If God is loving, good, and all-powerful, then why do bad things happen? Since bad things happen, maybe God isn’t actually good, or if He is good, then maybe He’s not all-powerful. Or maybe there is no God after all, because isn’t the whole idea of God wrapped up into love and goodness and omnipotence?
The “problem of evil” has perplexed philosophers for millennia, at least back into Plato’s time. The atheist likes the problem as a hammer to beat Bible believers with, not realizing that the Bible makes perfect sense of this issue. I’ll get to that a little later. If God does exist, though, would the atheist want God to intervene to prevent all cases of evil? Well, no, nobody wants that, since free will – human autonomy – would end. Perhaps God should just prevent terrorist attacks and child abuse and conservative politicians from winning elections. (Atheists do tend to be leftists.)
In the 2014 book by Norman L. Geisler and Daniel J. McCoy, The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw: Exposing Conflicting Beliefs, they propose three ways God could intervene in moral evil:
A (“All”): Forcible prevention of all moral evil
B (“Bad”): Forcible intervention into the most egregious cases of evil
C (“Conscience”): Voluntary intervention at the mental / spiritual level
The atheist who insists that if God exists, He “should fix everything” (option “A”) but then demands, “But God shouldn’t touch anything,” contradicts himself. I have used this in 1-2-1 evangelism, by asking the atheist, “Do you really want God to stop all evil all over the world right now?” If he says, “Yes,” I’ll ask, “What about your evil, your anger and hatred and lust and thefts and greed and selfishness and blasphemy?” With some additional explanation, I’ll try to help him understand that it’s only the grace of God that we rebels are not cast into Hell right now, so we don’t do any more evil to those around us.
It’s the goodness and patience of God that leads us to repentance (see Romans 2) and grants us the time to figure this out. Now an atheist might say (choice “B”) that God should at least fix the worst things. So where does he draw the line? It’s great fun to force the issue. The Lord Jesus, in Matthew 5, makes it clear that the worst crimes against God and man start in the mind and heart. God judges anger as murder of the heart and lust as adultery. God’s line is drawn more than conservatively.
What about option “C” – God should just influence the conscience, leaving the final determination to the individual. Yet men and women, including atheists, don’t like their conscience pricked. Nor do we like guilt. We don’t want to be warned about consequences and judgment. True autonomy means freedom from guilt so man can just do anything he wants, including lie, cheat, steal, and harass the women around him. It’s interesting that in recent times even the Left sees sexual harassment as a vile sin, although they can never bring themselves to utter the word sin. Use of the word sin might imply objective morality and a God who judges.
Regarding the book by Geisler and McCoy – I don’t recommend the book unless you already love to read apologetics books and want to go deeper than usual. It’s not always an easy read, but they do make some good points. Hopefully, the nuggets I pull for this essay might be helpful.
The Biblical truths are that God is love, God is good, and God is all-powerful. God gives us spectacularly free will and, starting with Adam, we use our free will to demand autonomy, rebel against God’s laws . . . which reflect His very character and the reality of the creation we live in . . . and work to deny who we are, made in the image of God and therefore happy only in sync with Him.
The Fall changed things. Children get sick, hurricanes and forest fires ravage the works of our hands, moral evil abounds, and . . . death takes us all. That’s the big one . . . DEATH. Death ought to get our attention.
The Bible also explains redemption, salvation, the hope for personal resurrection available to everyone, the promise of eternal life, and a New Heaven and a New Earth, wherein God’s children – God’s children by their own choice – will enjoy righteousness, peace, love, and fellowship. This future reality is tied to our troublesome present reality and the reality of Biblical history.
In existentialist / atheist Albert Camus’ work, The Plague, Father Paneloux preaches to his congregation, “Calamity has come on you, my brethren . . . and you deserved it.” But after the plague kills off children indiscriminately, even sweet children, he softens and points toward Heaven, saying, “My brothers, the love of God is a hard love . . . It alone can reconcile us to suffering and the deaths of children, it alone can justify them, since we cannot understand them, and we can only make God’s will ours.”
The atheist in the play rejects the priest’s sentiment, concluding that if it’s God that deals out death, such a hand is never fair. So he reasons that God simply cannot exist. Camus’ point is that we live in a miserable, godless universe and all that matters is what you’re doing now, grabbing whatever gusto you can.
But how can he reason if he is merely molecules in motion? Reason would be merely brain chemistry. All the issues of life – human life – including love, compassion, justice, hope, meaning, and morality . . . require personhood. Persons only exist if the spiritual exists, the nonmaterial. Morality is personal and objective morality necessitates an ultimate Person – God. How can Camus reason at all and do so on moral grounds?
