How could an all-powerful, all-loving God allow evil to exist?
And here’s the first question from a student
here in America: How can a God of all power and all love allow for evil in this world,
especially if he knew in advance that the world would fall apart after he created it,
and we would have atrocities and the sickness and the suffering that we have?
Zacharias: I think, John, this is the thorniest question, truly the one that probably most
people ask. Someone put it in these words, “Virtue in distress, and vice in triumph
has made atheists of mankind.” Or what Alfred, Lord Tennyson said, “Nevermore morning were
to evening but that some heart did break.” It is a painful question in itself, because
it deals with pain. Pain is a real thing; it’s not an imaginary thing.
There are many ways that one can approach an answer, but C.S. Lewis used to remind us
that it is critically important to examine the assumptions within a question. And I remember
years ago at the University of Nottingham when I’d finished a talk, when a person
stood up, a student stood up, and shouted from the floor and he said, you know, “There
is too much of evil in this world, there can’t be a God; there’s too much of evil and suffering
in this world.” And the irony of that question to me was, you know, I come from the East,
I now live in the West. I don’t ever remember being asked this question in the East. Now
they do because of all the crosspollination of thinking and all of that. But it’s hardly
ever addressed. In Islam you hardly ever find a book dealing with this subject. It’s Insha’Allah,
it’s the will of Allah, you know. And in the pantheistic system it’s Karma; you are
paying your debt and so on. It’s in the Western world, where we actually live with
the greatest comforts, that we raise the question about pain and suffering.
But this Englishman raised it, and I said to him, “Why don’t I make it clear first
why you are asking this question, and what your assumptions are.” I said, “When you
say there is evil, aren’t you assuming there is such a thing as good?” He paused, and
he said, “Yes.” I said, “When you say there’s such a thing is good, aren’t you
assuming there is such a thing as a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate
between good and evil?” He struggled with this and we interacted, and finally he said,
“Yeah, there would have to be an objective moral standard from which to differentiate
between good and evil.” I said, “When you say there is a moral law, you must posit
a moral lawgiver. But that’s whom you are trying to disprove and not prove. Because
if there is no moral law giver, there is no moral law; if there’s no moral law, there’s
no good; if there’s no good, there’s no evil. What is your question?”
And he looked at me, paused and he said, “What then am I asking you?” Now, this was years
ago. I said, “I know what you are asking me, and I’m not trying to make it hard for
you. It’s an existentially felt question that often doesn’t examine the logical presuppositions
within this. God has to remain in the paradigm for the question to be real, and therefore
the answer has to come from what God’s purposes and God’s description is all about reality.”
In a recent book that I co-authored with Vince Vitali, my colleague from Oxford, we called
it Why Suffering. My opening chapter was what is called the trilemma. God is all powerful,
God is all loving and there is evil; that’s the trilemma, the three realities that J.L
Mackie, the Australian philosopher, says are incoherent. God is all powerful; God is loving;
evil exists; he says it’s an incoherence. So my question is, why is it a trilemma and
not a quadralemma or a quintillema? Introduce one more: God is all-knowing. That’s also
a belief we have. And number five, God is eternal. God is not judging everything just
in time, there’s an eternity. So, the question is stacked when it is stacked as a trilemma.
God is also all-knowing and eternity also exists as a reality. And maybe those explanations
can come in eternity. Let me just move to two quick answers on this.
There is a young gal in Georgia where I live. I live in Atlanta. And her first name is Ashlyn.
And one day her mother was on a television program discussing a strange problem that
she has, which is called CIPA, Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis. She
cannot feel pain and her sweat glands don’t work. The problem may sound good—you don’t
feel in any pain. But the reality is, if she steps on a nail while she is on the sports
field, it could puncture the skin, create an infection, and nobody could be even aware
of it. The mother said the problems it has created in her life, for what this malady
brings into her body. She says, “I pray one prayer every night, ‘God, please let
my daughter feel pain.’” She could put her hand on a burner and not know that her
hand is burning. Now my question is this. If, in our finite
existence, we can see the role of pain to warn us that something is wrong, is it impossible
for God, in his infinite wisdom, to allow pain in our lives to help us know that something
is wrong? Pain is felt with moral connotations in the human framework. That is because we
are moral beings; therefore, the answer has to come from within a moral spiritual framework
as well. The question assumes moral reasoning, and that can only be assumed if God is in
the paradigm, not outside of it.