Along with most other people in the world, a fellow traveller in life’s journey, an atheist that I've met and I'll call him F, struggles with this issue. He once stated, “But since you believe in him, [He means God] you must blame him if you're honest. God has the power to stop floods like the one that hit New Orleans (hurting many devout people), earthquakes like the one that hit Pakistan; and of course rapes. Of course, all these things happen because THERE IS NO GOD. You and I both know it; only you pretend otherwise.”
Another atheist writes, “for what purpose could God possibly permit so much evil to be in the world?”
In true Makarios fashion, I don’t have a short answer. But I do have some thoughts that I think will be helpful, if not to the atheist, certainly to the Christian who is also struggling with this issue. In three separate posts, I'll first deal with "Where is God?" and then "What possible reasons could there be for allowing evil to persist." So -
I sometimes find it overwhelming to watch the relentless and tenacious press of evil in the world. The fact that most people are content to allow evil to run its course as long as its fallout doesn’t get in the way of their plans for the day is heartbreaking and frustrating. It wears me out. Sometimes I feel like throwing up my hands and saying, “What’s the point of even trying to stem the tidal wave of wickedness that’s engulfing our children’s generation?” Contrary to what atheists preach, the corrupt self-serving bias that is rampant in every class of people around the world is proof - not that a compassionate God doesn’t exist, but that we humans are desperately wicked. It’s just as the Bible emphatically states.
I won’t address F’s curious thoughts regarding God’s existence halting weather patterns and plate tectonics. And I won’t do much with the thought, ‘Is F. admitting that the rape of a little girl proves that without God we are NOT good?
Regardless, there’s no getting around it. ‘Where is God when a little girl gets raped?’ is a really good question for those of us who believe in Creator God. The fact is, I only have a partial answer; an answer that will be wholly unsatisfying to anyone who hasn’t recognised the presence of God’s love and mercy and grace in their own lives in the face of tragedy. Nevertheless, for me at least, a partial answer is better than no answer at all.
To begin, some people will only go so far as to say that God allows pain and suffering; that in fact it's satan who causes all the trouble. Obviously, God allows suffering or we wouldn’t be talking about it. And it seems to me that regardless of whether God allows pain or whether He’s the cause of pain, from our perspective the result feels the same. The fact that God is able to stop what we call tragedy but doesn’t do so in all cases means that the answer to the question of pain lies with Him and Him alone.
What I have to say might part ways with what some of you believe, but let me try to explain it this way. In Canada we have lots of lakes. Ten’s of thousands of them. A few of these lakes are bigger than some countries. While my health won’t allow me to do it at all anymore, I used to like to get out in a canoe, on a quiet lake and just enjoy God’s creation. Lets suppose that I’m out in the boat with a special friend, and all of a sudden I’m overboard without a life-jacket. And as I’m floundering in the icy water, I see my friend’s outstretched hand reaching toward me, offering to pull me back on board.
I can tell you that, as the weight of my clothing is dragging me under, that hand would be the absolute focus of my attention. There might be a beautiful sunset happening, or an interesting bird bobbing around nearby. Perhaps someone else had fallen out of h/her boat and needed help. None of these things would get my attention. I would only be concentrating on the hand that could save me.
As we ask the question about where is God, I think that in times of trouble that hand could represent the hand of God. And we could sit here and nod our heads and say, "Mmm, isn’t that a reassuring thought?" But I’m going to suggest to you that when things happen to us that we consider bad, like the death of a child, or being chronically ill or living with severe pain day in and day out, or, like being overboard when you can’t swim, we need to grapple with the fact that the hand that is extended in an act of saving grace, may very well be the same hand that pushed you overboard in the first place.
Those are the kind of thoughts that, when not properly understood can make you feel a little bit crazy. When I’m working with a family in a counselling setting, these are the kind of crazy making behaviours, the I love you - I hate you behaviours that make children unsure of where they stand in the parent / child relationship. It’s no different for many Christians. Being confronted with what we call personal “disasters” can make us unsure of where we stand in our relationship with our Heavenly Father. But there is a difference between what seems to be the similar behaviours of parents that do this, and our Creator. You see, parents are often unaware, or vehemently deny that what they are doing is causing pain in their children’s lives. Our heavenly Father on the other hand, steps right out of the line up and says, “You want someone to take the blame for your difficulties? Well I’m your man.”
Exodus 4:11 - Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”
Isaiah 45:7 - I send good times and I send disaster, I Jehovah am He who does these things.
Amos 4:6-11 - I gave you empty stomaches in every city and lack of bread in every town. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your dead sons.”
Romans 9:13-16 - “I chose to bless Jacob but not Esau,” and God said this before the children were even born, before they had done anything either good or bad.
