From the book: "I do not have enough Faith to be an Atheist"
If God, Why Evil?
Atheist: If there really is an all-good, all-powerful, theistic God, then why does he allow evil?
Christian: How do you know what evil is unless you know what good is? And how do you know what good is unless there is an objective standard of good beyond yourself?
Atheist: Don't try to avoid the question.
Christian: I'm not trying to avoid the question. I'm simply showing you that your complaint presupposes that God exists. In fact, the existence of evil doesn't disprove God. It may prove that there is a devil, but it doesn't prove that there's no God.
Atheist: Interesting move, but I'm not convinced.
Christian: You may not be convinced, but your complaint still presupposes God.
Atheist: For the sake of argument, suppose I grant you that God exists. Will you then answer the question?
Christian: Sure. It's good to see you're making progress.
Atheist: Remember, it's just for the sake of argument. So why doesn't your so-called "all-powerful" God stop evil?
Christian: Do you really want him to?
Atheist: Of course!
Christian: Suppose he starts with you?
Atheist: Be serious.
Christian: No, really. We always talk about God stopping evil, but we forget that if he did, he would have to stop us too. We all do evil.
Atheist: Oh, come on! We're not talking about the minor sins of you and me—but we're talking about real evil, like what Hitler did!
Christian: My point is not the degree of evil, but the source of evil. The source of evil is our free choice. If God were to do away with evil, then he would have to do away with free choice. And if he did away with our free choice, we would no longer have the ability to love or do good. This would no longer be a moral world.
Atheist: But not all evil is due to free choice. Why do babies die? Why do natural disasters occur?
Christian: The Bible traces it all back to the fall of man. No one is really innocent because we all sinned in Adam (Rom. 5:12) and as a consequence deserve death (Rom. 6:23). Natural disasters and premature deaths are a direct result of the curse on creation because of the fall of humankind (Genesis 3; Romans 8). This fallen world will not be righted until Christ returns (Revelation 21-22). So no one is guaranteed a trouble-free life, or a full life of seventy years.
Atheist: Oh, isn't that convenient-—dust off the Bible and tell us that God will make it right in the end! I'm not interested in the future. I want pain and suffering to end now! Why won't God end it?
Christian: He will end it, but just not on your timetable. Just because God hasn't ended evil yet doesn't mean that he never will end it.
Atheist: But why doesn't Christ return right now to end all this pain?
The sum of human pain is enormous!
Christian: First, no one is experiencing the "sum of human pain." If it's
80 degrees in Manhattan, 85 degrees in Brooklyn, and 80
degrees in Queens, does any New Yorker experience a heat of 245 degrees?
Christian:That's right. Each person experiences his own pain.
Atheist: But that still doesn't tell me why God doesn't end it all now.
Why is he waiting?
Christian: If God wanted to end evil now, he could. But have you thought that maybe God has other goals that he would like to accomplish while evil exists?
Atheist: Like what?
Christian: For starters, he would like to have more people choose heaven before he closes the curtain on this world. Paul seems to indicate that Jesus will come back after "the full number" of people become believers (Rom. 11:25).
Atheist: Well, while God is waiting for the "full number" of people to be saved, other people are hurting!
Christian: Yes, they are. And that means Christians have a job to do. We have the privilege of helping those who are hurting. We are ambassadors for Christ here on earth.
Atheist: That's nice, but if I were suffering I'd rather have God help me than you!
Christian: If God prevented pain every time we got into trouble, then we would become the most reckless, self-centered creatures in the universe. And we would never learn from suffering.
Atheist: Learn from suffering! What are you talking about?
Christian: Ah, you've just hit on another reason why God doesn't end evil right now. Can you name me one enduring lesson that you ever learned from pleasure?
Atheist: Give me a minute.
Christian: I could give you an hour; I doubt that you would come up with much. If you think about it, you'll find that virtually every valuable lesson you've ever learned resulted from some hardship in your life. In most cases, bad fortune teaches while good fortune deceives. In fact, you not only learn lessons from suffering, but it's practically the only way you can develop virtues.
Atheist: What do you mean?
