The existence of evil is probably one of the toughest challenges a Christian can face when in conversation. The reason for this difficulty is not because there are no good answer on Christian grounds (there are a number of good answers) but rather because the question of evil is more than often bonded heavily to emotional discontent. An intellectual answer is useful but we always have to remember that on an existential level, an intellectual answer likely will not fully rectify the situation.
That being said, intellectual answers are useful in displaying the coherence of the Christian worldview. In showing that Christianity does have answers to many of life’s toughest questions we are able to show the validity of the Christian worldview whilst simultaneously presenting its unique offer of hope in the face of suffering and evil.
Response 1) No God…no evil
This might sound counterintuitive but without God there are no objective morals. Sure you can have subjective morals but there is a looming problem with subjectivism. If one person decides that stealing money from the old lady across the street is a bad thing but another person decides that stealing that money is a good thing, both points of view are subjectively correct. On a moral level, there is no way to adjudicate between the two choices (you can suggest governmental laws of course, but it more than clear that government policies shift dramatically contingent upon whoever is in charge). In a situation like this, it is natural to think that clearly the former person is in the wrong, but what standard did you decide this by, your own? If your own, then rightly, the other person can decide their own standards; if their standards conflict with your own then there is nothing you can do about it. If you attempt to impose your standards onto them you are now imposing a moral law that comes from beyond yourself (because what you are suggesting is that their action is objectively wrong), but then the question arises, if the world is just material and there is no moral standard above the human mind, where did you get the idea that you are correct and they are wrong? (Let me quickly point out as Christian regularly do, that when we suggest this, we are not saying that you need to be a Christian to have morals; we are saying that you need God for there to be any such concept as objective morality at all.)
The famous Christian writer C.S. Lewis was an atheist for a large portion of his life, and he describes how this very problem of evil actually drove him toward Christianity. He famously remarked that
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? 1
Lewis realized that his atheistic worldview couldn’t account for the pressing problem of the existence of real evil in the world. As Philosopher David Berlinski notes “In ‘The Brothers Karmazov’, Ivan Karmazov exclaims that if God does not exist, then everything is permitted”2
Response 2) natural evil or moral evil?
This response is more straight forward, it is a distinction that everybody is more or less aware of: moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil is evil done by the will of a person, natural evil is to do with natural disasters of which we generally have no control over (but this is changing quite dramatically – consider the Anthropocene).
Moral evil: from the Christian perspective – and if in conversation with someone who genuinely wants to know – the foundational answer is in the book of Genesis. We find that God created the world very good meaning no suffering or evil (according to traditional theological interpretations). However, Adam and Eve’s own desires took advantage of God’s gift of free will; they ate of a certain fruit and caused sin to enter into the world. Sin means separation from God, and God’s nature is the definition of goodness and so sin effectively means separation from the source of goodness…God. Hence moral evils by the free will of persons now occur.
Natural evil: is slightly tougher to tackle naturally, but there are a number of things to say about it (I’ll only mention two very briefly). Firstly, naturally evil must be separated from a mundane natural event. The only reason we call a natural event evil is because it negatively affects us as humans. (consider a powerful storm on Jupiter, would it be classed as evil?).
Secondly, I particularly like a response given by Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace. He says
God may tolerate some natural evil because it is the necessary consequence of a free natural process that makes it possible for freewill creatures to thrive. Scientist-theologian John Polkinghorne suggests that God has created a universe with particular natural laws that make life on earth possible so that humans with free will can exist in the first place. As an example, the same weather systems that create tornadoes that kill humans also create thunderstorms that provide our environment with the water needed for human existence. The same plate tectonics that kill humans (in earthquakes) are necessary for regulation of soils and surface temperatures needed for human existence3
Response 3) Evil will be dealt with justly if Jesus is who He claimed He was
The final response hinges on the validity of Christ. Effectively, if Christ really did die on the cross and come back to life as He claimed He would, then evil will be dealt with and done away with once and for all in the near future, and that we can be sure of. However, if Christ was a liar or a lunatic (as C.S. Lewis famously states in Mere Christianity) then there is no hope at all in this world: you’re born, you live, you suffer, you die, that’s it. No justice served, so in effect it doesn’t seem to matter how you chose to live your life. Why is this? Well Jesus came into the earth for the very purpose of dealing with evil (remember God is the definition of goodness and sin is separation from God). Jesus stepped in and acted as our scapegoat taking on the punishment that was due to every human for our sinful acts (e.g. selfishness, lying, greed etc.). Because of this we now have a free path back to God (who is goodness) and this means we can rest assured that suffering and pain in this world will not last forever, but that at some point every evil deed will receive its just dessert because God is a God of justice as well as love.
And so now the entire fate of evil depends on the status of Jesus Christ. Was he a liar, a lunatic or was he really Christ? How can we answer this question? The only way is to look at and assess the historical evidence surrounding Christ. Here are some articles below to help with addressing this topic of the reliability of Christ and the Bible itself:
1) Lewis, C.S. (1952) Mere Christianity, UK: Geoffrey Bles. p52
2) Berlinski, D (2008) The Devil’s Delusion, US: Crown Forum. p19
3) Wallace, J,W (2017) Why Would a Good God Allow Natural Evil?, Available at: http://coldcasechristianity.com/2017/why-would-a-good-god-allow-natural-evil/(Accessed: 15th February 2018 ).