The so-called “problem” of evil and suffering may be the most difficult question facing Christians, and it is undoubtedly the most difficult question I’ve ever faced. As I’ve often told the youth I pastor at Sylvania Church, there was a period of six months or so during my ministry at Sylvania (yes, while serving on staff) when I feared that I had believed a lie, that God was no more real than the Easter Bunny or the tooth fairy (sorry if I just rocked your world). The two questions, in particular, that were on the forefront of my mind were, “Is God a myth?” and, “Does atheism solve the problem?”
Do Suffering and Evil Prove God Is A Myth?
No. The existence of evil proves nothing about the existence of God. To the contrary, it is the fact that anything, including evil, actually exists that testifies most clearly to the existence of God. This is so because of the two facts that (1) something never comes from nothing and (2) matter cannot have existed eternally (click here to read more about this). Though it is related, the existence of God is ultimately a different discussion, but there are hosts of reasons to believe God exists. If you’re interested, you can find some great ones here, here, here, and here.
Does Atheism Solve the Problem?
Definitely not. In fact, not only doesn’t atheism solve the “problem” of evil and suffering, I believe it complicates in two ways. First, it removes the possibility of a universally-binding moral standard, and with it the ability to call anything truly immoral. While wrestling through the “problem” of evil, C.S. Lewis wrote:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? Â A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. Â What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust…? Â Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. Â But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed tooâ€”for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Â Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not existâ€”in other words, that the whole of reality was senselessâ€”I found I was forced to assume that one part of realityâ€”namely my idea of justiceâ€”was full of sense. Â Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple.
Despite the efforts of Sam Harris and others, in a godless world, morality is reduced to mere opinion, either of individuals or of societies, and neither my intellect nor my conscience will allow for such a position. Second, in removing the possibility of a universally-binding moral standard, the atheist also removes the grounds for his indictment of God. It leaves one asking, “If nothing is objectively wrong, how can God be wrong for allowing evil and suffering?”
Thinking Through Evil & Suffering.
Obviously, the “problem” of evil and suffering cannot be properly addressed in a blog post, but there are a number of great resources I want to suggest to you for continued study. If you’re looking for a great “heady” book, I highly recommend Apologetics to the Glory of God by John Frame, if you’re looking for a quicker read, I have found Suffering & Evil by Scott Petty to be very helpful, and if you’re looking for something super-quick (i.e., a video and short blog post), the following video and the “Go Deeper” section of this page on the Christianity Explored website (a resource of The Good Book Company) are fantastic. I recommend these resources, in particular, because they do a few things that, in my experience, are rare when addressing the problem of evil: (1) they avoid “copout” answers, (2) they don’t pretend to know more than can be known, and (3) they provide pastoral comfort for those in the crucible of suffering.
As always, I would love your thoughts.