In the last issue of Connections, I began to address this familiar objection to the Christian faith: How does the Christian account for the existence of "natural evil" (the tragedy of destruction and death such as hurricanes and earthquakes cause) in a universe supposedly created by an all-loving, all-powerful God? In this issue I want to discuss how a Christian can turn this question around and challenge the questioner. The notion of evil, far from disproving God, can actually be used as an argument in favor of the existence of God, the biblical God.
First, we must face the possibility that the person raising this challenge has concluded, usually in response to personal loss, that if God does exist, He is either limited in love or limited in power - in which case, he/she/it is NOT the God revealed in Scripture. Any discussion of the objective evidences proving that the God expressed in nature is the God revealed in Scripture will be difficult, if not impossible, until and unless the person is willing to talk about the loss, the hurt, that led to his or her conclusion about God.
If, on the other hand, someone argues that the existence of natural evil means the nonexistence of God, a discussion of the logic issues can lead to meaningful conversation. A helpful start may be to set forth two basic assumptions about godless reality: 1) the material, physical universe is the only reality, and 2) the universe is the product of blind, non-purposeful, physical (material) processes.
The head-on collision with logic becomes immediately obvious. Simply by labeling natural disasters as "evil," the challenger appeals to some kind of unseen, ultimate standard that transcends the physical world. Evil is a nonentity unless goodness is also real. How can someone imagine what "evil" is if there is no rod of "good" to measure it against?
By what standard, then, does the nontheist say that death resulting from natural phenomena is bad? How can anyone conceive of "bad" or "good" if reality is purely physical? Moral judgments - and the term "evil" clearly represents a moral judgment - are nonphysical.
The challenger may try to escape this line of reasoning by saying that morality is real by cultural consensus. Since humans corporately agree that death as a result of natural forces represents an "evil," it is evil. This statement, of course, argues for a completely arbitrary morality. Such a morality has no transcendent or obligatory quality. Majority opinion might change a hundred years from now and decide that evil is actually good. Once again, we face the inconsistency of labeling something as "evil" or "good" apart from an objective, nonphysical standard.
Ironically, the unfolding of purely natural and accidental events should not trouble a nontheist at all. To remain consistent within his worldview, he can only say that "death and destruction happen." His worldview assumptions disallow any moral evaluation of natural phenomena and their consequences. He can only describe phenomena and their impact in physical terms.
When the nontheist raises "the problem of evil" as a challenge to Christianity, the Christian can logically respond, "What 'problem of evil'?" Evil is neither a real problem nor worthy of discussion unless we first assume the Christian's belief that an objective standard of "good" - and thus of "evil" - does indeed exist. Apart from God, the real and living essence of goodness, no moral judgment would be conceivable or possible.
The question about whether natural disasters can be judged as "evil" really constitutes a separate question, the question I addressed in last issue's article. What the question reveals, however, is the universality of our response to human death as a tragedy. Again, the nontheist betrays his intuitive awareness of biblical truth, the truth that life has meaning and purpose beyond mere physical function. Such concepts of "meaning" and "purpose" come from a reality beyond the physical universe. They come from the Source of the universe, the God who "intentionally" created it.
For further reading on the "problem of evil" see:
- C. Stephen Evans, Why Believe? Reason and Mystery As Pointers To God, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996). This book contains one chapter with an entry-level discussion to the problem of evil.
- Ron Nash, Faith and Reason, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House 1988).This book contains two chapters with an intermediate philosophical discussion of the deductive and inductive problem of evil.
- Alvin Plantinqa, God, Freedom and Evil, revised edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977). This book is an advanced philosophical discussion of the problem of evil bv one of the world's leading philosophers.
- Hugh Ross, "Extra-Dimensionality and Evil and Suffering," in Beyond the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1996; rev. ed., 1999).