Have you heard this question before? I have. Atheists ask it because they believe there is no legitimate answer. And without a reasonable answer, they believe it is the perfect question to use when trying to disprove the existence of God. Maybe, if someone could answer this question in a satisfactory manner, they would consider the existence of God? Well, maybe not, but I’m having a go at it anyway.
Here is the pat answer, and the one I have (regretfully) given myself:
What is cold? What is darkness? (In case you don’t know the answers, they are the absence of heat and the absence of light, respectively.) Therefore, it stands to reason that evil is the absence of good, and God never created evil at all.
Now, I believe all of these things are true; I only regret that my answer was too short. When I gave it, I didn’t expound on it. This is unfortunate because I believe that sometimes people are legitimately looking for answers, and mine was a non-answer. That was me, avoiding the real question.
Of course, perhaps it would have served the atheist better if they had asked the real question to begin with, which goes something like this: If God loves people, why would He allow evil?
There, now that’s something we can work with.
Evil is perhaps not best explained as the absence of good, but rather the refusal to do good. The way I see it, God could have made humans behave in one of two ways: first of all, He could have created us to do His will all the time, never questioning His authority, never thinking for ourselves. In other words, we could all be rocks. Or plants. Or…something. Is this how a loving parent raises their children? Nope.
Secondly, He could have created us in the way that He actually did, giving us the choice to obey or not to obey. In order to have choice, we must first be aware of what we should choose – what “good” is. That’s why He gave us the Law.
“Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live:” Amos 5:14.
“Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day:” Deuteronomy 11:26-27
“See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; In that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it. But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess it. I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” Deuteronomy 30:15-20
The word “good” is not merely the opposite of evil. The Law is good for us. To stray from its path is to engage in self-destructive behaviors. (And sometimes, disobedience leads to the destruction of the peace, happiness, and lives of others as well.) We should be in amazement, overwhelmed that our God, the Ruler of the universe, loved us enough to give us His own perfect Law. The one that is so righteous, He Himself adheres to it. What do I mean by that? Here’s a short explanation:
The reason that Christ had to die is that God could not allow sin to go unpunished. The wages of sin is death, and that wage had to be meted out. If God could break His own Law, He could have provided an alternate way for salvation. This also explains why Jesus is the only way to salvation. The ransom He paid for us is the only way to meet the requirements of the Law.
Now, His Law is not some random set of rules. It is life, it is truth, it is the very definition of these things (Psalm 119). Jesus Christ Himself is the embodiment of that Law (John 1:14). Those who choose life, know how to do so, by walking in His precepts. Please, please read Psalm 119.
So how does choice work? In addition to knowing what we should choose, we must also be given the opportunity to choose something else. This “otherness” is what is meant by “evil.” If God has told us how to have life, and have it more abundantly, then any refusal of that offer is necessarily evil. It leads to death and destruction.
So is God then somehow responsible for our evil when we choose not to obey? By creating the Law in the first place, and the ability to disobey, has He in some round about manner also created evil?
Let’s consider some options here:
A) If I instruct my children not to play in the street, not to talk to strangers, or not to touch a hot burner, am I the author of their rebellion if they choose to disobey me? If we use atheist reasoning, it would appear to be so. Isn’t that the very argument we are dissecting here? Regardless of how just or unjust God may be viewed for this behavior, it is the way He interacts with His creation. This approach of a loving Father toward His children is outright rejected by those who hate God, but an atheist who loves his children surely teaches them about health and safety.
B) Would it be better to never offer instruction, so that the children can decide for themselves what is good and what is bad? Should God have refrained from giving us the Law to keep us from having the opportunity to sin against Him? Should we allow our children to discover on their own what leads to life and happiness and what leads to pain and death? That’s ridiculous, and a loving God or parent would never leave their children to their own devices.
C) So what is the alternative to A and B? Perhaps one would suggest that a loving parent would hover around the child at all times, physically refusing to allow them to become hurt. That would be the only scenario I can imagine that doesn’t involve pain, death, disobedience, or evil of any kind. Now, a human parent couldn’t pull that off, but God could. However, can you actually imagine an atheist being happier if God never allowed them to make their own choices about anything? If He didn’t give us the freedom of choice, then they would have a legitimate reason to complain. But that’s not the way He created us.
Atheists cannot comprehend God as a loving God because He tells them what right and wrong is, because He has imposed a Law, because He has labeled destructive behavior as sin. Isn’t it ironic that they would choose option B over the others? They want to live their lives as they see fit. In short, they want to live without the instruction of anyone or anything wiser than them. They wish to remain obliviously happy in their disobedience and death. They would choose for God not to love them at all.