Recently, I was listening to a Cross Examined podcast with Frank Turek where he was interviewing Oxford mathematician and Christian philosopher John Lennox on a lecture titled “If God, Why Evil?” I love listening to Lennox speak because he has a mastery of this subject matter and he is such an amazingly clear and concise communicator and thinker. Much like Ravi Zacharias in the way he communicates, there are few that can communicate complex topics as winsomely and persuasively as he does. Lennox is truly one of the finest Christian intellects of our generation and there are few more qualified to provide authoritative insights into the nature of the problem of evil than he.
As I was listening, he brought up a side of the problem of evil that I haven’t examined much before until recently. As he described it, those that choose not to believe in a God because of the existence of evil fail to understand that atheism does not adequately solve the problem of evil in the most important respect. Atheism removes hope from the equation entirely. With God, we are certain of the existence of hope regardless of how poor our understanding is of the existence of evil. Those that become upset with the tragedies of this life and resort to atheism as a solution are failing to comprehend that the problem of evil and suffering will exist nonetheless. There are a couple conundrums that atheism faces when attempting to serve as an adequate explanatory framework for evil and suffering…
If Atheism is True, No Hope Exists
The video above beautifully and simply addresses the problems that arise when atheism attempts to answer the intellectual problem of evil. Many atheists would point out that the hopelessness of our universe does not mean that their atheistic answer to suffering and evil is incorrect. I wholeheartedly agree. The hopefulness or hopelessness of an argument is irrelevant. The question must inevitably arise however, how comprehensively has atheism truly answered this question if in the process of removing God; they’ve also removed any remnant of hope that would emotionally help them through their suffering? Lennox states, “There is a sense in which atheism does solve the intellectual problem, but we have to notice that it doesn’t take away the suffering”. This is the problem with the atheistic position that many bypass in their intellectually clumsy desire to remove a God that would permit evil to exist. While the problem of evil may very well be perceived as a problem for the Christian, the Christian can at least “have hope in the face of suffering” unlike the atheist who has no hope while suffering and must face the grim reality of death being the ultimate end of their existence after a lifetime of suffering evil.
Nature of God
It will help us answer the question further to learn more about the nature of God. For the Christian, Jesus is God incarnate and came to die on a cross for our sins and rose on the third day, showing that “God has not remained distant from our suffering but has become a part of it”. God has endured more suffering than we can imagine and the suffering he endured was part and parcel of our salvific relationship we can choose to have with Him. Our fallen nature has brought upon most of the evil that we observe within creation and God took it upon Himself to rectify the misdeeds of His creation through the suffering on the cross so that we may have the opportunity, if we so choose, to give our lives to Him and receive eternal salvation (i.e. hope).
The atheistic critique that God would be the author of evil in spite of Him voluntarily subjecting himself to the very evil that He is accused of creating is farcical. Jesus Christ voluntarily gave His life for us in an incomprehensibly excruciating death while begging the Father to extend forgiveness to His executioners because they ‘do not know what they do’. It seems that through Jesus’ life on earth, he experienced His fair share of evil and suffering. Jesus saw disease, death, violence, prostitution, thievery, and brokenness of every stripe. Jesus “became a part of it” and brought more hope than we deserve along with him. If atheists claim that evil and suffering are incompatible with the existence of God, it’s their claim to prove. While freewill allows for moral virtue, it also allows for the possibility of horrendous evil. The fact that God loves us enough to allow us to make our own choices is also reflective of His loving nature. God’s gift of freewill among mankind does not make God morally responsible for the evil choices freely made among those who chose to do evil instead of good.
In the grand scheme of things, if atheism is true, there is no hope for any sort of ultimate justice or compensation. Those that commit atrocities throughout history like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao will not receive punishment for their atrocities. Those who lived a righteous God-fearing life would have ultimately lived a life of virtue in vain. Lennox adds that he believes that “it could be argued that atheism makes it worse because now there is no hope”. Regardless of the existence of hope, we must ask ourselves where the evidence points.
The existence of objective moral values and duties serves as a valuable piece of philosophical evidence. We typically don’t have to be told that murder, stealing, theft is immoral because it is self evident. God has written a transcendent moral law on our hearts so that we know that an objective moral standard exists. Without an objective standard, how can we truly measure whether an action is morally good or evil with objectivity? Some declare that morals are merely subjective and dependent on the individual person or society. However, when someone steals their car they’ll be the first complaining about how immoral stealing is. Just remind them, ‘that person must believe stealing is morally permissible so you really shouldn’t be upset’. Moral relativism is truly unlivable. If you don’t believe me, look in the history books and see how many millions of people who died under the morally relativistic atheistic dictatorships of the 20th century.
If Jesus was who he claimed to be, which I contend that he is, we can be sure that the existence of suffering and evil is not incompatible with the existence of God. Jesus himself lived through evil and conquered it by rising on the third day. In the end, those that resort to atheism to solve this problem are left empty handed. Not only is the moral evidence for atheism deficient but other areas of study have provided strong compelling arguments for the existence of God that further corroborate the conclusion that suffering and evil should not be the roadblock that keeps one from accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. Jesus has provided us the hope that we need to get through times of suffering and can give us the strength to fight the evil that may attempt to engulf our lives.