Discussing the Problem of Evil with skeptics can be fraught with pitfalls. It can be tempting to dismiss the horror of evil in order to reduce the power of the objection. Even if the objection is weakened, I don’t think this approach does enough to persuade.
The Problem of Evil brings the criticism that a good God and evil are incompatible. Since evil exists then God is either powerless against it or apathetic towards it. So either God does not exist or He is not good.
To help us see how to relate to this question, there are two issues regarding a recent post I read I would like to address:
1. The structure of the argument
2. Persuading the skeptic
Nate Sala over at A Clear Lens responds to this objection thusly:
Friends, we have about 90 years on this earth before we die…for atheists, after their 90 years is done, it’s over. There is no more existence. That means that the 90 years they have on this earth is the only thing that matters. Now, imagine tragedy, suffering, and disease invading that lifetime; it feels like the only shot they had has been stolen and is now gone.
Christians have a different view on life. Yes, there is a 90-year stretch, but that’s just the warm-up for the main event! In actuality we get this lifetime plus eternity. Once you realize eternity awaits you after this life, suffering and death takes on an entirely different meaning.
I think Nate is right to point out how our different perspectives can alter the intensity of our experiences of suffering. However, what is the “entirely different meaning” of suffering and death in view of eternity? The only answer to that question I can find in the article is: with eternity in view, suffering is not the end of the story. True enough, but the objection is about the suffering itself and how it can co-exist with the existence of a good God.
Nate reframes his argument like this:
In other words, ask them to evaluate suffering through the Christian framework. If they can’t do that then their issue is not that evil undercuts God’s existence or that suffering somehow invalidates the idea of God being good. The real problem is that atheists are making eternal judgments without seeing eternity clearly.
I don’t see how that follows. I’m a bit torn on criticizing Nate here because I have come to enjoy his website and, I’m sure just like Nate, I hope with all my heart that the skeptics in my life come to know the peace of God’s promised reconciliation of all things as they suffer in this life.
However, offering the perspective of eternity does change the horror of suffering. A tragedy is still tragic. A good God is still allowing evil. Nate is adding a wrinkle to the objection that I do not think changes the objection.
“How can a good God allow evil?”
“Yes, but, remember, eternity is real”
Even if the skeptic is able to entertain that idea and put on our goggles, I do not see how it addresses the question.
How To Persuade?
I’m sure that Nate has heard the material I’m about to draw from (summarized from William Lane Craig and C.S. Lewis). I’m also quite sure that Nate’s post was not meant to be an exhaustive rebuttal to the Problem of Evil. With a short post on a subject with an immense amount of scholarly work comes the danger of seeming dismissive. I’m sure that was not Nate’s intent.
However, I think taking the view of eternity one step further would greatly improve the persuasive power of our answer to this question. Since the Christian God has eternity in view, perhaps God has a greater purpose in allowing evil. Specifically, the answer to the objection is: If God has a good reason for allowing evil, then He can allow evil and still be good.
Help the skeptic you are discussing with to put on these goggles: “What could be a good reason for allowing evil?” Is not beauty, goodness, and love worth having? Ask them to imagine a world in which beauty, goodness, and love are real without free will. Further, ask them to imagine free will without the possibility of going wrong. If free will is a prerequisite for love and beauty, and love and beauty make life worth living, is it not at least possible that the only way God could have made a world worth living in was to allow for the possibility of evil?
It is perhaps impossible to quantify this but what if the amount of love and beauty in the world outweighs the amount of suffering and evil? How would we know when that balance has tipped too far towards suffering to bring God’s goodness into question?
These questions can, I hope, help the skeptic to see the problem of evil from a wider perspective, including that of eternity.