How Can a Good God Allow Evil?

Many Christians wrestle with this question and many doubters tout this as the trump card to all lofty theistic arguments.

Normally the flow of thought goes like this:

  • The God of the Bible appears to be good and all-powerful.
  • We know that evil exists and it is everywhere.
  • If the God of the Bible exists (being good and all-powerful) how can evil also exist? Wouldn’t the mere presence of evil negate the existence of either God’s goodness or almighty power?
  • If that is so, the God of the Bible must not exist.

Pretty sound logic, right? Or so it may seem.

The actual reason why this argument is a stumbling block for many Christians and seen as a fool-proof gambit by others is that they are looking at evil and suffering through an imperfect lens.

Consider Mitch Stokes’ explanation of the problem of evil and why it is actually not a problem at all. The quote is long but well worthy of a careful read through:

This is where it is particularly useful to look more closely at the Christian story of redemption. God created humans to bless them, to allow them to enter a deep, fulfilling relationship with him…

But it is entirely different for us; to put oneself above the most perfect being is morally wrong. Yet this, apparently, is what we desired. We wanted things that only God could have. And in trying to take them, we marred our very natures, so that—although we still retain something of God’s image—it is badly misshapen. And now, of course, we’re suffering for it.

But God suffered more. Infinitely more, in fact…

When God’s Son was crucified some two thousand years ago by the Roman government, the eternal relationship between the Father and Son was severed. This is why the cross is so horrific. To be sure, the physical suffering was genuine suffering, but that suffering was negligible compared to the pain of losing this infinitely close relationship. Anyone who has felt the pain of a lost relationship—especially a close one—knows that this suffering can be devastating. Separation from someone you love is nearly unbearable. And in Jesus’ case, the pain would be infinite.

God, then, suffered an excruciating evil, and on our behalf. This is no small thing, and it may be of some comfort. Realizing that God himself suffered far greater pain to save creatures who—at the time of their rescue—hated him, might offer some perspective…

And so, “perhaps that invitation [of salvation] can be issued only to creatures who have fallen, suffered, and been redeemed. If so, the condition of humankind is vastly better than it would have been, had there been no sin and no suffering. O Felix Culpa, indeed!” O Felix Culpa: “O Happy Fall!” Ironic, paradoxical, yet a story with a wildly happy ending. But like all riveting stories, the journey is at times unbearable.

The problem of evil, while still a problem for the believer, isn’t one that makes belief in God irrational. And so despite the problem’s centrality in the atheist’s arsenal, it is surprisingly weak, from an intellectual standpoint. But there is more to say about evil, this time about its implications for the atheist or, more accurately, naturalism’s implication for morality in general. And the conclusion is simplicity itself: if there is no God, there is no evil.

Nor is there any good.

(A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists, p. 198-200, emphasis mine)

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