Answering Skeptics' Challenges #2 - Doesn't God care about evil?
In last week's lesson we talked about how faith equals trust. There is a saying that I read in David Robertson's book, "The Dawkins Letters", that I think was very relevant to this equation of faith and trust. I found it very profound. The saying was "All that I have seen has taught me to trust the Creator for all that I have not seen." This trust is built upon our continued experience of God and his creation. We'll come back to this later.
Let’s go on to the next related question:
Let’s look at the next passage “The first man, Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” 1 Cor 15:45 Jesus is referred to as a type of Adam. Adam represents all mankind as its progenitor and federal head or representative head in our sinful nature. Jesus is also the federal head or representative head of those that are in Him.
Today’s class which deals with the question “Doesn’t God care about evil?” seems especially relevant because of the deadly tornado in Joplin and all the other disasters we face. We may hear the question or we may have the question ourselves, Doesn’t God care about evil? This is the perennial question that keeps coming up and it is a hard one to answer but it is very important that we have a good answer and work through it. We need to be able to answer the challenge from the atheist, as we’ll see in the video, but we’ll also hear the ‘Why?’ question on the lips of parents who lose a child. This is a delicate subject that we can be sorely tempted to avoid.
Now we’ll turn to the question on the YouTube video, “10 Questions Every Intelligent Christian Must Answer”. If you find you are getting tired of this guy’s tone and attitude then I am ten times more weary of it in preparing and presenting this class but he does voice the question of evil, or problem of evil in a way we need to hear. Here’s the next question.
As with many of these questions, there are a lot of built-in questions, assumptions, and challenges all rolled into one. This is a challenge on the power of prayer, and frankly, a lot of Christian’s beliefs about prayer do need to be challenged because they aren’t Biblical. Second, he raises this challenge about starving children, not starving mass murderers or thieves, he’s poisoned the well with an emotionally charged challenge to make it that much harder to answer without coming off as harsh. Third, he challenges that God is ignoring the starving children and wants them to starve for some divine reason. Fourth, we’re back to his overall challenge that there is no God after all. If we answer this question about starving children even with the most expert and astute answer possible we’re still not convincing the atheist there is a God and he’ll still keep presenting this challenge in this way because that is the real reason for doing so, not that he’s concerned about God’s apparent disregard for the starving children. Still, there are going to be people who aren’t the hard atheist and need and want an honest answer to this question.
Let’s get back to his first challenge to our trust in prayer. First, he doesn’t know if our prayers aren’t answered about the starving children. What is the atheist asking for? I imagine he’d expect bowls of food to just fall in the laps of every hungry child miraculously and that would be the only answer to prayer he’d accept but not the convoy of relief workers who come to village after village, or the troops that come to drive away those who are causing the starvation.
Any time we’re discussing God’s power or willingness to deal with evil then we’re dealing with what is called a theodicy.
Theodicy –a study of God's intrinsic or foundational nature of omnibenevolence , omniscience, and omnipotence, especially in regards to the problem of evil.
It is an attempt account for how a God who is omni-benevolent (all-loving), omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful) can allow evil to exist. The argument is that since evil does exist then God must not exist. That is called the logical problem of evil but there are all kinds of problems with it. The biggest problem is that it assumes God can’t have a sufficient reason to allow the evil to exist but if he might have such a reason then the argument fails. It would also fail if God didn’t have one of those other properties but that could leave us with defining God as a lesser being than he is just to avoid the problem of evil so we won’t make that argument.
The challenge of the problem of evil has been classically divided into two categories,
Natural Evil and Moral Evil. Natural evil would be things like floods, famines, earthquakes, tornados and the like. These are the things that your insurance policy may actually term “Acts of God.” These are things that Man cannot directly cause.
The second is Moral evil, things like the Nazi Holocaust, the genocide of Christians in Darfur, child abuse, the ravages of war and poverty. These are directly linked to human causation but God may be challenged in that He didn’t stop it or ignored it.
There is another factor that we should be aware of in these types of evil. Moral evil is objective evil. As Greg Koukl puts it, isn’t rape itself an objective evil? It is objectively evil in the sense that the object itself, the rape, is evil. It doesn’t matter if there was harm done or not. Raping a comatose person may be argued that no harm is done but it is still objectively wrong. On the other hand, what we call natural evil, though, is often more subjective. Lightning is very necessary for the success of farming because it actually takes nitrogen out of the air into a form where it will fall on the farm land so it is a good thing in that respect. If the lightning hits and kills your cow then it causes you harm and could be considered a natural evil. Floods in the Nile River valley have been necessary to farming there too but floods also kill people and animals so the nature of that act is very subjective. You as the subject decides whether that flood was good or evil depending on whether it hurt or benefited you. In that sense natural evil could be subjective evil.
