One of the most popular objections for the existence of God coming from skeptics is the problem of evil. The objection sounds something like this: “How can there be a ‘God’ when there is all this evil in the world? Where was God when 9/11 happened, the tsunamis wiped a whole coastline of Japan, and when tornadoes devastate a community? On this tenth anniversary of 9/11, I want to answer this objection, as we reflect back to an event that shook our nation. Having listened to and read the new atheists over the last few years, I am convinced that this event of terrorism is a catalyst to boosting their campaigns, in writing and speaking tours.
It is on this anniversary of 9/11 that my brothers and sisters in the task of apologetics are taking the time to write responses as to the problem of evil which will provide a prompting to faith rather than skepticism. My task in this endeavor is toward addressing the “Three Faces of Evil and a Christian Response.”
As we trudge through this objection I am going to first provide a brief yet succinct definition of “evil”. Then I plan to show how evil (active) and suffering (passive) show their ugly heads in the form of three “faces.” Lastly, I will provide a Christian response to the problem of evil with hopes of showing why it is most reasonable to believe that God exists, and He has intervened even when we do not understand all there is to this objection but have to rely on faith after knowing all there can be known.
How Does One Define Evil?
If you were to ask the average person on the street (or in the church), how they define “evil”, one might hear answers stemming in the forms of events like acts of terrorism, natural disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes, or whatever natural forms they can think of. Others might put a face or a person to their definition like, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Josef Stalin or any of the personalities who remind us of atrocious acts of evil. The new atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris (and those who follow these individuals) will say, “religion”. But these “definitions” are not really definitions but just mere examples rooted in one’s approach to explaining “evil.”
I am convinced that no matter who you talk to, the approach to defining the problem of evil will be encased in one’s worldview. One popular approach to coming to understanding the problem of evil is found in a three step argument known as a syllogism that goes something like this: (1) God created all things; (2) Evil is a thing; (3) Therefore God created evil.
If this approach were true, and I am happy to say that it is not, then Christianity has been rocked off of its moorings. Why is this syllogism fallacious? Because “evil” is not a “thing” in the sense of it being created “thing.” In fact, evil did not need to be created thus we need to look at it from a different direction.
The direction I will take in this comes from Saint Augustine. It was Augustine who asked the question: Do we have any convincing evidence that a good God exists? If we have independent evidence(s) that lead us to the conclusion that God does exist and that God is good, then God would be incapable of doing something outside of his very nature, like creating evil. Thus evil has to get its definition from another source.
In looking at it from Augustine’s viewpoint, we find him offering evidence through natural theology which I will demonstrate on how the three “faces” of evil show themselves. So allow me to work out the definition of evil from this perspective. It moves as follows:
Oh, right, I have mentioned this word “God”. Before I move further, I probably ought to give a quick definition of what I mean by God? God is the only being in existence who is the uncaused Cause, is absolutely moral, transcendent, infinite, and personal. So in order to get to our definition of evil, believing that God exists and is ultimately good, we can deduce the following: (1) We know that God, being good, cannot create evil, so all things that God created are indeed good. (2) We also know that evil is not good. (3) So if evil is not good, then evil can be defined as the absence of good.
More could be said about the approaches to defining evil, but the scope of this essay causes me to leave this point right here so that we can move on to the faces with which evil presents itself.
II. Evil’s Three Faces
Evil shows its ugly head from three (3) different faces. Where does evil come from? Christians believe that prior to man’s falling into sin (Genesis 3), evil had not existed in the three faces this section will discuss. It was a misuse of God given freedom that has its origins starting with the fall of Satan. Lucifer (Satan) fell (Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28) and later tempted the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden. We do not know all the historical facts of when, but the record from Scripture being reliable gives us this foundation. It is at the fall of man in Genesis 3 that we see from Scripture, evil falling upon the world. It was not until the moment when the man and the woman, using their God given freedom, chose to disobey God. The result was evil coming into the world through three ugly faces. I now move to a summarization of them for you.
A. Face Number One: Our Mortal Bodies.
The first face of evil I would like to present is the evil that inflicts our mortal bodies. From the time that we are born until the time we die, and those times in between, we are afflicted with injuries, and illness. We think of the horrible disease of cancer, along with other terminal illnesses. Some of us are immune from some of these but in the long run we are all breaking down to the point where we will one day encounter the grave.
These bodies have a spirit in them which drives our desires, and our passions. They house our soulishness, (our minds, our wills, and emotions) from the time we are born. We might fall on black ice and break a leg. We might participate in a sport activity like softball, hit the ball a ways, and round first base, and blow out an Achilles tendon while running to second base.
These bodies as they get older every day will continue to experience the phenomenon of irreversibility of the aging process. We need to admit that these mortal “power packs”, known as our bodies are breaking down. Some of us have cavities in our teeth, others need eyeglasses or hearing aides, and as we age we have achy aging muscles. Why is this? Because we are competing with the law of entropy by decaying, breaking down, and moving toward a time when these bodies of ours will no longer work.
