Defending the Faith: Five Points for Answering the Problem of Evil

In Blogs by Cameron Joyner10 Comments

My wife and I love frozen yogurt. We enjoy concluding date nights by stopping by our favorite yogurt shop before picking up our kids.

One of the things I used to love about this location was my impression that they always played Christian music there. Several years ago, I’ll never forget a visit to this shop. I went inside from the patio and heard a catchy tune playing. Since it wasn’t familiar to me, I asked the cashier about the song. She told me that the song was called Prayer in C. I complimented her for playing Christian music. She clarified that the choice of music depended on who was running the store that day. The song title sounded Christian. As I was listening and settling the bill, it sounded as if the singer was addressing God as Yah. At one point, I thought I had even heard her say “Yahweh.” I was determined to look up the lyrics later.

I discovered that this song was very much secular. The song is an indictment against a God that the artist does not even believe exists. Suggestively, the song singles out the Judeo-Christian God, Yahweh, for allowing evil into the world; asserting that if God were real He would not even be able to forgive Himself for allowing pain and suffering. But, the artist is intentional in refraining from actually saying the name Yahweh, a practice that reminded me of Judaism. The word yah has several usages, all of which are at play in the song. For those with a French orientation, yah is an informal way of saying “yeah.”1 As it turns out, the songwriters are French Jewish. According to Merriam-Webster, yah can also be used as an interjection that expresses derision, disgust, contempt, or even defiance.2 Sadly, the use of the term in this song cleverly does all of this while subtly denouncing the Holy Name of the one true God. Indeed, this song advances the philosophical problem of evil.  

Many people consider the problem of evil as grounds for dismissing Christianity altogether.

Many people consider the problem of evil as grounds for dismissing Christianity altogether. It is an objection to God that is indiscriminately popular and difficult to answer. In fact, in my own personal evangelism I would posit to you that this objection to God is the most frequent among those I’ve encountered. In one way or another I often hear people say, “I cannot believe in a God who allows evil.”

But, we are called to apologetics, which is defending our faith (from the Greek, apologia, “speaking in defense”). In 1 Peter 3:15, we are told to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” I want to suggest some key points for encountering the problem of evil; but first, let me clearly summarize how this problem is defined philosophically: If God is all-powerful, all-loving, and all-knowing, then evil would not exist.  David Hume, a Scottish philosopher who was no friend of Christianity and heavily influential in the secularization of western civilization, posed it this way concerning God: “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? [Then he is] impotent. Is he able, but not willing? [Then he is] malevolent. Is he both able and willing? [Why then is there] evil?”3 The problem is compounded when presented to us on the fly in our daily lives and when it is personalized. For example, I was once asked, “If your God is so loving then why did He allow this five year-old girl I knew to be murdered?” It is extremely important that we are sure to feel the weight of such objections when they occur. We must be sensitive. However, I want to suggest five points that have helped me in these types of conversations.

1. Calmly remember that the Bible explains the origins of evil. Scripture is not silent; both natural evil (tsunamis and hurricanes) and moral evil (the Holocaust and theft) are all addressed by God. In fact, both evils are a direct result of God’s creatures having the luxury of autonomy, using God-given freedom to turn against the Creator. Natural evil exists because moral evil first existed. Adam’s decision (following Satan’s) to rebel against God led to a curse upon nature.

2. Lovingly ask, “If you’re demanding that God immediately punish evil, what do you expect Him to do about my evil and your own evil?” If we humbly acknowledge our own sins along with our critics’ sin, we force them to think through the implications of their own objection. No one can honestly ask that God show Himself to be real in this way without finding oneself in the crosshairs of judgment. No person is innocent, even by their own standards. This is a moment to highlight God’s gracious love. It has helped me in the past to say, “Look, a Holy God would be just in striking me and you both dead for our evil, but by His Grace we’re alive to repent.”

3. We must point out the inaccuracy of the phrase, “Bad things happen to good people.” Why? Because no one is “good” in God’s eyes. The objection that a Holy God is unjust for allowing natural evil becomes weak by underscoring that “none is righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10; cf. Ps. 53:3).  

