How can we reconcile God’s many promises to the Jews with the scope of the tragedy of the Holocaust? Listen to this lesson to understand that the challenge of questioning the goodness of God is directly related to the character of God. Hear ten attributes of God and see that He is all good and what He does is always good, even when we cannot see it in the circumstances. Hear some basic questions that need to be explored including the existence of evil and how different worldviews explain it. Never try to put God on trial but by faith accept that He is always just and can be trusted.
The "God on Trial" movie Dr. Dean mentioned during this class is available for viewing at God on Trial (produced by Masterpiece Theater)
At the end of this lesson Dr. Dean recommended a publication to read for more information on the Holocaust. Click for the April/May 2016 issue of Israel My Glory.
The Holocaust Anti-Semitism and Us: The Existence of Evil–Part 1
May 31, 2016
“Our Father, this nation was founded on freedom. Freedom has its source. Liberty is defined in the Scripture. It is a part of revelation grounded in the Torah given to Moses, explicated throughout the rest of the Hebrew Old Testament, and into the New Testament. True freedom begins with spiritual freedom, freedom from sin, which comes only at the time of redemption and regeneration when we trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But we can experience a measure of political and civic freedom because we understand the truths of Scripture. That our rights derive from You and not from government and not from people.
Father, we live in a nation now that because the people have divorced themselves from the absolute truth of Scripture they want to ground freedom, liberty, and their rights in some ephemeral foundation as part of creation. When that happens they will always start to threaten certain groups because there are always going to be some who do not fit the mold of the majority.
Father, Christians in this country and Christians around the world are suffering assault and attack. Father, we pray that You would give us in this country wisdom to make good decisions when we vote. We have to vote for somebody. We must make good decisions in that process.
Father, we pray that You would give us a compassion for other believers around the world who are going through incredible suffering and persecution. We know that ultimately the best thing we can do is to pray for them. Sometimes we can do other things, but we need to be in prayer for these other believers.
Father, we know we live in a world where there will be wars and rumors of wars, but that does not absolve us of the responsibility to be in prayer for those who are in need.
Father, we pray for us tonight as we study Your Word. That we might come to a greater understanding of how You rule and run Your plan in human history, even though it appears to us to go so awry and allowing, permitting evil and suffering and death and destruction. Father, we pray these things in Christ’s Name. Amen.”
This is the third part in a series that grew out of my trip to Israel dealing with the Holocaust. We have set things up the last couple of weeks. I want to play a short video to introduce this segment where we are going to start talking about the issue of why does God allows evil in this world and the dimensions of that. But first, let’s watch this video. On some of these videos that are YouTube videos you can look it up. It will be on the video for this class on the Dean Bible Ministries website. It is called “Glimpses of Jewish Life Before the Holocaust.”
The purpose for watching this video is because at this stage, 70 years removed from the Holocaust, it is not just some abstract event in history. What I want us to understand, when we watch this, is to personalize and remember that this happened to people who were engaged in all the same kinds of activities that you and I are engaged in. They are not just some divorced two-dimensional historical non-persons.
One of the big questions comes out of looking at a disaster of the scope of the Holocaust is why does God allow evil like this to take place?
This is not something unique, but it is the size of the Holocaust—six million Jews were killed. Six million Jews were murdered, intentionally, in cold blood, with a sophisticated well-thought-out, organized plan to do away with every single Jewish person in the world. One of the things I learned through the course was that the Holocaust did not just involve European Jews.
When the Nazis conquered territory in North Africa you have a whole array of Jewish communities throughout Muslim North Africa, the Sephardic Jews, also known as Mizrahi, lived in these communities in Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt. Whenever the Nazis advanced through North Africa, when they discovered a Jewish community, they would round up all of those Jews and ship them to Italy.
Later these Jews that were shipped to Italy were shipped to camps in Germany and also to death camps in Poland. The Holocaust was not just limited to Jews in Eastern Europe. The desire, the objective, of the Nazis was to kill every single Jewish person in the entire world and to rid the world of what they thought of as this cancer.
As I have started the last two sessions we look at passages in the Scripture related to God’s plan for Israel. It seems incongruous or even contradictory at times for us to think that God would say something like this, and then allow such allow such a slaughter of His people in Europe.
