Jon Noyes explains why Christianity offers the best solution to the problem of evil in this excerpt from his latest Stand to Reason University course.
Atheist Bertrand Russell asked, “How can you talk about God when you’re kneeling at the bed of a dying child?” Part of my response to the atheist is to ask, “What are you going to say when you’re kneeling at the side of that same child? Tough luck? Too bad? That’s the way it goes?” Here’s what atheist Richard Dawkins has to say about suffering and evil in the world: “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
Atheists are struck dumb while kneeling at the bed of a dying child. They can’t speak to the patience and mercy of God. They can’t mention the future perfection that awaits all who trust in Christ. They can’t offer the comfort that a redemptive God is working to cause all things to work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. They have no good news of hope for a broken world. Their worldview denies them anything but tormented silence and pitiless indifference. Christians, by contrast, have a lot to say.
What’s God doing about the problem of evil? First, God has given three institutions to restrain the impact of evil in the world: the family, the church, and the government.
Let’s look at families first. When families disintegrate, children, parents, and society at large are more vulnerable to evil. Divorce leads to family instability. When children aren’t protected, when wives aren’t covered, when husbands aren’t submitting to God, evil increases. When the institution of marriage is undermined by premarital sex and same-sex marriage, greater evil results. Who gets hurt when the family fails? Everyone, but especially our children.
Now, let’s talk about the church. Christians shoulder a large part of the responsibility to rescue and repair a broken world. Some people think that religion has been responsible for the greatest evils in the world. That’s just not true. Secular evil far outstrips religious evil. Three men were responsible for the deaths of over a hundred million people—Lenin, Stalin, and Mao—all in the name of atheistic secularism. By contrast, when the church works consistently with a Christian worldview, hospitals are built, slavery is abolished, the poor and the homeless are clothed, fed, and cared for, and education flourishes. Virtually all our early universities were started with theological intent—Yale, Harvard, and Princeton among them. The world is literate principally because of Christian missionaries who taught people to read so they could read the Scriptures. In fact, the kind of evil people object to comes about when people reject God. Without God, there’s no accountability.
Lastly, let’s look at government. The chief responsibility of government is justice. Romans 13 says that the authorities that exist have been established by God. “He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoers.” 1 Peter 2 says that we should “submit ourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by God for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” When governments falter in this obligation through neglect or corruption or political correctness, then evil increases.
The second thing God’s doing about evil is giving us his Holy spirit to help us overcome the evil in our own individual lives. We’re each individually part of the problem, and we know this. We need help, and God offers it. Galatians 5 says, “So I say, live by the spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature...sexual immorality, debauchery, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, drunkenness, and the like.” Galatians 5:22–23 says that “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
Third, there will come a time when God will remove every remnant of evil from his creation. He will restore his perfect goodness to this world. Remember, our story is not over yet. God will establish a whole new order with evil defeated forever. Matthew 5:6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” In Revelation 21 we read, “God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.” You see, some people want that happiness today. They want it right now. But remember, when God deals decisively with evil, he’s going to do a complete job. Here’s what C.S. Lewis had to say about this: “I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when he does. When the author walks onto the stage, the play is over.”
If God wiped out all the evil in the world tonight at midnight, where would you be at 12:01? Evil deeds can never be isolated from the evildoer. When Jesus came the first time, people wanted a conquering Messiah, and they got a suffering one instead. Now, they want a Jesus meek and mild, and they’re going to get the lion of the tribe of Judah.
This leads me to the fourth thing God is doing about the problem of evil. You see, God sent his son to die for evil men, offering mercy instead of justice so there could be forgiveness rather than condemnation. God is patiently waiting, giving men a chance to turn to him for forgiveness. Peter, in 2 Peter 3, writes, “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.” God is patient towards those who are perishing. The door is still open, but it won’t always be. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
I think a couple things are clear. First, if there’s no God, we have to give up the idea that evil even exists at all. Nothing is ultimately bad, deplorable, tragic, or worthy of blame. Nothing is ultimately good, honorable, noble, or worthy of praise. It’s all lost in the twilight zone of moral nothingness. Second, most people wouldn’t fare well if God dealt completely with evil today.
What is it that we really want? We want a God who takes evil seriously. We want a God who provides a way to protect us from evil without taking away all of our moral choices. We want a God who gives us an opportunity for mercy instead of simply judging us for our own evil. We want a God who has a plan for completely transforming this world so that all will ultimately be good. Do you realize this is exactly what God has done? Atheism is not the answer to the problem of evil. God is the answer to the problem of evil. Our question shouldn’t be why God allows evil. What should amaze us is why he would pay such an incredible price to rescue us at all when we have rebelled so completely against him. He’s not responsible for evil, but because he loves us, he’s taken responsibility to do something about it. God in Jesus on a cross at Calvary has solved the problem of evil.