Many atheists and agnostics believe that the biggest weapon in their arsenal is the topic of “Theodicy” or “The Problem of Evil.” They usually phrase their assault as a question: “If God is good, why is the world so bad?” or “Why do bad things happen to good people.” They are trying to show that if God exists (for the sake of argument), he is a demon, bent on causing as much pain as possible.
The reality is that atheists and agnostics (1) fail to understand the Christian worldview enough to realize that Christianity is all about solving the problem of evil and (2) fail to come up with an adequate explanation for the problem of evil themselves.
This state of affairs provides an excellent opportunity for discussion. Here is an example, an actual conversation which took place on a public discussion forum and has only been edited to remove names and comments other people made.
AGNOSTIC: I find any claim that needs the involvement of some supernatural stuff very unlikely to nearly improbable. If you can explain something without such claims it is much more convincing.
I don’t say there is nothing supernatural. There might be. I don’t know. But it is highly unlikely. If you can point me to hard evidence I may change my mind.
IAN: The main point of Christianity isn’t that “supernatural stuff happens”, but that there is a God, and that God is involved in our world. Christian apologetics is far more than trying to sell an ideology. Christianity is #1 a consistent, reasonable worldview and #2 a worldview that resonates as truth.
AGNOSTIC: Isn’t the stuff God is doing or has done very supernatural? But you are right. Christianity is way more than just the acceptance of supernatural stuff. But without it, it can’t be.
What do you mean by #2?
IAN: We all want something bigger than ourselves. We’re looking for truth outside of ourselves and our experiences to relate to and make sense of life.
For example, the Christian concept of evil explains so much about our world. I think we all innately know that something is broken. Only Christianity explains the nature of suffering, hatred, and death AND offers hope.
This is just one of many ways Christianity just “fits” what we innately perceive to be true.
I’m afraid the “supernatural stuff” is the biggest hangup for thinking people, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s impossible to prove or disprove the supernatural to an individual unless he or she has personally witnessed it (although many have given testimony of it).
However, once you realize that God and the worldview of the Bible makes sense, it becomes quite easy to accept the possibility of the supernatural.
AGNOSTIC: Just look into the world and enjoy its wonders. There is no need for any god of any kind to be awestruck by the beauty of nature.
Getting hope in an afterlife doesn’t help in the here and now.
Why do you need an explanation for suffering or death?
IAN: Why does anyone need an explanation? Good question. The human race is haunted by those questions. We’re wired to know something is wrong with the world.
AGNOSTIC: The ‘wrongness’ in the world has come and will leave with mankind. Simple as that.
If we don’t change fast, this planet will die.
IAN: You’re absolutely right. So what in your view is wrong with mankind?
AGNOSTIC: We have no respect for the balance of nature. Mankind ruthlessly plunders this planet without thinking about the future.
This is a bit overdramatized but hits it in the essence.
IAN: I think you get what I’m saying. There’s something wrong with mankind, something is internal, caused by us, that we’re responsible for.
Not only do we destroy the planet but we are responsible for hurting one another and even ourselves. Why?
The Bible has the answers: http://www.esvbible.org/Romans+1/
AGNOSTIC: Maybe my English is not good enough to understand this text.
To me it sounds like: “All who believe in God are good because they can only do good things and will help one another. But everyone else is evil beyond comprehension and has to be killed, God wants it.”
This is no explanation. It is a call for murder and racism.
IAN: Not exactly. You have to keep reading to get the resolution.
Actually, all of us are evil beyond comprehension. That’s what’s wrong with the world. But it’s not all doom and gloom. God actually doesn’t want anyone to be killed (http://www.esvbible.org/2+Peter+3%3A9/).The next several chapters of Romans show the solution.
For example: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:23-24)
Justified = made right
Redemption = bought back
AGNOSTIC: “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
There it is.
It is ok to kill people in God’s name…
IAN: Context, my friend :). If you read a bit further you’ll find that it’s clearly talking about spiritual death. Besides which, the Bible makes it clear that no one ever has the authority to kill.