This is the first face of evil that we cannot do anything about. The humanist will say, you are born, you live, and then you die; and that is all there is. But is that all there is? Though this is an inescapable fact of life, the last part of this essay will give a response to the problem of evil pointing to an answer to the fact that this is not all there is.
There is a second face of evil rearing its ugly head, and that face is seen in the natural world.
B. Face Number Two: The Natural World
We not only experience a form of evil from our mortal bodies, experiencing illness, and ultimately death, but there is a second face to evil in a form coming out of the natural world. You see, death and disease are not the only things that seek to overtake these power packs we call our bodies. We also experience an evil that comes from the phenomenon of the natural world.
Not too long ago, here in Virginia where I live, we experienced an earthquake that registered 5.9 on the Richter scale. Later in that week we had the potential of experiencing the wrath of Hurricane Irene. However we did not experience the full brunt of Irene, but only had tropical storms that were formidable in their own right. There were those who felt the greater impact of that hurricane losing property; with some even losing their homes and a few lost their lives.
We think of other parts of the world where there have been greater force hurricanes leaving wreckage. We think of the recent tsunamis in Japan that were the aftermath of underwater earthquakes and have devastated a whole coastline and shut down parts of the Japanese auto industry for a handful of months.
These are things that we cannot escape. This too is one of many results from the fall of man that we read about in the third chapter of Genesis 3. But there is a final form of evil that we cannot ignore. In fact, it is this third face that is forced upon many in our world. This face I refer to as the form of evil that comes from our fellow human beings.
C. Face Number Three: Our Fellow Human Beings
There is an ironic twist to writing this essay. As I write this, I happen to be watching the conversation of a particular thread when all of a sudden I notice a Facebook ad promoting tee shirts from an atheist merchant. Being rather curious, I click on it and notice one ad showing a tee shirt with the following statement: “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.” How providential of an illustration as I will explain momentarily.
In this section we are looking at evil coming from our fellow human beings. We think of the atrocities over the last century, some yes, done under the banner of religion, but heinous actions were committed coming out of the realm of skepticism, yes even atheism.
The following chart shows the amount of loss of life just in the last century under a banner of “unbelief”:
Total Loss of Lives
Mao Tse Tung
Looking at this chart from R. J. Rummel’s work “Death by Government” I am not so convinced that religion is totally guilty of the countless lives that have been lost over the past century. Of course we think of 9/11 and the fact that the terrorist action against the United States was an act of religious war (‘jihad”). We see that religion has had its place in committing heinous actions; but let’s not just blame religion! Remember that Nietzsche predicted that the twentieth century was going to be the bloodiest century to date. Look at Rummel’s chart again and tell me he was wrong.
If we are totally honest, we could look at the actions of the Nazi death camps and see the loss of over 12,000,000 lives in the ovens that were orchestrated in the academic halls of nihilistic scientists. How could reasonable “sane” commit such heinous evil? Why?
Just cast the religious and philosophical language aside and check out the news on the internet. This morning I read a local news story that reported a twenty year old male shooting someone in the back of the head at point blank range. The reason for his killing his victim was over a spilled bag of sunflower seeds. Are we kidding ourselves? A spilled bag of sunflower seeds earned a point blank shot to the back of the head? Why
What is all this telling us? What it is telling us is that there is something more than religion that is responsible for the evil that we see from one human being against another.
You see, I don’t think religion is the total culprit as much as it is the worldview of the one who is committing, or ordering an evil act. It is the one embracing a bankrupt worldview who is the culprit. The atheist or the anti-theist who says “religion kills” is committing the same fallacy as an anti-gun rights activist who says “guns kill.”
Guns by themselves do not kill people. You have to have a person puling the trigger. Religion, good or bad, does not kill as long as the worldview is sound. It is only when the teachings of a bankrupt religious or philosophical worldview are put into action that we see evil committed by one human against another human manifesting itself. This was evident with the razing of the Twin Towers on September 11th of 2001. I also think about the actions this past July by the terrorist action upon a girls school in Norway; even the shooter at Virginia Tech a few years ago. Each of these sets of terrorists had a worldview, a bankrupt religious or philosophical worldview. It was the actions from a bankrupt worldview that were manifested on those days.
Is there any response to this problem of evil? Where can we run to in order to find an answer? Let me finish up this essay with a response to this question.
III. Christian Response
To sum where we have been, in the first section, I gave a brief definition of evil as the absence of good. In the second section, I shared briefly three faces or sources from which evil shows its ugly face. We looked at evil from the natural world, our mortal bodies, and finally the evil that comes from fellow human beings. All of us have or will experience each of these to some varying degree. We may come face to face or we may see them from a distance, or both.
Allow me now to move to the Christian response to the problem of evil. The first face (natural evil) does not really prompt us to ask the question as much as the remaining two. Why do we suffer from terminal illness? Why does man commit such heinous actions? Why did God allow the earthquake or the tsunami?