There are certainly cases where the suffering is hard to distinguish between Natural Evil and Moral Evil. For example, if a country has a drought that is causing starvation and causing those children to have the bloated bellies then we may think of the drought being the Natural Evil and God caused it or didn’t send the rain. On the other hand, there is plenty of food for these people that can be provided from other countries and most of it is kept from getting to them because of war or corrupt governments. After Haiti’s earthquake there was a great deal of effort made to help those suffering people but there was a 40% tariff on all imported aid and the government was so corrupt and incompetent that it couldn’t provide safety for those distributing the aid. Bad government is a moral evil. So, what looks like a Natural evil at first may really have been exacerbated into a worse Moral evil.
There are some Christians that teach that God is just as surprised about calamities as we are, that He doesn’t know the future perfectly. That thinking is called Open Theism and the most well-known teacher of that thinking is Greg Boyd in Minneapolis. This is taught to take God off the hook for natural evil but it creates all kinds of problems and we should be very wary of this kind of teaching.
Christians usually explain the problem of natural evil in a theological way pointing back to the fall of Adam and that he was responsible for the creation having these problems, that God’s original purpose was for this to be a perfect world and mankind is ultimately responsible for the disasters we experience.
Is that a sufficient answer? Are we saying then that God can’t control the weather or the movement of the earth’s crust? I think that is how this answer sounds. Was God surprised by Adam and Eve’s fall? Did the fall have creative power in the sense that it transformed the earth or removed God’s control without God’s ability to stop it? Of course not. The challenge of natural evil can’t be fully diverted away from God because of the fall because God still has sovereignty over His creation and has a purpose for the calamities we suffer.
Still, God did not create this evil though atheists may point to Isaiah 45:7 “7I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” In context this verse is pointing to the natural order, light contrasted with the absence of light, darkness. It also contrasts peace, or well-being with evil, or calamity. Most other versions of the Bible use the term calamity instead of evil.
The real challenge they are making is that is if God exists then he’s obligated to remove evil and calamity in the world and the fact that He doesn’t proves He doesn’t exist or He is evil because there is no sufficient reason to allow such things. Right there is one avenue to explore. Does God have sufficient reasons to allow suffering or should we all just have lives filled with comfort and no suffering ever. I mentioned last week that our perspective is so much different than God’s this side of eternity. A day, week, month or year seem like an eternity when we are suffering in some way.
I hope this doesn’t sound callous while we are talking about suffering but I’ve got a joke. This joke says something about our perspective on time. I heard a comedian relate how when you are kid your summer vacation seemed to last forever. Then as you got older the holidays rolled around quicker and quicker each year. New Year’s, Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, faster and faster. He thought by the time you were elderly it would be like, Birthday! Birthday! Birthday! Birthday! I think this illustrates the perspective of time beautifully. It can show how to God a thousand years is like a day. So, God’s patience and our patience are out of alignment.
So, would God have sufficient reasons to allow suffering and evil?
First, God’s reasons may be beyond our understanding and beyond our perspective to understand. God says that His ways are above our ways in Isaiah 55.
God may allow evil, natural and moral evils, for a myriad reasons and we’ll likely have no idea why he allowed a particular evil. We may gain an understanding in general why we have tornados but not why one hit Joplin.
Second, God allows evil to run its course in most cases to illustrate that anything contrary to God’s will leads to pain, suffering, and death. We learn that the more that we want to run things and not trust God then we will suffer consequences of those actions. Because our hearts are evil and we are unable to control the natural world we will have all kinds of unforeseen problems. We sometimes act like the child who insists they can handle the bicycle now and insists Dad let go. The Dad will let go of the bike to prove to the child that he still needs to rely on the Dad.
In the book of Luke, Jesus explains that this suffering should lead us to repentance. In Luke 3 it reads:
"Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”.
Jesus gives us examples of both Natural and Moral evil here. What Jesus tells us about the tower of Siloam is a warning to all of us and is something we should keep in mind when we hear when people are on TV saying things like Haiti was hit by the terrible earthquake because of their involvement in voodoo and the like. What about the people of Joplin? Jesus would say that we shouldn’t be judging those people whether they deserved that tragedy but instead we should understand that we ALL deserve that. The question should not be ‘Why me?’ The question ought to be ‘Why not me?’ When these tough situations happen God’s hand of grace is removed just enough to let us feel the shadow and pain of judgment but not removed so much that we are without hope.
