Last week we introduced the so-called problem of evil. Atheists affirm that the existence of evil in our world disproves the notion that an all-powerful, benevolent being (i.e., God) exists. According to their assertions, if there really was a God, He would eliminate evil from this present world, and since He hasn't, He must not exist--or so they reason.
We exposed the fundamental flaw in this argument last week by noting that it is logically impossible for any being (no matter how powerful or knowledgeable) to create free moral agents without simultaneously creating the possibility of evil. God has, for reasons that we will elaborate upon today, chosen not to interfere with man's free will at this time (though He will at the Judgment). God understands and we need to realize that it is impossible to be righteous if there is no possible way to do wrong. Without choices, there is no such thing as free will; we would become nothing more than puppets or robots. The fact that evil exists is, for the present time, an undeniable consequence of God granting mankind free will. God could eliminate free will immediately and force everyone to do as He wishes. This would eliminate evil. However, the irony in this discussion is that the last thing atheists want is for their free will to be revoked! Tragically, unless unbelievers come to the Lord, this very thing will happen eventually, practically speaking. When the Lord comes in judgment and casts those who do not know Him and those who haven't obeyed the gospel into the everlasting fires of hell (II Thess. 1:7-9), the free will of the wicked will essentially be revoked. They will not choose hellfire, but they will endure it nevertheless. They will no longer be allowed to do as they please (which is one of the fundamental reasons why people choose atheism to start with).
Let us now consider some other matters that are related to the alleged problem of evil.
Directly related to the problem of evil is man's environment, planet Earth. Before time began, God had a plan for man. He had a purpose in creating the world and mankind. His desire was to create a being who, through obedience, could enter into eternal fellowship with Him. Obviously, there is a need for a suitable environment in which man can decide whether or not to obey. The Earth is that ideal environment. I do not believe that the Earth could be improved to better fulfill God's purposes for it.
Consider this question: what are some characteristics of an ideal environment?
These characteristics are the characteristics of our world! It could not be improved upon as an ideal environment. God's intention was to create a place for a free willed creature to develop spiritually and morally. This plan would not be accomplished in some hedonistic paradise. Pleasure and pain should not be the focal points of man's existence. There is a purpose in enduring pain, suffering, and trials. They are the stepping stones of spiritual and moral development (growth)--if they are reacted to in the proper way. Those who believe that the present world is deficient in some way do not understand God's ultimate purpose. Their view is greedy, selfish, and ignorant.
We will now endeavor to show that natural calamities and human suffering are both elements that enable man to develop properly. I believe that there are many components of our present world that are necessary for the purpose of "soul-making" (i.e., developing spiritually and morally in accordance with God's will). These components are vitally important, even though we may not enjoy them. For instance,...
WHAT ABOUT NATURAL CALAMITIES?
Natural calamities have a purpose in God's plan for the ideal environment. It is impossible to completely explain the contribution of every natural calamity to God's plan, but, in general, natural calamities have a purpose. They help man to realize (and to be reminded) of his impermanence (that is, the fact that Earth is not his permanent home). They help man to realize (and to be reminded) that life is both certain and uncertain. Life is certain in that we will die. Life is uncertain in that we do not know the exact time in which we will die. Natural calamities help man to consider his life and the decisions he makes more seriously because of the element of uncertainty. The element of uncertainty is very important in the role of "soul-making." This element not only applies to natural calamities, but also to human suffering, diseases, strokes, etc. It should be noted that God is not to blame for allowing natural calamities to take place since it has been shown that He has a morally justifiable reason for such; the same is true regarding human suffering, which we will now consider.
WHAT ABOUT HUMAN SUFFERING?
Human pain and suffering are not intrinsically evil; they are intrinsically neutral since they are not evil in every instance. We know, as was mentioned last week, that pain is sometimes caused via loving actions (e.g., surgery, corporal punishment, etc.). But, what are the fundamental causes of suffering? Some answers would include: carelessness, indifference, ignorance, evil (sin), natural disasters, other humans, etc. In the ultimate sense, all suffering can be linked to man's free will being used improperly (either in the past or present). Some may wonder why God didn't prevent the Holocaust or stop Ted Bundy from killing people. The answer to questions such as these is rather simple. If man is truly a free moral agent, then it must be possible for him to choose to do evil, and, in some cases, cause intense and prolonged pain. God could not have eliminated the Holocaust or stopped Ted Bundy without infringing upon man's free moral character. This is not a part of God's plan at this time. However, we can rest assured that eventually all wrongs will be accounted for on the Day of Judgment (cf. II Cor. 5:10).
