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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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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The Best Natural and Spiritual Ways to Manage Anxiety and Depression

The love of my life suffers with anxiety and depression.

If you have ever experienced them, you know suffer is the right word. And often, you don’t know why you’re suffering.

Dawn occasionally experiences physical pain or crawling skin. Sometimes she can’t focus. She cries a lot. Sometimes life overwhelms her. She may struggle to make decisions. Sometimes she can’t quiet the voices of guilt or irrational fears.

And yet, she’s the bravest person I know. She never quits. She always hopes, trusts, loves, perseveres, and serves. She is a joy to live with.

How does she do it? How does she manage her depression year after year, day-in and day-out, usually without medication?

The answer is that she’s developed her own “medicine cabinet” of natural and spiritual ways to manage her anxiety and depression.

If you’re beginning to sink into depression for the first time, whether situational or chemical, if you’re anxious and scared and can’t understand why you feel this way, if you just don’t know what to do and you want to avoid meds…

Here’s a glimpse inside the medicine cabinet of one who suffers like you. Dawn and I both hope you find light at the end of the tunnel, but until then, here’s twelve proven ways to help you survive the darkness.

[Please note that appropriate medication is sometimes the best and necessary strategy. Dawn was on medication from 2002-2003 and we often talk about the possibility of needing it again.]

1. Get Outside

Look around at all God has made, city, suburb or country. Open your senses to the physical world and let a bit of wonder flicker in your mind. Natural settings are most wonder-inspiring, so if you live in a city try to find a park.

2. Drink Water

You need it to survive in the best of times. How much more in the worst? Drink lots of water, and let it be the main thing you drink—much more than dairy, coffee, soft drinks, or alcohol. How much water should you drink? A good rule of thumb is: you could probably use a glass of water right now. Your mind and heart will thank you.

3. Exercise Daily

Seriously. Exercise is your secret weapon for boosting your mood. Do light exercise like a brisk walk (not a mosey) for 20-30 minutes every day. Three days a week substitute a more challenging work out for at least 30 minutes.

4. Keep Routine

Use whatever tools you like to create a simple routine for your days and nights. This will give you a sense of control and predictability to combat the chaos in your head. Try calendar appointments, or a to-do list, or learn to say “no” graciously.

5. Eat Protein

Protein is a natural mood stabilizer and is available naturally in quinoa, beans, legumes, tofu, eggs, dairy, nuts, and meat. Protein is most effective for your mind and body when you eat a little at every meal. If you are fighting depression it’s extra important to get protein with breakfast.

6. Avoid Stimulants

Be careful about sugars and caffeine; they really mess with your brain chemistry. Pay attention to how they affect you, when, to what extent. You may need to find a substitute for that late night pan of brownies and morning cup o’ joe.

7. Sleep Enough

Not too much. Not too little. Either extreme can leave you foggy and affect your mood. Be as consistent as possible with bedtime and rising time (aka, create a routine).

8. Get Support

You need someone who “gets you.” You need someone you can trust with how you feel: a counselor; a spouse, a friend; a support group; anyone who will be supportive and non-judgmental. Don’t let embarrassment rob you of the wonderful help it can be just to tell someone how you feel.

9. Pursue a Hobby

Do stuff. Stay active. There is such satisfaction in performing simple tasks like knitting or gardening. What about playing an instrument? Getting involved in a sports league? Joining a book club? Any brain-engaging hobby will do, and group hobbies like joining a community band or a basketball league have the added benefit of combining #8 and #9.

10. Limit TV

You want your brain engaged. TV puts your brain in a passive mode and isolates you at the same time. This isn’t helpful for your depression, no matter how good the escape feels at the moment. It’s especially important to not let late-night TV disrupt your routine (#4) and sleep (#7). Here’s how we tame our TV viewing.

11. Meditate on Scripture

Christian meditation is simply focused thinking about what God has said to us in the Bible. If the Bible is unfamiliar to you, here’s tips on how to get started reading the Bible. Three specific kinds of promises God gives to those who trust in His Son, Jesus Christ, can be very helpful when you are suffering with depression:

❯ Promises related to God’s presence and comfort in the midst of suffering. (for example: Isaiah 43:1-3)

❯ Promises related to finding meaning and purpose in the midst of suffering. (for example: Romans 8:26-30)

❯ Promises related to the hope of eternal deliverance from suffering. (for example: Romans 8:18)

12. Study Theology

Dawn says this has been huge for her, and I can say the same. Nothing anchors your mind like a deeper apprehension of the greatness of God. Even Bible authors meditated on the greatness of God during their difficult times (for example: Psalm 77:11-13).

Get good books on the nature and work of God and the person and work of Christ. Try studying the Westminster or Heidelberg confessions of faith and catechisms. For a modern and accessible resource, try the New City Catechism online or for iPad (Read my review). When you understand the chief end of man (Westminster Q1), or your only hope in life and in death (Heidelberg/New City Q1), you will see the reason for an everlasting hope.

That’s 12 of the best natural and spiritual ways we know to manage anxiety and depression. I know you want a cure, a fix. But, I’m afraid sometimes managing is the best that can be achieved in our average lives. (Dawn knows all about that.)

But remember, God is great! Oh, how that makes a difference if you belong to Him.

If you don’t yet see how that makes a difference, let me encourage you to think more about what it must mean to belong to a loving, sovereign, wise, completely involved and invested heavenly Father. It means you have a reason to live, because He has a reason for you to live, forever.

Other Resources

❯ Your Anxiety Is Not a Sin (on AnneMarieMiller.com)

Ten Natural Depression Treatments (on WebMD)

❯ Dealing with Depression: Self-Help and Coping Tips to Overcome Depression (on HelpGuide.org)

❯ Broken Minds: Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You’re Losing It (on Amazon.com)


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