The question of evil and suffering in the world is perhaps the strongest argument against the existence of God. The reasoning is that since a good and loving God wouldn’t allow so much evil and suffering, either God is not good or there is no God. Many are deceived by this line of thought.
There are two basic problems with this argument. The first lies in a presumption that no ultimate good can possibly come of all of the evil and suffering God allows; that He simply cannot have a good reason for doing so. This is merely arrogance, claiming to have ultimate knowledge of what constitutes a good outcome, and defining the meaning of life in terms of human innocence and suffering. It is a man-centered view of existence and presumes to know better than God.
One obvious benefit from God allowing evil is that it provides a context in which God may fully reveal and glorify Himself. If there were no sin we would know very little about the love, wrath, faithfulness, justice and amazing character of God. God does promise He will eventually deal justly and perfectly with all sin (Ro 12:19); nothing will go unresolved. If we don’t find this a sufficient motive for God allowing evil and suffering, if we don’t value God’s response to sin, perhaps we don’t rightly value the glory of God.
The second major problem with this argument lies in how to define evil itself if there is no God. Plants and animals aren’t evil; only Man is evil. Animals don’t violate moral law as they impose suffering – they live according to their design and aren’t punished for this; justice is irrelevant in the realm of Nature. Man is evil because he violates a moral standard or code which define his actions as wicked and inappropriate; the victims of evil therefore require justice.
For any moral standard to be legitimate and binding, one to which we may rightly hold people accountable, we intuitively understand that this standard cannot be sourced in Man himself, merely our opinion or preference. Apart from a divine standard, one man’s opinion about good and evil is just as valid as any other. Yet we act as if our understanding of morality is binding on others whether or not they agree with us; it doesn’t matter how many people hold a certain moral belief, a standard doesn’t become legitimate just because we like it.
This is inherent in our understanding of morality itself and we cannot escape it; we impose our definition of evil on others irrespective of whether they agree, as if moral law were a divinely revealed, universal standard.
The very fact that we accept the existence of evil in the world is actually then very strong evidence that there is a God. In other words, the argument we are considering here must borrow God’s definition of evil in order to even be an argument.
We cannot live as if evil doesn’t exist, or as if it’s merely a matter of preference or opinion: all of us believe in God in this sense – we act as if there’s a divine being with a moral standard which He uses to evaluate human behavior, a standard to which he holds all people accountable.