Jeremiah 29:11, “ ‘For I know the plans that I have for you …’ ”
The Lord is speaking to Israel at a time just before they are going to be defeated, just before hundreds of thousands will be killed by the Babylonians, at a time just before Jerusalem is going to be conquered and burned and the first temple is going to be destroyed. The context is important. What God is saying is even though I am taking the nation through a time of incredible judgment, because of their disobedience to Me ....
When hundreds of thousands of lives are going to be lost and there is going to be untold suffering because so many are going to be taken off as slaves to Babylon, so many others are going to have to escape and go down to Egypt. In spite of all that, remember, I have not forgotten My covenants with You. That is an important thing to remember in a Jewish context.
Jeremiah 29:11, “ ‘I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’ ”
God’s plan for Israel did not go up in smoke in the crematoria in Auschwitz and Treblinka and the other death camps in Poland.
We talked about these three questions:
- Why is it important for us, as human beings, to study the Holocaust?
- Why is it important for us, as Christians, to study and know about the Holocaust?
- Why is it important for me as your pastor, as a Christian leader, to take the time to go to Israel, to learn about the Holocaust and to teach about the Holocaust?
Part of the answer to these is that as we are involved in the mission that Jesus Christ gave us to take the gospel to all the world, we take it to everyone without exception. That means that at times we are going to have a witness to Jewish people. As I have pointed out before, there was a huge revival that took place in Eastern Europe. It was not a forced revival. Some of this started at the end of WWI. It was not Jews who were converting to Christianity in order to escape something.
In Budapest it is reported that in a Jewish community of about 400,000 to 500,000 Jews some 10–15% not only claimed to convert to Christianity, but they went as far as to join churches. That last part is really important, because you have Jews like we talked about, Nicholas Winton, last week. He converted. But it was a meaningless conversion. His parents were avoiding being Jewish. They were assimilating. They got baptized in the Anglican Church and that was as far as it went.
What happened in Budapest went far beyond that. The evidence that is written down by the numerous Jewish missionaries in Eastern Europe indicates that there were true genuine conversions that took place. Not only do those missionaries witness to it, but there were reports coming out from rabbis in the East about this plague of conversions that was taking place as numerous young people were willingly converting to Christianity as they were coming to understand the fact that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.
The question that is raised here is a question that is raised by many individuals. That is the problem of evil.
How do we as Christians answer this question?
The problem is this question.
How can a good, loving, and all-powerful God allow the pain, suffering, sickness, death, and suffering that plaques so many people to either exist or continue to exist?
We see this in a microcosm in many individual lives. We can all probably give testimony to people we know who have had a young child who has been killed in an automobile accident or taken in some horrible disease or have lost their life in some terrible way where the parents turned their backs on God.
They say how could a loving God let this happen to me?
We see this happen with older people who lose a spouse. We see this with all manner of people. They lose their job. As a result of losing their job they lose their homes. They lose their cars. They lose everything that they have. They turn around and they blame God. They say, how can a loving God allow this to happen to me?
This becomes, as many writers attest, one of the most significant questions that people ask. One of the primary issues that keep many people from ever listening to the gospel, because they have hardened their heart to the existence of God, thinking that God has turned His back on them, thinking that God cannot possibly be a good God. There are many rationalizations and many forms in which this takes, but especially within the context of the Holocaust, the question is:
How can a good, loving and all-powerful God allow six million of His chosen people, the apple of His eye, the Scripture says, to be so brutally tortured and systematically murdered?
How can you say that God is good?
How can you say that God is a righteous God and a loving God?
The question itself focuses us on the character of God, the character of the Judeo-Christian God. I want to emphasize this, because the source of the answer, to truly understand the answer to this question, is not based on going to the New Testament as Church Age believers. It is grounded in the Old Testament itself. We have to have an understanding of what is revealed about God in the Old Testament.
Since the rise of liberalism in the early 19th century, which is grounded upon a presuppositional rejection of the truth of the Bible, the starting point for liberalism when it approaches the Bible is that the Bible cannot possibly be what it claims to be, the Bible cannot possibly be true, the God of the Bible cannot possibly exist as the Creator-God who stands completely distinct from His creation. As far as the liberal mindset is concerned that is an impossible option, to consider that the God of the Bible is absolutely true.
The result is that they view Christianity as they view everything else in human history, as the product of some sort of evolutionary development, some sort of progressive development from the simple to the complex. They devise these schemes of religious developments that start off with the more primitive spiritism, animism, then moving to polytheism and pantheistic religions.
