“If God is all-powerful, and God is all good, then explain the presence of evil in the world.”
This question, more than any other, is (in my experience) the trump card, the go-to argument for the atheist. Some slam it down like a hammer, driving the point home with as much zeal as a fundamentalist preacher. Others offer it with more genuine curiosity. “How can you believe in the face of such an obvious theological flaw?”
This question gets asked in many ways:
“Why do bad things happen to good people?”
“Where was God during the Holocaust?”
“Why do people starve?”
“If you’re serving God, then why did that tragedy happen to you?”
“Why can’t we have an ebola outbreak limited to Westboro Baptist Church and ISIS?”
“Why does God hate kids in Africa so much?”
“Do you know a person dying of cancer? Can you tell them that God is in control?”
It’s a good question – or maybe I should say a tough one. It doesn’t just raise a logical argument, but it tugs at the emotions, hitting us in a spot where we know something is wrong.
There are answers… but like many issues of belief, they’re convincing enough for the believer to retain confidence, and at the same time vague enough for the skeptic to reject faith.
The cancer question grabs my mind. Terminal illness and sudden tragedies are situations where there just aren’t words good enough to say. People try, of course. Platitudes and pat answers are offered with the best of intentions.
But the general advice is: shut up and just be there with a grieving person.
I noted CNN posted an article about Dr. Kent Bradley, who proclaimed that “God saved me from ebola.”
He’s a believer. I’m not surprised he feels that way. And I’m happy to hear he recovered.
But that statement carries an implication that God either failed to save the 900+ ebola deaths in this recent outbreak… or He chose not to.
Where is the all-good God Scripture proclaims? How does a believer reconcile the terrible events of life with this faith in an all-good all-powerful God who chooses not to act?
My family and I watched God’s Not Dead finally. I think it’s a great movie to reinforce faith for the believer, but I don’t know that the arguments would really shake an atheist’s “faith” in the absence of God.
But two comments stuck with me, because I don’t recall hearing them in my time growing up in church.
First, the point is made that this all-good all-powerful God has–all through Scripture–maintained an intent and a promise to one day eliminate all evil–both the intentional wrong things sentient creatures do, and the tragic suffering we endure as a result of the brokenness of this world.
Evil is being tolerated for a limited time only in order to provide opportunity for something more important: our capacity for good, founded on our free will to choose and God’s grace given to us. God could wipe out evil (and we see in Scripture that He was willing to push the “reset” button on humanity). But doing so takes away from our ability to commit ourselves to Him of our own volition in response to His grace.
More importantly, what struck me in the movie was a comment made very near the end. The dialogue references Jesus sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, beseeching the Father for an exit strategy. “If there is any other way, let this cup pass from Me.” If there’s any way, let Me not go through this suffering.
God’s answer is a clear “No.” He said no to Jesus, fully Divine, His own Son–basically His own self. Jesus suffers and dies and experiences all manner of evil, because God says “no” to saving Him from that.
It strikes me that God’s response is much like the good advice for reaching out to someone in grief. Jesus knows what it’s like to have to “go through.” By that I mean to endure, to suffer, to find that God doesn’t always stop the storms with a “Peace, be still.” He knows what it’s like to be told “no” when asking for a miracle. He raised the dead and healed the sick, but when it was His turn, the heavens shut like iron against His fervent prayers.
In that sense, Jesus joins the ranks of the sufferers, the grief-struck, the overwhelmed.
There are no good words in that place.
But there is His presence. And that is enough.
…for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” (Hebrews 13:5 NASB)
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 NASB)