Austin Cline, a self proclaimed Atheism and Agnosticism expert, writes, “Many people who end up as atheists are inspired to take a much harder look at their religion and their theism after being forced to face the problem of evil and suffering in the world.”
MOST COMMON REASON FOR ATHEISM.I have not seen any polls to confirm this, but I would venture to say that the most common reason people lose their belief in God is because of the existence of suffering. It is not common for an atheist say, “I read up on the science and philosophy, and I am convinced that macroevolution, the third law of thermodynamics, and the illogical nature of the teleological and ontological arguments for God’s existence means that there cannot be a God.” No! Most atheists say something along the lines of, “My father was sick with cancer, I prayed to God to help him but he wasted away to nothing and died in pain. I concluded that God can’t exist.”
ARGUMENT FROM EVIL ILLOGICAL.I remember being in a class years ago at Columbia University. It was a course on Islamic Philosophy and Religion. Muslim theologians talk about a lot of the same things as we do, including the Argument From Evil. One of the students, a philosophy student if I remember right, said, “God cannot exist, there is so much evil in the world.” My reply was, “If evil exists and that makes God evil somehow, how does that make God less real?” Think about it. We do not disregard the existence of anything simply because it is bad. Just because the holocaust was really evil, it does not make the holocaust any less real.
ULTIMATELY NO ONE DOUBTS GOD’S EXISTENCE BECAUSE OF EVIL. THEY REJECT GOD BECAUSE THEY BREAK THE SECOND COMMANDMENT: GOD DOES NOT CONFORM TO THEIR IMAGE OF HIM.
HOW COULD GOD BE GOOD BUT THERE BE EVIL.So, the issue for us believers is less superficial. How can God be good but there be evil in the world? Any ideas? Hopefully no one ascribes to the following:
Rabbi Kushner’s “when bad things happen to good people” Open Theism- God is is good, but He is not all-knowing, so He can’t stop evil while it is happening and He has to play catch-up. I’m not quite sure how God can know the future in the Bible and yet have Open Theism make sense, but that’s beside the point. Jehovah’s Witnesses ascribe to God’s “Selective Foreknowledge.” They reason as follows: Jehovah is all-powerful. The only thing more powerful than a god that knows everything is a god that can know everything that selectively chooses not to–Seriously, this is what they teach–This god turned off the camera when Satan deceived Eve and then sin entered the world, forcing Jehovah to make a backup plan with Michael the Archangel in order to save face. How do we know this is not true?
God is greater than our heart and knows all things (1 John 3:20).
There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him (Heb 4:13).
Augustine’s “evil is the lacking of good and therefore does not really exist.” Augustine makes mention of this theory in Book VII of his Confessions. It’s like saying there is no such thing as darkness, there’s just a lack of light. Lucky for him, this was not the only theory he had. You have probably heard it before: “there is no such thing as evil, it is all relative.”
John Piper said, “The people who do not believe in evil sure do when you punch them in the face.”
Quite frankly, it is illogical. If evil is the lacking of good, why can’t good be the lacking of evil?
Liebniz’s “the best of all possible worlds.” Another attempt to explain why there is evil is to say that it could have not been done in any other way. An Enlightenment philosopher named Voltaire wrote a book called Candide to criticize the view. In short, the book is about an illegitimate son of a nobleman who travels the world with a philosopher where really bad things happen to them and the philosopher tries to explain everything away as good. A musical made from the book did a good job summing up the ridiculousness of the philosophy:
Once one dismisses
The rest of all possible worlds
One finds that this is
The best of all possible worlds!
What about war?
Though war may seem a bloody curse
It is a blessing in reverse
When canon roar
Both rich and poor
By danger are united!
(Till every wrong is righted!)
Philosophers make evident
The point that I have cited
‘Tis war makes equal — as it were —
The noble and the commoner
Thus war improves relations!
Christians have made this mistake. Have you ever heard a Christian tell a non-believer in his suffering, in an attempt to console them and sneak a little God in there, that “God works all things for good?” Let me make this clear: if you are apart from Christ, God DOES NOT work all things for good for you. Rom 8:28 states, “God works all things for good for those who love Him that have been called according to His purpose.” How can this be so? Because when Christians suffer or do well, in all of these things God uses this to direct our lives so that we may grow closer to Him and live more obediently in thought, word and deed.
The best example is prayer. Christ said, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14). I don’t know about you, but I have made a lot of prayers in Christ’s name, and not all of them were answered. The reason I think it is so, is because God answers only prayers that work towards our good. James states, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” (James 4:3). Therefore, when we pray and the prayer is not conducive to “drawing near to God” (James 4:8), God views the motive as wrong. You may not know it at the time, but I am sure that the all-knowing God does. So, our greatest possible good is that we honor God, love Him, and ultimately bring glory to Him.
It is important to remind ourselves that if we live in the best of all possible worlds, it is not the best possible one for people, it’s the best one for God. The Scripture already lays out that before Adam’s sin, that childbirth required no pain and work no sweat. Obviously, these curses make things worse for people. This is an idea which we will develop through these lessons: God in His wisdom knows what is truly best. Man, in his wisdom, does not. Man makes himself the focal point of the universe, and so charges God with wrongdoing when things do not work to his benefit. However, if we make God the focal point of the universe, then man cannot necessarily charge God with wrongdoing for the ordering of things in the present.
