Friday, 6 August 2010

If God's so good why is the world so bad?

"Things ain't what they used to be" - true - according to the Bible things used to be perfect, but they aren't (or ain't) now.  The presence of evil and suffering in the world is the number one (or only one?) argument atheists have against the existence of God.  It is an argument to be reckoned with, but it is an issue the Bible certainly does not duck, it faces it and deals with it.

There are a couple of things that need to be distinguished: the existence of moral evil committed by humans, and natural evil, or disasters, experienced by humans.

As regards moral evil, if we believe it really exists then we must believe that God exists, because if there is no God then there is no such thing as evil or injustice, for what determines that the acts are evil or unjust? By what immovable, unchangeable, transcendent standard can we say that certain actions are evil or unjust. If there is no God then there is no standard except ones we make up ourselves, and why should they be binding upon anyone? So the fact that we recognise things as really evil is an implicit acknowledgement of God's existence. 

But why would God allow men to commit evil? The question has several answers. God has granted humanity the highest dignity of moral freedom, and the human race has chosen to rebel against God. If God were to intervene to stop it or to judge it, where would and where should He draw the line? The Bible assures us that God is going to judge the world, but when He does He won’t stop where we want Him to stop, but rather He will judge in righteousness, which means that all sins will be judged. This is bad news for all of us because we all have sinned, and are therefore the worthy recipients of His righteous wrath. God has provided salvation for sinners through the death and resurrection of His Son, and He is exercising longsuffering now, giving space for repentance, granting opportunity for people to cease their rebellion and turn to Christ for forgiveness, so we ought to be grateful He is not swift to judge (Psalm 130 v 3, 4; 2Peter 3 v 9). 

But what about sufferings people experience that aren't the cause of their actions? Again, there are several avenues of explanation, first, we should expect that a world in rebellion against God is going to be a world that is out of kilter with what it should be. We can’t honestly expect to live in rebellion in God’s world and yet have that world treat us as if nothing has happened and there is no problem. When Adam, the head of God's creation fell, the whole creation was affected. When Christ was here He showed us what the world would be like under His rule – His miracles were the powers of the world to come (Hebrews 6 v 5). In that world there will be peace, healing and plenty, etc. but He was rejected, and so we remain in a ragged world, that cuts everyone to one degree or another, justice awaits.

Second, God’s purpose isn’t to treat us like pets and keep us happy, but to bring people into relationship with Himself and then develop them into the people He wants them to be – I think we all can see that suffering can and does play a major part in this. We know that we allow suffering in the lives of people we love when we judge that a greater good results. In addition, it’s not always possible to explain to the one in pain the reason why we don’t deliver them from it. Consider a mother holding her child while he is vaccinated - the mother allows (even causes) the pain, but the child cries into her embrace not because he understands the reasons, but because he knows his mother loves him. In light of the cross, Christians have every reason to keep on trusting in the Lord - His love has been indisputably demonstrated, (Romans 5 v 1-8).
Third, it's in the tragedies of life that God speaks to humanity and people are reminded of life’s uncertainty and how material possessions are transient, fleeting, and ultimately without value. In Luke 13, on the occasions of an act of evil and a tragic accident, the Lord took the opportunity to remind people of the fact that we all have to pass through death sooner or later, and He gave them the warning that unless they repented they would all likewise perish – a much greater disaster than any earthly tragedy. 

There are, of course, reasons for suffering that we could never ascertain (consider the example of Job's suffering and the satanic activity involved), but God sees the big picture, and all we know of God should lead us to trust Him.

The Lord's death assures us of His love through the trials, and His resurrection gives us hope beyond the trials. In contrast to this, the atheist tells us our trials are the result of cold, heartless, pitiless, indifferent chance - it's just unredeemable, random tough luck - there is no love in the trial, and there is no hope beyond it - this is as good as it gets. It seems that the atheist position doesn't solve the problem of evil and suffering - it just intensifies it. There is a loving God, and there is a sure hope for all who come to Him through Christ.