In the battleground of ideas, one of the greatest challenges Christians face surrounds the issue of evil and its apparent conflict with the existence of God. Unfortunately, popular and vocal atheists like Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have made their skeptical soundbites so accessible that many have adopted them without even considering the validity of the arguments that lie beneath. This is unfortunate since their arguments are not new and already have a long history of thoughtful response from Christian thinkers. William Dembski points out that “the neo-athiests are not having a good time of it when they attempt to disprove Christian faith simply by appealing to science”1; so instead they moralize about the horrors of religion (Christian religion in particular) and the evils that exist because of belief in God. Richard Dawkins is one of the most notoriously vocal pundits on this point:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal , genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”2
But beyond their more rhetorical tirades involving misused proof texts and catalogues of historical evils perpetrated in the name of religion (i.e. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the like), ‘the problem of evil’ has real significance for Christian apologetics, and deserves the careful attention of every Christian. Who, after all, has not at one time or another observed or even endured some of the horrors perpetrated by mankind or nature against mankind and not questioned where God could be in it all? Even Job, the earliest voice of man recorded in the Scriptures wrestled with the existential problems of evil and suffering, saying:
“Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” (Job 3:23 – 4:1 – NIV)
In the midst of such suffering a person’s need is not for philosophical or rational answers, (which Job’s thoughtless friends tried to give him) but for the fellowship of a caring community (which Job’s three friends denied him) and to know the presence of God (which Job eventually did). For the rest of the time however, we do need to “give an answer” both gently and respectfully as to how we can reconcile the reality of evil with our belief in an omnipotent, omniscient and omni benevolent God. It will not do to simply apply more “faith” as the remedy. To be sure, faith is required, but it is faith that is grounded in our knowledge of God and his Creation, and that knowledge must extend, as much as possible, to the issue of evil’s presence in our reality.
In our God and Evil Series then, we want to help familiarize Christians with a subject known as ‘theodicy’. Theodicy, loosely defined is man’s attempt to provide explanations for the existence of evil given God, or simply put to answer the question “why does God allow evil?”
Maybe this topic doesn’t interest you because it sounds too philosophical or abstract. Let me encourage you to stop and reconsider that this is in fact one of the most practical topics that you could spend your time learning about in order to become a better defender of Christianity. The experience of evil and suffering is one of the most common shared experiences of every person. And, it is most certainly a matter that people who don’t believe in God are concerned with. If you want to faithfully live as a witness for Jesus Christ, eventually in trying to tell people about salvation in Jesus you are going to face the objection from evil. Pat answers or appeals to ignorance will not do and may turn people off. The fact is, we can do much better than pat answers because properly understood the gospel makes more sense of the problem of evil than any other worldview.
To help us become better defenders of Christian truth then, through our series we will focus on three areas of discussion. The first area will concern itself with logical arguments, helping you to see and demonstrate that there is nothing unreasonable about affirming God’s existence as the Bible reveals him and the existence of evil. The second area we will look at are evidential arguments, dealing with some of the specific examples of evil that seem irreconcilable with God’s existence and how we can respond. The third area will deal with practical matters of how we have these kinds of conversations. At Prepared to Answer, we seek to keep ever before us God’s admonition that we answer people “with gentleness and respect”. That means the ‘how’ of our answer is of equal if not more importance than the ‘what’.
We hope you enjoy this series and find it helpful in strengthening your faith and equipping you to confidently share Christ with your world.