Ultimately, they say somewhere around the time of the 1200s in Egypt you have Pharaoh Akhenaten, who sets himself up as the sun god to the exclusion of all the other gods. This is the beginning of monotheism. That is what I was taught when I took Western Civilization some 30-40 years ago. That is what people are teaching today.
One of the most evil books to this regard that propagandizes this whole view is a book by James Michener call the The Source. If you have ever read Michener, his book Texas, or if you have read Centennial, or any of his other books, he starts in the distant murky, foggy past, and starts working his way through the whole history of evolution. You spend the first 100–150 years going through this evolutionary history leading up to whatever it is he is going to do.
My mother read The Source. I might have been 11–12 years old at the time. She thought it was great! So sometime in the 1980s I was on a Michener kick. I had read Texas and Centennial, and all these other books. I said I am going to read The Source. I remembered my mother saying it was good. I about threw the book through the window after reading the first 20 pages because it was all about this JEDP (Jawist from Yahweh, Elohist from Elohim, Deuteronomy, Priestly) liberal garbage that viewed Christianity in this evolutionary light.
This is typical of liberalism. What they do is they posit that the God of the Old Testament is this righteous, evil, tyrannical God. The God of the New Testament is this God of love and mercy and peace. They try to juxtapose these two. That is completely fallacious. That is not reading the Bible in light of its own original context, or reading the Bible in light of its message.
Out of this, when we are dealing with people coming out of a pagan secular background, we have to understand that when we use words like “God”, “Jesus”, “love” and the “character of God” or “His righteousness”, they have no clue what we are talking about. We have to define these terms. We have to clarify these. The best way to do that is ask them a lot of questions to help clarify these.
What we see here in this particular slide is the question focuses on the character of the Judeo-Christian God. The God of the Bible who is first presented to us and defined by the Hebrew Scriptures. Everything that we know about God is clearly revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures, even the doctrine of the Trinity.
You have plural nouns, and singular nouns for God with plural verbs. You have God referring to Himself in the plural. For example, “Let Us make man in Our image.” You have situations in Zechariah and Isaiah where the Lord says to His Servant, the Angel of the Lord, and we have two or three Personages speaking. The Lord says to His Servant, the Angel of the Lord, something like I will send my Spirit.
You have this two or three times in Isaiah where the Spirit is mentioned, the Servant is mentioned, or the Angel of the Lord is mentioned, and the Lord is mentioned. Three different Personages. This indicates the triune concept of God.
As we look at this very real question, a question that profoundly affects some people, a question whose answer has to be shaped in terms of a certain level of genuine compassion for people, understanding that they are wrestling with profound grief sometimes. Whether you are dealing with somebody who is questioning the goodness of God because of the death of one person or a million or six million people, the issue is a matter of degree, but it is the same basic fundamental question. The challenge of this question is directly related to the character of God.
Let’s review the essence of God:
- God is sovereign
The Scripture says He rules over His creation. This takes us back to the Creator-creature distinction. That God is not part of creation. God is distinct from creation. Before there was any matter, God existed. There was no universe. There were no stars. There were no heavens. There was no earth. God exists independently of anything else.
When He creates and He speaks creation in to existence, the God of the Old Testament is a God who rules over His creation. He is “immense” enough. That is the way some theologians articulate the attributes of God. They will talk about His immensity. That God is immense enough. He is infinite. He is without boundaries, without limitations.
- God is also righteous.
God sets the standard. He does not subscribe to a higher norm. He defines. He in His person is the definition of righteousness.
Think about that a little bit. Because we often think that we have a concept of righteousness, or we say that God is righteous. That He conforms to our standard of righteousness. That is thinking backwardly. God is righteous. He in His person and in His actions defines what righteousness is and what justice is.
We look to God to give content to those characteristics and to those attributes. His righteousness is the perfect standard of His character.
- God is justice.
His justice is the application of that standard to His creation and to His creatures so that God is perfectly righteous and therefore He is perfectly just in all that He does. God can be perfectly just because as we look at other attributes.
- God is omniscient.
He knows everything. Therefore, He knows all the facts. Nothing escapes Him. He is able to perfectly and at one time understand and analyze everything.
- God is love.
