11/17/16 Rob 20's
During a lengthy sidewalk conversation, a self-described atheist named Rob asked a very common question - "If God exists, why is there so much suffering in the world?" From our conversation, I knew he was not asking this in the midst of a personal trajedy that I should be sensitive to. This was a philosophical question, sometimes asked in sincerity but very often asked by skeptics because it can't easily or neatly be answered. It provides a convenient smokescreen to hide behind while one throws stones of accusation at the Christian concept of an all-good and all-powerful God. "If there is suffering in this world…" - their thinking goes - "…then God is either not all-good or not all-powerful, or he doesn't exist."
But are these the only choices available? How much suffering is "too much"? Would it be better for man not to have free will? Might God actually be limiting the suffering caused by evil in this world rather than allowing it to go unchecked as people often assume? Could not an all-powerful God use the existence of evil and suffering (or the "lack of good" as Augustine would say) for His own purposes?
People who ask about the problem of evil and suffering insincerely are not willing to wait patiently or dig deep for an answer. They have a short attention span, so rather than giving them a trite or inadequate response, I just try to ask some good questions in return to challenge their shallow assumptions. Joe was quick to talk about his perception of an angry and vindictive God from the Old Testament as opposed to a kind and gentle image of God from the New Testament. I reminded him that even in the present, some 150,000 people die every day, all under the control of God. He is the giver of life, but it is also His business to take it. We can't judge God like we would judge a fellow human being. He is wise and all knowing, with purposes far beyond our extremely limited perspective.
Rob believes himself to be a good person with no need for religion to motivate his behavior. He would rather judge God than be subject to God's judgment, and I called him out on it. He had to agree, but quickly fell back on his claim of atheism as his escape. Christian apologist Greg Koukl often speaks of "putting a stone in their shoe" as a way to describe our role in sharing biblical truth with those in rebellion against God. I didn't convince Rob or prove anything or win an argument. That wasn't my purpose. But I do believe I was able to put a meaningful stone in his shoe.