Imagine the most atrocious evil possible. Perhaps you’ll think of something like this: a young girl gets raped, sexually trafficked, ends up starving, and then is tortured for the rest of her life. Even worse, suppose all humans were immediately born into hell and eternally suffered every imaginable evil possible for no good reason. We may think this is truly abominable, but I will argue that the this is not in fact the worst possible evil that can be conceived. Why is this important? Because atheists will often use some terrible evil and ask how an all-powerful and all good being could allow this to occur. This has emotional force but as I will argue here, there is an event in Christianity that negates the force of the atheist’s objection.
The Greatest Evil
That greatest evil conceivable is in fact the death of Jesus on the cross. You may be rolling your eyes at this point, but let me explain. How do we determine that something is evil? Well a being must have an inherent value that is being harmed in some way. The greater that being’s inherent value, the greater the evil is against that being. So we can admit that it is wrong to torture an animal, but it is even worse to torture a human because of its comparatively greater inherent value. God, by contrast, is a being of infinite value. It follows then that any evil against Him must be infinitely greater than any evil against finite beings like us.
Some dictator could take the whole human race of all ages and crucify them, but collectively they would still not compare to how horrendous the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was. Some may object that this is no big deal because Jesus could have just used His power to save Himself. Furthermore, Jesus volunteered to suffer but many humans had no choice. True, Jesus could have used His power but He did not. However, the fact that He voluntarily submitted himself to evil treatment does not make the act against Him any less evil. Socrates in some sense voluntarily died at the hands of Athens, but that did not make his death any less unjust.
The Problem of Jesus’ Death
So the problem of evil gets reversed: If the Father is all good and all powerful, how could He allow Jesus to suffer and die? At the very least the Father seems to be very consistent here. He not only allows the suffering of humans, but He allowed the suffering of His own Son! This is very significant, however, in that God is not only watching us suffer but partook of our suffering in a way that none of us could ever imagine. He did not do it to show off and say, “Lol humans! My pain is far greater than yours!” Rather, He did it for us so that through His death we may have eternal life. That seems to be a sufficient reason for permitting Jesus’ death.
Now, if the Father can have a sufficient reason for allowing the greatest possible evil, how is it that skeptics can say He could not (or probably does not) have a sufficient reason for all the other lesser evils that we see in this world? They cannot! Skeptics may not find this emotionally compelling, of course, only because they already reject that Jesus died for them. God demonstrates His love for us by sending someone He treasures most. He did this for even the worst of us. Could you imagine allowing your most treasured relationship to die in order to save some scumbag criminal? No? But that’s exactly what God did for the world with His Son.
As Christians then, we have faith in God’s goodness despite the evil around us because God proved His goodness in the face of the greatest evil. We have a hope that we will be victorious against life’s woes becuase Jesus was victorious. We know that every tear and wound that this life has brought upon us will be healed just as Jesus’ wounds were healed. Atheists, by contrast, seem to think that this world is so overwhelmed by evil that it refutes the existence of God. But what kind of world are they left with? The hopeless ashes of death and suffering. Their worldview is about as emotionally satisfying as a hailstorm. Where is their hope?
Christianity’s entire gospel depends on the greatest act of evil on a perfectly innocent and righteous man being triumphed by God.