“Between tornadoes in OK, droughts in TX, and Hurricanes in AL, there are a lot of natural disasters going on in the places God loves.”
That’s a quote from a video by a man who calls himself The Friendly Atheist, on reasons you should stop believing in God. It’s a common objection raised by atheists and skeptics to contest the existence of God, or at least the existence of a loving God: how can someone who cares for His people, who is also omniscient and omnipotent, allow or cause horrible things to happen to them?
There can be no denying that these things are horrible. The Holocaust, Hurricane Katrina, Columbine, these are all things that, whether coming from the morally evil actions of people, or the natural evil of horrible disasters, are certainly bad things, often happening to good and godly people. Even granting that God’s definition of righteousness is not our own, God’s people are commonly subjected to the same terrors as those around them. So the question remains: how is it possible for a loving God to allow these things to happen?
But while this question comes from, I believe, a sincere astonishment at the evil in the world, and sometimes evil that the questioner has felt in a very personal way, it’s really asking the wrong question. The question to begin with ought to be, how can you, an atheist or skeptic, propose that there is such a thing as evil? By surmising that there is evil in the world, are you not admitting that there is such a thing as an objective morality in the world? Are you not suggesting that there is indeed something objectively morally wrong about the Holocaust, and mass shootings that we’ve seen in the United States? Are you saying that there is something morally aberrant about tragedies happening to people who are, in your estimation, good people?
You see, in order to make the claim that if there is a God, he allows morally evil things to happen, we have to nail down what we are defining as moral and immoral. There are some common things among most systems of morality in the world, that is true – typically we recognize that murder is wrong, kindness is good, sacrifice is commendable, and many other things. The fact that we do seem to have, generally speaking, a similar sense of morality is, I believe, one of the greatest arguments for the existence of a moral lawgiver. But as it pertains to the discussion, we must ascertain what the questioner means when he says moral.
Logically, in order for his argument to make sense, God would have to, by allowing immoral things to occur, be going against His own morality, as He Himself has revealed. This is an important fact, because at the heart of this proposition is an accusation of hypocrisy: that God, if He exists, cannot be loving because His actions as the omnipotent God are inconsistent with the loving nature He has revealed. So once we establish that morality is the key to this proposition, the next natural step is to examine God’s morality.
So then, is it morally evil, by God’s own revealed morality, to allow or cause bad things to happen to good people?
First, understanding that we must concede God’s morality in order to call God inconsistent, we are not all righteous. Scripture tells us that there is “none righteous, no not one” (Psalm 14) and “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23).
But for those who have turned to God for redemption, generally speaking, it would be evil for God to cause bad things to happen to redeemed people—if indeed He was causing them, and it was for the sake of cruelty, not for the sake of strengthening. James 1:2 and Romans 8:28 speak of God using difficult circumstances to further strengthen His children in the faith. But the fallacy in this questioning is that it assumes that everything that happens, both good and bad, is a direct result of God’ action. This is not the case. In so doing, we have ignored a significant player in moral and natural evil: Satan.
Take the book of Job as an example. Horrible things happen to Job, and God uses it to make him stronger—but the horrible things themselves were actually done by Satan. The skeptic may respond by saying for God to truly be omnipotent, he would stop Satan from doing these things—but this in turn ignores a very important part of Christian theology – the fallen world.
No matter what theological background you have, scripture makes one thing clear: that by sin, hardship and suffering entered the world. Adam and Eve, by following Satan instead of God, granted him a certain level of power in the world. And because of the fallen nature of mankind, evil exists in the world such that redemption is needed. And God, being just as well as loving, cannot override the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin, nor of our sin. And so it is that, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “time and chance happen to us all.” But the kindness and the mercy of God is revealed in such that, even as horrible things often happen as a consequence of mankind’s sin, He still reaches out to us, and He still, as much as can be done, makes those things out to be a benefit to us.
But if there is no God, as the proponents of the so-called problem of evil state, then there is no moral ground. There is no reason to think that there is anything other than completely subjective morality and, by extension, there is nothing other than personal preference on which to call the Holocaust evil. Those are the consequences of such a view, and they are rarely dealt with. God’s part in the grand scheme of things, however, when understood in the proper context of Christian theology, reveals God as merciful to still help us despite the consequences of our sin coming on our heads.