Amos 3:6 - When disaster comes upon a city, is it not I the Lord who has caused it?
It goes on and on in both the old and the new testaments where God says that, not only does every good thing that happens in our lives come from His hand, but the things in our lives that we say are awful, often (not always) but often, they come directly from His hand as well. One thing is for certain - nothing that happens in life, comes into being without the permission of our Sovereign Lord.
That is very difficult for some people to handle. Atheists have zero tolerance for such goings on. On the other hand, the atheist’s dogmatic denial of God’s existence stems from the childish attitude of “You’re not the boss of me!” Anything that will aid them in their rants, like God not behaving as they think He should is not used as a means of getting to know their Creator better. Rather it's used as ammunition to further sustain their tantrum.
Having said that, I’m going to begin my answer to F by changing his statement from, “All these things happen because there is no God,” to “All these things happen because there is no God in most people’s hearts.” Then, rather than answering F’s question directly, I think it would be helpful to extend the question. F alluded to the fact that many devout people died in the flood that hit New Orleans. We could add to that observation endlessly into the future as the daily news roles on and on. It is, however a relevant statement. Let’s take a closer look.
. Where is God when 10 and 12 year old girls are raped and then hacked to death with machetes, in Sudan, and the only reason for their horrific murders is that they’re Christians?
. Where is God when Christian children and parents are kept in small cages until they die, in North Korea?
. Where is God when His followers have all their possessions taken away and the people are thrown into jail for decades by atheist leaders in China?
. Where is God when 90 million of His followers disappear under orders by atheist leaders in Russia?
. Where is God when millions more of His followers disappear under the direction of the atheist Khmer Rouge?
. Where is God when His followers are burned, butchered, fed to wild beasts and starved to death all through the history of the Christian Church?
. Where was God when I’ve had arthritis for the last 46 years, beginning at age 10? Where was God when I was sexually abused as a child? Where was He when our youngest child died, when our oldest daughter sustained irreversible brain damage, when I got skin cancer last August?
. Where is God when His one and only Son is tortured to death?
Where indeed, is God when it hurts?
Obviously one option is to say that He doesn’t even exist. Many people in the aftermath of suffering, can come to no other conclusion. Others come part way and say, “If God could have stopped a disaster from happening, and didn’t, He may exist but He isn’t a good and loving God.” I actually know a Pastor who told a mother that her son died because God was powerless to stop such things from happening. Still others, like myself, are left to ponder why God, whom we know in fact to be loving, merciful and kind can and does allow suffering to take place. Like the other atheist that I mentioned above, I've asked, “What possible reason could God have for allowing so much evil to exist in the world?”
The Bible, which claims to be God’s revelation to us, about Him, doesn’t give us a full or a completely satisfying answer to this issue. What it does tell us is this. God gave us a world without pain, without tears, without suffering, and without death. He gave us exactly what atheists demand from Him RIGHT NOW. He gave us paradise on earth. He told us that if we’d allow Him to be the guardian of our hearts, minds and souls, He would keep evil at bay. He said, in effect, “Right now, you don’t know the difference between good and evil. You only know good. I suggest that you keep it that way. However, it’s your life. It’s your choice. You make the decision.”
Well, the rest as they say, is history. We chose to be our own gods. Like one of the atheist bus adds proudly proclaims, "We have no Master save ourselves!" Then, just as today, we found a life under the control and direction of our Creator to be an intolerable proposition. God said that if we chose a life without Him we would experience death and suffering. Knowing that, we still chose the life that we now have. Without the grace of God intervening in our lives, we, all of us, refuse to bow before our Creator. It’s called our sinful nature. Our sinful nature is why all of us are born in rebellion to the very idea of humbling ourselves before our Creator God.
What is somewhat surprising, especially to atheists (in fact the ones that I’ve had contact with find this literally beyond their ability to comprehend), no one is exempt from God’s plan to use suffering as a means to an end; not even God Himself.
Jesus, our example and character goal, came to earth knowing in advance that He would be abused, misunderstood, mistreated, rejected, insulted, betrayed and ultimately have humanity do our absolute worst to Him. God, in the form of Jesus, came to earth with the expressed purpose of experiencing His own wrath as is required by the nature of sin, “For the wages of sin, the consequences of sin, the result of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23. God came to earth to show that He does not exist outside of this plan that seems so difficult for us to accept. God came to earth to rescue us from our stupid decision to try to live our lives without Him. He came to give us a second chance at paradise. Believe it or not, suffering, pain, and tragedy, play a role in taking hold of that second chance.
I'll continue in the next post with some concrete answers to the two, really good questions that have been asked by fellow travelers on life's journey.