Atheists, along with most religiously lost people, misrepresent what faith is. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Faith means the will to avoid knowing what is true.” Richard Dawkins writes about what he thinks the Christian perspective is: “Faith (belief without evidence) is a virtue. The more your beliefs defy the evidence, the more virtuous you are.” Christopher Hitchens insists that ‘faith’ “is a leap that has to go on and on being performed, in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary.”
Sam Harris writes, “Every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which it has no evidence. In fact, every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable.”
I’ll give them credit for employing the tactic of the big lie. Whatever you’re guilty of, accuse your opponents of it, loudly and often. This is why Christians must go on offense, challenging the unbeliever’s worldview at every turn. If anyone’s faith is blind, for example, it’s that of the atheist, who believes in evolution, life somehow evolving from molecules to minnows, from muskrats to molecular biologists. All without evidence and in defiance of everything scientists have discovered about the information content of DNA, the complexity of protein complexes, and the design of cells, tissues, organisms, and ecosystems . . . design startlingly evident despite the corruption since the Fall of man.
In fact, how dare they use such words as truth, evidence, and conceivable? These are non-material, not in the Periodic Table, and have no meaning unless personhood exists, and no reality unless truth and logic exist apart from matter and the laws of physics.
The arrogance of the pseudo-intellectual skeptics is unbounded. Sam Harris writes, “Nothing that a Christian and a Muslim can say to each other will render their beliefs mutually vulnerable to discourse, because the very tenets of their faith have immunized them against the power of conversation.” Yet somehow I have had stimulating, coherent, and meaningful conversations with hundreds of Muslims.
What do I, a Bible-believing Christian, have in common with Muslims? We believe in a Creator who gives man his conscience, that objective morality is real, and that the Ten Commandments – the Biblical Ten Commandments – are representative of man’s responsibilities to his Creator and to other men and women. Using that common ground and the fact of his God-given conscience, I can easily help the Muslim to understand that he violates God’s laws and therefore falls short of God’s glory . . . in short, he needs a Savior and that Savior must be the Lord Jesus Christ, who is more than the prophet supposed by the Muslim.
Indeed, it is the atheist who is described best by Harris’ follow-on statement: “Believing strongly, without evidence, they have kicked themselves loose of the world.”
Christopher Hitchens wanted to lump the Muslim with the Christian as “people of faith,” and beware of those extreme in their faith, as for example the 19 members of Al-Qaeda involved in the 911 attack. The issue, of course, is the ground for your faith. Neither the heretical faith of the Muslim nor the blind faith of the atheist have ground to stand upon. It’s all about worldview, about who is in touch with reality and how you live out your worldview.
Consider how futile are the back-and-forth ragings of the political class and their media pundits. How can you have a rational argument without agreeing on a worldview which reflects reality and thereby sets the rules? On abortion, for example, the issue is whether the child is a soul made in the image of God. If mere tissue, who cares whether it is excised? If body, soul, and spirit created by God, then a child’s life is precious and worthy of protection. Figure out what reality is first! Politicians and pundits are too stupid to think this through. Ignorance and arrogance are deadly in combination. The conservatives are just as wicked as the liberals in pretending that God is not really there, not really judging every word that comes out of their mouths.
Let’s recall what ‘faith’ is, properly. I have faith in my wife because she has demonstrated thousands of times that she is worthy of my trust. Then, when I plan to go out of town on business, I have faith that she will be faithful to me and responsible with our finances. My faith is grounded on a solid foundation. And so it is with the Christian faith. My trust in God is founded on thousands of specifics, including the veracity of Biblical history, the heart / mind resonant logic of God’s principles, the fruits of my conversion, and the utter vacuousness of competing worldviews. So my trust in God extends to His promises not yet fulfilled, including my assured hope for a personal resurrection when the Lord Jesus returns to establish His kingdom. My faith in God for my future is well grounded.
The authors point out that some atheists are so bold as to consider that “any god who prescribes faith is held to be automatically untrustworthy . . . namely, that it is immoral of God to withhold knowledge.” Hah! The atheist admits that he wants to be a god himself, an omniscient god, and cannot stomach the idea of a God above him.
Dan Barker and Bertrand Russell extend this ‘principle’ to sex, arguing for sexual freedom – licentiousness. Children, they would say, should learn anything they like about sex and never be taught any taboos – rules. There should be no such thing as sexual sin. So maybe the whole issue with many atheists is sex. They want to do anything they want with anyone without consequences. Many famous atheists have lived accordingly, leaving in their wake a disastrous trail of abused women and abandoned children.
