For many people who do not believe in God, the largest obstacle to accepting His reality is the existence and nature of evil. Even many theists struggle with the concept of a loving personal God who allows evil to exist. In essence, both argue that if God is omnipotent and good, He would stop that which is evil from happening. For example, some people are suggesting that the recent school shootings would not have occurred if God exists. All people of faith, therefore, must address this obstacle in some way in order to believe.
The problem that evil poses to people of faith has been a challenge since the beginning. Greek philosopher Epicurus once argued that God “either can do nothing to stop catastrophe or doesn’t care to.” Although he believed in the gods, he believed they did not interfere with the world. When he was an atheist, C.S. Lewis observed, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust…. For many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I kept on feeling, ‘whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn’t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power?’” While this always made Lewis uncomfortable, other atheists seem to have no problem with the cruelty of the universe. Richard Dawkins, for instance, sees the evil actions of man as being the result of evolution, of survival of the fittest. Meanwhile, even those who believe in God sometimes struggle with the issue. Deists believe that God created the universe and its natural processes, but He is not involved in its day-to-day operation, which continues under natural laws that are indifferent to us. Sadly, even some Christians have a similar view.
Most believers explain the existence of evil as a matter of choice. That is, while God is good and prefers righteousness, He leaves it up to each person as to whether to obey or not. This is perhaps the best way of explaining human behavior. Some people are going to choose evil no matter what, and no laws, no government, and no entity can prevent this. Does this mean that God is powerless to prevent it? By no means. It is also a matter of choice to allow people free will. While an omnipotent God can certainly make people do what He wants, forcing people to do what is right at the cost of their freedom is itself a form of evil. God wants people to choose to love and obey Him without being forced to, for the robotic love of those who have no choice is meaningless. Even so, those with faith recognize that God still works out everything for our good despite the evil choices of men, though we often cannot see the end.
But what about injury and death that results from natural processes, such as hurricanes and disease? Is this not proof that God is indifferent to our suffering? Many Christians likewise argue that the reason the natural world is so hostile to us is also because of the evil choices of man, which resulted in the Fall, though some may say that is unfair since we did not ourselves make those choices. A better response is to recognize that most of the time nature is cruel to us because of our choices. We are killed by a hurricane because we refuse to take shelter or leave when warned, and we get pneumonia because we played in the rain barefooted in the winter. Those who do not learn how to behave in nature, to avoid danger and disease, and to protect themselves are going to see nature as evil far more often than those who do.
In fact, the existence of evil actually proves that there is a God. As Lewis concluded, “But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? … What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” If there is no good and evil, what right have we to complain about what happens to people? If there is such a thing as absolute good and evil, then there must be a good power that established that standard. In short, our innate feeling that certain acts are senseless and evil demonstrates that there is a God who is good and is trying to help us become good. If Dawkins is right, we should no more get upset about people who try to dominate and kill those they don’t like than we should get upset when an elk fights to gain dominance of the herd. Of course, most atheists would argue that they are moral by choice rather than by design, yet their very response to evil around us, which continues to surprise, depress, and angers them, belies this self-deception. Rather than seeing evil as nature taking its course, they get just as upset as the theist who recognizes that evil is wrong because God is good and desires that we love our neighbors as ourselves.
When unmitigated evil occurs, it is jarring. We ought to get upset, to feel sympathy for survivors, and to help those who are wayward make better choices. Some may do this through law and order; some by appealing to the heart. Yet rather than doubting God, our very reaction ought to help convince us that there is a God, and that He is good. Those who do these things are those who have rejected Him and His goodness. More and more people will reject Him as time goes on, so we should be prepared for more evil, not less. When faced with evil, we ought to draw even closer to Him, for the only alternative is to become more like that which we hate.
© 2022 J.D. Manders