It should also be understood that a law abiding physical world necessitates the possibility of human suffering. For instance, if bricks are to have the physical characteristics which enable men to build houses out of them, and if the world is to be a law-abiding one (which it must be to be the environment for rational and moral action), then it must be possible also for one man (a free moral agent) to use a brick to crush the skull of another man! It should also be noted that courage could not be developed without the possibility of loss or suffering. God wants us to submit to Him regardless of the cost. Suffering always involves an opportunity for growth (spiritual progress) or destruction (depending upon how we react to the situation).
Human suffering also has a similar aspect of uncertainty (like natural disasters). This uncertainty of when one will die (which is often realized because of suffering) is a way that God can discipline His children and also bring others to Him. Suffering definitely has a randomness to it. It affects the good and evil alike. But, why? The answer: the world would not be better if suffering was directly related to wrong doing. Suffering is sometimes punishment for sin, but often it is not. This environment would not be ideal if only the evil suffered. If only the evil suffered, it would be more difficult for the righteous to mature fully, and an ulterior motive would be created for being righteous. Some would obey God simply to avoid physical pain rather than serve Him out of love. Sometimes suffering is punishment, of course. It can be used by God to open the eyes of His rebellious children and bring them back to obedience.
Finally, let us now consider the Biblical truth that...
MAN HAS ONLY ONE PROBATIONARY PERIOD.
That period is his earthly lifetime. The importance of our temporary period as a physical being cannot be overemphasized. Man's basic purpose in life is to make one decision: will I choose to serve God and love Him by freely obeying Him? Man's eternal destiny is directly related to how he answers this question, and he answers the question by the manner in which he lives his life. It must be emphatically stated that man cannot become saved after physical death (cf. Heb. 9:27). If one advocates the false doctrine that one can later be saved even if he dies in a lost state, he essentially implies that our probationary period on Earth is worthless and without point. To affirm this notion would ultimately imply that God does not have a purpose for suffering in this life! Therefore, if one holds this false belief, the problem of evil is unsolvable. May we always remember that the tribulations of this life are not worthy to be compared to the blessings of eternal fellowship with God (cf. Rom. 8:18)! There is a purpose to this physical life, and if a person is going to be saved, he must be saved during this probationary period.
In these two feature lessons, we have seen that the problem of evil is solvable. The atheist's chief argument has been shown to be unsound. The non-existence of God has not been established. It is necessary to point out that none of God's attributes need to be compromised in order to explain the current existence of evil. Due to the fact that sin is the only intrinsic evil, we have avoided the claim that God uses evil means (e.g., natural calamities and human suffering) to accomplish good. It is true that God uses these means to accomplish His will, but it is not the case that they are evil. Because of this fact, and the fact that man is a free moral agent, God is not blameworthy in any sense. We have also stressed the eternal insignificance of earthly suffering without abandoning the truths that this planet is the ideal environment for "soul-making" and that man's earthly life is his only probationary period. Emphasis has been placed upon the manifold purposes of suffering. Whether it be to remind man of his impermanence, to punish him, or to bring him to God in obedience, suffering is not without design. Therefore, we must not conclude that because evil exists, God does not. Christians will not be able to explain all occurrences of suffering and tragedy in this life, but we can and should trust that the Lord is in control and that there is a purpose for it all--even when we cannot, in our limited understanding, ascertain what that purpose is.
Before closing, allow me to give proper credit to Thomas B. Warren. His book Have Atheists Proved There is No God? is an outstanding work that deals with the so-called problem of evil. The majority of the ideas presented in these two lessons have been summarized or paraphrased from his book, which I highly recommend to anyone wishing to examine this topic further.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.