/ Theodicy / Gentle Reformation

The Skeptic and the Problem of Evil

The skeptic looks around at the world and concludes that there is a profound problem. He sees that evil is a real and terrible thing, a power that not only creeps about in the heart of man, but permeates nature. Tornadoes rip homes apart. Lungs fill with fluids. Cancer spreads. People starve. Children are run over. Men sink to the bottom of oceans.

History is a museum of death.

Having recognized the horrific nature of such things, the skeptic turns his gaze heavenward and says, “There is no God. Or if there is one, he is a monster.”

All of this seemingly incontrovertible evidence secures in the skeptic’s mind a certain assurance that he is interpreting the data correctly.

But why does the skeptic assume the worst about God? Instead of asking himself whether such evil is meant to speak to him personally, he instinctively raises an accusing finger towards his Maker.  What if the skeptic has it all turned around? What if all human suffering, especially the suffering of the Son of God, is meant by God to portray, for dull souls like ours, the unimaginable ugliness and offensiveness of sin? What if God subjected the world to futility in order to show us just how bad sin is (Romans 8:20)?

Think of the consequences. Ask yourself what it must say about the seriousness of sin.

• What if sin is so ugly and offensive that the only remedy can be found in the death of an infinitely worthy, divine substitute (Isaiah 53)? What would that say to us?
• Or what if sin is so ugly and offensive that all human death- billions and billions of deaths- is owing to one sin (Romans 5:12)?
• Or so ugly and offensive that everlasting conscious torment is a just and proper response to it (Revelation 20:10; 14:11)?
• Or so ugly and offensive that it justifies the slaughter of the Canaanites (Genesis 15:16; Deut. 9:4-5)?
• Or so ugly and so offensive that Jesus describes it in a parable as an unpayable debt, 10,000 times 20 years’ wages (Matthew 18:24)?
• Or so ugly and offensive that God ordained 1,500 years of law-covenant so that every mouth would be stopped, and all would see that no human being will be justified by works of the law (Romans 3:19-20)? (1)

The skeptic finds himself in a terrible situation. One of the natural effects of sin is the dulling of the heart- a dulling so profound that the person can be described as blind, deaf, and dead. Hostility creeps into the soul as well. The skeptic possesses a natural bent towards truth suppression. He does not enjoy God but thinks of Him as a kind of shackle or thought police, or perhaps a Being that must sit in a chair of his choosing to be grilled.

The unfortunate result is that when the skeptic looks around at the evil in the world, he does not think of it in terms of a parable or a message designed to show him something important about spiritual realities. He does not say to himself, “Yes, I am really that bad.” He may recognize faults within himself, and he may even agree to having done bad things on occasion, but he will not listen to the shouts of God in nature.

That which is designed to say something to him about the awfulness of sin is instead thought to be a supremely convincing reason why God cannot be trusted or good.  This is a terrible irony.

(1) See John Piper’s recent messages on this topic. http://www.desiringgod.org/conference-messages/by-series/2015-conference-for-pastors. This section is essentially a quote from his second message.