All it takes is a quick survey of the web, watching cable news, hearing about a personal tragedy and many people immediately ask, “how could God allow these things?”. In fact, for over a century secular philosophers and thinkers at major universities have made many young Christians squirm by using the following argument: If God is all-powerful He should be able to prevent evil and if God is all-loving He should be willing to prevent evil—but since He didn’t God doesn’t exist.
The next time you are asked to defend God in the face of the horrific actions and decision of people (whether it is ISIS or the recent murders in Charleston) or horrific human tragedies (earthquakes or hurricanes) here are some helpful thoughts whether you are trying to answer moral evil or natural evil:
If God grants people genuine freedom to choose as they like, then it is impossible for him to guarantee what their choices will be. In other words, God does not tamper with our free will! He doesn’t play mind-tricks with us—He doesn’t hypnotize us. He gives us the dignity of free choice.
God has decided to create a world in which human beings were given the dignity of free will. In a world where free will is given to people we should expect that some people will choose to do evil. Free will is the freedom to choose in the face of many options. It’s the freedom to do otherwise. We are not automated beings—we are not robots!
Most people have no interest in relinquishing free will. Think about it. Free will is what allows us to make choices that bring so much beauty and enjoyment to our lives. Choice is what allows us to surround ourselves with people and experiences that enrich our lives. However, choice is also the same part of being human that causes so much heartache, pain, and loss. The value of free will is also the inherent danger but it doesn’t disprove God’s existence. It never has and never will! Fortunately, Alvin Plantinga, a Christian thinker at Notre Dame has articulated this free-will defense so powerfully that most secular philosophers admit that he’s proven his point. Listen to his exact words,
To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. . . . The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness. . .
Initially, the question of natural evil (disease, disasters, and tragedy) seems incredibly difficult to explain since it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with a person’s free choice. However, in the same way that choice is built into the very fabric of humanity, certain disasters and tragedies are built into the very fabric of life here on earth. Although we will never be able to totally understand God’s purposes for tragedies and disasters, the following explanations may be helpful to explain why God does not choose to intervene in stopping natural disasters and tragedies.
Natural Processes Produce Natural Evil. Our world is run by certain natural processes that best fit intellectual life on this planet. However, sometimes these natural processes produce natural evils—
- There is rain—therefore there is flooding.
- There is too little rain—therefore you have drought and famine.
- The earth’s crust can move—therefore there are earthquakes.
- The earth’s atmosphere produces conditions for rain and snow but those same conditions produce hurricanes, typhoons, and tornadoes.
Natural Evil is Intertwined with Moral Evil. Since God has granted people with the dignity of free-will much of suffering due to natural evil is directly or indirectly related to free will. In other words, directly or indirectly from our free choice or the free choice of others tragedies happen. Plane disasters and car accidents are due directly or indirectly from free will. The freedom to enjoy things (boating, skiing, and swimming) make tragedy possible. Sometimes people are impacted by the long-term impact of laziness or poor choice.
Natural Evil is Generated by Certain Biological, Chemical, and Genetic Possibilities of Humanity. The genetic makeup of humanity works well most of the time—think of the billions of pieces of information and DNA which are at work in bringing a single life into this planet. However, considering the presence of 7 billion people on earth the system can and will breakdown.
- Should God remove all the micro-organisms that also produce disease?
- Should He protect the human race against every malfunction or mutation of micro-organisms?
- Should He miraculously cure every person?
- Should God prevent human contact so disease is not transmitted from one person to another?
- Should God insulate children from disease until they are 18 years old?
The purpose of this blog post is not to minimize the pain or anguish of evil and suffering. It’s also not designed to provide the exact answer for why these events happen in a world of God’s creation–God’s purposes are more complex than any of us could possibly comprehend. However, it is very important for Christians to provide reasonable answers for why the presence of moral and natural evil does not automatically preclude the existence of God.
If you want more information on this topic please consult my book, Footprints of Faith.