. A while back I read an account of a young man born in a prison camp in North Korea. He was mercilessly abused and even tortured at the hands of the evil prison guards. His only crime was that his parents were political prisoners. He was left to die, but recovered and eventually became the first person to ever escape from that prison camp. He is deeply scarred from the abuse he suffered. There are thousands more children just like him, and at this very moment are suffering terrifying cruelty.
Evil Is Pervasive
If we just stop to think about it for a moment and catalogue in our minds all the evil we have heard about in the last month and then know that this is only the tip of the iceberg, we are quickly overwhelmed with the reality that evil is pervasive in nearly every place, and the weight of suffering so intense that we must divert our minds lest it overwhelm our sensibilities.
I want to ask a question. It is a fundamental question. It is a question that can try our faith. It is a question that those opposed to God or even the idea of God have been posing to theists at least since the Greek philosopher Epicurus, three hundred years before Christ. In my view it is the most serious philosophical challenge that has been leveled against those who believe in the biblical God. The question is this: if God is good, all powerful, and all knowing, why is there evil? Epicurus formulated this question into a syllogism attacking the existence of God.
Major premise: If an all powerful, all knowing, and all good God exists, then evil does not.
Minor premise: There is evil in the world.
Conclusion: Therefore, an all powerful, all knowing, and all good God does not exist.
According to the premise, a good God would want to prevent all evils. An all knowing God would know every possible way that evil can come into existence. Lastly, an all powerful God has the power to prevent all evil from coming into existence. The conclusion arrived at based on this premise is that since evil exists there is no good, omniscient, and omnipotent God.
There is no character in Scripture whose faith in God was more tested than Job. Though Epicurus hadn’t yet formulated his syllogism, Job struggled with the reality of evil and the goodness of God. Job had a wife, ten children, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and many servants. The Bible tells us that he was the most righteous man in the world as well as being the richest man in the east. In a single day, through a variety of evils, all of Job’s livestock were killed or stolen, all of his children and all but four of his servants and his wife were slain. In the midst of his intense grief he was smitten with excruciating boils over his whole body. And if that were not enough, Job’s wife lost faith in God and told him to curse God and die. While Job is struggling with the unbelievable burden of all of this, his three best friends arrive to comfort him but instead of comforting all they can do is accuse him. They callously attribute all of this evil to be punishment from God for living a hypocritical and secretly wicked life.
Above Our Pay Grade
In Job’s case there doesn’t seem to be one visible factor in his miserable life that would show evidence of the goodness or mercy of God. Job was the epitome of what it is live a godly life. He fed the poor, clothed the naked, relieved the widow and orphan, interceded to God for his children, kept his mind pure from adulterous thoughts, and all of this as an act of worship to God. He was a person devoted to the service of God and the best example in the world of a righteous man, yet there was not one remaining shred of evidence in his life that God cared for him. Why was this happening to Job? If anyone should be tempted to question God it would be Job, and question he did. Though we are given the reason in the narrative of the story, God did not give Job an answer as to why this evil had befallen him. When he finally responded to Job’s questions, God did not offer a defense of himself. God answered Job with a series of questions of his own. The thrust of God’s questions for Job can be summed up in this, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” Job 38:2. God is telling Job that the question of why is above Job’s pay grade. God rarely gives us the why answers we so lust after and he has a good reason for it. The writer of Hebrews says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Hebrews 11:6. God is interested in faith, those who believe in God and his goodness in spite of the present circumstances. Abraham believed God’s promise that he would have a son in spite of the fact that he and Sarah were beyond childbearing years. God accounted that faith in him as righteousness and he became the model of faith for all who would follow. The question is, will we believe God and take him at his word, or will we take a wait and see attitude.
Let’s get back to the “problem” of evil. First, the skeptic to even make this challenge to Christians and their belief in God must acknowledge that evil objectively exists, something they cannot coherently argue for within their own worldview. Their theories of ethics are either relativistic, utilitarian, subjective, or arbitrary 1, and cannot account for intrinsic, objective evil. While they have to presume that it exists to level the charge, in doing so they borrow from the Christian worldview. They have to presuppose transcendent objective morality which is impossible without an objective transcendent lawgiver. So the unbeliever must presuppose God in order to deny his existence. This is insanity. Their insistence upon objective evil blows their cover and reveals them for what they are- people made in the image of God trying desperately to rationalize a way to deny him so that they may be free from his judgment.
Nevertheless, even if skeptics have no basis using the “problem” of evil on the merits of their own worldview, does it pose a logical contradiction within the Christian’s own worldview 2? How can Christians make sense of this? Epicurus’ syllogism is logical as far as it goes but the conclusion is false because the major premise is false. It assumes that the existence of evil is incompatible with an all powerful, good, and all knowing God. But this is not the case.
In one sentence the “problem” of evil ceases to be a problem. Here it is in the words of the late Christian apologist Greg Bahnsen: “God has a morally good reason for the evil that exists” 3. Even if we don’t know of the reasons for the existence of evil it is sufficient that God does, and this brings us back to Hebrews 11:6. “But without faith it is impossible to please him”. Christians are believers. That is, they are believers in God. They take God at his word. Job, in spite of his doubts, ultimately put his trust in God. In the end he said, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5,6. He was content to not know all of the reasons because he found that he could trust the one who did. This is the essence of the Christian faith, that we take God at his word even if it seems impossible. The apostle Paul sets before us the faith of Abraham as the archetype of the faith of all true Christians. He writes of Abraham, “Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” Romans 4:18-25.
We All Know Him
This is not to say that there is no rational basis for our faith. The evidence for God is so overwhelming just in nature and conscience, that Scripture asserts we all know him albeit some suppress that knowledge. (Romans 1.) Nonetheless, we do not know everything or else faith would be obsolete, and God values faith. God’s knowledge and purposes are so much higher than our own that we cannot even comprehend most of it.
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” Romans 11:33-36.
God Is Good
For the Christian this is his rest that God is good and he has a good purpose in all things, even allowing evil. So in spite of all the calamities in this life, Christians have a sure hope in the one whose promises are good. But just the same, because of the truthfulness of God, unbelievers beware; God will hold you accountable for your sins and lack of faith just as he promised. Yet he holds out to you an offer of clemency. Forsake your sins and unbelief and turn to the only one who can deliver you from his wrath and just punishment. That is, Jesus Christ the Son of God, who stood in our place on the cross, taking the punishment due us, and that believing in him we may obtain his righteousness and escape eternal condemnation.
1. The Biblical Worldview (Part I-VII:10; Oct., 1991) (Available in the book: Always Ready PA600)
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