Righteousness and love are not contradictory concepts. They work together. They work in tandem. God’s love is the application of His virtue toward His creatures. He seeks the highest and best for them. He is the only One who can seek the best for His creatures, because only God understands what the best is.
You and I say we love one another, but if love means to seek the highest and best for someone, then often when we say that we love someone our concept of the best for them is something that is shaped by our own self-centered agenda and desires.
When I am counseling couples before they get married, I often facetiously talk about what is not going on in the vows. You are not going to be looking at each other and saying to one another:
“I am so glad I met you. From the moment I met you, you have made me feel these wonderful feelings. Ever since we started to get to know one another I felt a whole dimension of my personality come out. I like who I am in your presence. I am going to give you the opportunity for the rest of our lives to make me feel this way.”
That is often the subtext. But that is not what real love is. That is a self-centered agenda. It is not seeking the best objectively for someone as defined by God. It is seeking what is best for me is what is best for me is going to be what is best for you.
- God is eternal.
He is eternal. God knows all the knowable and He has known it forever. There never was a time when God did not know everything. But these three are the key:
- God is omniscient.
- God is omnipotent.
- God is omnipresent.
There is another word that I ran across. I had not seen it for a while. It is related to righteousness and justice. It is the idea that God is omnibenevolent. He is all good. That what He does is good. It defines goodness.
What we want to do is look at our experience, look at our interactions with people, and say that I understand good in terms of my limited experience. But God in His character defines what good is. By definition, and this is a hard one to swallow when we look at the existence of evil, but God by very definition is good and what He does is good. It is intrinsically good because of who He is.
The reason I emphasize this is when we start addressing these difficult problems that relate to why God allows these horrible things to happen in my life. Our starting point has to be a solid understanding of who God is.
Where we are going with this?
We are going to look at the book of Job. That is one of the things that we will see is critical to the whole book of Job. Job emphasizes God’s sovereignty, but He also emphasizes God’s omniscience, His omnipresence, and His omnipotence. Those have to be understood together.
- God is truth.
That means everything that He says and everything He does conforms to that standard. That standard is His own righteousness. He is truth, which is an expression of that righteousness.
- God is immutable.
He never changes. In and of Himself He never changes. His character does not change. He does not grow in knowledge. He does not lose knowledge. He does not learn things. He always knows the same amount. This is the essence of what it means to be God.
When we look at the issues related to this problem of evil, it really focuses on four attributes of God:
His righteousness relates to His goodness or His omnibenevolence. He is good the Scripture says. He is love. He is perfect love. He never does anything else. This is one of the few things. Scripture says that God is light. God is holy. God is life. God is love.
God is omniscient and omnipresent, but the Scripture never states it in that type of abrupt sentence that God is all-knowing. It does not say it quite like that. God is all-knowing, but these are things that the Scripture highlights. God is holy, making these very short statements of attribution to God. He is omniscient. He knows everything.
Think about this a little bit. God is omniscient. That means that His knowledge has no boundaries. It is infinity applied to knowledge. The number of grains of sand on all the sea shores and all the river beaches and sandbars in all of the world is not an infinite number.
It may be a number that we cannot quite grasp or count, but it is not an infinite number. But God’s knowledge is greater than all of the sands and all the sea shores and all the beaches and sandbars in all the world.
Your knowledge does not even approximate the knowledge of one grain of sand. Take the smartest human being that has ever lived, Adam, not DaVinci, not Solomon, not Newton, not Einstein. It was Adam. But Adam’s knowledge was finite. It never could incorporate everything, and even when we are transformed into eternity we do not become omniscient. We will be learning a billion years from now and we will still be learning.
That is important when we look at this concept of evil because the issue is that often we think we know enough to be able to judge God:
How in the world could this evil ever lead to good?
How could this evil ever produce something in the long run that would be a good?
We are assuming that we know enough to evaluate that and then condemn God on that basis.
I mentioned a Masterpiece Theater film that was done around 2007–2008 called God on Trial. The characterization of this film, the scenario, is at Auschwitz a transport has come in, a train that is bringing in prisoners to the crematoria. For some reason it is not working. The prisoners are off loaded. They are put in barracks with some other Jews.
Once in the barracks the Jews all start arguing among themselves. There are some who are orthodox; some who are secular, some atheists, there are different ones. There are judges. There is a shoemaker. They are from different walks of life, different backgrounds. They begin to argue about whether God is just in allowing this to happen.