Third reason, to allow free will to some extent will result certainly in moral evil like murder, theft, rape and the U.S. Congress. The atheist would cry foul if they weren’t allowed free will to resist God but they will also cry foul at this reason because they’ll say it doesn’t answer the problem of natural evil. Certainly an earthquake or tornado is something that we cannot cause, but what about the people who die in earthquakes and tornados because the house they were in was built cheaply and not up to code? The builder may have done an evil act that contributed to the deaths of the residents. The owner of a house in Columbia, Joplin, or anywhere in tornado alley, knows that there is a real, but small, likelihood of a tornado that can destroy their home and they could have built a round home out of concrete or underground that could withstand it but they chose otherwise, as we all do, to assume some risk for our actions.
What would be a viable alternative? What if we could live in a world where all our food, shelter, and clothing is provided, where our actions are constantly watched and controlled to remove evil acts, where all the information we can access is moderated to limit evil thoughts, where others are equally controlled, well that doesn’t sound like paradise does it? That sounds like a prison. If God was going to remove all evil in the world tomorrow, where would you be? Would you be left standing after that? A world where God removes all evil would be one without any freedom in our current states. We have a hard time even understanding how we will be able to live in eternity with God and be without sin because it is so ingrained in us so to expect no evil in the world this side of heaven is irrational, isn’t it?
Matt Slick of CARM.org was asked on his radio show how could we be sinless in heaven and still have free will? Wouldn’t that mean we could sin but there can’t be sin in heaven. Matt said he’d thought a lot about it and did find the possibility to be a concern as well. His best answer to it, one I liked, was that our tendency to sin is that dark part of our soul that we usually hide from others. Well, the Bible gives us an understanding of God that leads him to think that when we are in God’s presence that there would be such an intensity of his holiness permeating through us that there would be no shadows that could remain in His presence. The light of His purity, not our own, would penetrate every part of us. I kind of thought of it this way. Think about the times you’ve been most sad and tearful. Even in those times, if you would watch a couple cute kittens just wrestling with each other and pouncing on one another, it would be awful hard not to smile and even laugh watching that joyful activity of those kittens. God’s presence would even more so push away any tendency to sin that plagues us now.
Fourth, God may indeed use evil to produce good. Just look at the book of James. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” God uses evil and suffering to develop our character. He also uses it to His purposes. Consider Joseph who was sold into slavery and ended up in prison for years before being lifted to second in command over all Egypt. Joseph told his brothers who sold him into slavery initially “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good.”
Suffering is ultimately the result of human sin and God does not create evil in the world but He does use it for His glory and for the good of His children. God may be challenged with causing harm by bringing so many into this world who will suffer but does not every parent know that their child will suffer at some point, become sick, and eventually die but we know that the risks of suffering are far outstripped by the rewards of life, and ultimately the rewards of eternal life infinitely exceed the actual, limited suffering we experience in this life no matter how bad it is.
Whole shelves of books have been written on this subject and he spends just ten seconds making his question and assertion. Pathetic. This is a common challenge and was a major challenge by the famous atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell whose best known book was “Why I Am Not A Christian.” Bertrand Russell often asked, “What does the Christian say at the bedside of a dying child?” That is a very emotional situation and can be quite challenging on many levels but Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, points out that Christianity offers some deep and profound answers to this challenge but he wants to know what an atheist like Bertrand Russell would say to this dying child, “Tough luck?” “It stinks to be you?” “Life happens and then you die and that’s all folks?”
Atheists may not appreciate the answers Christians have but they have no answer of comfort at all! There are some big assumptions in this challenge where an atheist is making moral judgments without giving a basis for them. What standard does he use to judge bad things and good things other than just what he likes? Also, who are these good people he is talking about? Jesus said no one was good, but God, and Romans 3:12 says, “All have turned aside. Together they have become useless. There is none who does good. There is not even one.”
The atheist will bring up children that suffer, as Bertrand Russell did, and call them innocent and that they aren’t sinners subject to God’s judgment. It sure is easier to not bring up the hardened adults with multitudes of sins on their record. The Bible makes it clear that even as infants we are conceived in sin and born as children of wrath. We are affected by the passed on original sin of Adam. We see the propensity to sin very, very early in children. No parent ever taught their child to lie but how did they learn it? They usually lie before they can even talk. Children are selfish, violent, lying, and thieving and have to be trained otherwise. I have five kids, I should know. This is the effect of original sin. G. K. Chesterton observed that the doctrine of original sin was self-evident in every newspaper.
