Answers Series

Christianity – Problem or Solution?
with Nick Park

Christianity – Problem or Solution? with Nick Park

When we encounter evil and suffering, it is natural to ask why these things happen to us or to others. For those who believe in a good God, this can lead to further questions such as: If God created everything, then does that mean that He created evil? If He is all-loving and all-powerful, then why couldn’t He create a world without evil or suffering?

The ‘Problem of Evil,’ as an argument against God’s existence, is older than the Christian church. Three centuries before Jesus, the Greek philosopher ,Epicurus argued, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then from whence comes evil?”

The idea of God creating a world without the possibility of evil or suffering sounds seductive, but it’s difficult to imagine how such a world could still be consistent and orderly. The modern scientific method, and many of our technological advances, were developed by Christians who believed that God is a god of order, and therefore His creation must follow general principles or natural laws. This kind of experimentation and theoretical thinking would not be possible if the created world changed its properties in a purely random way. For example, stone is hard and durable, which means it is useful for building walls. But what happens if someone, acting in anger, picks up a stone and uses it to strike someone else on the head? Theoretically, an all-powerful God could cause the stone to suddenly become soft and squishy like a marshmallow. That would certainly remove the evil of a cracked skull, but such unpredictability would give architects and builders nightmares. Would we really want to live in a world where the basic properties of materials are so unpredictable?

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, deals with the issues of God’s goodness, His creative power, and evil in the world. However you read Genesis, it is clear that human choice and free will are key to understanding this whole subject.

Yes, God could have created humans without the ability to make wrong choices. An all-powerful Being could certainly programme us to always make the best moral decision on every occasion. But could you describe such creations as truly human? Or would they be more akin to robots?

In the 1990’s, Japanese companies such as Tamagotchi developed ‘digital pets.’ These devices, for a brief period, enjoyed great popularity. But the novelty soon faded. After all, they were simply electronic circuits programmed to behave in a particular way, with predetermined responses to various scenarios. Such technology could never truly compete with the attraction of a real-life puppy that responds to care and kindness with genuine gratitude and affection.

A human being created without the capacity to make choices, including bad choices, would be little more than a glorified Tamagotchi digital pet. You cannot programme a computer to genuinely love you. Love cannot be programmed; it must be given freely, and the ability to give freely logically entails the ability to refuse to give love.

Love is the central theme of Christian belief. God is love (1 John 4:8). The 1960’s song really got it right when it asserted, “It’s love that makes the world go round.” A life without free will, without love, would hardly be worth living.

Those of us who are parents want our children to grow up to live meaningful lives. We want to protect them from harm, but we still want them to have freedom and opportunities. This dilemma plays out every time a child starts learning to ride a bike. The risks involved in a child riding a bicycle are numerous. Children die in cycling accidents every year. But we can’t wrap a child in cotton wool and still expect them to grow and develop.

Yet very few of us would want to live in a world where human beings had absolute, unrestricted free will to do anything at all. Look at the damage that Adolf Hitler’s free-will was able to inflict in one 56-year lifespan! If he had not been limited to some degree by human limitations and mortality, then the whole world could have become one giant Auschwitz. Limitations, even physical limitations imposed by our bodies and our environment, can actually be a blessing!

 The ideal world lies somewhere between Tamagotchi and Auschwitz. For a moral universe to have any meaning, we need free will, including the ability to make choices that carry meaningful consequences for good or for evil. But a truly moral universe must also allow for our very worst excesses to be limited, and even transformed, by a good God.

Some people say, “Why doesn’t God just remove all the evil in the world?” The problem is that we ourselves are part of the problem of evil. We all make wrong choices. If God was to remove all the evil in the world, then He would have to remove us too!

Thankfully, the Christian message is not just that God removes evil, but that He transforms evil. Jesus embraced the consequences of evil when He suffered on the Cross. As a result, we can be genuinely transformed. The Christian Gospel is not primarily about explaining the existence of evil and suffering, but rather empowers us to overcome evil and suffering by Christ’s love and transformation.

It is true that, since the time of Epicurus, the Problem of Evil has seemed, at a superficial level, to argue against the existence of an all-powerful and all-loving God. But Christ’s transformative power has created a more compelling argument: What about the Problem of Good?

If God does not exist, then how do we explain the countless people who have been transformed from selfishness to a life of sacrificial service for others? What could possibly provide the motivation for people to give their lives to nursing lepers, fighting injustice, or feeding the poor – and often doing these things to their own detriment or disadvantage? Such behaviour would be meaningless except in a moral universe where people have the power to choose good or evil, yet can be transformed by the sacrificial love of God the Son.

 

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