Ask Augustine with Dr. Paul Tambrino
Ask Augustine is a weekly column where professor/author Dr. Paul Tambrino discusses various theological questions with wit, clarity and substance.
Question #50 – How Can You Believe in a “Good” God Who Allows Evil and Suffering?
The Bible is filled with the cries of people, including the biblical authors, who are deeply perplexed and baffled by the magnitude and the unjust distribution of instances of evil and suffering.
The problem may not be regarding belief in whether there is a God or not, but it may tempt you to mistrust, resent, or even hate God.
Many thinkers have said that evil and suffering pose a powerful argument against belief in the very existence of the all-powerful good God.“We say it is reasonable to assume that God is great enough to stop evil, but not great enough to have a good reason for allowing evil. We can’t have it both ways.”
The classic theoretical objection goes like this: “Is God willing to prevent evil but not able? Then God is impotent. Is God able to prevent evil, but not willing? Then God is malevolent, and not good. If God is both able and willing, then how can there be evil?”
Dr. Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC points out that this objection hinges on a fallacious premise.
It assumes that a good God would not have any good reason to allow evil to continue.
Just because we as mere mortals cannot think that God cannot have a good reason that does not mean that God could not have one.
We say it is reasonable to assume that God is great enough to stop evil, but not great enough to have a good reason for allowing evil. We can’t have it both ways.“If there is no God, then you do not really have a good basis for being outraged at the existence of suffering.”
Not only does this argument against God from evil not succeed, it actually has a boomerang effect.
If there is a God then evil creates a grave personal problem. Why does God allow suffering to exist?
But if there is no God, then you do not really have a good basis for being outraged at the existence of suffering.
You can only object to injustice if you already believe in some kind of ethical standard, some supernatural standard that comes from outside of nature and judges some types of natural behavior as good or bad. “There is no cogent argument that evil and suffering are incompatible with the existence of a holy and all powerful God.”
And where does such a supernatural standard come from if not from God?
There is no cogent argument that evil and suffering are incompatible with the existence of a holy and all powerful God. An atheist has no rational basis to even be outraged at suffering and evil.
Then what confirmation do Christians have that God has some good reason for allowing suffering and evil to “temporarily” continue? The cross!
God must hate evil too, or He would not have done that and He must have some good reason for letting history continue too.
Confidence in the character of God, His love, His justice, His wisdom, becomes possible only when we see what He did in coming to die on the cross to halt the greatest evil and suffering of all — separation from Him.
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Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1630. The Rijksmuseum. SK-A-3276.