Back to death . . . Asked about the finality of death, Richard Dawkins responded, “I don’t feel depressed about it. But if somebody does, that’s their problem. Maybe the logic is deeply pessimistic; the universe is bleak, cold, and empty. But so what?”
Bertrand Russell: “All fear is bad. I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young, and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation.”
Here’s my take: The old atheist is so filled with pride that he can face such depressing concepts and scorn the consequences. In my experience talking with both young and old atheists, however, the young skeptic has not thought through to the end of his empty religion. It is the evangelist’s job to help him see it. It just might shake him up and provoke him to think. That’s what happened to me as a teenage atheist. I thought it through and got suicidally depressed some fifty years ago . . . which the Lord used to save me, sending a Christian classmate my way to provoke me to think . . . You mean, there might be hope? And reasons to hope? . . . I had to check it out, at least. Thank God.
Some atheists are sympathetic to pantheism. C. S. Lewis explains the attraction: “The pantheist’s God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. There is no danger that at any time Heaven and Earth should flee away at His glance.”
Pantheists I’ve talked to, especially Hindus – yes, even highly educated and successful engineers – display a worldview with a ground the consistency of jello. God is whatever you feel like and one’s destiny is no big deal. It will all work out somehow. The task here is to make it personal, emphasizing the personal God and the personal responsibility of the sinner. All morality is personal. If all is illusion or impersonal, we’re back to atheism with no objective morality and a universe with no persons in residence.
Interestingly, atheists (and pantheists) argue that death is natural and so we shouldn’t be worried. They only get angry with the possibility that God is involved in death . . . and judgment. Similarly, “faith is understandable, even virtuous, when the object is something trustworthy like man and science. Thus the problem with death and faith lies not in themselves but in their utilization by God. The problem is God.”
Atheists do, somehow, see the value of laws and criminal justice systems. But Sam Harris opines “that the men and women on death row either have bad genes, bad parents, or bad luck. Which of these quantities are they responsible for?”
What does he mean by bad? Hey, Sam, what’s bad about rape, murder, or molesting children, or racism, sexism, or sexual harassment? Isn’t a violent act simply about this clump of molecules in collision with another? Isn’t that just physics? And racist or sexist comments . . . that’s just acoustics, right?
Bertrand Russell writes, “It is evident that a man with a propensity to crime must be stopped.” Must? Then he likens a man suffering from plague to “a man who suffers from a propensity to commit forgery; but there should be no more idea of guilt in the one case than in the other.”
Yet no atheist truly wants to do away with all police, courts, and prisons. You can’t live either personally or societally with the consequences of atheism. Justice is tied to guilt which, by God’s design, is tied to objective morality and the consequences of judgment, whether judgment temporally by man or eternally by God. Dan Barker doesn’t like guilt: “We atheists possess ‘salvation’ not because we are released from a sentence, but because we don’t deserve the punishment in the first place. We have committed no ‘sin’.”
We see the fruits of humanistic thinking in America today. Absolutes are despised, even minimalist absolutes like the Constitution. Without sin, laws are arbitrary and judges rule by whim. Consider . . . how can the Supreme Court, with the preeminent jurists in our nation, continually produce split decisions, 5-4, 6-3, etc? Isn’t there any clarity at all in their hearts and minds? But they have no foundation.
Jesus sums up God’s rules: Love God. Love others. The rest of the Bible provides details and examples. It’s not so complicated.
Christopher Hitchens objected: “Nothing could be sillier than having a ‘maker’ who then forbade the very same instinct he instilled.” Once again, he’s talking about fornication. Sex within a faithful marriage is not good enough for CH, despite the overwhelming empirical evidence in favor of monogamous sex, from stable marriages, happy children, better health (no STDs), wealthier households, and even sexual satisfaction. Consider the typical daily news reports. Take fornication and substance abuse out of the culture and most of the crime disappears. Yet the culture despises Christian values, insisting that life is lived fully by ‘partying.’ What does partying mean? Simply, it means substance abuse and fornication. How small.
Russell writes, “The worst feature of the Christian religion is its attitude toward sex.” Dawkins complains that God is “morbidly obsessed with sexual restrictions.”
So when you try to reach an atheist with the Gospel, it’s a fair guess that the real problem is fornication. Don’t be shy about calling him out on that.
The authors point out that the atheist / leftist / humanist is not above ‘righteous anger.’ Christopher Hitchens asserted that abusive (dogmatic?) religious teachers should be glad that Hell is actually a myth “and that they were not sent to rot there.” Sam Harris: “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them.” Where would they draw the line? Should Sunday School teachers be executed? They’re not concerned about the problems of tyranny as long as they are part of the ruling elite that does the drawing.