Christian: You can't develop courage unless there is danger You can't develop perseverance unless you have obstacles in your way. You won't learn how to be a servant unless there's someone to serve. And compassion would never be summoned if there were never anyone in pain or in need. It's the old adage: "no pain, no gain."
Atheist: But I wouldn't need all those virtues if God would just quarantine evil right now!
Christian: But since God has reasons for not quarantining evil right now, you need to develop virtues for this life and the life hereafter. This earth is an uncomfortable home, but it's a great gymnasium for the hereafter.
Atheist: You Christians always punt to the hereafter. You're so heavenly minded that you're no earthly good!
Christian: We may be heavenly minded, but we know that what we do on earth matters in eternity. Virtues that a believer develops through suffering will enhance his capacity to enjoy eternity. Paul says that "our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Cor. 4:17; cf. Rom. 8:18).
Atheist: How is hardship here going to help me feel better in a place where there's not going to be any pain anyway?
Christian: You like football, don't you?
Atheist: I've watched a few games.
Christian: How does every player on the Super Bowl-winning team feel after the game?
Atheist: Great, of course!
Christian: Does the captain of the winning team—-who also won the MVP trophy—enjoy the victory more than the third-string quarterback who didn't play a down all year?
Atheist: I suppose so.
Christian: Of course he does. While the third-string quarterback is happy to be on the winning team, the victory is much sweeter for the captain who won the MVP trophy because he contributed to the win and persevered through the entire year to get there. By persisting through all the hardships and pains of playing, he actually enhanced his capacity to enjoy the victory. And it's made even sweeter by the MVP trophy.
Atheist: What does football have to do with heaven?
Christian: Heaven will be like the winning locker room (but without the smell!). We'll all be happy to be there, but some will have a greater ability to enjoy it and have more rewards than others. After all, God's justice demands that there will be degrees of rewards in heaven just like there will be degrees of punishment in hell.
Atheist: So you're saying life is like a Super Bowl?
Christian: To a certain extent, yes. Like a Super Bowl, life has rules, a referee, and rewards. But in life there are no spectators— everyone is in the game—and we already know who will win. Christ will win, and anyone, regardless of ability, can be a winner simply by joining the team. While everyone on the team will enjoy the victory parade, some will appreciate it even more because of the hardships they experienced during the game and the rewards they receive for playing it well. In other words, the feeling of victory is greater the more intense the battle is.
Atheist: So you're saying that evil has a purpose that has implications in eternity.
Atheist: Why do you insist on putting everything in light of eternity?
Christian: Because we're all going to be dead a lot longer than we're going to be alive! Furthermore, the Bible teaches us to look to the eternal, and life makes sense only in light of eternity. If there is no eternity, then there is no ultimate purpose for anything, pleasures or pains.
Atheist: Suppose there is no eternity. Suppose we live, we die, and that's it.
Christian: It's possible, but I don't have enough faith to believe it.
Atheist: Why not?
Christian: Haven't you read this book?
Atheist: No, I jumped right to this appendix.
Christian: That's just like you, isn't it? You don't want to play the game; you just want to see the final score.
Atheist: I suppose I suffer from the American disease of instant gratification.
Christian: That's probably why you're having trouble realizing the value of suffering and "no pain, no gain!"
Atheist: You're right, reading this book is too painful. It's too long.
Christian: It could be shorter if we didn't have to address all those crazy arguments you atheists bring up. Besides, you've got time to read. Sunday mornings are free for you.
Atheist: There are a lot less painful things I could do on Sunday mornings.
Christian: Look, I know this book may be painful to read, but it's more painful to reject its conclusion. You've got to read this book from beginning to end if you want to see the whole argument for Christianity. The case is laid out in logical order. Each chapter builds on the previous one.
Atheist: Alright, I'll read the book. But in the meantime, let's get back to the question of evil. If there is an eternity, then some evils in this world may have an eternal purpose. But there are certainly some evil acts in this world that, have absolutely no purpose.
Christian: How do you know?
Atheist: It's obvious! What good purpose could there be in, say, the terrorist attacks on 9/11?