The Jews decide to have a mock trial. One of the men there is a judge. They put him in charge of it. They have a couple of lawyers, of course, and they are going to argue pro and con and back and forth. They put God on trial. What is interesting is they present all of the arguments that you would hear related to this issue of the problem of evil. It is so well crafted, especially if you are familiar with all the different ins and outs of philosophical arguments. They are able to abridge this down into about an hour and a half.
The film is really, really well done.
What happens at the end is they find God guilty. But then there is a twist. I am not going to tell you what happens because the twist tells you that ultimately in their heart of hearts, in the core of their soul, they cannot live if God is guilty. You have to watch for that. It is subtle, but it is profound. I encourage you to watch the film. It is out there. It is available.
The last characteristic is God’s omnipotence. This is what is being challenged about the Judeo-Christian view of a God who allows evil to exist in His creation. The Bible is a realistic book. That is one of the things that we learn about Scripture. Scripture is not some pie-in-the-sky book that is presenting some sort of ephemeral idealistic view of the way things ought to be. It is very realistic and profound.
When you read through Job, and you read through the Psalms, you feel. That is why it is important to realize that a lot of Scripture is written in poetry. Job is written in poetry. The Psalms are written in poetry. In poetry and in using poetic language there is a way in which you express the depths of the emotions of the human soul as it is going through trauma.
Emotions are not the guide point. But the emotions are very real. When we go through the pains and the heartaches and the sufferings and adversities of life, and we see people go through them, the emotion is real.
The issue is what do you do with it?
When you look at the Psalms you see the writers wrestle with these issues of what in the world is God doing in my life?
Job is all about that.
You have passages like:
Psalm 40:12, “For evils beyond number have surrounded me. My iniquities have overtaken me.”
You see external evils that are taking place from the world, plus the internal consequences of personal sin.
Jeremiah 50:18, “Why is my pain perpetual and my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will You indeed be to me like a deceptive stream with water that is unreliable?”
When was the last time you prayed to God, “God, why do You deceive me? Are you deceiving me? Is this really true?”
How many times in your prayer life get as honest with God as David does in the Psalms?
I think a lot of Christians are just afraid to do that because you do not have an honest relationship with God. What we see in these prayers that we have of David and others in the Psalms and Jeremiah is that when they are going through tough times they are asking God hard questions. They want to know if this is really true and if this is really real, because they are living in a realm of reality, not in some sort of ephemeral idealism.
Paul recognizes this.
Romans 8:22, “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”
I know Christians who say that if you spend a lot of time talking about that you are just denying doctrine. Trust God! You know life hurts sometimes. People go through extreme difficulties. As we look at this in terms of the Scriptures we have to analyze this. That needs to be our starting point. This is what I want to do. This is probably going to take a couple of more weeks to go through this.
- First I want to look at the problem of evil as God has defined it, because the starting point always has to be God. If you analyze the Psalms, we have a category called the lament Psalms. That means that the writer at the time is going through some adversity. Lament is just another word for whining. The writer is whining to God about why He is taking him through this:
Why do the unrighteous prosper?
Here, I am doing everything right and I have nothing. I am being persecuted. You are blessing the bad guys. What is going on here?
That is whining. David whined and other writers whined because when life gets really rough they asked what in the world are you doing God?
They asked those questions. There is one particular book in the Bible that focuses us on this whole problem of evil. It is the book of Job. What is fascinating is that Job is the first book that is written in the Bible, I believe. It is the earliest book that is written. It is interesting that the first book is not the book that tells us how we got here.
- The first book is to teach us how to handle suffering.
Is that not interesting?
Because God is a God who loves us and He wants us to know what we need to know to face and handle the traumas of life and why they are there. It answers the tough questions. We want to look at Job because we want to start with God. That is what the psalmist does. He identifies his problem in the lament Psalms. He starts with the problem. Then you see the shift in his focus. He starts to think about who he is praying to. He starts off whining, and then he thinks about who God is.
Who am I talking to?
I am talking to this God who is omniscient. He has known my problem for an infinite amount of time. It is no surprise to Him. If it is no surprise to Him, then He has already made a provision for it. He is omniscient. God is my refuge. He is my strong tower. He is my rock. He is my strength. Those attributes come into play. You see the mental attitude of the author of the Psalms shift because it is doctrine that changes our focus, and that doctrine revolves around our understanding of who God is.
