Is the Problem of Evil Really a Problem for Christianity?

Is the Problem of Evil Really a Problem for ChristianityI just spent an amazing weekend at Green Bay Community Church, teaching adults and students about the reliability of the New Testament Gospels and the nature of truth. Troy Murphy has done a wonderful job assembling a powerful staff at the city’s largest church. GBCC’s youth pastor, Evan Gratz, opened up his youth group to me on Sunday night. As usual, the best part of the time with students was answering questions at the end of the evening. The problem of evil was raised by a teenager who described her recent conversation with an atheist friend. As an atheist myself for most of my life, I resonated with the objection and offered a brief response: If what we believe as Christians is true, evil and suffering are only a problem for atheists. The problem of evil isn’t really a problem for Christianity.

Evil and suffering are typically experienced and understood within the context of one’s life. As an atheist, I hoped for (and expected) a life of approximately ninety years. In the context of this span of time, if I had developed cancer in my forties, I would have been angered by the amount of time stolen from me as I battled the disease. In fact, if I had been diagnosed with a terminal disease at that age, I would have been outraged by the fact it was going to deprive me of fifty percent of the life I expected. When your life is only ninety years long, anything cutting the time short is evil, and any prolonged suffering along the way is unjust and intolerable.

But what if we could live more than ninety short years? What if our lives had a beginning, but no end? How would we see (and respond to) evil, pain and suffering in the context of an eternal life? How many of you who can remember the painful vaccinations you received as a child? If you’re reading this article at the age of thirty, the small period of your life occupied by the pain you experienced during those vaccinations has been long outdistanced by the years you’ve lived since then. As time stretched on from the point of that experience, you were able to place the pain within the larger context of your life. You don’t even remember it now. If you have pierced ears, ask yourself a similar question. The pain you experienced at the point of the piercing is nearly forgotten, especially if it has been years since it occurred. Evil, pain and suffering are experienced and understood within the larger context of one’s life.

If the Christian worldview is true, we are eternal beings who will live forever. We get more than ninety years, we get all of eternity. Our experience and understanding of pain and evil must be contextualized within eternity, not within our temporal lives. Whatever we experience here in our earthly life, no matter how difficult or painful it may be, must be seen through the lens of forever. As our eternal life stretches out beyond our struggles in mortality, our temporal experiences will become an ever-shrinking percentage of our consciousness. The suffering we may have experienced on earth will be long outdistanced by the eternal life we’ve lived since then. Our life with God will be a life without suffering, without pain and without evil. “God will wipe away every tear from (our) eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). It will also be a life where justice is realized, “for the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints,” (Psalm 37:27-28) and He “will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work” (Ecclesiastes 3:17). As our glorious eternal life with God stretches beyond our temporal experience, whatever suffering or injustice we might have experienced here on earth will seem like it occurred in the blink of an eye.

In the context of the Christian eternal life, pain, suffering and evil can be faced and endured with strength, hope and confidence unavailable in an atheistic worldview. What used to seem so unjust to me is now less egregious. What used to seem so unbearable can now be faced with hope. The problem of evil, from my new Christian perspective, isn’t the same kind of problem it was from my old atheistic perspective, because the problem of evil isn’t really a problem for Christianity.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and ALIVE

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7 replies
  1. Luke says:

    I’m really trying to rack my brain, but I can’t recall anyone making an argument involving the problem of evil from their own context, e.g. “my life will be shorter because I got cancer so how could a good G-d exist?”

    Has anyone else ever heard it framed this way?
    Sure, I’ve certainly heard many people question why G-d would do or allow this thing or that thing, but to extrapolate their own experience into a larger argument is something I’ve never come across. Maybe I’m out the mainstream on this.)

    Usually, we would look back at Auschwitz and imagine the horrors that took place there, or other countless scenes of almost unimaginable evil.

