Dear Atheist, Agnostic, or Critical Thinker,
I don’t presume to know every difficulty and discrepancy that keeps you from embracing the Christian faith; or even if difficulties and discrepancies play into it whatsoever—perhaps you just think it’s foolish. I don’t presume to be able to answer every argument you posit or to be able to hold my own against your renowned orators—perhaps you are the spokeswoman herself. And I don’t presume to be able to match intelligence and dialect with Tim Keller, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and Justin Martyr. However, here is one thing I do, though presumption is yet not its name: I do believe that you are guilty of a type of circular reasoning.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard or read an argument against the existence of God by use of “the problem of evil.” You’re aware of the argument in some form:
1. God is good
2. God is powerful
3. Evil exists
“Only two are logically compatible.” I understand the argument, and of course it is a powerful one—why else would it promulgate so much discussion. After all, when something is controversial, it is controversial for a reason. For now, my contention isn’t that you have no philosophical explanation for evil. Nor is my current qualm that you don’t accept the Christian’s faith that there is a greater end to be had in apparent badness. I can reason alongside you some practical explanation of evil and some sense of injustice at tyrannical means for ‘the greater good.’ Rather I am writing to inform you that I believe you are trying to have your cake and eat it too (whatever that phrase actually means).
You see, your description of the problem of evil is understandable, but you also follow another line of argument seemingly distinct from it. You seldom relate the two, but hold them up as a one-two punch seen to decimate the Christian faith. What is the argument concerning which I refer? Your outspoken decry of penal [forensic] substitutionary atonement. As Evangelical Christians we believe that the wrath of the Father was poured out upon the Son for our redemption and reconciliation. Yet, you do not accept this. You claim ‘divine child abuse,’ or fallacious logic (that God can pour wrath upon God for the sake of God—all the while forgetting our belief on God’s Triune nature). You think that we are degenerating into Neanderthal animism and that we have to appease a vicious Ego with human sacrifice.
Not only have you misunderstood us, but you are begging the question. I understand that you don’t normally see it this way, but that’s because for you they seem like two different issues; for us, however, they are integrally related.
You see, we know that evil exists. This is a problem! But our best answer to the problem is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Some of you deny that a man named Jesus even died. Most of you deny the possibility of a substitutionary death. All of you deny that Jesus is God. Understand us, though: we do not deny the existence of evil; we believe it is ever present in the world as we know it—even an Augustinian philosophy of evil as privation of good (championed in the alleged Einstein anecdote of the student and professor) recognizes its prevalence. We recognize evil and say that God maintains goodness and power by vanquishing evil by his death and resurrection.
We believe that God is eternal and infinite in perfection and power, goodness and glory. We believe that humanity was created to bear the image of God upon the earth—relating to him, to others, and to creation appropriately. We believe that every wrong action is evil, and in so doing we recognize more evil than you do. We believe that every action is evil because it is an act of rebellion: dethroning the King of the universe and placing you in his stead. We believe that because God is eternal and infinite, I have committed an eternal and infinite crime requiring eternal and infinite retribution either by absorption in the eternal and infinite GodMan Christ Jesus or in the eternal and infinite torment: hell. We believe that the Son willingly gave his life as payment for your life: being born, living, and dying—the cycle of every man, woman and child—so that your life might be counted as his. We believe that this is applied to you in covenant relationship by faith. We believe that this could not be done without the cross and garden tomb because the economy of the goodness of the universe would have been illegitimated (in other words, God would not be good and powerful!). We believe that evil is not the end of the story; that the resurrection of Jesus purchased and promised the eternal peace and goodness of the new created universe.
You see, you claim that evil exists. Then you say that you are not evil. You say that God doesn’t care that evil exists. Then you become irate when we say that God cares more than you do: he died for you. You say that evil should be stopped and punished. Then you say that hell is offensive. You say that God should stop people from doing evil. Then you say that God can’t command or force us to do something. You say that people are bad for hurting you. Then you say that you had good reasons for what you did. You say that your actions ‘aren’t that bad,’ and by doing so you give evil a bye and encourage it to continue. So if you say that your actions aren’t bad, then stop saying that evil abounds. Either you are doing wrong or evil isn’t as common as you think. But you cannot say that God doesn’t care about evil then turn around and cry “Foul!” when we say he does. And he cares about yours too. Particularly. Singularly. And he has promised to get rid of it by his death and resurrection.
In Christ, my Righteousness,
(Emmanuel James Boston)