There is also the natural thinking that some people are purer in heart than others and don’t deserve suffering but how much better of a person do you have to be than others to deserve God’s hand to remove suffering? Also, how bad does some suffering have to be to justify that God Himself should act to remove it? Isn’t some suffering better for some people than others? Doesn’t the same suffering create more character in some people than it does others? This whole challenge is so imprecise and unable to quantify that it is really useless as an argument and can’t make a strong case.
The atheist may also argue that it is unfair that babies are born into condemnation for sin and a fallen world based on the actions of Adam. What about that? Is it unfair that we are affected so drastically by the actions of Adam?
There is a theological concept called Federal Headship that argues that Adam represents all of fallen mankind and is our Federal Head in that sense. Now, who is said to have brought sin upon all of us? Adam. Now, who was the first to actually sin in the Garden? Eve. So, why aren’t we taught that sin was brought into the world by Eve? Because Adam was created first and in authority over Eve and ultimately responsible for her actions since he should have prevented them.
Federal Headship also finds its place in the Epistle of Romans when Paul says in Rom. 5:12-14,
"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.“
Notice that it says ‘because all sinned’. This is signifying something that happened in the past but continues into the future. Let’s look at how Wayne Grudem explains it in his Systematic Theology.
"But it was not true that all men had actually committed sinful actions at the time that Paul was writing, because some had not even been born yet, and many others had died in infancy before committing any conscious acts of sin. So Paul must be meaning that when Adam sinned, God considered true that all men sinned in Adam.“
Federal headship isn’t just some arcane theological concept. We see it represented in other ways too. Federal headship can also be represented by the headship of nations over their citizens. If two countries are at war then even a newborn baby is born as an enemy of the other country. Likewise, every baby in the world is born as an enemy of God and affected by sin even before they have actually sinned. It may not be their ‘fault’ so to speak, but that is the way it is.
Let’s look at some scripture to explain this view: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.“ 1 Cor 15:22 The condemnation came to all through Adam but is this saying that salvation comes to all through Christ? Are all saved? Is this this the same ‘all’ representing all people in all times? All is not always all in that sense. If it is then you would be describing universalism and Universalists will use this passage that way. Here’s the key. Don’t forget the word ‘in’ IN Adam all die. Everyone who is born once is IN Adam and Adam represents that person, and essentially all people at all time. Also, everyone who is born TWICE is IN Christ. All who are in Christ shall be made alive. If you aren’t born again, born a second time, given spiritual life, then you aren’t IN Christ and aren’t represented by Christ. We must be IN Christ to have Christ as our mediator with the Father. As 1 Tim 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Christ is the mediator for those that are In Him.
Matt Slick of CARM.org puts it this way.
“As Adam's sin was imputed to us because of the Fall, our sin was likewise imputed to Jesus on the cross and Jesus' righteousness is imputed to us when we receive Him. In other words, if it was not for the biblical idea of Federal Headship (of one person representing others), then Jesus could not have represented us on the cross. If Jesus did not represent us on the cross, then it could not be said of us that "...you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God," (Col. 3:3); and, "Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him," (Rom. 6:8).
If we are going to talk about the legal and theological concepts of ‘guilt’, ‘judgment’, justice, ‘innocence’, and the like then we need to understand terms like ‘imputed’ which is like a legal transaction where something is assigned to another. A duty can be assigned or imputed to another. A debt can be assigned or imputed to another, such as when your young child breaks a lamp in the store then the debt is imputed to you. The bad news was that Adams sin was assigned to us but the good news is that our debt of sin can be assigned to Christ. He takes that debt from us, if we are found IN Him, and he paid that debt on the cross. When He finished paying that debt he cried out on the cross ‘It is finished!” or in Greek ‘tetelestai’. That term, a legal term, has been found on papyri of the time that were bills of sale. The term meant ‘paid in full’. Jesus legally represented us and paid our debt in full, all our sins have been paid for as only our Federal Head could.
My greater point in all this discussion of Federal Headship is that proper theology can answer a lot of the questions we may have about challenges like suffering and death. If our faith, hope, and trust is built on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ, the Jesus we have revealed to us in the scriptures, then we can look to the scriptures to find sufficient reason to trust Him. The reasons given are not exhaustive enough to convince an atheist, but they are sufficient enough to give us a strong grounding for the trust we place in Him. And speaking of trust, I want to come back to the saying I mentioned at the beginning of class.
All that I have seen has taught me to trust the Creator for all that I have not seen.
It isn’t just the beautiful things we have seen that should teach us to trust God but also the horrible things that are beyond our control. Our own suffering should teach us to trust God as well. That is part of the purpose for it after all. In Romans 5 it reads
“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."
This saying can also be taken to heart in a different phrasing:
All that I have suffered has taught me to trust the Creator for all that I have not seen.