    The answer here is terribly myopic. Perhaps it could be argued that as long as one is Christian, the suffering they experience may be small in the large scheme of things, but what good does this do to a Chinese woman who never knew Jesus and was forced into a Japanese comfort house to be repeatedly raped until her death (and most of these women did die while enslaved)?

    I’m sorry — and maybe I’m wrong to feel this way — but this treatment of evil is so self-involved as to be deeply offensive.

    I really don’t know what else to say…

    Reply
  2. Stephen B says:

    Yeah, if you think the Problem of Evil is actually no problem at all for Christianity then you don’t understand the problem. Even apologists who believe the problem is ultimately solvable admit it’s a tough problem, one that Christians must wrestle with rather than glibly dismiss.

    Reply
  3. Charles says:

    Stephen,

    I agree. I continue to wrestle with this. This is part of the reason why “organized religion” has never sat well with me even though I am a Christian. God’s power is immeasurable so his redemptive quality must be above my understanding. That is all I have to cling to when I think of the countless people who have lived and died without ever hearing the Gospel. Perhaps it is strictly about what is in the heart and those who haven’t heard and accepted would if they had. I don’t know. The selfish answer is to say; “at least I’ve heard the Gospel and have a chance for salvation”, but to me that is unacceptible in light of the person of Christ.

    Reply
  4. moose says:

    mr wallace-you say “if the christian world view is true, we are eternal beings who will live forever”. the key word is “if”. if you really believe this great paradise is real, can you describe it in detail? is it an actual place? do people have a body? if not then what? a soul? what is a soul? what exactly do people do in heaven that makes it such a great paradise? do you spend your days worshipping “god”? what else if anything do you do in “heaven”? give a detailed description of “heaven”

    Reply
    • Ron says:

      Moose,

      There’s a great book by Randy Alcorn entitled “Heaven.” Randy is a pastor, author, speaker, etc. His book is based purely on scripture. I’m sure there are other books out there on the topic, but I really like this one. I’d also recommend John Macarthur (anything he’s written).

      Reply
  5. Klampp says:

    Everyone, Please read “Mom plays God..Brings Good from Evil” article by Frank Turek. Go under Resources than the tab for Church Beliefs to get to it. It is one of the best answers to the question of evil I have read/heard.

    Reply
  6. Thomas says:

    The tone of the article does sound a little like what my kids like to say. “Sucks to suck!” I think the state of evil is more a sign of God’s Grace than it is a problem for the world. Since God is a Just God and must always play by the rules He has allowed Satan and all his demons to have their time. In God’s infinite wisdom He can turn anything intended for evil into something good. Jesus death leading to reconciliation of all mankind, Joseph sold into slavery ended up being a blessing to his family during the great famine, Hitler trying to destroy the Jews lead to sympathy from the world which allowed them to return to their land.

    The fact that this world is so evil, and grows more so every day, demonstrates God’s love for mankind because He has not judged the world as He did Sodom and Gomorrah. That story in and of itself shows that He wants mankind to turn from sin and be saved. We know that God is reminded (He already knows all) with reports of evil by both His Angels (Genesis) and Satan (Job). The very blood of the innocent and righteous cries out to God for Justice (story of Abel).

    As evil as the acts of Sodom and Gomorrah were God suffered Abraham to plead five times for those people. He asked if 50, 45, 30, 20 and finally if only 10 righteous people could be found would the Lord spare the cities. And The Lord said He would spare the city if only 10 could be found. He is not willing that any should perish but that all would have everlasting life.

    So, perhaps it would help the lost to understand that since God has not ye drawn His sword there is still an opportunity to choose to accept His Love. Since mankind is as evil as those in the days of Noah I believe the time for mercy is very near the end. In the Abolition of man CS Lewis wrote “Satan’s next greatest ploy is to persuade and manipulate man to do something God prevented him from doing; that man should destroy himself.” God will intervene before that happens and now is the time to choose sides. Will you choose life from a Loving, Merciful God or death from he who despises and resents you for taking his place?

    Reply

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