How could an all-good, all-powerful God such as the one in Christianity allow all the evil and suffering we see in the world? This is the problem of evil. Since there is so much evil and suffering in the world, the conclusion is that there must not be a God. But upon closer analysis, the problem of evil does not disprove the God of Christianity. It is an emotional response that has nothing to do with a logical disproof of His existence and everything to do with an emotional refusal to acknowledge Him.
To see this, we must first get an understanding of whether the Christian God — good or not — would allow suffering.
In Luke 4:20-30, Jesus publicly announces that He is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and acknowledges his listeners’ desire for him to perform miracles which they had heard of Him performing elsewhere. However, He tells them that He will not perform any miracles, and He goes on to say that Elijah only miraculously helped one widow and her son even though many more in Israel starved during a famine, and that Elisha only miraculously cleansed one leper even though many more suffered from the same disease. He was obviously quite aware of this suffering, but He made no apology for allowing it.
The crowd turned on Jesus after He said this, but He merely left their presence as if He owed them no explanation.
This is not the only place in Scripture where we see God permit suffering without excusing it.
In the book of Job, God allows a faithful servant of His to undergo torment which one could hardly imagine. God does not explain exactly why He allowed Job’s tribulations. Instead, God reminds Job of His power and the magnificence of what He does — and how little Job understands of it.
Clearly any claim that the Christian God would not allow any suffering is based on flawed Christian theology to begin with.
But does that mean God is not all-good? Is the Christian God simply a “might-makes-right” despot?
Though the book of Job can be easily misunderstood as a handbook for “might-makes-right” ethics, the reality is that it is much more nuanced than that. God does not just tell Job that He can do impressive stuff therefore He can do whatever He wants. God tells Job that He is the creator and therefore it is implied that he is has authority over all creation (Job 38). Surely a God who gives life and happiness has the right to take it — especially if the subjects to which life and happiness are given violate the terms by which they may keep them.
God isn’t just saying He can do whatever He wants because nobody can stop Him. God unapologetically asserts His rightful authority.
He also establishes the incomprehensibility of His purposes. He evidently did this quite effectively since Job says in 42:3, “..I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” Job then goes on to repent.
This is not the only place God reminds humanity of its inability to fully comprehend Him. He states in Isaiah 55:8-9, “…My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
The Bible clearly does portray a God who allows suffering, and it does not apologize for it. Instead, it reminds us of God’s role as omnipotent creator with rightful control over all of existence, and it states that we cannot possibly comprehend God’s ways.
This does leave the question of how evil (being the source of all suffering) exists to begin with, but the simple answer is that it exists because we as rational agents have the ability to choose it when we choose anything that is not good. Since we choose evil, we are left with the consequences of it. It is not some sort of ether created by God or a primeval antecedent to Him.
It does not logically follow that the Christian God cannot be both all good and all powerful in the light of human suffering and evil since there is the possibility that we simply do not understand why He allows for such things in His good yet incomprehensible plan. Even though it might seem like there can’t be a good God who would allow evil and suffering, there is no proper logical contradiction between God’s potential goodness and the existence of evil since there is room for possibilities that we can’t even understand.
But this really should not be surprising to us. We hardly understand the natural world, so how could we possibly expect to understand the creator behind it let alone understanding that creator’s rationale for the entire scheme of reality. It is really laughable that we would even entertain the notion that we could comprehend everything God does or why He does it.
The mere fact that the problem of evil does not disprove God’s existence does not, of course, prove that He exists. But if we arrive at reasons to believe that the Christian God truly does exist then the problem of evil poses no logical challenge to that belief.
The only challenge that the problem of evil poses is an emotional one. We can understand that there may be a greater reason than we can comprehend that God allows suffering, and we can understand intellectually that He as creator has the right to do so. But that does not mean we like it.
Even the Jews at Nazareth in Luke 4 turned on Jesus because He acknowledged that He would allow human suffering. Verse 28 says that they were filled with wrath at Him and attempted to drive Him off a cliff — even though He had just declared his divinity and acknowledged their belief that He had done miracles.
They reacted in anger that He permitted suffering even though they had every reason to know better. Jesus had just read to them from the scroll of Isaiah which claims that God’s ways are higher than our own. But even though they had no rational excuse, the Jews at Nazareth made the emotional decision to dispose of God while He stood in front of them.
This is the essence of the problem of evil. It is not logical. It is emotional rebellion. It is not a disproof of the divine, it is an impetuous refusal to acknowledge God’s divine authority.
Author’s Note: I have written an additional article dealing with some of the objections this post received. You can find it here.
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