The so-called problem of evil has created a talking point for skeptics ever since Voltaire framed a version of it in response to the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1750; thousands sought refuge in the great Lisbon Cathedral and were crushed to death when it collapsed. In essence, Voltaire said that either God is all-powerful but not good or he is good and not all-powerful.
I would like to have you think about this problem of evil a bit differently: The very existence of evil in the world is one of the most important proofs for the existence of God. Dave, did I hear you properly? Please bear with me for a few moments. The atheist Bertrand Russell said, “There is no God, therefore there is no good and evil.” Russell acknowledged that apart from God, good and evil are relative; merely social constructs or personal preferences. Thus apart from God, one would have no way of judging whether an action is good or evil, right or wrong. What is right for you might be wrong for me. It may be an evil for me to fly a plane into a building, but for you it may be a good because it means your salvation. Therefore, how can we judge anyone of some evil unless God exists as the ultimate reference point of good?
An excellent illustration of this point can be found in the movie The Quarrel. A rabbi and a Jewish secularist, both having lost everything in the Second World War, are reunited in Canada. Rabbi Hersch says to the secularist Chiam, “If a person does not have the Almighty to turn to, if there’s nothing in the universe that’s higher than human beings, then what’s morality? Well, it’s a matter of opinion. I like milk; you like meat. Hitler likes to kill people; I like to save them. Who’s to say which is better? Do you begin to see the horror of this? If there is no Master of the universe then who’s to say that Hitler did anything wrong? If there is no God then the people that murdered your wife and kids did nothing wrong.”
The rabbi made a very compelling argument. In other words, to argue against the existence of God based on the existence of evil, forces us into saying something like this: If God does not exist then evil does not exist- just personal preference. There is “nothing ultimately bad, deplorable, tragic or worthy of blame. To paraphrase the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer, the person who argues against the existence of God based on the existence of evil in the world has both feet firmly planted in mid-air.” (Greg Koukal)
The Bible teaches us that God is our ultimate reference point and apart from him we cannot even define good and evil. If I played a discord on the piano, how would you even know that it was discordant? You would know because you have a concept of harmony in your mind and thus you have a context in which to compare sounds. Therefore, we know evil because we know the concept of good, and this concept derives from God, who is Good.
Greg Koukal moves us from the philosophical to the pastoral when he said this: “Let’s say for example that you are suffering with some kind of pain and evil in your life and you come to the conclusion that there is no God. What is the solution to the problem of your personal pain? The only solution I can think of is that your personal pain and suffering are meaningless. They are useless. [You] are helpless.”
The story is told of a poet of the Eastern tradition who had experienced a tragedy in his life. He went to his religious leader to get some comfort after his wife and children had been killed. He was simply told, “The world is dew.” The religious leader’s point was that all of life is just an illusion. The poet went home and wrote this simple poem, only four lines: “The world is dew. The world is dew. And yet….And yet….” In other words, the religious answer to his question was that evil simply didn’t exist. But he knew personally that suffering wasn’t dew, it wasn’t an illusion; it was real and it was painful. What comfort is there in being told your pain is not real?
This is why I believe that the existence of evil is not a “problem” for the Christian. I don’t mean that it is any less hard, difficult, or painful for a Christian to suffer. What I mean is that the existence of evil and the presence of suffering do not undermine the belief in a good and all-powerful God. Rather it teaches us that our suffering is real and that it is not for nothing.