Evil, God, and an Atheist’s Challenge

I have been reading through the book of Job again and, as always, I find it both a fascinating story and humbling reminder of my place before my Creator.

Somewhere during the early chapters I felt inspired to tweet some of the key lessons I see in Job:

Tweet: "What I've learned from Job so far: 1) Only God is truly free 2) and merciful 3) and gives a Redeemer. Hope in Christ #Bible

I hoped a few people might read this and begin to sense the possibility of real hope. So, I was surprised to receive this response to my tweet from a self-identified atheist.

Tweet: "@averageus Would I be considered merciful if I let my enemy torture my child?"

I thought it was ironic that this atheist challenged the character of God, not his existence. So I decided to discover more about his question. Here is a bit of the tweet-conversation that ensued.

Me: No. And that’s not a rebuttal.

Him: I fail to see how what God did was any different!

Me: the msg of Job is either: God is evil and untrustworthy; or He is righteous and “though he slay me, yet I will trust him”

Him: He is clearly evil and untrustworthy. 9 million* dead children a year proves it. That’s just one example!

*I checked his facts and according to UNICEF almost 11,000,000 children under age 5 die each year. Further, almost 70% of these deaths are from medically preventable causes. Sad beyond imagination.

Our conversation continued in a respectful tone, but I’ll stop here because the atheist’s claim—that God is evil and untrustworthy—is what I want us to think about. I think we should be willing to admit that he raises a valid question.

A very important, valid question.

Since evil does exist in the world, we must ask, “Is God the cause of all the evil in the world?” In other words,

Is God evil?

Let’s use the story of Job to explore that question.

〉JOB’S SUFFERINGS

First, here’s a quick summary of the first two chapters of Job’s story.

Job was a prosperous, wealthy man and a devoted worshipper of God. God pointed this out to Satan. But Satan accused God of buying Job’s devotion with blessings, saying in effect, “Job only serves you for what you give him, he doesn’t really love you. Take it all away, and he’ll curse you to your face.”

And God accepted the challenge.

God gave Satan the opportunity to prove his point, and—think of this—Job suffered because of it. In all the categories of evil defined by both ancients and moderns, Job suffered:

Moral Evil: Raiding bands of Sabeans and Chaldeans murdered all of Job’s servants and stole all of his property, impoverishing him.

Natural Evil: A hurricane-like wind destroyed the home of Job’s oldest son, killing every one of Job’s children, leaving him without an heir. Boils and oozing sores erupted on Job’s body, leaving him in terrible pain, despairing of life, praying for death.

Spiritual Evil: Satan was the mastermind of this assault, even flinging, seemingly, “fire from God” which consumed the rest of Job’s property and servants.

And where was God in all this?

Ordaining it.

Observing it.

Letting it play out.

For our atheist friend this is pure evil, equivalent to letting a known enemy torture your child.

What about for you?

〉JOB IS EVERYMAN

In a way, the story of Job is an everyman story. No, we aren’t all fabulously wealthy. Nor do we all have Job’s integrity. But every person lives his or her own answer the great, central question posed by the book of Job.

Is God worthy of our love and trust?

Or, to put it more sharply,

Will you love and trust God if He doesn’t buy you off with prosperity?

If God is righteous, true and good, then He is worthy of our love and trust in spite of what we suffer in this life. Our sufferings must be due to a cause other than God (though he promises to make suffering serve the eternal good of his people).

On the other hand, if God is evil, and the direct cause of all evil, then our sufferings are the result of his cruelty. No one should worship such a God.

〉SUFFERING AND FAITH

It seems there could be no greater question of faith. It is the grand test given to everyman:

Will we love and trust a God who has ordained that we suffer and die?

Does such a God, a God who would allow—rather, to be intellectually honest —would ordain the horrible suffering of Job deserve my worship? (Note that ordain doesn’t mean cause, though it is a fine distinction.)

The way you answer this question all boils down to whether you believe the Bible’s account of how evil and suffering entered the world.

The Bible claims that a perfectly good, wise and powerful God created a good world and created mankind to rule over it. He created the first man and woman in such a way that they could freely choose whether God was worthy of their love and trust.

