I was asked the question recently, “If God is in Control of everything, is He really Good?” The timing of this question was poignant in my life because this past week we found out my daughter, who just graduated from high school, has cancer. She had a dark spot on her scalp and after the biopsy came back positive for melanoma, further testing was done, and she will have to go to U.C. Davis to have more if it removed, and possibly some lymph nodes removed. While the prognosis at this point seems to be optimistic, it would be natural for someone to ask God why.
Out of all of our children, she is the one that eats healthy and is genuinely concerned about her health. No smoking, drinking, or drugs, (of course none of them do that), but she does not drink coffee, sodas, energy drinks, sausage, bacon, deep fried Twinkies, you know, all the things that most normal Americans consume.
This is not the first time I asked God why something was taking place. Years ago, I lost my best friend Keith to cancer. He left behind a wife and young son who he was deeply concerned about. Over the years, both my wife and I have known many people who have struggled with cancer and lost the battle. Many have left behind a spouse and young children. At our own church there have been young children struggling with diseases, and others born with defects which the families have to struggle with for the rest of their lives. Would a ‘good’ God allow this?
So if God is in control, and most Christians I know of believe that, why would he allow adults have so much pain and suffering? Not to mention children, some under the age of five, whose worst sin might be cutting Barbie’s hair without permission, coloring on the white wall in the bed room with crayons, poking metal keys in a light socket, (OK that had its own consequence which Beth learned about first hand), or attempting to feed the family dog peas from her dinner plate. Adults I get it, some probably deserve the pain and suffering they are struggling with, at least from my perspective, but young innocent children? How can a Christian respond to that question?
How many of us would heal the sick and the lame if we could? Hopefully, everyone we know. Then again, if one of us had that kind of power, I can’t help but wonder if it would turn into some commercialized healing center with millionaires from all over the world knocking at our door, (or using RPG’s to get in), to heal a child or loved one. Nevertheless, just about everyone of us would do what we could to heal those in need. Regardless of what that kind of miraculous ability would morph into over time, especially if it were public knowledge, most of us would make the effort to help those who were in anguish.
As Christians though, we do believe God has the power to stop evil from taking place. Not only the evil of diseases, but the evil humans inflict on each other in wars and domestic violence. The recent shootings in Orlando Florida where a follower of ISIS shot and killed 49 people in a late night LGBT bar. Then there is natural evil; you only have to reflect on the 2011 tsunami in Japan which killed over 15,000 and left homeless almost a quarter of a million people.
Here is the classic argument about why evil can’t be stopped by God.
1. If God is all good, He would destroy evil.
2. If God is all powerful, He could destroy evil.
3. But evil is not destroyed.
4. Hence, there is no such God.
In his best seller book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins puts it as well as any atheist could when he describes what God is, if he exists. “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”1
So with our back to the wall, we as Christians have to look at why an all loving and all powerful God would allow this kind of evil to continue in the world today. I would like to answer this in three ways.
First, let me ask you a question. Do scars have a purpose? Yes, one purpose is they serve as reminders of an injury we endured. The injury may have been inflicted by others, (I recall a beautiful spinning heel kick that landed perfectly on my left temple). It may be self inflicted due to a mistake in judgement, (ask Beth if she remembers keys and sparks). Finally, it could be due to some natural occurrence such as cancer or an earthquake.
In the first example, I learned not to spar with someone whose legs are longer than mine. In the second example, you can ask Beth if she has stuck any keys into a wall socket recently. In the final example, someone who has a history of skin cancer may be diligent in checking for dark areas on their skin. A Californian may move out of San Francisco, (think of the year 1906), to any location in Minnesota, the land of ten thousand lakes, not quakes. In other words, we can learn from our suffering; in fact, you can learn from the suffering of others without having to make the same mistake yourself. Rebecca, our youngest daughter, never stuck keys in a light socket.