Really, the whole question is answered if we properly understand whether we live in an Anthropocentric or a Theocentric universe. Anthropocentric means man is the center of the universe, hence the universe revolves around the creation. This does not make any more sense than the universe revolving around bugs, rocks, or stardust. No one would charge God with wrongdoing because bugs get zapped or whatever, because the universe does not revolve around bugs. Now, a Theocentric universe revolves around God. So, this means the creation serves the purposes of the Creator. That logically actually makes sense, unlike the Anthropocentric view which is arbitrary.
Let’s illustrate this with an example. You and your wife save up to build the house of your dreams... You slave away all day in the widget factory while your wife is an architect, and she works remotely and takes care of the kids. To save money on the designs, you tell your wife to design the new house, get it built, and you will keep slaving away at making the widgets…competition is getting real tough, they are outsourcing everything to Asia. So, two years later the house is built and you move into the house your wife built. You are disappointed to find there is no mancave or extra-large garage to tinker on your car. However, there is a 800 square foot walk-in closet and a gratuitous island in the kitchen that looks like it is out of Rachel Ray. Surprised? Don’t be. You asked your wife to design the house, wouldn’t it make sense that the house would reflect what she values? So, if God designed the universe, shouldn’t it revolve around Him if He values His own glory?
Why is there evil? I’m going to ruin the Book of Job for you and tell you how God can be good yet there be evil. It is going to take a long time to prove it from the Scriptures, so for now I’ll just quote the authority of big names and ask you to keep what they said in the back of your minds. R.C. Sproul in an hour long sermon on the subject summed it up as follows: “Evil is not good, but it is good to have evil.” Augustine wrote in his Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love that, “He judged it better to bring good out of evil, than not to permit any evil to exist.” Who are we to question God in saying that the bringing good out of evil is not as good as simply bringing good out of good? Jonathan Edwards writes, “[God is] the permitter . . . of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted . . . will most certainly and infallibly follow.”
Let’s introduce Job. Now that we know that the existence of evil does not by necessity make God evil, we can begin to understand what sort of good God had in store when He put Job through trials and tribulations. The Scripture states that Job “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). What does this mean? It depends who you ask.
View 1: Completely without sin. Most commentators throughout history viewed Job as entirely innocent. Aquinas go as far as to say that “Job…wished to dispute with God to learn as a student does with a master,” even though Job really sounds disappointed that his family is dead, his fortune is lost, and his health is failing. In the lessons I am presenting, let me make clear that I do not hold to this interpretation. Job himself very clearly states, “You…make me to inherit the iniquities of my youth” (Job 13:26). Job does not claim to be sinless, so I do not think this is a workable interpretation.
View 2: Committed the sin of self-righteousness. John Piper’s interpretation is that Job was a good guy but he had a hint of self-righteousness brewing inside. Surely, as we will cover later, his response to suffering months later was self-righteous. However, was Job self-righteous before the events occurred? I tend to say “no.” God told Satan that Job “still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause” (Job 2:3). This to me plainly states that God caused Job to suffer “without cause,” or in other words, entirely unprovoked. Job did not do something that merited punishment. Rather, God decided to do good for Job by allowing him to go through evil.
Did Job have latent self-righteousness? I had a Pastor who liked to say, “If you take a bottle of water and remove the top and shake it, why does water spill out?” Everyone likes to say, “Because you shook it.” However, that’s not why water spilled out. Water spilled out because there’s water in the bottle. In the same way, if Job is shook and he acts self-righteous as a result, isn’t it likely that there was self-righteousness inside all along and the catalyst simply did not exist to bring it out? Perhaps. The Bible simply does not say this, so I think it is best not to presume this of Job.
An application for us. It is pretty simple, but we must remind ourselves that every time we run into something tough, it isn’t always retribution from God. Let me be honest with you, it usually is. God is always chipping away at our sins with suffering. However, it isn’t a law of nature. God reserves the right to use suffering to do His will even when it isn’t a response to our sin. This, in my opinion, is what happened with Job.
Job’s background What was Job the man like? How did he grow up? What did he do for a living? The book does not dwell on these things, but it gives us clues.
First, Job was a gentile living sometime during the 400 year period Israel was in Egypt. He was a gentile (specifically an Edomite, Lam 4:21) from the land of Uz. One of Job’s friends is named Eliphaz the Temanite, and Teman was a grandson of Esau (Gen 36:15) and another friend is Elihu “of the family of Ram,” who was a great-grandson of Judah (1 Chron 2:9). Because Elihu is ethnically a Jew, but never cites the Mosaic Law in any way, this gives us some indication of the time period in which Job lived–clue, it was before Moses!
