I’ve been thinking about the problem of evil. Not so much the very pressing and existential problem of my own evil, but the classic three-part gotcha argument that every half-baked neo-atheist trots out these days with a smug smile. It usually goes like this:
An all-powerful God could eliminate all evil and suffering.
An all-good, all-loving God would want to eliminate all evil and suffering.
Given that evil and suffering are everywhere in our world, the all-powerful, all-good, all-loving God does not exist.
Many people much smarter than me have interacted with this argument over the centuries, and come up with various clever responses and answers.
But I’ve been thinking that a simpler approach might be more effective. The next time someone runs this one up the flag-pole, I’m going to say, “You’re absolutely right. The God you’re talking about doesn’t exist. Load of old cods-wallop, if you ask me. And I think people who believe in him are living in fairy-land.”
And when my questioner looks at me askance, I will follow up with: “But then again, the God of the Bible—there’s a God you can believe in. Do you want to read about him with me?”
You see, when non-Christians trot out the ‘problem of evil’ argument, they are often assuming that the God we Christians believe in is the flaccid sentimental benevolent ‘God’ of 19th century deism and 20th century liberalism, the kind of avuncular nice-guy deity who is represented on posters with puppies. How could this sort of ‘God’ possibly allow any suffering? This is the ‘God’ who vanishes in a puff of logic in the face of the suffering of our world.
We need to draw our friends into a conversation about the real, true and living God—the God who is not only good and merciful and loving, but who also is a consuming fire who pours out judgement on a sinful world, a judgement that is currently being revealed in our daily experience.
It takes only a moment’s thought to realise that goodness and love are perfectly compatible with justice and judgement—that, in fact, they are closely related. It is very possible, for example, for a human judge to be a good and loving man, and yet also to cause considerable personal suffering by sending a rapist to gaol for 20 years. In fact, the goodness of the judge, and his love for what is right, would require him to inflict punishment (and thus suffering) on the perpetrator.
If this is possible in our limited human sphere, how much more so with with an infinitely wise, good, loving and just God revealed in the Bible, who has a race of perpetrators to deal with?
But the wonderful thing about the real God is that judgement is not his only response to our sin…