Darth Vader, Stephen King, and Harry PotterSince September 11, 2001, probably the most frequently-asked question and challenge to those of us who attempt to work in the area of Christian apologetics has concerned how God's existence can be squared with the tragic realities of life on planet Earth. If the God of the Bible is a God of love, justice, compassion, peace, and concern for every human being; then why does He allow war, violence, disease, injustice, pain, and wanton destruction to happen to the creature supposedly created in His image? This is an emotionally loaded question, and one that is not easily answered. We would not be so presumptuous as to offer a simple explanation, but there are certain points that must be included in any explanation for any sense to be made of the question, and those we would like to explore. We would like to begin by suggesting that those who say we should not even attempt to deal with this issue are simply evading the issue, making God a scapegoat and a "God of the Gaps" being that thinking people are going to reject. Just because a question is hard does not mean that it is not worthy of consideration, and dismissing this issue by saying it "is God's domain and we should not set foot in it" will not convince someone whose world is shattered by the things that happen to them and to those they love. Here are some fundamentals that we would like to suggest must be a part of our understanding to deal with the realities of life.
Evil is a real and personal force. The origin of evil can be understood as a consequence of the existence of God. If God exists and God is good and love, then the absence of good and love must also exist and we call this evil. If this was the end of the discussion then evil would be impersonal, but God has created beings other than ourselves who have voluntarily embraced and chosen evil as their vehicle of existence (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). These beings have the conscious ability to use evil to inflict humans (Job 1-2). This means that evil is not a dualistic force because in and of itself evil has no power, but beings that are in a higher dimension than are we who have embraced evil make it personal.
What is interesting to this writer is that science fiction and fantasy writers have made this point and used it from the beginning of literature. If Darth Vader is not the epitome of evil, then what is he? Why is it that people will accept Harry Potter or Stephen King and never bat an eye, and then when the Bible comes along and says, "yes, evil is real," people want to go into denial?
There is a war going on! The forces of evil are not benign. There is a conflict raging that involves real struggle, and weare a part of it. Ephesians 6:12 makes this so clear: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." The book of Job gives us a "fly on the wall" participation in the discussion of God and Satan about Job. I would suggest to the reader that you can take Job's name out of the book of Job and put your name in place of it. We are all Job! Just as every player in every sci-fi book ever written had a role to play in the final outcome, so do we!
The purpose of our existence is rooted in this spiritual warfare. In Ephesians 3:9-11, the Bible tells us that God had an eternal purpose in His creation of the Church, and it uses the same words and pictures of Ephesians 6:12 and Job to make the point. The battle that we are a part of will be played out. God assures us that good will win over evil through the Church--but obviously many in the world and many spiritual beings do not believe that. When God allows Satan to kill Job's children or September 11, 2001, to kill ours--the pain is real and the reality is sure. What we ultimately have to realize is that our purpose in being does not allow God to stop the consequences of Satan's actions on the earth. This is hard to do. Job finally did it, and explained "Lord, before all of this happened to me I had heard of thee by the ear, but now mine eye sees you." We too must see God by understanding the power in the spiritual world around us. Pain and suffering cannot be explained by clever human clichšs or by saying "this is God's will."
God cannot violate His purposes in creating us, nor can He fail to fulfill His promises. God's ultimate purpose in creating man is to allow the forces of good to have a total victory over the forces of evil. I do not pretend to know all there is to know about what that statement actually means. I do know that even humans will give a trial of an idea or a concept in a blueprint form before the ultimate product is produced. We may passionately want our idea or concept to be successful, but more ideas fail on the blueprint than succeed. We test an idea on a two-dimensional surface before we try to make it reality in a three-dimensional form. I would suggest to you that our existence as humans is very much the same. We exist as three-dimensional beings in a creation that has four dimensions that affect us directly. We engage the struggle of good and evil in our world, but that struggle has significance in dimensions far beyond the ones in which we exist.
God has told us that we will be judged and that there will be an ultimate total separation between good and evil. The Church and each component of it--each person--are the prime participants in this struggle. God cannot prevent the logical consequences of evil without violating the purposes He had in creating man. He also cannot violate promises of consequences of actions. When God says "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7) we have to believe that God will not prevent that from happening. When God says "It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27) we cannot expect God to renege on it. One of the reasons we are disappointed in answers to prayers is that we ask God to act for us in a way that breaks a promise that He has made to us. Another reason is that we fail to understand that God's ultimate purposes exceed the importance of whatever we ask.
Life is hard, but God cares. The shortest verse in the Bible is God's response to the human dilemma of pain. God comes face to face in human form with how much it hurts to lose what you love. He sees Mary and Martha ache for the death of their beloved brother, and when Jesus sees that He bursts into tears. (John 11:1-38). I have often wondered how Lazarus reacted to being raised from the dead. My guess is that he was very angry. He had gone through "the valley of the shadow of death" once, and now he was going to have to do it again. He had suffered the pain of death the required time, and now he would have to do it again. He had felt all of the emotions that go with separation from loved ones, and now he was going to have to do it again. On the other hand, he may have seen the purpose of man's existence more clearly and may have found a whole new outlook on life as a result.
Knowing why we lose loved ones and why tragedy happens does not help the pain. It may make it bearable, and it provides a hope that brings a whole new meaning to life, but it does not answer all of the questions or take away all the anxieties. Your author has had a fairly substantial measure of problems in his life and the pain is still real.
Understanding provides mission. The most important point involved in our understanding of the struggle between good and evil is that when we as Christians see our own struggles in the correct light, they become mission opportunities. What does a person with no belief in God or in the Christian system do when they have weathered a storm of life? I would suggest that for the most part there is nothing to do with it. You try to forget what has happened and find new ways to find pleasure. When you find pleasure you feel that you have recovered because you have found what is important to you. Recovery is the name of the game, and being able to return to the level of pleasure that you had before the problem came into your life is your objective.
A Christian, on the other hand, will take what has happened in his or her life and make it a mission to help others. One major uniqueness of the Christian system is that it calls its converts to a life of serving others. When Jesus taught this to His disciples, He wrapped a cloth around His waist and washed their feet in John 13:4-17. In doing this He told them that He was giving them an example of what they were to do. Christians in the first century used their experiences to reach out to those who shared their background and experiences. Paul's background as a Pharisee enabled him to reach out to those who were Jewish leaders. Timothy's background of having a Greek father (Acts 16:1, 3) gave him a unique ability to work with the gentiles.
In our day, there is a critical need for those who have worked their way through divorce and being single again to be willing to reach out to those who are going through that heart wrenching and debilitating experience. Christians who have gone through substance abuse and have worked their way through it desperately need to be willing to use what they have experienced to help others dealing with that affliction. Those of us who have had children born with birth defects need to be willing to share with and help parents who are just learning that their precious child is facing an uphill struggle through multiple problems from every direction.
When you have "been there" you can use what has happened to you to make a difference in other people's lives. Christ provides the strength to do this, but He will not force it. Like the ancient prophet of old, we as Christians must be willing to say "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).
--John N. Clayton
Back to Contents Does God Exist?, NovDec03.