When we come to understand the immensity of God and the infinitude of His attributes, then our problems suddenly disappear and become miniscule, because they are nothing compared to who God is and what He can do.
These Psalms focus our attention upon the attributes of God. But Job really focuses our attention on why we are supposed to trust God, even in the midst of our anguish, our loss, and even though we do not have a clue what is going on.
- The second thing that I want to do is look at this in terms of how it is often argued and discussed in relation to our answers to those who ask us “according to the hope that is within us.” 1 Peter 3:15, that we are “always to be ready to give an answer,” APOLOGIA, a defense, a reasoned, rational answer “for the hope that is in us.”
How can you have hope in the midst of this kind of trauma, situation, or circumstance?
Often we have to understand this in the context of how it is articulated in various religious systems, nonreligious systems, objections, and statements. The goal in going through this is to help us understand how to help the unbeliever or the wiped-out believer, who has just had a blowout on the highway of life. How to help them see that the only hope in dealing with trauma, adversity, extreme suffering, pain, evil, death, disease, on-going suffering that looks like it will never end, is a loving and omnipotent God who will ultimately bring resolution, a just resolution to the problem of evil.
Whether we see it in this life or it is at the Judgment Seat of Christ or the Great White Throne Judgment, there will be accountability and that is certain, even though we may not fully comprehend that either. Otherwise, any other solution other than the biblical solution ultimately plunges us into a hopeless situation.
An answer that is a non-answer, living in a dark depressing pessimistic view of reality that is almost impossible to live with, it brings a person to the brink of despair and existential collapse because if you really understand your position, if you reject the biblical position, there is no answer. You may not like the biblical answer, but the alternatives do not give any level of satisfaction and do not give any answer.
As we start this I want to try to break this down into some sort of flow chart, but the basic question that we have to start with is this question:
Does evil exist?
Some of you are going to say, “Well, obviously evil exists.” Well, it may be obvious to you, but it is not really obvious to a Buddhist. It is not obvious to someone who holds to Christian Science. It is not obvious to other kinds of eastern pantheistic religions that evil exists. They deny its very existence. You really have two answers to the question, either “yes” or “no.”
If you answer “yes, evil exists” then that leads to two or three different options. If you answer that “no, evil does not exist,” then that leads to a couple of options. As we look at this:
- Nontheistic worldviews.
I am assuming that you know what a theistic worldview is. A theistic worldview is a worldview that starts with the existence of a personal, infinite God. That personal, infinite God, even Allah fits that category roughly. It is basically what you have in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. That is it. No one else has a personal, infinite God. Theism is a very broad concept. It is not equivalent to Christianity.
Theism is the idea that there is a personal and infinite god who is the creator of all things in a very broad generic sense.
Nontheistic worldviews would include Eastern religions that are pantheistic. There is a god, but it is a lower case “god.” The god is identified with creation, e.g., Mother Earth.
The whole radical environmental movement, the whole global warming movement, all these people are pantheists. They worship the creation. The creation is more important than anything else. What they call nature is more important than anything else. That is pantheism.
Or dualism, I am sure there are dualistic religions today, but the ancient religion was called Manichaeism. Manichaeism was one of religions that Augustine flirted with in his youth. It was a Persian dualistic religion. Dualism borrowed some from Zoroastrianism and a few other things. They mixed it up in a pot and came up with this idea that good and evil exist eternally.
That is an answer that says, yes, evil exists, but it is not theistic, but evil exists eternally in this war between the good god and the evil god. But that begs the question: What does good mean and what does evil mean?
You have these nontheistic worldviews, religious views like pantheism or dualism, and the anti-religious systems of philosophy, such as naturalism, Darwinism, views like that. These posit evil as either something that does not exist at all, or it is eternally existent.
That is an interesting concept. If evil exists eternally, that is dualism, but it is also part of your naturalistic views, as we will see. That is the first point: Nontheistic worldviews posit evil either as nonexistent or eternally existent.
If you do not believe in a theistic worldview, then you have one of two options:
- Either evil does not exist at all
- Or evil exists eternally
- If evil does not exist then there is no such thing as evil.
You cannot talk about evil. A pantheist is not going to ever ask you the question:
“Well, how can a good God allow the Holocaust?
