Do Evil & Suffering Disprove the Existence of God?
God’s existence may be improbable with respect to just evil but probable with respect to something else. Seeing only one square inch of a masterpiece may look ugly, but seeing it in the context of the whole picture changes our perspective.
Probabilities are relative to what background information you consider. For example, suppose Bill is a University of British Columbia student. Now suppose that we are informed that 95% of University of British Columbia students ski. Relative to this information it is highly probable that Bill skis. But then suppose we also learn that Bill is an amputee and that 95% of amputees at the University of British Columbia do not ski. Suddenly the probability of Bill’s being a skier has diminished drastically!
Similarly, if all you consider for background information is the evil in the world, then it’s hardly surprising that God’s existence appears improbable relative to that. But the real question is whether God’s existence is improbable relative to the total evidence available. I’m persuaded that when you consider the total evidence, then God’s existence is quite probable.
Therefore, to be a successful case against God’s existence a probabilistic argument would have to outweigh the cumulative effect of all the arguments for God’s existence.
II. THE EMOTIONAL PROBLEM
For most people the problem of evil is not an intellectual problem, but an emotional one. They want to know why God allows evil and suffering, and when they can’t get a satisfactory answer, they become angry. They just don’t like a God who would permit them or others to suffer. This is not an atheism of refutation, but of rejection.
A child who is hurting needs, not an intellectual explanation, but reassurance. Atheism cannot supply this reassurance. It does not reduce suffering one bit; it just removes hope. In an atheistic universe there is no ultimate accountability or justice. Evil people will get away with what they’ve done.
But in the Christian worldview, God has done something about evil in the person of Jesus Christ. He did not just stay in heaven and say, “OK you suckers , suffer!” He has given us a clue, a deposit, a down payment that he does have good reasons for allowing evil and that he does have a greater good in store. He showed us that we could trust him by appearing in human form. And what did he do when he was here? HE SUFFERED!
Jesus endured a suffering beyond all comprehension. He took upon himself and bore the just punishment of the sins of the whole world! For all the evil that everyone of us from the beginning of our species has perpetrated, he paid the just penalty. None of us can comprehend that suffering. Though he was innocent, he voluntarily took upon himself the punishment that we deserve. And why? Because he loves us. It is like he is saying, “I know you don’t understand why I permit every evil. It’s not possible for you to understand yet. But just to show you that you can trust me, I’m going to suffer with you.”
When we comprehend his sacrifice and love for us, it puts the problem of evil in an entirely different perspective. For now we see clearly that the true problem of evil is the problem of our evil. Filled with sin and morally guilty before God, the question we face is not how God can justify himself to us, but how we can be justified before him. And it is through Christ’s payment for our evil by his death on the cross that we can be justified before God. Through him we have forgiveness.
In addition, many Christians will testify that Christ provides inner resources to cope, as well as joy in the midst of difficulties and suffering when we trust him. And he promises that he causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.
Ultimately he promises victory over death, the ultimate evil. Those who genuinely choose to accept and receive his forgiveness and a personal relationship with him will rise from the dead with a transformed, immortal, imperishable body to be with him forever. Death, pain and suffering have been dealt a fatal blow; they have suffered a crucial defeat. Death has died!
So paradoxically, God is not banished because of the problem of evil, rather God himself is the solution.
In summary, the intellectual problem of evil is solved in both the logical and probabilistic formulations. The existence of evil suffering does not constitute a deductively certain disproof of God’s existence, because there is no premise that is necessarily true that produces a contradiction between the existence of God and existence of evil. Furthermore, God and evil are shown to be completely consistent, because it is at least possible that God has a good reason for permitting evil. Moreover, we are not in a good position to assess the probability of whether God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting evil. Relative to the full scope of the evidence, God’s existence has not been shown to be improbable.
At the emotional level God has done something about evil by sharing in our suffering in Jesus Christ, thereby showing us we can trust that he has an morally sufficient reason. He has provided forgiveness, coping resources, joy and ultimately victory over death and evil. So not only does evil not disprove God’s existence, but Christianity is our best hope as a solution to the problem of evil.
Do you have questions about God or want to talk about your doubts? Talk to a confidential and free mentor.
Copyright © 2002 Michael Horner. Used with permission.