For many of us, most of the time, the world is a beautiful place – sunsets, falling in love, evocative music, a party with friends, pets and the surf, for example. But we know that isn’t the whole story.
Animals prey on each other, tsunamis and earthquakes can kill thousands, while war, rape, murder, child trafficking, starvation and grief are only too real for many people.
Have you ever wondered why a good God would create a world which, while it has much beauty, can also lead to such heartache and misery? I have, many times.
How can anyone still believe?
Despite all the terrible things that happen many people keep on believing, while many others give up. Which is the more rational response?
There’s no god?
The most obvious conclusion to draw is that there’s no god, or at least, not a good one. But like many ‘obvious’ conclusions, it seems to be an over-simplification as soon as it is examined.
- It has to ignore the mass of evidence that God exists. It provides no explanation for the universe existing, nor that it is so amazingly set up to allow life. It ignores the experience of millions of people that God not only exists, but has communicated with them or healed them or put their lives back together in amazing ways. And it ignores the evidence that Jesus really lived and taught and healed, and showed us who God is, and reassures us that God has things somehow going in the right direction.
- It also ignores the fact that to say the universe, and God (if he exists) are truly evil, we need an objective, true ethical standard to base this judgment on. Without God, we don’t seem to be able to find one.
There’s no problem?
On the other hand, many christians seem to have no problem saying that, despite indications to the contrary, everything’s fine with the world God made – the only problem is with what we humans have done to corrupt God’s world.
But this too seems to be an over-simplification. Animals preying on each other, earthquakes and stillborn babies are forms of suffering that are generally not caused by human sin. And even if all the suffering was caused by people, God must have known this would happen, so why did he allow it? Could the world not have been at least a little less hurtful and evil?
Facing all the facts
I can’t swallow either of these reactions. The first misses more than half of the evidence; the second is a little better, but seems both heartless and unreal. Is there a third option?
I believe there is. We should accept that both sets of facts as facts of life. There is a God, and there is a problem.
The evil in the world is very troubling and deeply distressing, but it doesn’t negate all the positive evidence for God. It doesn’t show that God doesn’t exist. But perhaps it shows that God isn’t quite what we thought he was. Perhaps we have misunderstood him (not surprising, really!) and what he’s on about.
We also need a little humility. I don’t understand why God has allowed things to turn out this way. I can’t understand why some people experience unimaginable evil and many people live lives of quiet desperation or deprivation, while I have blessing upon blessing. It doesn’t seem right, and it certainly isn’t fair.
But it seems to be the case. God exists and gross evil exists. And I cannot explain it.
So where does that leave us?
As a christian, I have two responses:
- I believe part of Jesus’ message to the human race is that, despite what me may sometimes think, there is a God, he really cares, and he will put all things right one day. We may have trouble believing that, but I can only trust Jesus that this is so.
- But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus is putting things right now, and he calls those who follow him to be part of that. That is why, down through the ages right until now, his followers have cared for the underprivileged and suffering and fought for social justice. (To set all that out will take another post.) I should be part of that movement which he called the kingdom of God, and you can join in too.
I don’t understand why things are like they are, but I do know what I can do to make a positive difference. And that gives my life meaning amidst the chaos.
Read more about ideas mentioned here:
- God and evil, a detailed discussion of the problem of evil, summarised in How can God allow evil?
- Why believe?, a summary of the evidence for God, with links to more detailed discussion of the main points.