Sunday, 6 October 2013

Does evil cause us to question God's existence?

This is a common claim in the secular West though I am not certain it is true globally or historically. Besides the fact that evil is evidence for theism which I will not deal with here, evil need not lead us to question God's existence, or even his goodness. Rather it may lead to us pleading ignorance of the ways of God. And for many it draws them closer to God as they seek comfort in the mist of suffering.

How may a Christian deny that evil challenges theism? Genesis clearly tells us that God made the world perfect. The world we now live in is broken and evil just reminds us of this fact. The ongoing presence of evil does not raise the question of God's existence over and over again, rather it raises the brokenness of the world over and over again. It shows us day after day the the world really is broken, thus really needs fixing. The more grievous the evil the more convinced we are of the world's brokenness and how utterly broken it truly is. This realisation can bring much comfort. The man who knows God has promised to fix the world can be secure in God's promises because he knows how desperately the world needs fixing. It drives him to God to plead for him to restore the world.

Difficulties may also expose our weaknesses. We do not just ask that God fix our environment, we ask him to fix us. It not just the world that needs perfecting, it is our souls. This could lead to depth of despair when we realise that we are as broken as the world; though it need not. Despair would be an appropriate response given the darkness of our fallen souls were it not for God's promises. The problem is not the despair (though this is a problem), the problem is us. But the promise is that we need not despair as God need not condemn us as our souls deserve, nor do our souls need to remain blackened. His grace is offered so that the offence is removed, and so that we can be remade. If we believe God's promise then the presence of evil need not lead us to question God's goodness but rather question our own goodness; and the question of God's existence may not even arise as a potential question in the presence of suffering. Further, when we see our lack of goodness then the goodness of God is more readily seen. I do not necessarily write the ideas of men who have not known evil, this is the experience of many who have suffered greatly for the kingdom.

Right belief does not make suffering any more pleasant, but right belief matters in how we respond to suffering. To those who falsely believe that the presence of evil logically questions theism, the experience of suffering may lead to such claims; but to the man who has trained his mind in the truth, such suffering, while just as unpleasant, can lead to different questions. To question God's existence in the face of evil is not more authentic. Others may question his goodness, and still others their own goodness. Suffering is the path to the kingdom (Act 14:22), so trusting God in the face of hardship and training ourselves to think rightly about God may make a difference in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

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