If God Exists, Why Do Evil and Suffering Exist?: Defining Evil

As I type this, Russian helicopters are flying over Ukrainian villages. People in Ukraine, likely including people I know and have taught and baptized years ago, are suffering and dying.  From my perspective, all of this is happening because of greed and selfishness.  It’s such a waste.  It’s needless and it’s horrible.

It’s also nothing new.  Suffering and evil exist in the world.  We all know it.  We see it just about every day, if not in our own personal lives then whenever we turn on the news.  We deal with it ourselves, as does everyone else.  We try not to let it overcome us, and sometimes…or oftentimes…we fail.  This applies to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Concerning those outside the Christian faith, the fact that they experience evil and suffering and also see it happening to everyone else is a big reason why they choose not to believe in God.  Suffering is something we can’t understand completely, not really.  We can’t figure out every possible reason for why it happens, and we can’t determine with certainty exactly why it happens in any particular situation.  That’s why some assume the God of love talked about in the Bible cannot exist.

This also is nothing new.  We’ve been chewing on this for as long as humanity has existed.  How can the God of love allow evil, pain, hardship, and suffering to exist in the world he created?  Epicurus put it this way:  “If God wishes to prevent evil but cannot, then God is not all-powerful.  If God can prevent evil but will not, then God is not good.  If God has both the power to eliminate evil and the will to do so, then why is evil in the world?”  That’s a good question.  You can look at each of his points and they seem to make sense…at first, anyway.

Yet there’s a problem.  There’s something they’re not bringing out, something they’re overlooking.

Epicurus assumes there is no good purpose to be served by God allowing evil and suffering in the world.  Now, you might be thinking right now, “Wait a minute, Jon.  Nothing good can come out of evil and suffering!”  Are you sure about that?

Before we dive into the reasons why, let me say again that none of us would be so presumptuous as to say we can completely understand why suffering and evil exist.  We cannot know the mind of God outside of what he has revealed to us in Scripture (Rom. 11:33).  It’s impossible to know all of his plans.  However, the Bible does provide some answers to the question of suffering in the world, enough so that we can trust a just God who loves us and always does what is right (Gen. 18:25).

So, let’s dive into it…

What Is Evil?

Have you ever really thought about that?  It’s a good question because every time someone brings up the question of “evil,” they’re basically acknowledging that “good” exists.  In order for evil to exist, there must be some standard of good, rightness, and “just-ness” which is being violated by whatever is called evil.

Yet that raises a question.  if God does not exist, then where did this universal standard of good, this system of “right-ness,” come from?

Do you see where I’m going with us?  Some do.  Cambridge Professor of Psychopathology Simon Baron-Cohen wrote a book called The Science of Evil.  In it he wrote, “My main goal is replacing the unscientific term ‘evil’ with the scientific term ’empathy.”

Evil is unscientific?  Empathy is better?  Really?  I wonder why he would promote that.

Famous philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in his book, Beyond Good and Evil“There are no moral phenomena at all, only a moral interpretation of phenomena.”

To which I ask this.  If there is not such thing as absolute good or absolute evil, why does my conscience act as if such concepts exist?

The thing is, some things are good.  Some things are evil.  Some actions are right.  Some actions are wrong.  Even Nietzsche and Professor Baron-Cohen would say that is so.  I say this because if I told them that evil was in fact scientific and that morality exists, they’d say I was…wait for it…wrong.  Well, how can they say that I’m wrong if the concept of wrong does not actually exist?

Wrong does exist…which means that the concept of right also exists.  If wrong exists, right must exist.  If evil exists, good must exist.  Parents might smile when our kids watch Frozen and sing along with Elsa when she sings, “No right, no wrong, no rules for me”…but if we met someone in real life who promoted that worldview we’d think them extremely immature at best and insane at worst!  Ask anyone if it would be okay to steal from them, rape them or their loved ones, or take their life.  You’ll find out real quick that almost everyone will very quickly abandon the anything goes worldview.  Even the most unethical among us cry out for justice whenever another immoral person hurts them in some way.

Wrong exists, so right also exists.  Evil exists, which means good also exists.  Now we’re faced with another question…

Where Does Good Come From?  Where Does Justice Come From?

Many who deny the existence of God say that morality comes from ourselves.  They’re called naturalists.  Naturalists also promote the notion that morality evolved from animals.  Since a grizzly bear will fight and scrounge and hunt to provide for the survival of her cubs, that’s where human beings get the urge to also fight and work hard to secure their children’s survival.  Michael Ruse, atheist, wrote an article for The Guardian called “God Is Dead. Long Live Morality.”  In it he says, “Morality then is not something handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai.  It is something forged in the struggle for existence and reproduction, something fashioned by natural selection.”

Let’s examine that notion.  Did morality evolve from animals?

Well, I do see grizzly bears caring for their young.  I also see animals killing and stealing from each other.  I see animals, including grizzly bears, killing their own children at times.  I see them doing all of this and more with no sign of remorse when they do so.

