The words of the ancient Greek philosopher (3rd century B.C.), Epicurus, sums up most modern atheistic/skeptic thought on this particular topic: “Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to; or he cannot and does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, and does not want to, he is wicked. But, if God both can and wants to abolish evil, then how come there is evil in the world?”
This is the NUMBER ONE reason for the disbelief in God. However, on the other hand, Augustine asked, “If there is no God, why is there so much good?” Had God created a world without human freedom we would simply live in a world of pre-programmed robots. Real love – our love of God and our love of each other – must involve choice. But with the granting of that choice comes the possibility that people would choose instead to hate.
Agnostics, atheists, and the like, sometimes will respond that if God truly cared, he could’ve at least prevented the worst evils (rape, murder, genocide, etc). But, as you go down the scale of what is “really bad evil” vs. “not-so-bad evil” where do you draw the line? It inevitably becomes subjective.
First of all, evil is evil. Second, preventing any evil reduces human freedom to something less than freedom. Bottom line: there’s nothing simple about this “intellectual knot”. For me? As a young child, I endured the Abilene Police Dept. at our house frequently because my drunk dad was trying to kill my mom, my youngest sister overdosed on heroin, and, most recently, my 19 year old son took his own life. But even in light of these “reasons not to believe in a good God,” I still choose to stand with the disciple Peter who, after Jesus asked if the disciples were going to abandon Him like so many others had done that day, told Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
If I were not a believer I would still be forced to stand with the late British former atheist, Antony Flew, finally confessed, “We must go where the evidence leads.” The order of the cosmos and the reliability of the Scriptures, alone, FORCE me to deal with the evidence. But then, throw in the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth and the evidence screams that the Bible is true (at least to me.) Call me a fool if you like. All I know is this: All of us will die one day. And finally, at that moment, we’ll discover that someone was right about eternity. If the idea is true that there’s no life after life, or that everyone goes to heaven no matter what you believed, we’re all good.
But, what if the Bible’s right?
Given the overwhelming evidence that points to an awesome, terrifying, yet personal & loving, God – I’m not willing to wager against Him.
As of this week, there were still a few things at my office that had been “undisturbed” since my son took his life on May 13th.
I finally forced myself to go through a small stack of papers a couple of days ago. Inside that stack was an article I’d printed off on April 10th entitled, “The Depression Epidemic.” The author is Dr. Dan Blazer, Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center. The article was actually first published in 2009, in Christianity Today. Blazer had some really good things to say to those suffering with this sometimes enigmatic malady (Jordan suffered from clinical depression. I was diagnosed a number of years ago.)Blazer, up front, differentiates “clinical depression” from “the everyday blues” i.e. “normal depression.” If you, or someone you know, deals with what you may consider clinical depression, please get help.
Here are a few excerpts from his article: “As familiar as melancholic periods are to us, the depths of severe depression remain a mystery. We may grasp in part the distress of King David: “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak” (Ps. 31:9-10). But most of us have no idea what David meant when he further lamented, “I am forgotten by them as though I were dead” (v.12). Severe depression is often beyond description. And when such deep and painful feelings cannot be explained, they cut to the heart of one’s spiritual being. Humans are intricately complex creatures. When things go wrong in us, they do so in myriad and nuanced ways…..Deep depression is embodied emotional suffering. It is not simply a state of mind or a negative view of life but something that affects our physical being as well….However we choose to define depression, both its frequency and its disruption of normal life are staggering. The World Health Organization named depression the second most common cause of disability worldwide after cardiovascular disease, and it is expected to become number one in the next ten years…We also know that distorted thoughts contribute to depression. Those who are depressed do not evaluate themselves accurately (i.e., I am not as good as others). They fear that their selves are disintegrating (i.e., I am falling apart). They depreciate their value to others (i.e., I am of very little benefit to my family). And they believe they do not have control over their bodies (i.e., I just cannot make myself eat)….Finally, no symptom is more central to depression than the loss of hope…When used wisely, antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy can restore stability to individuals so that they can better negotiate everyday challenges….[But, in addition, to medicine], Those who bear the marks of despair on their bodies need a community that bears the world’s only sure Hope in its Body. They need communities that rehearse this Hope again and again and delight in their shared foretaste of God’s promised world to come. They need to see that this great promise, secured by Christ’s resurrection, compels us to work amidst the wreckage in hope. In so doing, the church provides her depressed members with a plausible hope and a tangible reminder of the message they most need to hear: This sin-riddled reality does not have the last word. Christ does….And thanks be to God, who raised the One who entered fully into our condition, breaking the power of sin, death, and hell, that we not only can name wrecked reality, but also lean into it on the promise that Christ is making all things new.”
There have been moments these past months that I’ve wanted to give up on God. I’m simply being honest.
As one who grew up in a severely alcoholic home, I witnessed more violence as a child than I care to remember. As a full-time pastor now for some 30 years, I’ve had, on occasion, the unfortunate opportunity to see the very ugly side of what some have otherwise called “Christianity.” But those pale in comparison to the events of May 13th, when my world caved in around me.
In light of the pain we suffer on planet earth, what proof is there that there is a God? More than that, what proof is there that that God really loves me?
From their outstanding work, “Name Above All Names,” Alistair Begg & Sinclair Ferguson offer a solid response to my question: “It is the cross alone that ultimately proves the love of God to us – not the circumstances of our lives. We must not allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking that IF things are going well with us, THEN we can be sure of God’s love. For life can often seem dark and painful. Things do NOT always go well for us. Rather, we look to the sacrifice of the cross and the proof God gave there of His love. ‘God [demonstrated proof of] His love toward us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8) THIS is the proof I need. THIS is the truth I need to hear. THIS dispels the lies of the enemy.”
THIS is the unstoppable, indefensible, indisputable love of God is Christ Jesus.