Who is asking the question? Each of these questions imply a moral framework that is naturally wired to our souls. Whether you believe that God exists or not, we cannot escape asking this “moral question” in varying ways. I believe that only the Christian can ask this question legitimately because of the Christian worldview provides a solid foundation for a response. Allow me to explain.
The world views of the Eastern religions cannot answer this problem. If you were to take a look at the ideas behind the problem of evil, it is seen as either non-real or it is one’s karma being played out. The Buddhist will tell you and I that they are deeply concerned with overcoming suffering but they must deny that suffering is real. The Hindu has no concept of rebellion against a holy God, or against his fellow man. The Hindu views this as ignorance of the unity with Brahman and a violation of one’s social duty (dharma) are humanity’s problems. But calling it ignorance or calling evil non real does not solve the problem when one is suffering. It only sweeps it under the rug until it re-emerges and shows up as a vicious circle.
The Islamic worldview is fatalistic when evil manifests itself. Evil is often explained as the will of Allah. There is this concept of ‘shirk’ speaking about those who violate the “laws of Islam” or commit sin against the religion or ‘Allah’, but that’s as far as it goes.
What about the skeptics? What about the atheists who try to say that God does not exist because of all the evil in the world. This too is a problem.
If one were to “follow the path or reasoning of the unbeliever, we would find some fascinating contradictions. The main one, I see, is that if the atheist lived out the baseness of his or her worldview, they would have to conclude that there is nothing wrong with rape or torturing human beings. They have to admit that there is nothing morally wrong with the loss of millions over the last century at the hands of Hitler, Stalin and others Therefore it is my contention, the atheist cannot ask the questions on the problem of evil without smuggling in terms from a moral Lawgiver.
Where is the solace amid those times of suffering for one embracing any of these religions? Where does the comfort come from? I am convinced that one must look to the Christian worldview for the answer to these questions.
The Christian points to the paradox of the cross of Christ. It is at the cross of Christ on Golgotha where the problem of evil has its answer. For in the cross, we see love, justice, evil and forgiveness all coalescing at one point in human history.
At the cross you have an act of evil upon an innocent man. That evil act was death by the horrible means of crucifixion. This was not the death of a misguided martyr but an act of justice for our sin. This was not an act of suicide by a lunatic but an act of love to pay the penalty for the evil within our own hearts. In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, we read,
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners [transgressors against a moral Lawgiver], Christ died for us. (5:8; bracketed remark is mine)
It was in the sacrifice of Christ that we see God’s justice being carried out upon Christ so that we might have peace. Again we read the Apostle Paul in His letter to the believers in Rome (5:1)
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”
An act of evil turned around into a work that would justify, forgive, and show the love of a God who recreates man truly free to worship Him, or in his spiritual deadness reject Him . This is why I say along with my mentors in the task of apologetics, God made evil possible by creating man free; and it is that free man who makes that third face of evil actual by misusing his God-granted freedom to commit acts of evil not only against his fellow man, but also against a holy, righteous, loving and just God.
None of the religions, as great as they are (quantitatively) can solve the problem of evil. If any of them could come up with a better solution to solve the problem of evil and the evil within our own hearts, God would have to apologize for putting HIs Son to death on the cross. Thankfully we will not see this happening any time soon.
Rob is a blogger, writer, pastor/teacher, and public speaker on a mission to equip the believer to think and articulate what they believe and communicate it to a confused culture in a “brave new world.”
“Ground Zero: Why truth matters in preventing another 9/11-style attack” (Wintery Knight)
Remembering 9-11: Which revelation is true? The need for evaluating religious claims” (Eric Chabot, Ratio Christi – Ohio State University)
“If God, Why Evil?” (In Defense of the Christian Faith)
“Unsung Lessons from 9/11: ‘Moral Monsters’ & Fear of Death” (Clay Jones)
“9-11” (Deeper Waters)
“Do all roads (and flights) lead to God?” (Sarcastic Xtian)
“On September 11, 2001, harmless things became fearful” (J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”)
“Remembering 9/11: A Young Californian’s Perspective” (Take Two Blog)
“The Two Ground Zeros” (Reasons for God)
“America after 9 11: Is Religion Evil?” (Apologetics Guy)
“Resources on the Problem of Evil” (Apologetics 315)
“Atheism, Evil, and Ultimate Justice” (Faithful Thinkers)
“Where was God on 9/11?” (Cold and Lonely Truth)
“Did God Allow the Attacks on 9/11 for a ‘Greater Good?'” (The Gospel According to Erik)
“Where was God on 9-11?” (Neil Mammen’s Blog)
“From Ground Zero to Ten Years Later–September 11, 2001” (Sententia)
“9-11 Remembered” (Answering Muslims)
“9-11, Jihad, and the Christian” (Talitha, Koum!)