Evil

evil.jpgI think the existence of evil in the world does more to prove God’s existence than to disprove it (see this for more on that idea).

Some consider the existence of evil as proof that a loving God doesn’t exist.  But while such philosophical discussions are important, there is an element of silliness to it.  If I created a model universe with all the complexity of ours, and one of my little sentient creatures on my model earth determined that since he couldn’t fully understand everything about me and the universe I created and concluded that I must not exist – even after I wrote my moral code on their hearts and clearly revealed myself to them- I would find it amusing and irritating. 

The end of the book of Job is there for a reason (as well as other passages). 

Job 42:1-6 Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

The question of evil is typically offered as a challenge to Christians, as if it is only a problem for us to explain.  But how does the atheist explain it?  It is an even more difficult question for them to answer.  They can’t provide a foundation for the morality that they constantly reference.  There is no redemption of evil in their worldview.  That isn’t what makes their view wrong, of course, it just shows how the problem of evil isn’t the trump card against Christianity that many make it to be.

God permits evil, restrains evil and will ultimately redeem evil.  He already defeated sin and death at the cross.

Here are some terrific YouTube videos on the issue of evil.

21 thoughts on “Evil”

  1. I think you have made some really great points here Neil.

    I am not sure this adds anything of value – but if we did not know evil, how could we know good or holiness? Maybe I am being too simple, but knowing evil and wickedness is indeed knowing God – we have His “goodness” written on our hearts making us able to know wickedness – without excuse.

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  2. But how does the atheist explain it?

    I’m sure you’ve heard it before. Heck, I might even have posted it.
    “There is no evil”.
    There, simple.

    It is an even more difficult question for them to answer.</blockquote
    Not really. I didn’t need pages full of apologetics explaining why my all good and all loving deity can exist in the face of suffering.

    They can’t provide a foundation for the morality that they constantly reference.

    And that is a problem how? Your “objective” standard is based upon you interpreting a book, using the morals you have from being a social animal. Even if you’re idea of morals happened to line up with Yahweh’s (assuming for the moment he exists), then they’re either subjectively Yahweh commands, or objectively something Yahweh which Yahweh is constrained by. An no, saying they’re “his nature” doesn’t actually get you out of this.

    There is no redemption of evil in their worldview.

    That’s right. No “ultimate justice” either. Just nature, and what we as thinking apes can make out of it. We seem to be doing ok for ourselves, but it’s always a rocky road forward.

    Neil said: Oh, please. What would be the standard for “OK?” Why would the road be rocky if we are all just bags of chemicals?

    That isn’t what makes their view wrong, of course, it just shows how the problem of evil isn’t the trump card against Christianity that many make it to be.

    Actually, it is a pretty tough philosophical question for you guys. Just because you think it is an issue for atheism (it isn’t – there is no evil) doesn’t mean it’s a win for Christianity.

    Will read the STR link and get back to you, it’s late here 🙂

    Neil said: To say there is no evil is patently foolish, but if you want to display the ignorance of your worldview I’ll let you.

    It is even more ironic that you say it is a problem for my worldview. If you really say evil doesn’t exist then of course no one would have to explain it.

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  3. Most of the non-believers I talk to seem to think that evil exists is logical.
    They often say to me, if there is “good” then there has to be an opposite. (Evil)

    They even go as far as to say, if there is a God, then, there HAS to be a Devil also.

    I think there is enough evil in the world to prove it exists.
    Now to help them to see, t he other side exists too.

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  4. You might be interested in this online commentary “Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job” (http://www.bookofjob.org) as supplementary or background material for your study of the Book of Job. It is written by a Canadian criminal defense lawyer, now a Crown prosecutor, and it explores the legal and moral dynamics of the Book of Job with particular emphasis on the distinction between causal responsibility and moral blameworthiness embedded in Job’s Oath of Innocence. It is highly praised by Job scholars (Clines, Janzen, Habel) and the Review of Biblical Literature, all of whose reviews are on the website. The author is an evangelical Christian, denominationally Anglican. He is also the Canadian Director for the Mortimer J. Adler Centre for the Study of the Great Ideas, a Chicago-based think tank.

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  5. Defeated sin and death at the cross? All sin? was everyone in the world forgiven for their current sins, or just imaginary ones from a provably fictional history of creation?

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  6. Not to get into a limited atonement debate, but for those who trust in Christ their sins are forgiven. If not, you ‘ll be accountable to God for all of your sins. Not a wise idea. I’d take the pardon.

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  7. Anyone who has looked real evil in the face and survived, knows that it exists and is something apart from mere human misfeasance. A person who is wise, or at least listens to wisdom, can recognize it even if they have been blessedly unscarred by it.

    For me, the fact that such terrible evil exists in the world–in individuals, in groups or even nations, and as a distinct entity (yes, Satan)–yet joy, innocence,and love also exist and so often prevail in this world, is evidence of what the final score will be.

    If Satan had it all wrapped up, he wouldn’t be working so hard.

    I can see the eye rolls of various atheists and blog nitpickers even as I type this post. . .but it’s aight.

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  8. Right, so I go to hell if I am kind to all my fellow people, but fail to accept Jesus.

