Atheology and the Problem of Evil

What kind of God should deal with evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about a certain idea of God that many evangelistic atheists have. We could describe this as a functional god. This god is meant to explain the universe. This god is meant to be a presence to me in suffering.

When it looks like the universe works scientifically on its own and that there is no emotional presence, then atheism seems rational to these people. Let’s consider another aspect of this. What about evil?

Too often, we theists have been on the defensive end in this area. It is up to us to explain why a good God allows evil. What never seems to go answered is “Why should God be obligated to deal with evil at all, let alone in XYZ manner?” To say that God has to deal with evil is to assume that God has an obligation to us.

Note I am not saying that God will not deal with evil. I am questioning the why He will and the how and when of His doing so. If an atheist says that God needs to deal with evil, they have in mind a certain theology of the God that they think should defeat it, but what is this God like? We need to know.

For instance, why should God have to deal with what we deem to be a problem on our terms? Why should He have to deal with it as a being with unlimited resources in a way that we think is amenable to our limited resources? You need more of an answer than “I want Him to” or “If He really loved us, He would do it this way.” Why?

Could it be that evil really became a problem when we thought the universe was meant to be a place that was just to make us happy and that it was all about us? I get that people have talked about suffering and wondered about it for awhile, but at the same time, they didn’t jump to atheism. Job and his friends never doubted the reality of the deity, but just debated what He was like.

The problem of evil is in many ways asking a question about justice. Will there be any justice in the universe? We often have the saying of justice delayed is not justice denied, and it is true. Just because justice isn’t happening immediately doesn’t mean it’s not happening at all.

A Christian specifically views this world as intentional and while this world is not all about our happiness, it is meant for us to live in. We were made for this place. In a sense, this is our home. Someone else like Richard Dawkins will instead look at the world and say in River Out of Eden.

“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

Yet if this is the way the universe is, then why do we have this longing for justice? Why do we cling to ideas of good and evil? Does Dawkins? Not at all. Look at any moral crusade Dawkins goes on, whether he’s right or wrong in it, he certainly thinks he’s going out for something good. He certainly thinks science is a good worth pursuing. He certainly thinks Christianity is damaging to young people.

And this is what we really need to be asking atheists. What is this idea of good that you hold to? What is this idea of evil? We use these terms and speak about them as if we all know what they mean when they really don’t. I, as a classical theist, ask atheists to tell me what they mean by good. If good boils down to what you want and evil to what you don’t want, then you are saying that the universe should bow to your desires and that if God were real, He would do the same. Not much of a god then.

Then, we need to go beyond that and ask what their idea of God is like. Yes. Atheists have an idea of what God would be like if He existed. One such seems to be He would deal with evil in such and such a way in such and such a time. They also think that this is an obligation on His part.

There is another point I would like to make on this and this is in the question of suffering, but that is for another day.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

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