Nothing seems to make more people lose faith in Christianity than the Problem of Evil, sometimes known as the Problem of Suffering.
The Problem of Evil is the fact that there is evil and suffering in the world— hurricanes and floods, serial killers, starvation, sickness, death. From this fact, many arguments are made against the Christian God, but this post isn’t concerned with the mere arguments. I will tackle those in other posts.
But this post is concerned with the underlying motivations and attitudes among people who cite the Problem of Evil as their reason for leaving the faith. Most of their motivation is based on the idea of justice.
Justice? How so? Well, they notice all the evil and suffering and think, “The innocent perish and the wicked thrive! Babies and children get cancer or starve and yet evil dictators and mass-murderers live in mansions and live to old-age! How can God allow such injustice?” Implicit in their thoughts is the idea that evildoers should be punished but aren’t. In other words, they desire that justice be carried out.
They are correct in desiring justice. But I find it curious that the people most bothered by the lack of justice are also the people most bothered by the idea of a Hell. They think, “Surely a good God would not create a place of torment and punishment! I cannot believe that God would subject people to such suffering!” Interestingly, in this situation, the doubter does NOT want justice.
For the whole purpose of Hell is justice. In calling for justice (that the wicked be punished) the doubter contradicts his denial of Hell (the place where the wicked are punished) and vice versa– in saying that a just God wouldn’t allow Hell, the doubter refuses to accept the judgement that he himself cries for!
Now, in this post I deal quickly with some complicated and packed ideas, i.e. Hell, justice, and the Problem of Evil, but I still think that my logic holds. If we are consistent in our beliefs (and we humans rarely are) then we must acknowledge that we cannot use both the Christian idea of Hell and the existence of evil in this world as arguments against Christianity. One or the other must yield, they are mutually exclusive.
“But you misunderstand my argument,” you may say. “I think it’s okay for an evil-doer or mass-murderer or Hitler-type to go to Hell. Hell, I think they should! But I don’t think it is fair that the innocent should go both suffer in this life and go to Hell!”
To this I must offer the orthodox answer: Worry not that the innocent should be punished unfairly in the afterlife– they won’t be. But also keep in mind that nobody (perhaps barring children too young to make a decision regarding their souls) is innocent, in the Christian use of the term. It is Christian doctrine that “all have sinned” and are therefore subject to divine punishment were it not for the intervening sacrifice of one man, the God-man, the only innocent one, Jesus Christ, who paid our debt for us.
This is the good news: that justice will be done, evil will be punished, every wrong will be righted, all the victims will be healed. And those of us who were both evil-doers and victims (i.e. everyone) don’t even have to pay the price for the pain we’ve caused. We still receive healing for our wounds, but the payment for our sins– past, present, and future– occurred on a cross two-thousand years ago.
This ultimate righting of wrongs, this ultimate justice, hasn’t happened yet, but it will. Until then, the Lord has seen fit to endure the sight of wickedness in the world for a (comparatively) short time because He graciously is providing us time to join His side and be covered by Jesus’ remediary sacrifice. As C.S. Lewis illustrates in Mere Christianity, we would not think much of a Frenchman that joined the fight against the Nazis only when the Allied armies were outside of Berlin in full force. In the same way, God is giving us an opportunity to join him before he comes in full force to defeat all the evil in the world; “it is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up.”
Again, you may say, “But what about those people that aren’t even given the opportunity to join the good side? How is it fair for them to go to Hell?” And to this, I must acknowledge that there are still mysteries that God hasn’t seen fit to give us answers to. I do not know what happens to those who don’t get the opportunity to believe in Christ; he never told us.
But I do know that, as C.S. Lewis says, if in the meantime you are bothered by those who never hear the Gospel, the most unreasonable thing to do is stay on the outside yourself. Join the body of Christ (i.e. the Church) and tell the good news to those unreached. After all, “Cutting off a man’s fingers would be an odd way of getting him to do more work.”
And lastly, if you are still bothered by not knowing what happens to the unreached, focus on what we do know. And we do know this: that God so loved the world that He sent His son Jesus to pay our penalty, reconciling us with our Creator. And that gives me sufficient faith in the character of God to not let what I don’t know hamper what I do.