According to the Bible God is worthy of our love and trust; first, by virtue of His character and nature; second, by virtue of being our creator; third, by virtue of honoring us by making us in his image; and fourth, by virtue of giving us authority over the world. All these bespoke God’s trustworthiness, but the first man and woman made their choice, a rebel’s choice. And misery, evil, and suffering entered the world.

The atheist tells a different story, a story in which man is the hero. God (if he exists) is the demon who tortures us. And we must be rid of him.

Either way, it’s a question of what you will believe.

Like Job, we each decide what to believe about a God who is hidden by a veil of our suffering and death.

〉JOB’S HOPE

There’s one more thing the book of Job teaches us about God, evil and suffering. I mention it here only briefly, but you will see what a weighty thing it is. It has to do with Job’s confession of his ultimate hope:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God.—
Job 19:25-26

Job’s hope was that a Redeemer would one day stand on the earth in flesh and blood, a Redeemer who would intercede on his behalf before God. Centuries after Job, that Redeemer did come in flesh and blood to plead Job’s case. But little did Job understand that the Redeemer would be God himself, Immanuel, God with us. God became man and bore all the suffering and misery and death of the millennia himself to undo man’s deadly choice. He did this so that, in the Redeemer’s own words, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”—John 11:25.

We will never fully comprehend why millions of children die each year.

But, is it because God is evil?

Job didn’t believe so, though he suffered much. (Perhaps, only His Redeemer suffered more.)

Let us, like Job, place our lives in God’s good hands.

Let us say with him, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.”—Job 13:15.


Come, let us return to the Lord;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.

After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.—Hosea 6:1–2

I Would Never Believe

A historical, apologetic poem…


I would not believe in a hidden Creator;
I would not believe in original Man;
I would not believe in an ark on a great flood;
I would not believe in God’s bow or God’s plan.

I would not believe Abram heard a voice calling;
I would not believe he was given Canaan;
I would not believe the son, Isaac, was promised;
I would not believe Jacob wrestled a man.

I would not believe that a bush spoke while burning;
I would not believe Moses parted the sea;
I would not believe in the stones cut from Sinai;
I would not believe cloud and fire could lead.

I would not believe that walls fell before trumpets;
I would not believe in lambs, bulls, or priests;
I would not believe in an altar or temple;
I would not believe in their prophets or kings.

I would not believe when wild John came to baptize;
I would not believe in the Man he proclaimed;
I would not believe in the Spirit descending;
I would not believe some unknown Nazarene.

I would not believe in the wine, loaves or fishes;
I would not believe in the lepers made clean;
I would not believe that dead Lazarus was raised;
I would not believe Bartimaeus could see.

I would not believe in Zacchaeus, forgiven;
I would not believe, nor care, Jesus wept;
I would not care a sick woman dared touched Him;
I would not believe that He came to pay debts.

I would not believe some foretold he would suffer;
I would not believe He intended to die;
I would not care were He innocent or not;
I would not believe He was Christ, crucified.

I would not believe that I needed a Savior;
I would not believe anything that He claimed;
I would not believe in a Father to pray to;
I would not believe He, alone, is the Way.

I would not believe that events have a purpose;
I would not believe my life means anything;
I would not believe that He cares for my sorrows;
I would not believe He’s my Redeemer, my King.

If hundreds had not seen Him alive, after dead;
If witnesses were not killed for saying He lived;
If four had not written and fully agreed;
If disciples had not loved Him, unto death, how they loved him;

If they had not loved Him, I would never believe.

Where is God When All Your News Is Bad?

Here’s the news Dawn and I have received in the last 24 hours:

〉A loved one’s recent surgery to remove a lump in his colon revealed cancer in four lymph nodes.

〉An elderly woman whom I had once pastored, and who had always loved Dawn and me unconditionally, died yesterday from Alzheimer’s and cancer.

〉My elderly uncle who recently had prostate surgery isn’t doing well.

〉My one-year-old grand-daughter who has been having fainting spells, has been admitted to the hospital for observation and testing. There is concern that something is wrong with her heart or brain.

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