“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved”. 1 Corinthians 1:18
Throughout the centuries of our existence, we have experienced and committed countless atrocities that have brought about much suffering. There are times when the world looks as if evil has ruled over the innocent and brought favor to the wicked. They prosper as the righteous suffer. Evil becomes good and good becomes evil. These are perhaps the darkest moments of mankind and it is during these moments that we cry out for justice the most. Obviously, there’s something clearly wrong with the world as it is not what it ought to be. I think part of the problem is that we tend to only be genuinely concerned about this when some evil is done to us or those we care about. We may be sentimental toward those who suffer at the hands of evil but nothing is truly done to help them. Instead, we rely on others like the church or the government to take care of these things for us. We’ll look for someone to blame but we won’t look for a solution. And the solutions we look for often place too much hope in the goodness of men that it backfires into the exact evils we attempted to prevent (cf, liberalism, communism, socialism, etc).
Humanity has had centuries upon centuries to correct this problem. If we were inherently good, the problem of evil would have already been solved. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and our inability (and unwillingness) to correct this has rightly led some to seek salvation from a higher power. Skeptics often scoff at the experiential force of that need for God until it becomes convenient for them to use it as a tool against the existence of God. Our desire for justice in something greater than ourselves is like a double edged sword – it can provide us great hope but it can also be used to give us great contempt. There’s a real need for God at the metaphysical level (to ground moral values) and at the experiential level (to save us from corruption). To recognize God as the only possible solution can provide great hope but if we believe He has refused to actualize that solution, then we can just as easily be filled with great contempt.
I find this tension rather fascinating because it is this tension that is openly embraced by the Christian. We’re called to love at the cost of our lives and yet we also desire justice. How can this be? For the atheist, this is nothing but incoherent nonsense. I understand their complaint and would by no means suggest we should embrace blatant contradictions but because most atheists do not have objective moral values, there’s no tension within their worldview. Evil is just pitiless indifference, as Dawkins so eloquently put it. You may be inclined to think that the less tension a worldview has, the more true it probably is but it’s one thing to be intellectually consistent but another thing to be practically inconsistent with that worldview. Whenever atheists use the problem of evil, there tends to be some moral outrage toward our beliefs. If there are no objective values, where does that rage come from?
The Greatest Evil
Atheists avoid this objection by pointing to the fact that they’re assuming the Christian worldview to demonstrate its self-refuting nature. This is true, but it still fails to explain their moral outrage. For now we’ll ignore their inconsistency and focus on strengthening their argument. Huh? Why would I do that, you ask? Because I think doing so will demonstrate the weakness of their argument. Don’t worry, I’ll explain how that works. The problem of evil begins by noting evils like rape, torture, murder, slavery, human trafficking, etc as reasons why a good God cannot(or probably does not) exist. Human life, after all, has value, so if God is all good, all knowing, and all powerful, how could He let this happen to us? Notice who’s suffering is being emphasized here – us. God, on the other hand, is painted as a being outside of this suffering. If you’re going to assume the Christian worldview, however, that is absolutely wrong. Regardless of whether you regard this as true, the Bible claims God so loved the world that “He gave His One and Only Son” (John 3:16) to suffer and die for our sins.
If you just asked, “So what?” then I’m afraid that’s because you fail to recognize how great of an evil this is. Think of how much you value human life to the point that it is used to question the very existence of God. According to Aquinas, a cause cannot give what it does not have. Whatever value that you see in the effect must exist in some form in the cause. If this is the case, then all of the souls that could possibly exist cannot be greater than the infinite value that can be found in God Himself. You may not personally value God but that is to be expected (Romans 3:11). At this point, it does not matter how you feel about God as the argument stands on its own rational merit. Given this context, the crucifixion is given a much more substantial meaning. If the Father sent Christ to suffer and die at the cross for the sins of men then that is indeed the greatest possible evil. He experienced the greatest shame, the greatest suffering, and the greatest injustice that mankind could ever conceive. Let’s turn this into an argument that I call the greatest problem of evil:
1. If the Christian God exists then he is omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good.
2. If God were omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good then His Son would not suffer the greatest evil.
3. His Son suffered the greatest evil.
4. Therefore, it is not the case that the Christian God exists.
By greatness, I am only referring to the quality of the crime and not the quantity. Ask yourself this: Would you send your only beloved wife to die for a murderer? Of course not. How about a hundred murderers? Probably not. But this is precisely what the Father did to His own Son – whom He shared perfect unity, love, and being with. This love is so great that it can only be qualitatively but analogously compared to the love that a man has for a woman. Yet it pleased the Father to crush the Son severely (Isaiah 53:10) because of our iniquities. What kind of sick and twisted God is this? How could He send and allow His Son to die for those who deserve to be punished? The depth of this evil is quite frankly unfathomable. No sickness, no loneliness, no sadness, no famine, and no evil can compare to the abominable act that the Bible portrays this as. It’s easier to focus on those lesser evils but come on, this is where the greater evil is at! It is the irony of ironies that the foundation for Christianity would actually be the greatest reason for His non-existence.
Fortunately for us, I doubt skeptics will appeal to this argument because humans do not value God as much as they value themselves and each other. It’s much more emotionally compelling to assume God has not suffered anything of value while we blame Him for the evil that we see today. I do not think my argument succeeds but if that is the case then neither will the other evils that humans experience. It is by knowing that good came from the greatest evil that we know that good can come from every lesser evil. For what evil can befall a world that compares to what came upon the son of God? Your sickness, your pain, and your loneliness is like a bucket of water being thrown into an ocean of His tears. Yet it is for that bucket of water that Christ died for. If you would only trust Him, that bucket could be drowning in the ocean of His love. Don’t think that the Father is too far above to see that you are in need. He came down because He cares enough to be our Savior. You will suffer in this life as Christ did but it is His pain that will comfort you and it is His death that will give you life.
Christians, how would you respond to this argument?
Skeptics, would you use this argument? If not, why not?