Christian: While I wish it had never happened, there were some good things that we know about that came out of those terrible events. For example, we came together as a country; we helped those in need; and we resolved to fight the evil of terrorism. We also were shocked into pondering the ultimate questions about life, and some people came to Christ as result of it. As C. S. Lewis said, pain is God's "megaphone to rouse a deaf world."1 9/11 certainly woke us up!
Atheist: Yes, you can find a silver lining in just about anything, but there's no way your "silver lining'' outweighs the pain and suffering.
Christian: How do you know? Unless you are all-knowing and have an eternal perspective, how do you know the events of 9/11 will not work together for good in the end? Perhaps there are many good things that will come out of that tragedy in the individual lives we will never hear about. In fact, good results may even come generations from now unbeknownst to those who will experience them.
Atheist: Come on! That's a cop-out!
Christian: No, it's simply recognizing our limits and acknowledging the limitless knowledge and unseen purposes of God (Rom. 11:33-36). We can't see the future on earth, much less what eternity in heaven will be like. So how can we say that the ultimate eternal outcome of 9/11 won't work out for good? We already know some good things that have resulted from it. Just because we can't think of an ultimate good reason or purpose for it, that doesn't mean an infinite God doesn't have one.
Atheist: If God would tell me his reasons, then maybe I could believe you.
Christian: Job already tried that tactic. After he questioned God about why he suffered, God baffled Job with questions about the wonders of creation (Job 38-41). It's as if God were saying to him, "Job, you can't even understand how I run the physical world that you can see, so how are you going to understand the vastly more complex moral world that you cannot see—a world where the results of billions of free choices made by human beings every day interact with one another?" Indeed, it would be impossible for us to comprehend such complexity. By the way, have you ever seen the movie It's a Wonderful Life!
Atheist: Do you mean the one with Jimmy Stewart that's shown every Christmas. I mean, winter solstice?
Christian: Yeah, that's the one. Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, a character who is despondent because his business dealings have gone bad and his life seems to be falling apart. He is averted from suicide at the last minute by an angel who shows him what life would have been like for others if George had never been born. It turns out that life would have been terrible for many people throughout his hometown. But George never knew this. He never realized the amazing impact his life had on others. Hence the title, It's a Wonderful Life.
Atheist: Bah! Humbug!
Christian: Come on. You get the point, don't you?
Atheist: Yeah, I get the point: we don't know what impact any person or event might have in the long run, especially since there are so many interacting choices being made.
Christian: Yes, and even choices meant for evil can turn out for good (Gen. 50:20). Perhaps many people now or generations from now will come to Christ because of the direct or indirect effects of evil events.
Atheist: But it seems like that's an argument from ignorance.
Christian: No. It's not like we have no information about why bad things happen. We know that we live in a fallen world, and we know that good things can come from bad. So we know it's possible that God can have a good reason for bad things even if we don't know what those reasons are. And we know that he can bring good from bad. So it's not an argument from ignorance, but a reasonable conclusion from what we do know. And while we don't know the reason for every specific bad thing that happens, we know why we don't know: we don't know because of our human limitations.
Atheist: What do you think of Rabbi Kushner's answer to the question? You know, he wrote the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
Christian: I think his answer is wrong.
Atheist: Wrong? Why?
Christian: Because his answer is that God isn't powerful enough to defeat evil on earth. So we need to forgive God for allowing evil.
Atheist: What's wrong with that?
Christian: Because there's strong evidence that God is infinitely powerful. Fifty-six times in the Bible God is referred to as "almighty," and in several other ways he is described as all-powerful. We also know from scientific evidence that he created this universe out of nothing (take a look at chapter 3 of this book). So Rabbi Kushner's finite god doesn't square with the facts.
Atheist: If God is infinitely powerful as you say, then why does he allow bad things to happen to good people?
Christian: We've already pointed out that there are good outcomes for pain and suffering. But we also need to point out that the question makes an assumption that isn't true.
Atheist: What's that?
Christian: There are no good people!
Atheist: Oh, come on!
Christian: No, really. Some people are better than others, but no one is really good. We all have a natural bent toward selfishness. And we all commit sins routinely.
Atheist: I do more good things than bad.
Christian: By whose standard?
Atheist: By society's standard. I'm a law-abiding citizen. I'm not a murderer or a thief.
