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

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3 thoughts on “Evil, God, and an Atheist’s Challenge

  1. Good post.

    I really liked this: “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.”

    I hear that reasoning all the time from friends and family who are “atheist” or agnostic or simply hate God. They–the created–put on their little judge robes, take up their little gavels, and declare the Creator (if he exists) evil because how would a good God allow all this suffering?

    I have a relative who has been a nurse forever, and she has seen suffering. Her thinking is that the God who would allow that is not worthy of any respect. I have done a few years of healthcare myself, and have likewise seen suffering. I have also been a cancer patient, and have suffered. I understand the reasons that God allows suffering are very complex, but I have seen so many people turn to God when their once stable lives get flipped upside down by some tragedy. God uses our suffering, very often, to wake us up. (I realize this was not the case with Job, because he was already working for God.)

    But the assumption/expectations in America these days seems to be that: 1. I am entitled to have all my needs met, 2. I am entitled whatever I want, 3. I must be entertained at all times, 4. I should never have to suffer in any way, and 5. I am to always be happy and prosperous. These assumptions are foolish, and wicked. (Shame on you, Mr. Osteen. God isn’t a genie to give you all that you want!) And these assumptions drive the insane thinking that if I don’t get my way (or I see somebody else having a rough time in life), then that DISPROVES God’s existence.

    I also believe that the majority of the modern American militant atheists are NOT actually atheists. They believe in Him, yet they hate Him. If you TRULY believed that there was no God, and there was no meaning to life, and when your body dies, you simply wink out of existence, then there would be no point in anything whatsoever. Even the words “good” and “evil” would hold no meaning, (except possibly some relative meaning to whoever was looking at the words). So if you think that those foolish Christians are believing in the Tooth Fairy, then there would be no point (other than just being a nasty person) in trying to argue somebody out of their belief in God. Just seeing creation is enough (Rom 1:20). And if you truly don’t believe, then you are a fool (Ps 14:1, 53:1). Even though I have sat in the Freshman Biology 1010 class and had to listen to the “wise” and “educated” Biology PhD wax poetic and mock the stupidity of Christians, my faith runs deeper than foolish challenges like that. I just wish that so many college students would stop losing their faith in Liberal Arts classrooms. (1 Cor 1:27)

    Back when I used to listen to wicked music, I remember a line from a Bustarhymes song where he said, “Call me ‘Atheist’ because I don’t believe in you God.” If the man truly was an atheist, he would have said in “a god,” or in “any gods.” But he said “YOU God.” I really think that is the bulk of American “atheists.” Just jumping on the bandwagon because it’s “cool” to deny God exists…

    (because you are smarter than that–there was OBVIOUSLY an explosion 15,000,000,000 years ago that started everything–DUH!–then abiogenesis happened on Earth or elsewhere–DUH!–then the magic word that’s been PROVEN, evolution happened, and is happening now–DUH!–and if we can’t see evolution in the fossil record but we still want to deny God, we’ll fire an arrow through the heart of evolution and call it “punctuated equilibrium” to somehow ruin the theory of evolution [sorry, now we’ve upgraded the “theory of evolution” to the “FACT of evolution” because it sounds more certain, if not less scientific, but let’s just not worry about that] and claim that proves it–DUH!–and when the years of the age of the solar system and the fact that there are still comets around doesn’t add up, we’ll invent the Oort Cloud as an unseen thing that holds up our weak science–DUH!–etc.–DUH!)

    I also think that if Richard Dawkins–“Darwin’s Pittbull”–were to hear “You have stage IV cancer, and the prognosis is 3 months,” that he would find God very quickly. Although I think it would certainly be cool if God chose to use that wicked man with a Saul/Paul type conversion, because if he’d stop kicking against the goads, he already has an audience that eats up every single blasphemous word out of his mouth with a spoon. I’d bet you he could do a lot of good for the Kingdom if God took the blinders off his eyes…

    Sorry for the long comment. My favorite part of Job is the end when God is speaking to Job from the whirlwind.

  2. The trouble with thinking god is buying us off with prosperity by protecting us from the evil he created is that it puts the blame on the human who created none of the evil. If the deity cannot protect or will not protect why call it a deity? If the humans have to do all the work what value does the deity bring to the relationship? By sitting idle and doing nothing it is exactly like there is no deity at all. What point then is there to a deity? If a deity does not protect or serve what point is there to the deity? If the deity’s only responsibility is to observe then there is no significant difference between the deity and a lab tech watching a mouse suffer from brain cancer. Why worship such a being? I can think of no reason.

    I do not accept the sins of Adam for I have free will and this is not a gift. If free will means anything it means that I am not guilty for what my father did never mind what Adam did.

  3. Psalm 50 in my bible is called “God the Righteous Judge”. It reminds mankind of how we are nothing, and how too often we think God is altogether like us, and accepts us in our sins. It reminds us to fear God, lest He tear us in pieces. Then it speaks of the few things that mankind can offer God – Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” Psalm 50:14-15

    Psalm 51 is about David and his sin with Bathsheba. “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, and You only, have I sinned. And Done this evil in Your sight . That You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when you judge.

    What did God bust Job on? Job never blasphemed or left God… but he complained that God was not a righteous judge… but God is always righteous and if all of the disaster came to Job merely to knock out the area in his heart that caused him to complain, then it was completely right.

    What do we do as Christians when things go wrong in our life? Most Christians first response is to turn to Job and identify with him. Many Christians imagine they are as righteous as Job.. and that somehow the things that came on them were completely undeserved, and that somehow what they are going through is completely unfair.

    But the truth is, we are all sinners. We are all more wicked than we could ever imagine.We don’t deserve anything but hell any of us. All of us have enough sin and the sin in our life is so dramatically bad that even if we are not secretly slaying orphans and widows, God would still have the absolute right to send any of us to hell. When we complain about our circumstances, we breed rebellion in ourselves (As Job did, the young man before God popped up in the picture said so) and we breed rebellion in others (The wicked atheists).

    The ONLY thing we can give to God, is our submission to whatever He brings. not complaining and wondering and whimpering, but in worship.

    David gives us the perfect example. He sinned, and when his judgment came… he didn’t attack the tools that God used to scorn him and scourge him… he submitted and even showed mercy to the very people who slammed him and put him down. I think it was probably ONLY David who showed this kind of AMAZING submission to God… and I pray, and I plead.. and I beg… that God would foster such a heart in me!!!!!!!!!!

    There would never be such a thing as an atheist – ever.

    Amen
    (from the worse complainer in history)

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