.The first quarter of 2022 has been busy and blessed. The mission in Nigeria is flourishing and very active, so we thank God for all the ways He has blessed the service so far. Keep praying with us please!
This is the most difficult question to answer as a theist. We, as Christians accept that suffering is a result of evil existing in the world. C.S. Lewis once said contemplating on the topic that “suffering is God’s megaphone to a deaf world.
But how would an atheist reconcile the thought of a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God and suffering. Surely if God is as all-powerful as He is, He can stop suffering altogether. Breaking up the thought into a few components in order to approach the question, we first look to the question and the questioner themselves.
The question is based on values that prove rather than disprove the existence of God because you wouldn’t ask the question if you don’t believe in an absolute moral law. And if you wouldn’t believe in an absolute moral law unless you believed that there is a moral law giver. So God must be involved in the paradigm, not away from it.
Both believers and nonbelievers alike, can agree that the ultimate ethic in life is love. There is no higher standard that a human can experience in life beyond love. And a major component of love is free will. In other words, free will is indispensable to love. So to keep God, love and free will in the paradigm, there must be the free will to also choose evil which is separation or deviance from love. And this is the consequence of God’s supreme effort.
Another thought on this matter is this: If I was to take a life, that tragedy would be irreversible. But if God takes it, He has the power to bring life into it again in eternity. So without eternity, the problem of evil would still be unanswered. Thus, because God is able to restore life and He grants us eternity, eternity leads to eternal justice.
Reconciling the prevalence of evil in the world--from wars to corruption to violence to abuse-- with the existence of an all-loving God sometimes feels like a feat. But it’s not a far-fetched argument to understand that both God and evil can exist at the same time.
God gave us free will. He gave us the decision to choose between living in love and acting in hate. This free will is fundamentally what gives meaning to the actions we take. Without this agency, we would simply behave as dictated to us. Our actions would not be our own, but belonging to someone else. And thus, they could never be inherently good or bad.
For instance, choosing to be selfless is built upon the existence of an opportunity to act in self-interest. A selfless act could never exist in isolation. The sacrifice it necessarily entails means it must coincide with the opportunity to act otherwise--in this case, the opportunity to act selfishly. Without free will, the value of being selfless is not a choice and its value disappears.
Likewise, goodness can only retain its value if the option to choose evil is there. It is not necessarily one grand decision, but a series of small ones that we take in our day-to-day. Choice imposes the value that attributes “goodness” to good and “badness” to bad.
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess” (Deuteronomy 30:15-16).
There are two extreme approaches to answer this question. Calvinism is the idea that God’s sovereignty dictates every thought, word or action of every man, making man essentially a Robot. Conversely, Arminianism is the idea that man is completely autonomous, free to do as he chooses without any divine influence.
But, there is a balanced approach. God left us the choice to respond to His love or reject it, this gift of freedom is an expression of His great love. God created human beings free to make their own choices, but our freedom is in some ways limited. For example, we are not free to choose our parents, our race, or where we were born. We have free will within the boundaries set by God in accordance with His sovereign purpose for each individual. We are free to make our own choices and be responsible for them all, but our free will never override God’s providential will; there is not one thing that happens on this Earth that is not allowed by God. God is Omnipotent meaning all powerful, but He does not interfere with our free will unless we submit our free will to Him. Likewise, God is also Omniscient or all knowing, but God’s foreknowledge of the future does not interfere with our freedom.
There is a story from Scripture that displays this concept very nicely. In the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis, his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Years later when Joseph is reunited with his brothers he says to them, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20). This indicates that while his brothers’ actions may have been evil, God still allowed them to practice their free will. They were fully accountable for selling Joseph into slavery, but God had certain plans and intentions related to their actions.
God is not interested in having slaves and He doesn’t need us in any way, what He wants is a relationship with every single one of us. Like any other relationship, each person has a choice whether or not they would like to remain in the relationship. However, unlike a friend choosing not to be friends, a son or daughter cannot choose not to be a child of their parent anymore. Similarly, our identity is not something left for us to choose, we are made by Him in His image.
Interested in reading more about this topic? Read "Is Our Future Determined or Free?" by Michael Ramsden to learn more.
We are many voices, united by the same Spirit, driven to Serve Apostolic Love and Testimony.