Pantheists do not believe in evil. They are never going to ask you those kinds of questions. This is the pantheist’s position. Notice I have “god” in lower case, because it is the pantheistic god that is equivalent to the creation. God exists but evil does not exist. It is just an illusion. You find this in Buddhism and Hinduism. You also find it in Christian Science.
Here is a quote from Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy. She is the founder of Christian Science. She had terrible health all of her life. She went through terrible suffering. She basically invented her religion in order to somehow deny the existence of the suffering and evil in her life. She said:
“Evil is an error of [the] moral mind.”
It does not exist. If you think you are suffering, then it does not really exist.
In pantheistic religions this is often symbolized by the yin-yang symbol. I knew a black pastor whose wife, out of ignorance gave him a pair of cufflinks that had this (image on slide) on it. I use to say, “Are you a Buddhist? Why do you wear those Buddhist cufflinks?”
The yin-yang is the symbol of monism. You have the dark that represents what we think of as evil, and the white. They are dualistic. They eternally exist because they are all part of one circle. Everything ultimately is one. There is no breakdown. There is no real distinction. You cannot ultimately distinguish between good and evil.
If you think back, those of you who are Star Wars fans, if you think back to the second Star Wars movie, which was The Empire Strikes Back, you have this scene where Luke Skywalker is going into this swamp and he sees Darth Vader. They have this light saber fight. Luke cuts Darth Vader’s head off. When Luke opens up his helmet he looks at himself.
This is exemplified by the Beatles song in the late 1960s that was pure monism—I am you, you are me, we are one [paraphrased]. It is pure monism. This is what we see in pantheistic religions. There is ultimately no distinction between good and evil, so you ultimately cannot even talk about those kinds of distinctions.
A little limerick, limericks are always fun. This is a little limerick that expresses the dilemma of those who deny evil:
There was a Faith Healer of Deal
Who said, “Although pain isn’t real,
If I sit upon a pin,
And it punctures my skin,
I dislike what I fancy I feel!”
Ultimately, you can be hoist on your own petard if you do not understand the reality of pain.
If the answer to this question, “Does evil exist?” is no, then either there is no ultimate distinction between evil and good. That is monism, pantheism, because these are all either part of religion or they are just an artificial social construct. You may wake up tomorrow morning and you may think, ah, I am an octopus. My humanness is just a social construct. That is where we are headed folks.
Evil and good are either just artificial social constructs or categories of the mind or it is just the natural order. See, this is of naturalism and paganism. That is the answer both in ancient and modern paganism, which sees evil as eternal and co-existent with matter. If evil is eternal, then evil is normal. If you talk to somebody and they ask you this question, usually sarcastically:
“Well, how can you believe in a good God in light of all this?”
They think they have got you nailed. You say:
“Well, before I answer the question, help me understand how you explain the existence of evil?”
“How can you live in a world where these things exist?”
“What do you tell yourself?”
“How do you explain it?”
Ultimately, it is because they are left with unsatisfactory answers, but they think that because they’ve asked you this question that they are okay. They can live on the defense. We will get to that answer a little more.
Evil is an illusion (pantheism and Christian Science view).
The first point was that nontheistic worldviews are going to posit evil as either nonexistent or eternally existent. Second, if nonexistent, in their view, there is no evil. There is nothing to really talk about. That is the second point. If there is no evil there is nothing to talk about. All evil is just an illusion.
- But the third point is that if evil exists eternally, then it is normative.
That is really the position of monism. It is normative. There is evil, but it has always existed. In monism it is a figment of your imagination, but in other views it is normal.
For example in naturalism we have modern evolution.
Modern evolution says what?
Modern evolution says the way we move from amoeba to man is through the process of the survival of the fittest. The first thing you ought to think of when you think of the “survival of the fittest” is that that does not answer the question, because the question is not survival. The question is arrival.
How did it get there in the first place?
How did the “fittest” get there to begin with?
The question is not “survival of the fittest.” The question is the “arrival of the fittest.” That is just a side point.
In the term the “survival of the fittest,” it is basically saying that for one creature or species to survive, another creature or species must not only die, but become extinct. The mechanism to advance and to progress from simple to complex is based on violence, destruction, struggle, and death.
You do not get from amoeba to man, even if you stretch it out over several 100,000 years without some creature displacing violently, and replacing violently another creature. Advance is on the basis of struggle and suffering, displacement, and death. It is not ruled by any sort of moral or ethical higher being. It is just pure random chance.
