If God does not exist, how do you know to call evil, “evil”?
I read a Facebook post yesterday that reflected on the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his teenage daughter, and the other seven on board that fatal helicopter flight near Calabasas, California. The post raised the inevitable question we all ask in light of such tragedies: Why? Why would God allow this helicopter to crash leaving no survivors? Why doesn’t God stop the horrors of the world? Why doesn’t He deliver us from pain, suffering, injustice and evil?
With questions so deep, perplexing and personal, I’m left feeling like the father portrayed in a movie cast during W.W. II. The father is Jewish, and in light of the holocaust, his son becomes an atheist, and his wife blames him. So, she says, “Tell our son.” “What’s the problem?” “Well, he wants to know why there’s evil.” “What do you mean `why is there evil’?” “Well, why are there Nazis? Tell him why there are Nazis.” “I should tell him why there are Nazis? I don’t even know how the can opener works.”
Yes, life bears many mysteries. The problem of evil is by far the strongest argument for atheism. It goes like this: “If one or two contraries is infinite, the other is completely destroyed, but God means infinite goodness. Therefore, if God existed, there would be no evil discoverable anywhere, but there is evil. Therefore, God does not exist” (Socrates in the City, 50).
I definitely don’t have all the answers, but the question I raise with that line of thinking is this: If God does not exist, how do you know to call evil, “evil”? To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, if you have no concept of a straight line, how do you know if a line is crooked? Where did your concept of goodness develop? How did you discover that hate opposes love, that violence counters peace, that helicopter crashes are the opposite of our definition of goodness?
Somewhere along the line, across all cultures and spans of time, humanity has been able to look at love and say, “It is good,” and look at violence and say, “It is evil.” From where did this come? I believe it came from our Creator who brought life into existence and said, “It is good.” He made it good. He declared it good. But in His creation, He made allowance for humanity to choose good over evil, and once we chose poorly, Eden was lost. The good news, however, is that God is making all things new (Revelation 21:5), and one day Eden will be restored.
Until then, we wrestle in a broken world where we only see through a glass dimmed darkly, although we keep our gaze toward heaven. Theologian Peter Kreeft wrote that 99% of what we do here is preparation for the next life, “which we can understand about as well as our cats and dogs can understand our life” (ibid., 53).
Saint Teresa of Avila, who suffered greatly and asked God for answers, put it this way, “The most horrible life on earth filled with the most atrocious sufferings will be seen from the viewpoint of heaven to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.” If that’s not true, then heaven is not heaven.
To the families of those killed on that Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, and to all who have experienced loss, pain, suffering, and the evils of this world, may the comfort of God’s Spirit, the strength of His grace, and the vision of a new Eden guide you through the valley of the shadow of death.