It’s the inevitable question whenever people are horribly injured or killed in natural disasters like Hurricane Irma and man-made catastrophes like the Las Vegas shootings – If there really is a God, why are there such evils?
Implicit in the question is the assumption that evil should not exist, either because of its intrinsic nature or, more likely, because it makes good people suffer unjustly. Philosophers and theologians have been wrestling with this problem for eons.
The irony is that, as Christian philosopher William Lane Craig points out, the answer cannot be found apart from the existence of God:
“If God does not exist, then we are locked without hope in a world filled with gratuitous and unredeemed suffering. God is the final answer to the problem of evil, for He redeems us from evil and takes us into the everlasting joy of an incommensurable good, fellowship with Himself.”
In other words, if there is no God, then there is no good or evil and thus no such thing as justice. There are only acts, none of which are better or worse than any other, they just are. In such a world, Stephen Paddock’s murder of 59 innocent people is no better or worse than Mother Theresa feeding 59 starving Calcuttan beggars.
The atheist counters by claiming there can still be good and evil because some acts preserve life while others destroy it. That is a circular argument, however, because it assumes life unquestionably has value. But what value or purpose is there in a life of 75 years followed by an eternity of nothing? There is wisdom in the old maxim that you never see a funeral hearse pulling a U-haul to the cemetery.
Without good, evil cannot be identified but for either of them to exist, there must be God. It’s like the Principle of Non-Contradiction: That which is A cannot also simultaneously be Non-A. Good is A. Evil is Non-A and they have nothing in common because they are absolute opposites. God defines the good, so evil is the total absence of the good.
Cross-Examined.org’s Frank Turek put it this way following the most recent London terrorist attack:
“Without God, there would be no objective, authoritative, moral standard beyond humanity, which means human beings would have no moral obligations and every action or behavior would be merely a matter of human opinion.
“Do you think the London terrorist attack was wrong? Without God, that’s just your opinion against that of ISIS. The murder of six million Jews? It’s just your opinion against Hitler’s opinion. The sexual abuse of children? It’s only wrong if God exists.”
Acts that philosophers call evil theologians call sin when humans commit them. War, rape, genocide, murder and all the rest of the minor and major deeds we commonly call evil are an inherent component of human existence, having been around throughout recorded history.
But aren’t some people “better” than others? Wasn’t Mother Theresa infinitely “better” than Hitler? Jesus had something to say about degrees of evil in the first five verses of the 13th chapter of Luke. He described Pilate’s then-recent murder of a group of Galileans involved in religious rites and another incident in which a tower fell, killing 18 Jerusalem residents.
In both cases, Jesus asked his listeners “do you think that these … were worst sinners than the others … because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus was pointing out that we all commit evil and that justice requires that evil be punished, ultimately in death.
That’s not the Sunday School “Jesus, meek and mild” who sings “Kumbaya” while handing out achievement trophies to everybody no matter if they fed the poor, made millions managing hedge funds or stole Social Security checks from old ladies. It’s the Jesus who provided the solution — Himself — for everybody’s sin problem, as He explained at John 6:48-51. He is the God who solves the problem of evil.
Tragedies of human-making like Las Vegas and natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and floods remind us that good and evil are real and they count in both the here and now and in eternity because God exists. They’re our choices to make and what we choose matters.