Christian: That's the problem. We consider ourselves good people only by the standards of bad people. We judge ourselves against others rather than against an absolute standard of good. By the way, have you ever stolen anything?
Atheist: Well, yes.
Christian: Have you ever lied about anything?
Christian: You're lying.
Atheist: I can't fool you.
Christian: So you're a lying thief, then!
Atheist: That doesn't mean I'm all bad.
Christian: No, but it means you're not all good either. Think about it: it's much easier to be bad than good; it's much more natural to you to be selfish rather than generous. We all have that depraved human nature. As Augustine said, "We're all born with a propensity to sin and a necessity to die." 2 That propensity is inborn. That's why young children naturally grab things and yell, "Mine!" It's also why James Madison said, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." 3
Atheist: So Kushner makes incorrect assumptions about the nature of man and the nature of God.
Christian: Exactly. The question is not "Why do bad things happen to good people?" but "Why do good things happen to bad people?"
Atheist: If God really is all-powerful as you say, I still don't understand why he didn't stop 9/11. If you knew it was going to happen and had the power to stop it, wouldn't you have stopped it?
Atheist: So you are better than God!
Christian: No, by stopping 9/11,1 would be preventing evil. But God, who has an unlimited, eternal perspective, allows evil choices knowing that he can redeem them in the end. We can't redeem such choices, so we try to stop every one.
Atheist: Yes, but by your own Christian doctrine, God doesn't redeem all evil choices in the end. After all, some people go to hell!
Christian: Yes, but that's because God can bring eternal good only to those who will accept it. Some people ignore the facts or simply choose to play the game in a way that brings them defeat. Since God cannot force them to freely choose to play the game the right way, ultimate good only comes to those who choose it. That's why Paul says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). Notice he doesn't say, "all things are good." He says all things work together for the good of those who love him.
Atheist: So how did "all things work together for good" for those who died in 9/11?
Christian: Those who loved God and accepted the free gift of salvation are with God in eternity. Those who did not, are having their free choice of eternal separation respected as well.
(THIS IS WHERE THIS CHRISTIAN TALK IS WRONG: THOSE FEW TRUE CHRISTIANS THAT MAY HAVE DIED IN 9/11 ARE KEPT IN DEATH UNTIL THE RESURRECTION; THE OTHERS [IF NOT CALLED TO SALVATION] WILL BE RAISED IN THE SECOND RESURRECTION TO BE CALLED TO SALVATION - SEE MY STUDY "THE GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT" - Keith Hunt)
Atheist: And the rest of us?
Christian: Those of us who remain here still have time to make our decision. And those who already were Christians at the time may have had their character strengthened through 9/11.
Atheist: But if God is all-good and all-knowing, why would he create creatures who he knew would go to hell?
Christian: Good question. There are only five options God had. He could have: 1) not created at all; 2) created a non-free world of robots; 3) created a free world where we would not sin; 4) created a free world where we would sin, but everyone would accept God's salvation; or 5) created the world we have now—a world where we would sin, and some would be saved but the rest would be lost.
(NOT FULLY SO! THE WRITER DOES NOT KNOW THAT MOST ARE BLINDED AND NOT CALLED IN THIS LIFE TIME; BUT WILL BE CALLED IN THE SECOND RESURRECTION - Keith Hunt)
Atheist: Yes, and it seems like God picked the worst of those five options! So God is not all-good!
Christian: Not so fast. The first option can't even be compared to the other four because something and nothing have nothing in common. Comparing a real world and a non-world is not even like comparing apples and oranges, since they both are fruit. It is like comparing apples and non-apples, insisting that non-apples taste better. In logic, this is called a category mistake. It's like asking, "What color is math?" Math is not a color, so the question is meaningless.
Atheist: If comparing existence to nonexistence is a category mistake, then Jesus made a category mistake when he said it would have been better if Judas had never been born (Matt. 26:24).
Christian: No, Jesus was not talking about the supremacy of non-being over being. He was simply making a forceful point about the severity of Judas's sin.
Atheist: Okay, so why didn't God make his second option—a robot world?
Christian: He could have, but that wouldn't have been a moral world. It would have been a world with no evil, but with no moral good either.
