In the face of horrific evil and suffering, human beings ask, “Why?” More specifically, they ask, “Why would God allow such a thing to happen in His world?”
The recent terrorist attacks in Paris and several other places bring this question to the fore once again. While Facebook and other social media platforms have been full of calls to pray for the people of Paris, there are no doubt men, women and children in France and around the world who quite frankly feel that, before they bother approaching God in prayer, He should do some explaining.
Indeed, there will be many who are prepared to use these events as further justification for the claims of atheism.
In no way is it the role of the Christian to offer glib answers at this point. We are to “mourn with those who mourn,” not passing quickly from the reality of death and deep loss to cheap platitudes that will only serve to harden skeptics all the more.
I’m afraid that when I was a newer Christian, I underestimated the weight of the problem of evil. It isn’t merely a theoretical issue that needs to be resolved like a math problem. Instead, it is arguably the most formidable obstacle to belief in the God of the Bible, since it not only perplexes the human mind, but can also cause real despair in our hearts.
At the same time, there is still a place for rationally reflecting on evil and suffering and discerning what is true in order to foster wisdom, sanity and compassion.
In light of this, I am struck by the fact that, if we are tempted to deny the existence of God in the face of evil and suffering, doing so won’t actually accomplish anything. This statement is not meant to imply that we cannot ask hard questions of God, both privately in prayer and in conversation with others. It is meant to indicate, though, that atheism doesn’t yield a more reasonable explanation of this broken world or a more existentially viable way of living in it.
For a start, embracing atheism obviously never removes the pain of sickness, death and loss. It’s still there. The question that must then be asked is whether atheism makes better sense of human existence and suffering.
Yet, to cut to the heart of the matter, atheism would have us believe that human beings were not brought into existence with purpose and meaning. Read the words of the late atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell:
“[Man’s] origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms. … [A]ll the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system.”
A little too dour? The prominent scientist Francis Crick, then:
“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. … You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.”
In a strange way, it’s refreshing to hear the implications of atheism brought out so vividly. These comments make clear what someone is logically committing to when they embrace atheism.
With this set of beliefs, human beings have no real purpose or transcendent dignity. It must therefore be asked, when people all over the world are rightly mourning the deaths of precious human persons, why would we adopt a view that reduces them to “collocations of atoms” or “packs of neurons?”
The sheer act of mourning on the part of atheists is an indicator that they cannot consistently live out their theory of the universe and human existence.
What of Christianity, then? Does it make any sense of human existence when we are so forcefully reminded of evil and suffering in the world?
We’ll explore this in a second post next week.
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