    Neil said: Yes. Your kindness to fellow people doesn’t erase your sins. They must be paid for.

    Who died 2000 years ago in land I have never visited, in circumstances that can’t even be verified to be true to proper sceptics.

    Neil said: The date and whether you visited there are meaningless. Not sure what “proper skeptics” would be. Most of the ones I come across aren’t skeptical at all. They are firmly ensconced in their worldview and deliberately twist things to their preferred position.

    Why doesn’t God just put the matter to rest? He could easily boom “I AM YAHWEH, CREATOR OF ALL. THE CHRISTIANS WERE RIGHT THE WHOLE TIME” in everyone’s heads and simoultaneously heal everyone of all ailments. Done. Everyone’s a Christian. Why stuff around with all this vague nonsense of killing his own son, so he can forgive us for breaking rules that he set himself? He could clear all of this confusion up in an instant.

    Neil said: He really wasn’t that vague. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. We can’t be reconciled to God on our own, regardless of how many good deeds we do. God stepped into his creation and took the punishment for our sins himself. Reject his pardon if you like, but you’ll be on your own. I’m not sure why He did it this way; I just know that He did. Their is ample evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. If one of his little creatures doesn’t like his plan, I think He’ll get by.

    No need to have gigantic manuals of contorted logic explaining why God defined the laws of physics to give outcomes exactly opposite to the claims of the bible.

    Neil said: The Bible is not a science textbook but is accurate in claims it makes (e.g., the hydrological cycle in Isaiah 55), the fact that the universe came in to being at a point in time, etc.

    It would be blindingly obvious and then we could ALL submit to his will without hesitation, or whatever it is that super-colossal universe straddling entities would want comparitively infinitessimal creatures to do.

    Neil said: Read Romans 1. He has made his creation clear, but people suppress the truth in unrighteousness. But if you really want to know him and his purpose you’ll find it.

    Romans 1:18-20 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

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  9. Neil, is Isaiah 55 is the best you can come up with?

    “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: “

    This does not sound like any kind of cycle to me. Sounds more like a 1 directional of flow of water and snow from the heavens down to the earth. In completely unambiguous language, the Bible is wrong. Reconcile that with your statement. You either didn’t read the passage you quoted or you just flat out lied. Which is it?

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  10. This may come as a big surpise, but I don’t use the word thither a lot. But I do know what to do when there is a dispute about a word or passage: Read various translations, and especially review a more literal translation like the NASB. Or go back to the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic.

    Here’s how the NASB reads: Isaiah 55:10-11 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”

    And here’s the NIV, which I typically use: Isaiah 55:10-11 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

    So what does that tell us? My original point, which was just off the top of my head, was accurate. I did read the passage, and I didn’t lie. But thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt!

    And, as I noted, the the main point of the passage wasn’t scientific, even though as an aside it didn’t contradict anything scientific. The purpose was to tell us of the power of God’s word and that it will accomplish what He wants it to. It is indeed that powerful. Lives and cultures that take his word seriously are transformed for the good. I love that passage.

    Here’s a couple links with a little more background on the Bible and science – http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/sg1348.htm and http://www.carm.org/issues/science.htm . There are many other resources for those truly interested.

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  11. You know, if the Bible is wrong and God doesn’t exist then why would it matter if any one lied? It wouldn’t be wrong. There’s no sin. Then who is anyone to judge another. Where did they get their “standard of righteousness?” So much for them believing there is no God. They just made themselves god and arbiter of their own whims of morality.

    The truth is that the Bible is right, God indeed does exist whether we like it or not, Jesus is coming, and that Neil didn’t lie.

    Neil,
    I like how you’ve explained this verse. It really resonates today. God is sovereign.

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  12. I like the word “thither.” I wonder if I can work it into my sermon for Sunday. 🙂
    But I’m not quite sure how to use it. Maybe we need a list of the top 20 ways to use “thither.” Like, “sweetie, can you pass me the thithers, I need to cut some string.”

    🙂

    Neil said: Ha! You’re killing me here.

    Let me know how the sermon goes . . .

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  13. Ok, I’m sorry I’ve been too condescending and accusing in my approach. I apologise. But I think a part of my point still stands. The bible tells us nothing that could not have been worked out by reasonably observant people 2000 years ago. Show me an explicit reference to a modern scientific concept and I’ll be impressed. If not, you should have an expanation why God decided not to let Humanity in on all the things that could have saved so many lives. Surely, in the book that was allegedly inspired by God there would be a single piece of knowledge that mere man could not have known.

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  14. Hi Bartlettman,

    Apology accepted, thanks. I know things get a little impersonal with blogs sometimes and I’m guilty of that as well.

    I’m really not sure why God didn’t give more specific medical advice in the Bible, other than that wasn’t the purpose of the book. It would have made my job here easier if He had.

    Please consider a couple things, though. He is more concerned with our eternal reconciliation to him than our current comforts. He cared so much that He came and suffered and died for us to pay for our sins. He isn’t indifferent to pain and suffering. But He is focused on something more important.

