For example, what can I say to someone who says, "If God exists, why does He allow [insert "bad event," like babies being abused, rape, human trafficking, tragic deaths, illness, etc...] to happen?"
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First I would ask, what answer does atheism offer to suffering people? Are atheists and naturalists willing to say, “your pain and fear and loss are all a part of the adaptive survivalism of life?” Can they say to the young widow, "The unfeeling universe cares not a whit?" What kind of hope does atheism offer? Is their final answer to a child dying of cancer, “you’re just an insignificant speck on a dust mote on the edge of an insignificant galaxy? Your life wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Your suffering proves there is no God.” That seems to be the argument, although they would certainly recoil from the brutality of saying such things to a suffering and dying person. However, the very strength of the atheist argument – there is evil so there must be no God – is its own achilles heel. It is utterly bankrupt to offer comfort or hope in the face of suffering and evil. It can offer no guarantee of justice or comfort or hope – only the stark reality that our lives are ultimately meaningless and determined by genetics and environment and the cold march of unreasoning unfeeling time. So what is the true Christian answer to the problem of evil? The cross of Christ is God's answer to the problem of evil. There is nothing worse that has happened in the universe than the death of Jesus Christ. The perfect Son of God, the long-promised Messiah, the greatest teacher and rabbi and obeyer of God that ever lived, was rejected by humanity and killed. Any president or king is a blip on the radar compared to the Messiah. It is a tragedy when an important leader dies, especially if he or she was murdered. But this is the Messiah. This is the guy who could heal all diseases. This is the guy who possessed all knowledge. He could control the weather with a sleepy wave of the hand. This is God in the flesh. The Jews of the time were the most religiously successful people and thus stood in proxy for all of humanity. They were, as Paul says, the possessors of the oracles of God and had the advantage in every respect (Romans 3:1-2). Since the rest of humanity was certainly worse than them, we can confidently say that all of humanity crucified Him. Humanity failed and God failed to get through to them. It was the greatest and most tragic evil that ever happened. We dress this up with sentimental icons and paintings and hymns (like one of my least favorite – “the Old Rugged Cross”). But it was not sentimental. It was monstrously and horrendously evil. It was a huge victory for selfish political gain and murderous injustice. But this is the message of the cross: God took the worst evil and made it into the greatest good. He took the cross of Christ and made it into the salvation of mankind. He made the greatest example of humanity’s collective moral failure into the great great redemption of all believing people. He did this without whitewashing the degree of evil that happened at the cross. He did it without ignoring the suffering of Jesus, without saying that somehow murder and suffering and injustice are OK. He turned the murder and suffering and injustice into resurrection and joy and justification. And this is the ultimate statement of how God operates. We may not see it yet, but this is out great hope. Our suffering will end up having this same twist. It will end up as a comfort to many. It will end up glorious. It will end up as a redemptive story somehow. Our suffering matters in Christ. It is our dignity and our beautiful gravitas because of our faith. Paul sums this up perfectly in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
I was asked this very question a little while ago and I was a little apprehensive in answering because this is a loaded question for sure. There's only so much you can say before they shut you out. Only the Holy Spirit can reveal the truth of God's absolute sovereignty to man. It's like telling someone to follow you through a dark room... Romans 9 tells us that God has created two types of people in this world: Vessels of life and vessels of wrath. One gets saved...one goes to hell. God in His sovereignty has created the universe for His purposes alone for His glory alone. We must submit to this. Romans 9 also talks about God being the Potter and we being His pottery. He has all right to do with us as he sees fit, and the pottery has no right whatsoever to question His motives. You can also say something about the compassion of God. God allows the wicked to exist for only one reason. We are told in this chapter that God allows the wicked to exist in order to realize His glory in the lives of His saved. God by rights should cut us all down in our sin. The things we think, say and do deserve death and hell...but yet we live. His mercy knows no bounds. Man is wicked beyond measure. We all deserve hell. We deserve to be roasted by the wrath of God...but through His mercy and love, He is patient and allows us to breath yet another breath. God allows murders, and evil to run rampant on earth for two reasons: To bring Himself glory and because man has turned his back on God. Christians go through trials and troubles to bring God glory through their submission and conforming to His will. The wicked go through the same in order to humble, break and/or destroy them. I told this lady about a mass murdered up here in Canada who recently died in jail named Clifford Olson. I asked her what she thought of him. She told me that if she had a gun, she would have killed him and cut him up into little pieces. I said to her that her thoughts were no better than his actions. She was, in essence no better than he was...the difference was he had opportunity. The world is going to hell in a hand-basket and it's only getting worse. Why? Because we have turned our backs on God and His commandments. Society today is rotten to the core. It celebrates the murder of babies and fines people for destroying eagle eggs. It frowns and ridicules traditional marriage and yet sodomy and pedophilia is celebrated. And we wonder why God is punishing mankind?
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