How would you answer this argument?
- If good and omnipotent God existed, he would prevent all evil.
- Evil things happen.
- Therefore, there is no such God.
The problem is with the first premise. How can we be sure that a good and omnipotent God would prevent all evil? We are talking a God who is infinitely wise, right? Couldn’t such a God have a good reason for letting evil exist that we mortals don’t know anything about?
An example: I am a father who loves his children and does not allow anyone to cause them pain. Normally. But sometimes I take one of my children to someone who jabs them with a needle. It hurts; they cry. Now you, of course, understand that these vaccines will keep my children from getting seriously ill. But the baby doesn’t know that. How will he reconcile my love for him with his suffering? He can only trust that I have a good reason for his pain that he doesn’t know about.
And the mere possibility that such a reason exists suffices to take away the logical force of this argument against Christianity. We are right to doubt premise 1, and therefore the whole argument is dubious. We don’t need to know what the good reason is why God allows evil to exist – in fact, it’s likely that we wouldn’t know and perhaps couldn’t even understand the reasons God has for the evil that takes place in the world.
So the argument fails. But is it possible for us to go further? Does the Bible give us an idea of what that good reason might be? I believe it does.
We read in several biblical passages that God glorifies Himself in the crucifixion of Jesus (Rev 5:9, Phil 2:7-11, John 13:31), and not only that, but the glory of the cross is presented as the height of his glory. It was at this moment that the Triune God manifested his glorious attributes to the fullest – his righteousness in exacting the price of sin, his mercy in forgiving sinners, his humility in accepting the cross instead of what he deserved, and above all his love in giving his life for those he loves. Here is the climax of the story God is writing, the key event in all of creation. And it is obvious that this moment would not have been possible without the existence of evil. If creation had never known evil, God would not have had such an opportunity to manifest the fullness of his benevolence and love.
In fact, most of the things that are considered to be the greatest virtues that we know of would not exist if there had never been evil. Courage, mercy, humility, perseverance, grace, self-sacrifice, undeserved love… All these qualities depend on an experience of evil for their existence. And the absence of these qualities of all human knowledge and experience, to be ignorant that such things are even possible, would be an unfathomable loss. Can we really imagine a world without any history of heroism or reconciliation or of a love that has triumphed after great suffering?
I am not saying that I know that these virtues are worth all the suffering that has come about because of evil. Only God can know that. I only know that in the world that God made to exist, there is evil, and since God is good, he must have had a good reason for this evil that exists. To me it seems reasonable to think that part of that good reason for allowing evil to exist is the fact that otherwise we would be deprived of the experience of the best qualities we know and we would have no way to experience the goodness and the love of God in its fullest depth.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “This is God’s tabernacle with men! He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.Revelation 21:3-4