It is common (and biblical!) to hear Christians put forward a positive case for God’s existence. It is less common to hear atheists do so. Their argument goes something like this: We shouldn’t believe something without evidence; there is no evidence for God’s existence; therefore, we should not believe He exists. They have a negative case for their worldview. Many actually believe it is impossible to provide a positive case for God’s non-existence.
There is, however, one argument that atheists have used to try to argue positively that God does not exist. It is called the Problem of Evil. It’s important to look at for two reasons: first, if it is the one argument atheists continually use, then we must be prepared for it; and second, many Christians have a problem with it, too!
The argument goes this way: God would have the power, knowledge, and will to prevent evil in this world; there is evil in this world; therefore, the God must not exist.
Put a bit less formally, the argument says if God loves us so much, He would keep us from suffering. After all, every parent who loves their child would do the same. Who would stand by while their child played near a busy street intersection? Who wouldn’t pull their child out of a fire if they were able? Yet God allows people to suffer and die for no apparent reason. In other words, why would a good God allow bad things to happen?
The problem with the argument is that it makes a lot of unnecessary assumptions. We will address this problem repeatedly, so rather than try to look at all of them, let’s just look at one:
It assumes that we don’t deserve to suffer.
There are, of course, other issues involved. The first usually cited is free will. This, though, gets right to the heart of the matter. If a rapist goes to jail, does anyone complain about the “evil” they have suffered? Of course not. They got what they deserved for their crime. Imagine if a rapist were to say, “I cannot believe you would allow me to go to prison. How dare you!” That would be absurd. On the other hand, if they were allowed to go free, society would be justified in saying, “I cannot believe you would allow him to go free. How dare you!”
Every time we point at God and demand an explanation for our suffering, we are presuming our innocence; the argument only works if we do not deserve to suffer. The issue is not if God would allow suffering. It is whether He would allow unjust suffering. In actuality, those who use the Problem of Evil are assuming moral equality with God. They are simply justifying their own selves.
I agree with Voddie Baucham, who argued that the real question is not how a good God would allow suffering, but how a good God could know my evil and allow me to experience one moment of pleasure. The one suffering the evil is God, not me, for it is He has to suffer the injustice!
The opinion that we are basically good is no basis on which to try to argue the objective fact of God’s non-existence. It is simply an unjustified assertion. Others, then, will point to what they believe to be unjustified suffering (i.e., children starving to death in third-world countries). Before we allow them to condemn God for that, however, look at the clothes on their back, the shoes on their feet, the car they drive, the house they live in, and all the other niceties they enjoy. If they will not give up their luxuries so others can have basic needs, then what moral right do they have to condemn God? If they won’t help, why should they be mad at God?
The Bible declares that all men have sinned and deserve death. If it is true, then evil is not a problem. God would be within His rights to allow us to suffer much more than we do now. It is only by His grace and mercy that we do not.
We don’t like to think of ourselves as evil. It’s easier to think of ourselves as good. But so long as we live under that delusion, we will never—not even in eternity—understand why or how God could allow suffering.