The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Before we consider the Bible’s answer for the problem of evil, we should consider how atheism answers this problem. Christians are not the only ones who need to offer an explanation for the problem of evil. Instead, everyone needs to demonstrate how their worldview handles this issue. Christian philosopher Ravi Zacharias observes,

Let us remember that every worldview –not just Christianity’s –must give an explanation or an answer for evil and suffering… this is not just a problem distinctive to Christianity. It will not do for the challenger just to raise the question. This problem of evil is one to which we all must offer an answer, regardless of the belief system to which we subscribe.[1]

When we look at atheism’s explanation for evil, we find that there is not just one problem; instead, there are three. That is, atheism has difficulty defining evil, defeating evil, and dealing with evil.

1. Defining Evil

Without God, it is difficult to define evil, because evil is only natural in nature. In nature, the strong eat the weak; the quick eat, and the slow starve. Animals are not gracious to one another in the natural order; instead, they ruthlessly compete for food, mates, and other limited resources. When a male ape rapes a female ape, we don’t consider this criminal; we consider it natural. Likewise, when a lion tears apart a gazelle, we might consider this brutal, but we also consider it natural. And yet, if nature is all that there is, then how can any action be considered unnatural?

For this reason, atheism does not have the problem of evil; instead, it has the problem of good. Without some sort of transcendent standard beyond nature, objective values like good and evil become an illusion. Former atheist C.S. Lewis writes,

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? …If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creature with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.[2]

Philosopher Ravi Zacharias writes,

When you say there is Evil, aren’t you admitting there is Good? When you accept the existence of goodness, you must affirm a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between Good and Evil. But when you admit to a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver. That, however, is who you are trying to disprove and not prove. For if there is no moral lawgiver, there is no moral law.[3]

Atheism eliminates the problem of evil, but in order to do this, it eliminates a standard of good, as well. This is one way to solve the problem of evil, but the cost is worse than the benefit. This would be similar to a doctor “curing” her patient’s cancer by burning the person alive. While this “cure” would certainly kill the cancer, it would also kill the patient. Likewise, atheism’s solution to the problem of evil certainly eliminates the problem, but sadly, it also eliminates the solution to the problem by defeating good.

2. Defeating Evil

While atheism has difficulty defining evil, it also has great difficulty defeating it. In the absence of God, most evil will go unpunished. For instance, tyrant Pol Pot was never tried and punished for the millions he killed in Cambodia. Neither was Adolf Hitler. Neither was Joseph Stalin. All three of these men escaped public trial and judgment. In fact, if atheism is true, then no justice will ever be served for the atrocities that these men committed. Of course, under the Christian worldview, these men will have to answer for their actions before a holy God (Rom. 12:19). While the scales of justice are currently unbalanced, they will not stay ultimately unbalanced. However, under atheism, none of these men will answer for the suffering that they brought upon innumerable people.

Moreover, if atheism is true, we have no guarantee for a future hope in defeating evil. Those who stand in the midst of horrible genocide or persecution will often ask, “Is there any hope that this will ever end?” In the absence of God, the definitive answer is, “No.”

3. Dealing with Evil

Atheism has difficulty defining evil and defeating evil, but what about dealing with it? Of course, everyone on Earth needs to deal with the problem of evil in day-to-day life. And yet, which worldview can help us to persevere and carry on during times of suffering? The Bible gives us a framework in which we can suffer victoriously, trusting in the love, plan, and sovereignty of God. If Christianity is true, then it would be a preferable worldview to hold, because it gives us answers for dealing with evil and suffering.

Several years ago, I tried to comfort and counsel a young agnostic student, who was suffering with the problem of evil. He said that he stopped believing in God, after several of his friends died, overdosing on drugs. Trying my best to be delicate with his grief, I asked him, “How has it been easier to deal with your suffering, since you stopped believing in God?” With tears in his eyes, the student admitted that it had only gotten worse. This is the plight of dealing with evil in a universe without God! When we reject the Christian God, we don’t find answers to the problem of evil; instead, we only find more problems. Evil becomes less definable and bearable, even as it becomes more absurd and senseless. When we reject the Christian God, we don’t find freedom from the problem of evil, we find only horror.

For these reasons, if we should hope that one worldview is true, let’s hope that it is Christianity. While this wouldn’t make evil vanish into thin air, at least it would give us a basis for dealing with the existential aspect of evil.


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[1] Zacharias, Ravi K. Jesus among Other Gods: the Absolute Claims of the Christian Message. Nashville, TN: Word Pub., 2000. 108.

[2] Lewis, C. S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. [San Francisco, Calif.]: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. 41.

[3] Zacharias, Ravi K. Can Man Live without God. Dallas: Word Pub., 1994. 182.