By Dr. Stephen Kim
“If God exists, then why is there evil in this world?”
That’s a question often thrown to Christians by objecting atheists. The unbeliever often throws the question declaratively, rather than inquisitively, at the believer. The atheist is not really in search for an answer to the question, but rather, he wants to make a statement. He wants to declare that the Christian worldview is illogical and contradictory. What the atheist really wants to state (and not ask) is the following argument:
• An omnibenevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God cannot exist if there is evil in this world.
• There is evil in this world.
• Therefore, God does not exist.
Now, an introductory course in logic would teach the student that in order for an argument to work, two components are necessary. First, the argument itself must be valid. In other words, premise one and premise two must logically lead to the conclusion. Second, in order for an argument to work, not only must the argument follow the rules of logic and be valid; but it must also contain true statements. In other words, the argument must be sound. For example, the following argument does not work, but is valid:
• All dogs have wings.
• Fido is a dog.
• Therefore, Fido has wings.
Logically, the argument above follows the rules of logic and is valid; but because premise one is false, the entire argument is nonsensical and deserves to be thrown out. Hence, for the argument above, we can say that because the first proposition is false, therefore the conclusion is false.
Likewise, the atheist’s conclusion that, “God does not exist” is a wrong conclusion because their first premise, “An omnibenvolent, omnipotent, omniscient God cannot exist if there is evil in this world” is a false premise. First of all, it is the height of human arrogance to claim that one can conclusively state premise one to be definitively true. How in the world can any human (with his limited knowledge) definitively know that evil cannot coexist with a good God? The best an atheist could say is, “It feels as if a good God cannot exist in a world with so much evil.” Anything more than that is simply arrogant presumption.
WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE
Second, the atheist’s claim that the Christian’s worldview is contradictory is false. Let’s quickly look at the Christian’s set of beliefs on this matter. Christians believe:
• God made the world
• God is all-powerful
• God is all-good
• God is all-knowing
• Evil exists in this world
There is nothing contradictory in those set of beliefs. One might disagree with a particular statement, but there’s nothing contradictory within the set. In other words, one statement does not counter another statement within the set. A contradiction would look like this:
• A good God cannot coexist with evil.
• Evil exists.
• A good God exists.
A WRONG RESPONSE
A common mistake made by some Christians (e.g., C.S. Lewis) is their appeal to human free will. The argument goes something like this: “In order for the human will to be genuinely free, God must allow for the possibility of evil along with the possibility of good. Hence, God permits evil in order to secure the freedom of the human will.” To illustrate their point, some Christians often use the virtue of love. Love, they claim, is only love if the human agent also has the ability to choose hate. If all the human agent could do is love, then that would not be true love. And since God wanted genuine love (instead of robotic love), He had to give humans the optional reality of hate. Therefore, when humans choose to love God, they are freely shunning hate and the love is genuine.
There are three problems with this argument. First, the establishment of human free will is not God’s ultimate objective. Rather, God is always primarily seeking His own glory (Rom 9:16-17). Second, our decision to love God is not ultimately our choice (though it is a choice in a real sense). Rather, Scripture informs us that our decision to love God is a result of God’s work on our hearts. To put it another way, we love God because He makes us love Him: “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut 30:6). Lastly, in heaven, there is no ability to choose evil (or hate). Heaven will contain neither evil nor the ability to commit evil (Rev 22:15). Yet, heaven also contains pure and undefiled love. Is that love, therefore, not real? No one would dare say that it’s not. In fact, the love in heaven is higher and more authentic than any love we know here on earth—and yet, there is no real option of choosing hate. Hence, we can conclusively say that the option to hate is not a necessary ingredient for love to be authentic.
THE RIGHT RESPONSE
As Christians, we believe that a good God can (and does) coexist with evil. We can look at the evening news to know that evil exists, and we can look at the human genome to know that God exists. Though the origin of evil is a mystery, Christians know that both God and evil exist in this broken world. In the form of an argument, here’s what Christians believe:
• An omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God made this world (Genesis 1:1).
• God has a good reason for ordaining evil in this world (Ephesians 1:11, Romans 8:28).
• Therefore, evil exists in this world.
The argument above contains no illogical inconsistencies. Now, again, a person might disagree with either (or both) premise(s), but there’s nothing illogical about the argument. Hence, the claim that Christians are irrational is a false claim. There’s nothing irrational about what we believe. In fact, everything makes logical sense. And as much as an atheist would like to definitively say, “I know that there is no good reason for evil!”, he knows that he can’t state it because he’s not God. His knowledge is limited and he really doesn’t know.
Additionally, the fact that Christians don’t know the “good reason” for God ordaining evil in this world doesn’t affect the logical cohesion of the argument. So what if we don’t know the good reason for evil existing in this world? Provided that there exists a good reason, that’s really all that matters! As a human, I might want to know the reason, but I don’t need to know it. If God, in His loving and infinite wisdom, chose not to reveal the reason to us, then who are we to argue? Again, if God is all-wise, all-powerful, and He genuinely loves me; then like a child who simply trusts his dad, I rest at peace. Curiosity might be piqued, but it needs not be fulfilled. The child might wonder why his father is forcing him to intake a bitter-tasting syrup; but his knowledge of his father and his father’s ways enable the child to trustfully swallow the distasteful substance. Whether or not the child knows that the bitter syrup is actually medicine that will later serve for his good is completely irrelevant.
The greatest evidence for my argument is seen in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt that the greatest evil ever perpetrated by mankind was the murder of God’s incarnate Son. However, Scripture also informs us that God actually ordained for the worst sin in human history to occur (Acts 2:23). In fact, the crucifixion of Jesus would not have occurred if God did not plan and ordain it. Yet, out of heinous atrocity, came forth the glory of God through the salvation of an untold number of human souls. Humans that deserved nothing more than the eternal condemnation of a just God in the eternal fires of hell were forgiven and granted eternal life—all because of the worst evil that took place on earth.
And so it is with all evil. There is no such thing as gratuitous evil. Every evil on earth has a good and divine purpose. Not even a sparrow dies without God’s consent (Matt 10:29). All evil serves for the ultimate good of God’s glory (Romans 9:22). However, we do not (and often, will not) know penultimate reasons (if there are any) for many evils. But though we may not know the secondary reasons, God knows—and that’s all that really matters. You might not know “why” your baby died in that miscarriage, but you trust and rest in your good God. What’s important is that we trust that our good God is working all things (good and evil) for our good (Romans 8:28).