Second, I want to point out that evil cannot be destroyed without destroying freedom.2 Think about this for a moment. It is free beings who are the cause of great evil in the world today. If freedom was destroyed, it would destroy evil, but what else would be lost? Matthew 22:36-37 tells us the greatest commandment is to love your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. (I will point out that loving God with your mind is a huge plug for apologetics.) If freedom was destroyed to rid the world of evil, then it would also be destroying love, which according to Jesus is the greatest commandment.3 It is not possible to love without free will, unless you consider matrimony by gun point a legitimate form of marriage.
This line of thinking puts us between a rock and a hard spot. Apparently, God can’t rid the world of evil unless He also rids the world of freedom, so what are we to do? Scripture is packed with verses that talk of overcoming evil, defeating evil, overpowering evil, outsmarting evil. For example: 1John 3:8, Ephesians 6:11, 1 Corinthians 15:57, 1John 5:4, 1Peter 5:8 are just a few. Finding verses in scripture on defeating evil would be about as easy as finding a lake in Minnesota.
Geisler and Brooks puts it this way, “The very argument used against the existence of God turns out to be a vindication of God in the face of the problem of evil. There is no question here that if it has not happened and God is as we supposed Him to be, that we simply haven’t waited long enough. God isn’t finished yet. The final chapter has not been written. Apparently, God would rather wrestle with our rebellious wills than to reign supreme over rocks and trees.”4 Just because there is evil in the world does not mean God is unable or unwilling to overcome it.
The third and final way I want to address this is by pointing out the use of the word ‘good’. How we feel about something does not determine if it is good or not. Goodness is not a subjective truth. Goodness must be an objective truth. Let me explain the difference.
If I told you mint chip ice-cream tastes good you might not agree. You might go so far as to say it tastes terrible. This is a subjective opinion on how we each feel about the taste of ice-cream. Now if I said mint chip ice-cream is a good cure for cancer you would probably not agree. If we began to debate this, sooner or later I would have to come up with some evidence or proof for this claim. Is there any documented evidence that suggests people with cancer are cured if they eat mint chip ice-cream? No, of course not.
Alex McFarland wrote The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity, and in it he addressed feelings, truth, and goodness. “Often people do not even know they have cancer until a routine physical examination reveals it. Many people who are diagnosed with cancer for the first time have this reaction: ‘How can that be? I feel great.’ Then, of course, the treatment begins. To aggressively fight a tough disease such as cancer, it requires strong medicine that can make the patient feel perfectly miserable. But it is important to remember that although the patient feels worse, he is actually getting better… I say all that to make this point: Feelings are important. God gave them to us for many good reasons. But they are, by themselves, poor guides in life.”5
To determine if something is good we need a standard to compare it to. For example, if you bowl, you know that a perfect score is 300, and how close you are to that score would determine how well, (good), you bowled that game. If you bowled a 27, no matter how good you feel about it, no one would ask you to join their bowling league, even if they were members of a blind bowling league.
Most of us recognize how evil the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis in World War II was, but many Nazis may have felt it was a ‘good’ deed. That is the problem with using culture or feelings to determine if something by nature is good. To use the word good, we need a standard to measure the meaning of the word. The question if God is in control and asking if He is good, slips in the objective meaning of good, but where is that objective meaning? What standard of good are they using to determine if God is good?
Peter Kreeft put it this way, “The ultimate source of morality is God. We must be good because God is good. God repeats over and over again to His chosen people the reason for morality in the Old Testament: ‘Be holy, for I am holy’ (Leviticus11:44)…God’s law comes from God’s will, and God’s will comes from His nature. He wills the moral law according to His nature.”6 It is God’s nature that is our standard, just like a score of 300 is our standard in bowling. Any other standard of goodness is subject to change without prior notice, just read the fine print.
1. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.
2. Geisler, Norman. Brooks, Ronald. When Skeptics Ask a Handbook on Christian Evidences. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1990. Print.
5. McFarland, Alex. The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2007. Print.
6. Kreeft, Peter. Because God is Real. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008. Print.
If God is in Control of everything, is He really Good? by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.