We see this on college campuses today where conservative speech is suppressed and persecuted, and violent protests against conservative speakers are encouraged by the faculty and administration. America is quickly losing its constitutional values, let alone its residual Christian values.
Ultimately, the God-hater cannot live within his worldview, because he demands ‘justice’ defined by his whims and is eager for punishment on those who aren’t part of the group-think. He just doesn’t want God’s rules, God’s justice, or any god above his own desires. Interestingly, the vocal atheist hates Christians and will invest considerable time and energy, wasting his woefully short life, to persecute those of us he thinks are deluded. Why? Why does he care if we enjoy our delusion? It all makes sense only when we realize that . . .
Atheism is actually Satanism.
The book suggests an interesting point about Hell. Humanists argue that the idea of God is unnecessary with regard to moral authority because moral authority can be determined within a man or a woman, or by a society of men and women. What about people who don’t conform to the society’s norm? Elizabeth Anderson sees a simple solution: “We deal with people who refuse accountability by restraining and deterring their objectionable behavior.”
But that’s what Hell is, a place where those who hate God and break His laws are restrained from causing any more trouble. Norm Geisler (one of the authors) was knocking doors, sharing the Gospel, and a fellow named Don opened the door.
Norm: “Don, if you were to die tonight and stand before God, and God were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into my Heaven?’, what would you say?”
Don: “I’d say to God, ‘Why shouldn’t you let me into your Heaven?”
Norm: “Don, if we knocked on your door seeking to come into your house, and you said to us, ‘Why should I let you into my house?’ and we responded, ‘Why shouldn’t you let us in?’ what would you say?”
Don: “I would tell you where to go.”
Norm: “That’s exactly what God is going to say to you!”
In the rebel’s view, it is completely permissible to keep God out of his life, but for some reason, God cannot keep the rebel out of His. Heaven, along with the New Earth, would be no Heaven at all if populated by unrepentant rebels, those who would defy God and live self-centered lives for eternity. Hell . . . the Lake of Fire . . . is, sadly, necessary.
C. S. Lewis admitted, “Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are gradually getting worse – so gradually that the increase in seventy years will not be very noticeable. But it might be absolute hell in a million years: in fact, if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct technical term for what it would be.”
Here’s a nugget from their discussion of guilt: “If you imagine how mangled a body would be without a sense of pain, then you get a picture of a soul without a sense of guilt.” Guilt isn’t some unfortunate quirk of psychology. True moral guilt is a gift from God.
God uses guilt as the tool in ‘C-level’ interventions, “which the atheist detests because they threaten his autonomy.” Yet the atheist doesn’t want ‘A-level’ or ‘B-level’ interventions either. In short, he doesn’t want God to exist. It’s not so much that he doesn’t believe that God exists. He doesn’t want to live in a universe with the God who made it. Well, he won’t have to after the Great White Throne Judgment . . .
. . . which is why we should pray for and plead with and press the unbeliever to WAKE UP!!! The tracts I design are my best shot at provoking the lost to think, along with others that I use, as discussed in my Tracts essay on this site.
The occasional thoughtful atheist “values a moral humanity as well as a free humanity.” But so does the God of the Bible, the Creator of our universe. (Note: Calvinists can’t make this argument.) The Bible teaches that ultimate freedom is found in sync with Christ, free from the addiction and the penalty of sin. We can only be all that we can be in Christ. That’s what image-of-God design means.
Sin ravages. Sin destroys. Sin addicts. Sin makes one smaller and smaller. That’s reality. Atheists can be sympathetic with pantheism, which renders ‘god’ as a “featureless generality,” according to C. S. Lewis. Even Richard Dawkins doesn’t mind the idea of deism, as long as God stays where He is and leaves us to our own devices.
Moderns love the Star Wars ‘force,’ which is just a form of pantheism. But true joy, true personal growth, derives from fellowship, first with God, and then with those pointed in the same direction. It’s got to be personal. Challenge the atheist’s utter hopelessness and challenge the New Ager’s utter impersonal-ness. We’re wired (designed) for the personal, both for accountability and for fellowship. Persons cannot develop without the Creator of persons.
“While Hell rages into the great divorce, Heaven climaxes into the Wedding of the Lamb . . . In the end, each life becomes a battleground of eternal possibility . . . A concrete, personal God makes things He touches more risky. The stakes are raised to the heavens . . . Such a God is unsafe.”
Redemption, conversion, and ultimately the Christian’s resurrection to a purified body and mind – yet still the same person – changes the rebel’s perspective. The Lord Jesus . . . God . . . becomes Savior and . . . Friend. No fear there. But the Gospel must be given and received for the Holy Spirit to do that work.
We’ve got a part to do there. Are you helping?