AGNOSTIC: “They warred against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and slew every male…. Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live? Behold, these [women] caused the people of Israel, by the counsel of Balaam, to act treacherously against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” (Numbers 31:7, 15-18, RSV)
IAN: It’s a fine distinction, but please understand that in this case, the authority rests not with the individual but with God. That’s why I said “no one ever has the authority to kill.”
Yeah that passage is tough to understand, I will freely admit. But read this for background:
Is it possible for a group of people to be so completely evil as to be necessarily removed from the earth? That’s not for us to judge. You seem to feel that way about people who “ruthlessly plunder the planet”, though.
Regardless, that’s not what Romans is talking about, as is clear from the context.
AGNOSTIC: This is not about me. But you are right. I would judge people for many things to death i.e. rape.
However, the actual topic is: Does God allow murder? And he does. Not once but at several occasions. Of course if you look at the Canaanites Gods decision is for everyone of us understandable.
I did not understand, how this one (http://esvbible.org/search/Romans+6%3A23/) is related to God’s call to kill people I mentioned before.
IAN: Romans 6:23 clarifies that Romans 1 is talking about spiritual death for wrongdoers. It contrasts the payment for sin ( eternal spiritual death) with the gift of eternal spiritual life for those who believe. In fact, several other passages describe those people as already “dead in their sins”. So it’s not a call to kill people.
You and I have no authority to kill. God has given limited authority to specific institutions at times in the past. Whether you agree with that or not, it’s not the same as allowing murder. The Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill (murder)” makes that clear.
AGNOSTIC: Where did you get the spiritual death into this? Please point me to it. I find this text really hard to understand. Every help is appreciated.
AGNOSTIC: Thanks for the link.
Nevertheless I find it still hard to understand.
“The answer is found in the second half of verse 23. In contrast with death, the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. The verse is not speaking of physical death, but is contrasting spiritual death with eternal life.”
I do not understand, where the spiritual death all the sudden comes from. Why doesn’t this mean the more obvious physical death?
Albeit isn’t this part only speaking for the belivers? They can’t sin because they are slaves to God.
IAN: “And you hath he quickened [made alive], who were dead in trespasses and sins”
– Ephesians 2:1
“Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)”
– Ephesians 2:5
“And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses”
– Colossians 2:13
Obviously those verses aren’t talking about physical death. Paul’s not talking to people who were actually dead, but are now alive. He’s talking about people who were dead in sin.
It’s a theme / contrast that runs through the New Testament, and the entire argument traced through the book of Romans depends on it. The point is that all of us are sinners and condemned before God (Romans 1, ff), i.e. spiritually dead. Christ has the power to give eternal, spiritual life, by awakening us to our sinful state so that we accept his payment for our sin (Romans 6).
AGNOSTIC: I grant you that, if you include all the other parts you cited, you get the spiritual death into Romans. I’ve looked only into Romans and couldn’t find it there. But maybe I haven’t looked close enough. I do not really like the writing style.
If you have to know the Bible so well to interpret some small sentences ‘correct’, I dare to say, that the Bible should be a little bit modernized to enable easier access to it.
But to get back to Romans:
Albeit isn’t this part only speaking for the believers? They can’t sin because they are slaves to God.
IAN: Not sure which verse you’re referring to. Romans 6:23 is speaking to believers and unbelievers alike, stating that sins and their consequences are forgiven by accepting the gift of eternal life.
Accordingly, believers (those who have accepted the gift of eternal life) are “justified” a process in which Christ’s righteousness is credited to their account. Although they can (and do) sin, their inner nature is fundamentally changed and the spiritual life within them gradually leads them away from sin and toward right living (a process called sanctification). That process won’t be completed until the return of Christ, but should be very evident in the life of a believer.
There are modernized paraphrases available (The Message by Eugene Peterson is one), but much of the depth of Christian teaching and philosophy comes from these details that take some digging to understand.
The Bible is a beautiful book because its overall message is easily accessible, but there are always more nuances and details there for the finding if you are willing to do some research and digging for yourself.