I also see that human beings who supposedly evolved from animals oftentimes DO feel remorse when we kill, steal, and do other things which violate our moral standards.  In fact, if such remorse doesn’t exist within a person, we diagnose them as sociopaths.  We also feel the need to punish those who violate our moral code.  In fact, we even feel the need to discuss things like this, like I’m doing right now.  However, we don’t observe animals telling other animals that they need to discuss morality and ethics.

Besides, I thought us evolving from animals was all “survival of the fittest.”  Isn’t that the point of Charles Darwin’s theory of macro-evolution?  Look at the title of his famous book:  On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.  (His fans tend to really downplay the second part of that title these days, but that is what he titled his book.  “Favored Races.”  What Hitler was all about.)

And not only favored races.  Natural selection also.  Evolving from animals is all about survival of the fittest.  And our morality, supposedly, evolved from animals.

That raises a question.  Why do we see living, breathing, thriving, completely immoral animals all around us every day?  If we and our morality evolved from them, and evolution is all about survival of the fittest, then shouldn’t these immoral animals not exist anymore?

Yet animals have no sense of right or wrong, and they seem to be surviving just fine.  Some unbelievers admit this.  Dr. George Simpson wrote in his 1967 work, The Meaning of Evolution“Good and evil, right and wrong, concepts irrelevant in nature except from the human viewpoint, become real and pressing features of the whole cosmos as viewed morally because morals arise only in man.”  Conclusion: we didn’t get morality from the animals.

Naturalists would then say, “Okay, morality came from ourselves, from human beings.”  Let’s examine that notion.  Picture two ancient cavemen sitting around their small fire next to the unconscious cavewoman they’ve just clubbed over the head and raped to satisfy their primitive, animalistic urges.  Suddenly, one of them says to the other one, “You know, we just did something bad.  I propose that from now on we ask the woman for permission first.  In fact, we need to fall in love with a woman and she needs to also fall in love with us.  Furthermore, we need to make a life-long commitment of monogamy before any sort of consensual sex takes place.  We’ll call this commitment, let’s see…marriage.  Oh, and knocking her unconscious is also a no-no from here on out.  Sound good?”

Here’s my question.  Why would the caveman have come up with these moralistic notions in the first place?  I ask this only because Charles Darwin wrote in his autobiography, “A man who has no assured and ever present belief in the existence of a personal God or of a future existence with retribution and reward (i.e., heaven and hell – Jon), can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones.”  If God does not exist, then mankind has no reason to do anything but “only…follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him (to be) the best ones.”

When you think about it, that caveman isn’t really doing himself any favors by putting these moralistic limitations on himself.  Without morality, he can satisfy any desire he wants simply by taking from others.  Is he hungry but doesn’t feel like going to all the trouble to hunt and cook his own food?  Just go over to the nearest cave that has people weaker than him, kill them, and take their food.  Did someone get him angry?  Kill them, and they won’t make him angry anymore.  Is he “in the mood”?  Just overpower the nearest female and have his way with her.  Did he impregnate that female he raped and he doesn’t want to take on providing for a child?  All he needs to do is kill her and the child, or kick them both out of his cave into the cold and go find another female.  What if she gives birth to a girl and he was hoping for a boy?  All he needs to do is throw the baby girl away and impregnate her again, or he could kill them both and go find another woman to rape and try for a boy.

You see, in this hypothetical situation, right now before he puts all of these moralistic rules in place, he’s living a completely self-centered, hedonistic, “anything goes” kind of life.  He doesn’t have to practice any kind of self-control.  He doesn’t have to make any kind of sacrifices whatsoever.  He doesn’t have to inconvenience himself in any way.  It’s “his way or the highway.”  He is the king of his own world.

So why would he come up with these rules of right and wrong which would require him to practice discipline, sacrifice, and put others before himself?  What instinctual urge would prompt him to put the best interests of others before himself at all times?  What influenced him to do so?  Was it another caveman?  If so, where did that guy get the idea?  He didn’t get it from the animal kingdom, that’s for sure.  He didn’t evolve to think such things because these immoral animals from which he supposedly evolved still exist.

Besides, no man – other than Jesus, but we’re living in a hypothetical in which God and Jesus do not exist – has ever completely done what is right in all situations.  Furthermore, no human being has ever known what is right from the first moment of his or her existence.  Right and wrong has always had to have been taught to all of us.

So where did morality come from, if not from him or the animals?  Where did the concept of good come from?  The only answer available is God.

In order for evil to exist, the concept of good must exist.  In order for immorality to exist, morality must exist.  And in order for good and morality to exist, God must exist.  If there is no God, there is no universal sense of right.  If there is no universal sense of right, then how could there be any evil in the world?  How could there be any violation of that standard of right if there is no God to create that standard?  After all, the term evil in itself suggests the violation of some standard.  When you think about it, any atheist who says there is no God cannot talk about the problem of evil in the world and still be completely consistent with his own philosophy.

The existence of evil proves that good exists, and that in itself proves the existence of God.  That’s one reason why a loving God would allow evil and suffering to exist in this world.

We’ll dive deeper into this in a future article, Lord willing.  Until then, thanks for reading!

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