If evil exists can God?
J. L. Mackie in The Miracle of Theism states the traditional philosophical argument this way; If a good and powerful God exists he would not allow pointless evil, but since much unjustifiable evil exists, the traditional good and powerful God could not exists. Timothy Keller points out the problem with this reasoning in The Reason For God (Which I HIGHLY recommend). In the assertion that pointless evil exists, we have assumed that if evil seems to serve no purpose from our perspective it is pointless. The problem with this is that it precludes the possibility of evil existing for a purpose which we cannot see or understand. It is human arrogance to assume that, if we don’t see an apparent answer there is no answer. The example is used of the Biblical Joseph. If his brothers had not hated and sold him into slavery, his entire family would have starved to death during the famine. Many other people who have experienced difficulty might say that they would not trade the character, insights, and growth they experienced for anything. While it is easy to see a purpose in stories like these, if we cannot see the purpose of evil in the outcome we assume that it doesn’t exist. This is an error in judgment. Could it be that even though we cannot see the positive purpose for certain suffering and evil experiences in our life, God still allows it for a greater and unseen purpose?
If evil exists does God?
The difficulty of the argument against God from evil in the world is that it just as well proves that God does exist. This is best stated by C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity as he recounts his journey from atheism to Christianity.
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust… A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too — for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist — in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless — I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality — namely my idea of justice — was full of sense. Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple.”
In other words, what Lewis says is that his premonition that there is some intrinsic moral law that the universe seems to violate is evidence of that moral law, and is then evidence of a moral law giver. If we all as humans have in mind the idea that life should be fair and that other human beings even have some sort of right to it (FYI these are the inalienable human rights that the U.S. is founded on and on which the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights is founded on) then this would fly in the face of any kind of amoral evolutionary universe. The Evolutionary moral law would be to eliminate all rivals without any kind of moral recompense. If we believe in a sense of right and wrong, and the natural world seems to violate this rule, then right and wrong comes from outside the natural world. To this end, one of my favorite apologists Alvin Plantinga wrote “A [secular] looking at the world has no place for genuine moral obligation of any sort… and thus no way to say there is such thing as genuine and appalling wickedness.” At the moment that we understand God as great and transcendent enough that He should stop evil and suffering, you also have a God great and transcendent enough to have reasons for allowing evil and suffering that are beyond our comprehension.
So, is it possible to know why suffering exists?
According to the last statement, if we ask the question, we have already admitted that there are reasons for suffering and the permission of evil that transcend our understanding. Even so, God’s Word removes some bad answers for suffering and evil that might come to our minds. One such bad answer is that God doesn’t love us. We know that this is not true, because God states through His Word directly that this is not the case.
1 John 4:7-11 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another
The Scriptures are full of passages which confirm this fact that God is defined by His love, particularly by His love for us as human beings who bear His spiritual likeness. Not only does God love according to the Scriptures, but God’s human interaction is defined by the quality known to us as love. It is also impossible to say that God is disconnected from our suffering and absent from our pain. The gospel story is one of suffering, but not of human suffering per say, it is instead God who is suffering. Through the gospels we read the story of Christ being overwhelmed by the anticipation of His crucifixion and the intense pain that He experienced at the moment of His death which caused Him to cry out even though through the process of being nailed to the cross and being scourged He had remained silent. Clearly the not only the reasons for His suffering, but the entire experience of our suffering was far beyond a normal human suffering associated with crucifixion, which was already substantial. God uniquely understands our suffering, and we experience no pain that He does not know or sympathize in. He is not a distant or absent antagonist, but rather, as David writes, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book… This I know, that God is for me” (Ps 56:8–9). God knows, understands, and cares for us in the midst of suffering or evil we experience.
What hope do we have in suffering?
It is no accident that in reminding ourselves that God Himself suffered at the crucifixion, we also find our greatest hope in suffering. Christ suffered not for no reason. He suffered for the purpose of restoration. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 speaks plainly of the remaking of creation through the suffering of Christ. Christ suffered for a purpose, and that purpose was that creation be restored. This is love in its truest sense, to suffer for another for a purpose. The purpose was that eventually we would experience the great grace, mercy, peace, and joy of a life free from evil as Paul says in Ephesians 2:4-10, 13. Through suffering we as believers have hope that God has a purpose. We know this, not because we can see that purpose, but because when God Himself suffered in the person of Christ Jesus, He did so for a reason and a purpose. That reason and purpose is the hope we have for the very best future. In this the proof of the gospel, we have evidence that God has a purpose greater that the suffering and evil we face, and that His ultimate goal is the restoration of His creation. I will close with a quote by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, because he always says it better than me;
“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they've shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”