Second, Job had a righteous upbringing. Job claims to have helped orphans since his “infancy” (Job 31:18). He says “from my youth he[, the orphan,] grew up with me” (Job 31:18). Simply put, Job likely had adopted siblings who he was very loving towards, as he is with his own children. Back then, unclaimed children were not adopted and made equal heirs with living biological children. Usually, they were brought up to be household slaves. This reflects positively upon Job’s father and Job himself, who appeared not to harbor any jealousy or selfishness. It is perhaps with a touch of irony that even though he has been kind to his siblings, they abandoned him in his suffering (Job 19:13-14, 17, 19).
Third, Job was a herder and a judge for a living. We know Job owned many animals, but what is often not dwelt upon is that Job was an important man in his community, because he judged at the city gate. Job recounts:
When I went out to the gate of the city,
When I took my seat in the square,
…[T]he old men arose and stood.
The princes stopped talking
And put their hands on their mouths;
The voice of the nobles was hushed,
And their tongue stuck to their palate.
…I was a father to the needy,
And I investigated the case which I did not know.
…To me they listened and waited,
And kept silent for my counsel.
…I chose a way for them and sat as chief,
And dwelt as a king among the troops… (Job 29:8-10, 16, 21, 25).
Irony of Job’s Job. Such details may appear unimportant to us, but not when we consider the whole point of the book: justice. Job, the judge, was judging God the Judge’s justice. For all intents and purposes Job was a righteous and fair judge, the fairest of them all. So, when such an esteemed judge known for his Godliness questions God, it makes some waves.
Fourth, Job was a priest. He regularly made sacrifices for others, and thereby presumably himself if the occasion necessitated it. The sacrifices to God in verse 5 are worth some explanation:
Job would send and consecrate them [his children], rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually (Job 1:5).
We can see that Job understood that sins are not merely doing bad things, but thinking them as well. Lusting in one’s heart (Matt 5:28) or coveting (Ex 20:17) are sins where one such thought makes the thinker guilty of breaking the entire Law. Job was aware of this and knew that “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22).
Before the advent of Christ, sacrifices had to be made again and again for sins, because there was no final sacrifice. However, because of Christ’s work on the cross His sacrifice was “once and for all” (Heb 9:28, 1 Peter 3:18) for all sins. Job, nor anyone else before Christ’s time, fully understood this. Yet, it was “by faith that the men of old gained approval” (Heb 11:2). So, in many ways he looked to Christ, but he did not have a full understanding.
At the time no Levitical priesthood existed, so Job served as his family’s priest. This is an obscure topic, as there are pre-Israelite priests such as Melchizedek (Gen 14:18) and non-priests who when called to by God executed priestly functions, such as when Abraham sacrificed the ram in place of Isaac (Gen 22:13; it is also worth mentioning that Isaac expected his father to sacrifice a lamb, Gen 22:7, so family sacrifices must have been a common occurrence).
Typology. Job in some ways is a type of Christ, being that he suffered and made intercession for sinners in the final chapter. He is also a type for us! According to Gregory the Great, the first guy in church history to make a commentary about the book, Job specifically represents the “Holy Church” (The Book of Morals, Book XXXII, Chapter 4). The former observation gives us a look into what the so called “priesthood of all believers” (1 Peter 2:5, 9) looks like. One is not a priest because of being born into a family of priests. Job was a gentile who lived before the priesthood even existed! Rather by faith one is a priest and intercedes spiritually for others through prayer.
The Law was given as “our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24). Hence, though Job might have benefited from knowledge of the Law in its nascent form as it pertains to sacrifices, he is being more obedient to a New Covenant understanding of the priesthood. After all, the Levitical priesthood as part of the Law was a mere “shadow” (Col 3:7, Heb 10:1) of the true priesthood, which is that of Christ and His people. We don’t need to be Jews stemming from Levi to be a priest. Rather, all we need to do is believe in God Almighty and present our petitions to Him. In this way, we are all a royal priesthood.
Why did God want Job to suffer? How about us? If we didn’t do anything directly to require the supposed discipline of losing a child, or having cancer, or having marital problems, or depression, or a piece of junk Ford–wait, that is your fault, you reap what you sow–how are we to internalize and cope with suffering?
I love the story of Horatio Spafford. Spafford was a devout Christian and a successful lawyer. He was friends with D.L. Moody in Chicago, the same Moody of the “Moody Bible Institute.” Spafford invested in Chicago real estate and was doing quite well. Then, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 occurred. He did not lose all his fortune, but he lost most of it. Spafford’s family decided to follow Moody on a preaching tour in England, but he got tied up with business so his family left first. The boat that his whole family was on crashed into another boat in the middle of the Atlantic. Communication was slow back then so Spafford’s wife was only able to use a telegraph once she reached England. “Saved alone.” All four of his children died in the accident. This man as a modern-era Job. He was a man who had immense faith. He wrote a hymn called, “It is well with my soul” about the experience. This was his response to suffering:
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
Saint Paul, though he was imprisoned when he wrote his letter to the Philippians, wrote:
I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:8-11).
How could these men respond to suffering by praising God for His mercy? They knew that despite their suffering God was still much kinder than what they merited: He forgave their sins. In fact, they had faith that even if they could not understand why God made them suffer, they trusted that He is righteous and loving. The Scripture says, “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds” (Ps 145:17). Let these words sustain you through suffering.