(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).
Keller makes an astounding claim in his chapter dealing with the tension of God's existence in a world full of evil and suffering.
While readily admitting that this is an enormous problem for believers, he notes that it is potentially an even greater problem for unbelievers. He notes that C.S. Lewis initially rejected the idea of God because he couldn't reconcile God's existence with the cruelty of life. But as Lewis pondered it, he concluded that the problem of evil was even more difficult to reconcile with his atheism. In his mind, suffering actually “provided a better argument for God's existence than one against it.”
Lewis stated that:
"My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of 'just' and 'unjust'?...What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?...Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too-for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies...Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple."
Many of our modern objections against the existence of God have to do with our sense of fair play and justice. We believe that people ought not to suffer or inflict evil on one another. But evolution is based upon the principle of natural selection and it depends upon the death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak. On what basis can we judge the natural world to be wrong and unfair? We can only judge it by admitting that there is some sort of extra-natural or supernatural standard by which to make the judgment. Otherwise, we are just offering up our own subjective opinion.
“The atheist does not have a good basis for being outraged at injustice,” says Keller, “which, as Lewis points out, was the reason for objecting to God in the first place.”
Philosopher Alvin Plantinga put it this way:
Could there really be any such thing as horrifying wickedness [if there were no God and we just evolved]? I don’t see how. There can be such a thing only if there is a way that rational creatures are supposed to live, obliged to live…A [secular] way of looking at the world has no place for genuine moral obligation of any sort…and thus no way to say there is such a thing as genuine and appalling wickedness. Accordingly, if you think there really is such a thing as horrifying wickedness (…and not just an illusion of some sort), then you have a powerful…argument for the reality of God.”
The problem of tragedy and suffering is a problem for everyone. At first glance, it does seem as if taking God out of the equation would make it easier to grapple with, but it doesn’t. It is at least as big a problem for unbelievers as it is for believers.
Since the problem of evil is a problem for all of us...how do you reconcile it? If you are a theist of some sort how do you reconcile evil and suffering with belief in the existence of a good and powerful God? If you are a skeptic of some sort, how do you reconcile your belief that there is such a thing as an objective standard of justice and fairness in a world that is simply the product of chemical reactions occuring over time?
We'll unpack a few of Keller's thoughts on how a Christ-follower might approach it in my next post.