Atheist: So why didn't he make worlds three or four? Those worlds would allow love, and they certainly would be better worlds than this one.
Christian: Yes, but not everything conceivable is actually achievable with free creatures. For example, it is conceivable that I could have been robbing a bank instead of talking to you. But that is not achievable because I freely chose to talk to you. Likewise, God can't force free creatures not to sin. Forced freedom is a contradiction.
Atheist: But this world could be better if there were one less murder or one less rape. So God failed because he didn't create the best possible world.
Christian: Hold on. While I will admit that this world is not the best possible world, it may be the best way to get to the best possible world.
Atheist: What kind of theistic psychobabble is that?
Christian: God may have permitted evil in order to defeat it. As I've already said, if evil is not allowed, then the higher virtues cannot be attained. People who are redeemed have stronger character than people who have not been tested. Soul-building requires some pain. The Job of chapter 42 is a deeper and more joyful man than the Job of chapter 1. So evil in this world actually serves a good purpose in the end. It creates an eternal world that's the best possible world.
Atheist: But why would God create people knowing that they would choose hell?
Christian: Do you have children?
Atheist: Yes. In fact I'm a former child myself!
Christian: Why did you have them, knowing that someday they would disobey you?
Atheist: My wife asks me that question a lot!
Christian: I know why! Because love takes risks. I was willing to take the risk of loss in order to experience the joy of love. The same is true of every Super Bowl. Both teams know that one will lose, yet both are willing to play the game despite that risk.
Atheist: I must admit that your intellectual answers make some sense, but evil still bothers me.
Christian: It bothers me too, and it should. We all know that this world just isn't right, and we all long for heaven. Perhaps our longing for heaven is another clue that it's really there (some of the other clues being the evidence we've presented in this book).
Atheist: Perhaps, but I don't think your intellectual answers will sustain a person through evil.
Christian: You may be right. But you don't have to withstand evil with just answers. You can have access to the Divine Comforter-— the Holy Spirit—to help you through this soul-building life of pain and suffering.
Atheist: I'd rather not suffer at all than to have a comforter.
Christian: Maybe that's why God doesn't put pain and suffering in our control. If he did, who would choose to go through it?
Atheist: No one.
Christian: Well, that's not exactly true. One man certainly chose to suffer. Jesus Christ volunteered to suffer so that you and I could be reconciled to God. It has been the only real case of a bad thing happening to a truly good person. So we can complain to God about pain and suffering, but we have to admit that he did not exempt himself from it. As for you and me, sometimes God saves us from evil, but sometimes he comforts us through evil. In either event, whether we know his reasons or not, believers can trust God that all things will work together for good according to his eternal plan.
THE BOTTOM LINE IS THAT GOD HAD TO MAKE MANKIND WITH FREE AGENCY. EACH PERSON MUST DECIDE HE WANTS WHAT GOD CAN GIVE HIM/HER - SALVATION, ETERNAL LIFE. BUT IT MUST BE FREELY CHOSEN. ROBOTS GIVE THE MAKER OF THEM, NO TRUE JOY ON THE PERSONAL LEVEL. FREE CHOICE MUST BE THERE FOR THE MAKER TO KNOW THOSE COMING TO EXPERIENCE THE MAKER'S EXISTENCE HAVE DONE IT BECAUSE THEY TRULY WANTED IT. WHEN I WAS IN THE BOY SCOUTS AS A BOY, WE HAD A MOTTO: "ONE VOLUNTEER IS BETTER THAN TEN PRESSED MEN."
SO TO GIVE PEOPLE THE FREE CHOICE OF CHOOSING SALVATION; CHOOSING GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS, THEN THE CHOICE TO DO AND BE EVIL, MUST ALSO BE GIVEN.