4. State the truth that if there is no God, then there is no ultimate justice. Pastor Erwin Lutzer of the Moody Church once noted that “atheism is not only illogical, it doesn’t satisfy the human mind… it does not have an answer. I remember a Jewish friend of mine who was an atheist and he admitted… the fact that Hitler would never be judged and brought to account before God troubled him. If you are an atheist, all you can do is live with all of the injustices.”4

5. Proclaim the Gospel by not forgetting the hope that the God of Israel provides in light of evil. Death and evil were defeated by Jesus the Messiah, on the cross. His atonement for our sins provides a future where God “will wipe away every tear… there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

I want to conclude by remembering that we are to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). Truly, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12). The fact that a remixed dance version of Prayer in C became an international hit awaiting discovery in a yogurt shop illustrates for us that answering this objection soundly is a matter of spiritual warfare against the powers and principalities at work in the world. Our answers to these objections must be rooted in the Word of God and in love.

Endnotes

1 “Yea, Yeah, Yay, Yah, and Yup.” Writer’s Write, accessed September 16, 2019. https://www.writerswrite.com/grammar/yea-yeah-yay/.
2 “Yah.” Merriam-Webster, accessed September 16, 2019. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/yah.
3 David Hume. Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, part 10.
4 Erwin Lutzer. “Where is God When Bad Things Happen – Part 4,” the John Ankerberg Show, accessed September 16, 2019.

About the Author
Cameron Joyner

Cameron Joyner

Cameron Joyner and his wife, Amber, are Church Ministry Representatives with The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry in Atlanta, GA. If you would like to learn more or partner with Cameron’s ministry, you can contact him at cjoyner@foi.org or call our headquarters at 800-257-7843 and speak with someone in North American Ministries. You can also support their ministry online here.

Comments 10

  1. Great perspective! My problem is always saying it in LOVE! I sometimes worry more about me being right instead of sharing the view in order to show HIS love!

    1. I have a dear email friend who is in so much pain. We both pain, that is how i got to know her. Over time we would both say that we are praying for a one another. I thought she was Christian so started conversation in light of world and Jesus. She informs me she is agnostic, I keep sharing scripture to her. She would say to me I’m praying to my strong man. I shared with her gospel, where the source of pain and suffering came from. Her answer was if this is your God and Jesus i do not want him. Our friendship is still strong, but i cant talk about Jesus anymore to her, only sometimes if she mentions things. I find it hard when she is suffering horrific pain daily that she wishes to take her life to end pain. I do not know if Jesus would heal her physically, but i know her healing will be found in the cross. Its a battle to witness and tell a story like the gospel, believablely unbelievable until His Spirit touches us, then the story from Genesis to Revelation is life we find is our story and actual life. Oh how i wish to share the gospel rightly about our Great God. I often think of Mosses and Jeremiah … who am i, that i can tell of your wonders.

      1. So, my friend never stopped talking to me about the gospel even when I objected. Now I am happy he persisted. The agnostic needs an answer to an unasked question, and the gospel according to Jesus answers it simply- there is a sovereign God, he has come near to us in Jesus (Immanuel,) and he has become righteousness for us through his atoning sacrifice. All that is left for me is to acknowledge my sinfulness and his power to create a new heart in me (see Ezekiel 26:36 & Jeremiah 17), to repent, & trust in him to save me.

  2. I had a similar situation occur at the gym. It sounded so much like a Christian song that I asked the instructor the name of the song so I could definitely check out the words. It just seemed odd that she would be playing Christian music. I was appalled as I looked up the lyrics. It is “I am here” by Pink. It’s in fact vile and in favor of the devil. Sickening. She still plays it.

  3. This was a very helpful lesson! At times I am faced with these questions and have to always go back to the Word of God ,which is Love ,Light and Life. And let the person or persons know where evil comes from and that the devil’s time will be up after a while. And that coming to Jesus Christ (establishing an relationship with Him) can make you fully realize/understand ,that there is true victory(peace)in Jesus Christ, and not in this world(temporary peace) It IS our faith in Christ that enables us to overcome the works of the true adversary to man,the devil. Thanks again for more clarity and truly logical ways of answering these questions.

  4. I consider this addressing the real problems in our everyday lives. Such teaching are essential in the lives of those who are in great pain and distress.
    Thank you very much.

  5. I just want to say thank you to all of you for responding to this article. You are all very encouraging and I appreciate it. My prayer is that we reject passivity and fear while boldly, humbly, and lovingly proclaiming the truth. Shalom!

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