The Problem of Evil
One of the strongest arguments atheists wage against God is the problem of evil. Some claim that the presence of evil in the world eliminates the possibility of an omniscient, all-benevolent Lord who wants the best for his children by granting them free will. Some claim that an all-benevolent Lord should be all-merciful, yet not necessarily all-just. Some claim that He should have made the earth as a Garden of Eden with few (if any) trials or tribulations.
Others contest this notion. In his landmark book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis (1952) explained the problem of evil and our free will as follows:
“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk.”
Some atheists have rebutted this statement by claiming that an omnipotent Lord could have prevented the evils in the world. Just as He has limited humans’ physical abilities (to jump over buildings or fly into the sky like birds), He could have limited our free will and abilities to act as murderers, pedophiles, or thieves. He could have prevented the Nazis from their atrocious acts against humanity. He could have prevented the atrocities waged by Stalin on the Russians, Pol Pot on the Cambodians, Mao Zedong on the Chinese, or the young Turks on the Armenians in the past century. No century in human history was bloodier than the last century where well over one hundred million perished at the hands of other humans. Atheists often call these atrocities to the forefront of their conversations, stating that if a loving Lord exists who would allow such evil, they want no part of worshipping Him.
I feel this decision suffers from a variety of shortcomings, when considered in the Christian context. One shortcoming relates to the suggestion that this life is all there is. Christians believe this life is a stepping stone to the next, so our suffering in this world is temporary and equivalent in time to a speck of sand on the beach of eternity. A second shortcoming is attributing human evils to God and holding Him accountable for humans’ actions, when God has empowered each of us to do our part to mitigate human atrocities. A third shortcoming relates to our purpose and mission in this life. Christians believe this life is one in which we are to bear our own crosses, following the footsteps of our moral exemplar and servant leader, Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me, you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Jesus also promised us a lifeline: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29).
Atheists at this point may ask, “Where is God when we see trouble? Why is evil permitted? Who can stop the evil in this world? If God is omnipotent, He should stop it.”
God has empowered each of us with a special set of spiritual gifts, which we should be using to make changes on this earth to better conditions for our fellow earth travelers. Yet despite the fact we all have spiritual gifts, not everyone chooses to use them. Some instead choose to compare their own set of gifts with their neighbors,’ lamenting perceived differences. Others choose to engage in self-pity, which destroys souls and potential. Still others choose to be bitter about evils they’ve experienced in their own lives, refusing to look past the weeds in the forests of their lives to the light above them.
But some choose to follow the light.
Enter Dr. Martin Luther King
One excellent example is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who fought for the civil rights of black people in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s before he was assassinated in an untimely death at the age of 39. Prior to his assassination, MLK was a powerful force for love, light, and human rights and equality. He fought egregious discrimination and constant threats and emerged as a national hero in the United States who is still revered by millions today.
While speaking as a pastor at the First Baptist Church on January 30, 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s home was bombed (Branch, 1988). When he returned home, he found a crowd of several hundred armed and angry protesters surrounding his home. Fortunately, his wife Coretta and ten-month baby were safe in a back room of his home. MLK could have chosen a variety of justified responses, from exhibiting anger to bitterness to vengeance. Yet instead, and entirely consistent with his character, he calmed down the protesters that surrounded his home as described here (Branch, 1988):
“King walked out onto the front porch. Holding up his hand for silence, he tried to still the anger by speaking with an exaggerated peacefulness in his voice. Everything was all right, he said. ‘Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.’”
“I did not start this boycott. I was asked by you to serve as your spokesman. I want it to be known the length and breadth of this land that if I am stopped, this movement will not stop. If I am stopped, our work will not stop. For what we are doing is right. What we are doing is just. And God is with us.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a modern-day version of the apostle St. Paul. St. Paul encountered numerous threats, challenges, and much abuse during his decades while preaching Jesus’ Good News. He was jailed, stoned, beaten, and eventually beheaded by Nero, all while refusing to give in or give up. He knew that was he was doing was right – and just – and that God supported the early Christian movement.
The night before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech, which ended as follows (CNN, 2018):
“And they were telling me, now it doesn’t matter now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us, the pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”
And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say that threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
God has empowered us to be heroes in the spiritual war that consumes our planet. As MLK said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” With love, evil in this world has no chance. And God is LOVE.
Thank you for your time.
Anonymous. (2018). Here is the speech Martin Luther King Jr. gave the night before he died. CNN. Accessed January 12, 2019 at https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/04/us/martin-luther-king-jr-mountaintop-speech-trnd/index.html
Branch, T. (1988). Parting the Waters: America in the King years. New York, NY: Simon and Shuster.
Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. New York, NY: HarperOne.
2 Replies to “Atheists’ Problem of Evil and God’s Elevation of Heroes like Dr. MLK, Jr.”
Thanks for this great insight. I encounter this argument all the time. This helps a lot.
Blessings, grace and peace from King Jesus.
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Great article. Thank you!
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