AT THE PRESENT THAT CHOICE IS FREE AND OPEN - TO CHOOSE WHAT GOD CALLS "RIGHTEOUSNESS" OR WHAT GOD CALLS "WICKEDNESS." SO TODAY WE HAVE OPEN CHOICE. AND SO WE HAVE EVIL IN THE WORLD. THE CHRISTIAN CHOOSES TO BE ON THE SIDE OF GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS, BUT THAT DOES NOT TAKE THE CHRISTIAN OUT OF THE EVIL THAT MAY BE AROUND HIM/HER, AND SOMETIMES EVEN COMES UPON THEM. NO WHERE IN GOD'S WORD IS THE CHRISTIAN GUARANTEED THAT EVIL WILL NEVER AFFECT THEM; BUT WHAT IS GUARANTEED IS THAT GOD WILL GIVE THEM THE STRENGTH TO ENDURE THE EVIL - THROUGH LIFE AND SOMETIMES THROUGH DEATH. THE CHRISTIAN CAN TRUST GOD THAT ALL THINGS WILL WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD ACCORDING TO HIS ETERNAL PLAN.
THE AGE WILL COME WHEN THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE LORD SHALL COVER THE EARTH AS THE WATERS COVER THE SEA BEDS. IN THAT AGE THERE WILL BE VERY VERY LITTLE EVIL; NOT BECAUSE PEOPLE WILL BE ROBOTS, BUT BECAUSE GOD'S SPIRIT WILL BE UPON ALL PEOPLE, CALLING ALL TO SALVATION; AND UPON ALL NATIONS THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD WILL BE SO DEEP IN EVERY PART OF SOCIETY, EVIL WILL SEEM LIKE IT IS NON-EXISTENT.
BUT THAT AGE HAS NOT YET COME, SO EVIL IN THIS WORLD IS VERY REAL AND VERY PREVALENT. GOD IS NOT NOW FORCING HIS LAWS, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ONTO PEOPLE AND NATIONS, SO EVIL IS ABOUNDING.
THEN EVEN ON A HUMAN LEVEL, MANY NATIONS KNOW SOME THINGS ARE INHERENTLY EVIL - PLANNING AND EXECUTING MURDER, RAPE, CHILD MOLESTING, ROBBING BANKS, STEALING OTHER PEOPLE'S GOODS AND PROPERTY, KIDNAPPING YOUNG GIRLS FOR THE SEX TRADE, DISTRIBUTING TERRIBLE DRUGS LIKE HEROIN THAT ENSLAVE THE MIND'S OF PEOPLE, DRIVING WHILE BEING DRUNK, AND OTHER THINGS. SO LAWS ARE WRITTEN TO TRY AND STOP PEOPLE FROM DOING THOSE EVILS; BUT PEOPLE HAVE A FREE CHOICE, THEY CAN CHOOSE TO LIVE WITHIN THOSE LAWS, OR BREAK THOSE
LAWS AND SO THERE IS EVIL IN THE WORLD.
PEOPLE HAVE THE FREEDOM TO LOVE OR HATE: IF ALL PEOPLE LOVED EACH OTHER [NO MATTER WHAT RACE, OR RELIGION, OR NO RELIGION] AND WERE WILLING TO DO TO OTHERS AS THEY WOULD HAVE OTHERS DO TO THEMSELVES - MUCH EVIL WOULD VANISH FROM THIS EARTH.
GOD HAS NOT YET CHOSEN TO DELIBERATELY FORCE THE PEOPLE OF EARTH TO DO HIS COMMANDMENTS, BY SENDING JESUS CHRIST BACK TO GOVERN AND BE KING OF ALL NATIONS ON EARTH. ONE DAY THAT WILL COME TO PASS. UNTIL THEN MANKIND HAS THE FREE WILL TO BREAK GOD'S LAW AND THE GOOD LAWS [MANKIND WITH COMMON LOGIC KNOWING CERTAIN THINGS ARE EVIL] OF MANKIND….. HENCE WE HAVE EVIL ON THIS EARTH.
IT IS WRITTEN: "I CALL HEAVEN AND EARTH TO RECORD THIS DAY AGAINST YOU; THAT I HAVE SET BEFORE YOU LIFE AND DEATH, BLESSING AND CURSING; THEREFORE CHOOSE LIFE, THAT BOTH YOU AND YOUR SEED MAY LIVE……" [DEUT. 30:19]. AND SEE ALSO VERSE 20.
GOD GIVES FREE CHOICE BUT IN SO DOING HE WANTS, DESIRES, LONGS FOR US TO CHOOSE LIFE!