It makes you feel good does it not?
It is just the way it is. That happens. The answer for naturalistic, anti-religious philosophies is that ultimately there is no distinction between evil and good. For evil, suffering and misery is the means to improvement or advance.
How do you go from the not so good to the good?
It is through suffering, death, and destruction.
See, the social implication is what fueled the philosophy of Nazi anti-Semitism. It was called social Darwinism. When that was worked out in terms of its logical conclusion in terms of the Holocaust, western civilization recoiled in horror and said that cannot be. They rejected it out of hand. Social Darwinism is an irrational and wrong application of Darwinism.
How can they make that judgment?
It is logically consistent. They made it because they could not live with the consequences. We are going to by fiat say that is an illegitimate application. In atheistic naturalism, suffering and misery is the path to improvement and advance. For the atheist and naturalist, evolution is real, eternal, and normal. There is no God, but evil is eternal and normal.
As a result, evil has to be good because it is the mechanism of progress. Good becomes evil. Ultimately they do not have a higher moral or ethical standard to be able to evaluate the distinction between what is evil and what is good. They end up again with a system that they cannot really live with. Atheists admit that evil is good but they do not believe that God is good. That is what they will tell you. God cannot be good if evil exists.
Sigmund Freud explained it this way. He said that God is an illusion because belief in God is based on wish fulfillment. He said that while it would be nice if there were a god, it would also be nice if there were a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The problem, with his view and other naturalists, is we can only know something is evil if we can also have an idea of absolute, intrinsic good. If you cannot have a category of absolute, intrinsic good, then you cannot understand evil, because the two are understood in contrast to each other.
We see the same kind of thing that happened in the ancient world. The ancient world had its own system of evolution. Remember, matter is eternal in evolution. It is out of matter that everything else is formed.
In the ancient world you usually have some kind of system where you have two gods or a god and a goddess. They have some sort of sexual union, or in some cases there is a battle and one god chops up another god. Out of the body parts they make the earth, moon, sun, and universe. Something like that.
This is what you see in the Babylonian cosmogony that is given in the book Enuma Elish. The classic standard English version was edited by Alexander Heidel. In his introduction he says this:
This is interesting:
“Of the Babylonians can be said what Cicero has said with reference to the poets of Greece and Rome: ‘The poets have represented the gods as inflamed by anger and maddened by lust …’ ”
You already had sin and evil among the gods who predate the creation of anything.
“ ‘… and have displayed to our gaze their wars and battles, their fights and wounds, their hatreds, enmities, and quarrels …’ ”
See, evil exists before there is creation.
“… Since all the gods were evil by nature and since man was formed with their blood, man of course inherited their evil nature … Man, consequently, was created evil and was evil from his very beginning.”
Then Heidel asks the question:
“How, then, could he fall? The idea that man fell from a state of moral perfection does not fit into the system or systems of Babylonian speculation.”
Or any other pantheistic system, because they all come out of something that already preexisted everything that was itself apparently evil. Evil therefore, in these systems, is eternal, just like modern evolution.
This leaves us with the Christian position that there is a God, that evil exists, but it is temporary. It is abnormal, and it will be resolved justly because God is good. Look at these passages:
Psalm 25:8, “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore, He teaches sinners in the way.”
He is righteous. He is good. He is inherently good.
Psalm 34:8, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”
Psalm 69:16, “Hear me, O Lord, for Your lovingkindness is good. Turn to me according to the multitude of Your tender mercies.”
We start with a God who is good and righteous, and then we can come to understand why evil exists. That is where we will start next time. We will start in Job 1. We will do a survey of Job because Job is the book that God gave the early, early human race in order to explain the problem of evil and the problem of suffering.
“Father, thank You for the opportunity to reflect upon these crucial matters, because these are tough questions, situations that people face, the heartaches of life, where they want to know if they can really trust You, and if You are a really good God that will resolve the problem of suffering and evil in human history?
We pray that we may recognize that the starting point for this was at the Cross, where Christ paid the penalty for sin, and He had victory over death, which lays the foundation for His ultimate victory and provides the basis for His ultimate judgment of sin, for all judgment has been given to Him, as John says. This enables us to be comforted in the midst of horrible circumstances. That we can glorify You, even when things are bad, because we understand that eventually the God of all the earth will do right. We pray this in Christ’s Name. Amen.”