As many of you know, there was a tragic church shooting in Southerland Springs, Texas, over the weekend that took the lives of twenty-six people, including a pregnant woman and seven other members of her family. The youngest killed was a seventeen month old baby and the eldest was seventy-seven years old. In addition, twenty other people were injured.
When we hear about these types of tragedies it is common to ask, “Where is God in all of this?” There is no easy answer to this question, and when someone is hurt and grieving, almost any answer offered up seems to fall short of providing any real comfort and satisfaction.
The question is one of the most profound questions that we have to face, and is part of the bigger question of evil and suffering. It is at least as old as the ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus, who lived three hundred years before Christ, and is usually expressed something like this: If God is all powerful and all good, why is there evil and suffering in the world? If God is all powerful, then he is able to stop the suffering, and if he is all good, then he should want to stop the suffering. However, evil and suffering are a reality, therefore either God is not all powerful or he is not all good. Expressed logically, the argument looks like this:
Premise A: If an all good, all powerful God exists, then there would be no evil or suffering.
Premise B: Evil and suffering do exist.
Conclusion: Therefore God is either not willing (he is not good), or he is not able (he is not powerful), to end evil and suffering.
This appears to be a sound logical argument. If premise “A” is true, and premise “B” is true, the conclusion logically follows.
Although there are some belief systems (such as Christian Science – which is neither “Christian” nor “science”) that deny the existence of evil (evil is just an illusion), most people would agree with premise “B”. All we have to do is pick up a newspaper, turn on the news, or look in a mirror to know that evil and suffering exists. We all daily face the reality of good and evil, right and wrong. We may not all agree with what constitutes good or evil, right or wrong, but there is a universal sense that some things are good or right while other things are bad or wrong. Since anyone concerned with evil and suffering already presupposes the validity of premise “B”, let’s move on to premise “A”.
Premise “A” says, “If an all good, all powerful God exists, then there would be no evil or suffering. However, I believe that this premise is flawed for a couple of reasons.
First, the premise, as it is stated, presents an over-simplified view of God. It only takes into account two of his many attributes; his goodness (holiness) and his power (omnipotence). However, there are many other attributes of God; his love, justice, sovereignty, mercy, omniscience, immutability, wisdom and grace just to name a few. All of the attributes of God must be taken into account. It is like a recipe. It would not be correct to call a cup of flour or a cup of sugar a “cake” because a cake is composed of more than just flour or sugar. But when you take the flour and the sugar and mix it in with the other ingredients in the proper proportions, then you have a cake. The same is true of God. It would be presumptuous to expect God to behave a certain way based only on one or two of his attributes. That would be something less than God and not the real God at all.
Just consider one of God’s other attributes, his omniscience. Omniscience means that God knows everything perfectly – past, present and future – from beginning to end. Because God is omniscient, there may be some overriding reason for him to allow evil and suffering that only he knows about. He may allow it in order to bring about a greater good or to prevent a worse evil. We are not omniscient, so we do not know what God knows. Therefore, premise “A” is fallacious because it does not take into consideration all of the attributes of God.
The second reason that I believe that this argument is flawed is that it assumes that because God has not already brought an end to evil and suffering that he will not, or cannot bring about its demise. It demands that God act “now,” rather than allowing a sovereign, omniscient God to bring about the consummation of history in his own time frame. In Revelation 21:4, we are told of God’s ultimate plan to end all evil and suffering:
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
But why do we have to wait? Why doesn’t God act NOW to end evil? When he does finally judge sin and put an end to all evil, that will include every person who has never repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus. 2 Peter 3:9 says:
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise [to come again and judge the world]…but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
The Bible tells us that the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue to exist for the time being is because God is being merciful to us.
As you can see, evil and suffering are compatible with an all-good, all-powerful God.
Sometimes, the same argument is used to attack, not the character of God, but the very existence of God. That argument can be expressed something like this:
Premise A: If God exists, then there would be no evil or suffering.
Premise B: Evil and suffering do exist.
Conclusion: Therefore God does not exist.
But people who like to use the existence of evil and suffering as an argument against the existence of God, run into the problem of trying to explain how they can arrive at the concept of evil. Without a transcendent, moral lawgiver, there is no objective standard by which to judge any activity as good or evil. Good and evil then become subjective concepts, where each individual decides for himself what is good and bad, right and wrong.
Rather than the reality of evil and suffering being proof that God doesn’t exist, I believe that it is, in reality, a good argument for the existence of God. In order to understand what I am getting at, we will need to ask ourselves a serious of questions that were first asked by the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, in his book A Critique of Practical Reason.
As I stated earlier, most people believe that good and evil, right and wrong, really do exist. When we talk about these things, we are talking about moral imperatives. In other words, we are talking about things that we ought to do and things that we ought not to do.
But why should we do some things and not do other things? What do we need for a system of morality to be meaningful? What is needed is justice. Right behavior must be rewarded and wrong behavior must be punished. Without justice, there is no practical difference between right and wrong. A person might as well do whatever they want if there are no consequences for his actions.
But we know that in this life we do not always have perfect justice. Evil people are sometimes never punished for the things that they do, and good deeds often go unrewarded. So what would be necessary for perfect justice to take place if we do not always have perfect justice in this life? We would need an afterlife in which justice could prevail.
But even for justice to prevail in an afterlife, what would be necessary? What would prevent things from happening just as they do in this life? We would need a judge to rule in judgment over everyone’s deeds.
But would this insure justice? What if the judge was corrupt? In order to have perfect justice we would need a judge that was perfectly upright and good. He would have to be perfectly and infinitely holy without even the slightest speck of corruption.
But would this still insure that perfect justice is done? What if our perfectly holy and good judge made a mistake in the law? What if he based his judgment on faulty evidence? Even good people can make mistakes if they don’t have all of the evidence. What we would need is a judge that knew everything perfectly. He would have to have all knowledge about everything, everywhere, and at all times. He would have to be omniscient.
But suppose that we had a perfectly holy, perfectly omniscient judge who declares an evil doer guilty and passes sentence upon him. Would that still insure justice? What if the evil doer overpowers his guards and escapes from custody? What would be necessary to insure perfect justice is for our perfectly holy, perfectly omniscient judge to have power to carry out his sentence. How much power would he need? He would have to be all powerful. He would need to be omnipotent.
Does our perfectly holy, omniscient, omnipotent judge start to remind you of anyone?
So in order for good and evil…right and wrong to mean anything at all, there must be justice. And to have justice, there must be a holy, omniscient, omnipotent judge to dispense it. Logically put, our argument now looks like this:
Premise A: If evil and suffering exist, then a perfectly holy, omniscient, omnipotent God exists.
Premise B: Evil and suffering do exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, a perfectly holy, omniscient, omnipotent God does exist.