    Also, He gave ample guidance with his moral law (both in writing and on our hearts). If the world had followed just the “Do not commit adultery” part we could have eliminated unbelievable amounts of pain, suffering and diease over the centuries. If we followed the rest of the guidance we’d be even better off.

    So in a very real sense He did let humanity in on things that could save many lives: Don’t murder (1m abortions per year in the U.S. alone), don’t have sex outside of a one man / one woman marriage (tens of millions of AIDS deaths, untold misery and suffering), etc. I choose to thank him for his graciousness in helping us find many cures for diseases we brought upon ourselves and ways to reduce pain.

    Re. science and the Bible – again, it isn’t a science book. He wasn’t trying to impress you with factoids. I think there are some interesting scientific truths there anyway (e.g., the Big Bang thing syncs up with God creating the universe at a point in time, and that certainly wasn’t a broad belief until the 20th century). But if you don’t find them to be compelling I won’t try to persuade you otherwise.

    In my experience, when people say the Bible disagrees with science that they are usually taking an overly literal view (e.g., criticizing the use of “sunrise” and “sunset,” even though those are common terms people use).

    I think it is most useful to point out the historical evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you don’t that compelling, but if you are seeking that is where I’d point you to first. That is what took me from skepticism to belief.

    If Jesus didn’t physically rise from the dead then the rest of the book doesn’t matter much. And I think the evidence points to him rising.

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  15. You say he is more concerned with our eternal souls than with making our lives less miserable. Alleiviating temporal suffering and supplementing moral guidelines are not mutually exclusive tasks. He’s God, yet he can’t do both?

    I find it a little strange that you would award God the praise of “helping us find cures to diseases”, while ignoring the fact that He who created them in the first place refuses to simply remove them all together? Come on, some of what you’re saying is reasoned, but this clearly isn’t. Even saying Satan created diseases doesn’t get you out of this mess. If he can remove them and he doesn’t, God is literally responsible for every death by disease ever and all the suffering therein. If he can’t, He’s impotent, which effectively removes him from the running for creator of the universe. I see no alternative to this dichotomy. God is either the biggest mass-murderer in the universe or the most over-hyped.

    Neil said: I didn’t say Satan created them. They are a result of the Fall.

    People can suffer for various reasons: Self inflicted things, the sins of others or nature. God can use those things to cause personal growth or even draw people to him.

    Yes, God is sovereign over life and death. You are taking a very simplistic view of him and creating your own guidelines for what you think He must be. You make it sound like He has to show up every time you are about to fall and catch you. That just isn’t how He works. Good parents know that if they step in every time to ensure their kids never fail then things will turn out badly.

    You are way better off getting cancer and having that draw you into an authentic relationship to God than to live a charmed life and think you never need him. Life is way better with God short term and eternally (I’ve been on both sides and would never go back).

    I encourage you to take a fresh look and consider that if He exists then you really don’t have a lot to say about what his attributes are. You are also taking a very short term perspective here. Eternity is a might long time.

    I realize that atheists like the “mass murderer” sound bites but they really aren’t very productive. According to your worldview we’re all just bags of chemicals, so the notion that anything is evil or wrong is meaningless.

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  16. Neil said: I didn’t say Satan created them. They are a result of the Fall.

    What a transparent shell game. I say God is responsible for all death by disease and you counter with “No, the fall is”. So God doesn’t set his own rules?

    Neil said: Interesting. So if you have kids and they disobey, it is really your fault when you punish them?

    Having said that, I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge that God is sovereign and that He lets these things happen. Go wrestle with that.

    If you are seriously searching I encourage you to study the Bible in depth and put down the Big Book of Atheist Sound Bites. Christians have been asking the tough questions for a couple thousand years, and the Bible itself addresses many of them as well. See http://4simpsons.wordpress.com/2007/09/18/tough-questions/

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  17. God lets these things happen? Nice. You lose the benevolent God argument. I don’t think I need to say any more on this topic, you admit to being the willing servant of a murderous overlord. What a pathetic capitulation of will.

    Neil said: Normally I just delete such comments for the future benefit of the commenter as well as to not waste time. But it is interesting to see the logical conclusions of the materialist worldview.

    What does he expect? That if God is ultimately benevolent then He can never let a bad thing happen? Oops – that baby is about to fall when learning to walk – better go pick him up! The kid is going to touch a hot stove – gotta step in with a miracle to ensure he doesn’t learn that lesson. Someone is about to say something unkind – gotta go zip their lips so no feelings get hurt. You could think of endless examples, and they all result in any semblance of “choice” taken away.

    I usually don’t use email illustrations but I remember the one about the boy helping the butterfly struggling out of the cocoon. He thought he was helping but didn’t realize that the struggle helped strengthen the butterfly’s wings. Consequently, the butterfly couldn’t fly and died.

    Who among us can’t point to difficult times that made us stronger, wiser and better?

    So do people want to be able to make choices or not? If so, then why insist that if God is good that He must – MUST – intervene 100% of the time to ensure that you are perfectly comfortable and never have anything negative happen. Sadly, some parents try that approach and have spoiled brats for kids who grow up to be a drain on society. Me, me, me.

    And to state the obvious, whether you like God or not He is still God and it is his universe. You don’t get to make up your own rules.

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