I had a recent interaction on social media, in answer to the claim that “because this evil happened, God does not exist.” A friend’s very young daughter was stricken with terminal cancer and the conclusion this person drew was, if there is a God, he would not allow such evil to occur. Therefore, God does not exist.” These are not new assertions, nor is the question “Does God exist?”
I suggest, however, that it is a facile answer to say that the existence of evil in the world disproves the existence of God. It has several assumptions at work behind it, and these assumptions are non-empirical, indeed they are theoretical, for they cannot be proven.
Among these are:
1. What I see and understand is all there is, or what I see and understand is enough to draw valid and true conclusions.
Scripture affirms, in contrast, that our understanding is anything but complete. How often has “settled science” been revised throughout history when newer information comes along? How often have scientists had to revise their theories and explanations because new data came along to overturn the previous understanding?
Scientists die and what they held to in their lives becomes superseded, due to new information. In other words, they go their entire lives without a complete understanding, or at least without understanding as later generations do. It is not strange, then, to affirm that in the spiritual realm, we too may live out our lives without a full understanding of all that God may do. He says through Isaiah:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
If anyone had cause to shake his fist at God and cry out “Why!?” it was Job. And indeed, he did so. But he also admitted the limits of his understanding.
By his power he stilled the sea;
by his understanding he shattered Rahab.
By his wind the heavens were made fair;
his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.
Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways,
and how small a whisper do we hear of him!
But the thunder of his power who can understand?
Does this sound trite and hackneyed? It is nevertheless true that these are what God has given us in his word. In the face of this, many insist on a second axiom, which they likewise claim must be true:
2. If God exists, he is obligated to explain his ways to our satisfaction. If he does not, it must follow there is no God.
Of course, we want to know and understand, especially in the face of what is painful, confusing, and (seemingly) unjust. But this is not promised to us in Scripture. God’s self-description is that he is infinite and eternal, one of whose attributes is aseity. That is, he is entirely self-existent, self-sustaining, and requires nothing outside of himself. We, however, are finite, limited and absolutely dependent on what is external to ourselves. If the sun were to die out, would life on earth remain? If there were no oxygen, would we continue to breathe? We are anything but self-sustaining. Our desire to know and understand shows our dependence and our limits and that finiteness has us grasping for answers because we do not know, we do not understand. Concluding that an infinite God cannot exist because finite beings do not now understand sufficiently is to suggest that the infinite cannot exist. That is not a conclusion of science, it is an article of faith, one that is ironically held by atheists.
A third affirmation in this series:
3. What we consider to be human flourishing must be God’s plans and purposes for the earth, as well as for us personally.
Here, too, this belief is predicated on a breadth of understanding that puts humanity in an untenable position. We know what is best for ourselves and for our fellow beings. Children often think they know best, but as any parent knows, that’s not the case. Along with this is the belief that human flourishing is limited to this life, the here and now, what we can see and experience. Scripture presents something else; something beyond this world, this age, and that God has ordained things for eternity.
Christians do not reckon that what we see is best, that we understand all that God is doing. Rather, we reckon that God is good and that he loves his children. I don’t know why God allows some of what he does, why evil things happen. Yes, I can explain the origins of evil, of Satan, and point to Scripture that delineates these, but that tells me more about how rather than why. I, too, grieve when evil happens. What I do know is what Scripture tells me about God’s character and wisdom. The Lord is good and does good. That doesn’t mean I see every good here and now. I trust Him, not what appears to me. This is faith—evidence of things not seen.
While atheists often answer that evil in the world is evidence that there is no God, this goes too far. They rule out as inadmissible evidence what God has said in his Word. But at best, an honest answer by their own standard is, “Undefined.”