John Milton was one of the foremost poetic geniuses of the English language—Milton and Shakespeare. What Milton was trying to understand is—what is the nature of evil? And his representation, gathered up in dream-like theories of evil that had been collected around all of Western Civilization for thousands of years, and his hypothesis was this: evil is the force that believes that its knowledge is complete and that it can do without the transcendent, and as soon as it makes that claim, it instantly exists in a place that’s indistinguishable from hell.
And it could get out merely by admitting its error—and it will never do that.
Some time ago I was speaking at a university in England, when a rather exasperated person in the audience made his attack upon God.
“There cannot possibly be a God,” he said, “with all the evil and suffering that exists in the world!”
I asked, “When you say there is such a thing as evil, are you not assuming that there is such a thing as good?”
“Of course,” he retorted.
“But when you assume there is such a thing as good, are you not also assuming that there is such a thing as a moral law on the basis of which to distinguish between good and evil?”
“I suppose so,” came the hesitant and much softer reply.
“If, then, there is a moral law,” I said, “you must also posit a moral lawgiver. But that is who you are trying to disprove and not prove. If there is no transcendent moral law giver, there is no absolute moral law. If there is no moral law, there really is no good. If there is no good there is no evil. I am not sure what your question is!”
There was silence and then he said, “What, then, am I asking you?”
He was visibly jolted that at the heart of his question lay an assumption that contradicted his own conclusion.
You see friends, the skeptic not only has to give an answer to his or her own question, but also has to justify the question itself. And even as the laughter subsided I reminded him that his question was indeed reasonable, but that his question justified my assumption that this was a moral universe. For if God is not the author of life, neither good nor bad are
This seems to constantly elude the critic who thinks that by raising the question of evil, a trap has been sprung to destroy theism. When in fact, the very raising of the question ensnares the skeptic who raised the question. A hidden assumption comes into the open. Moreover, as C. S. Lewis reminds us, the moment we acknowledge something as being “better”, we are committing ourselves to an objective point of reference.
The disorienting reality to those who raise the problem of evil is that the Christian can be consistent when he or she talks about the problem of evil, while the skeptic is hard-pressed to respond to the question of good in an amoral universe. In short, the problem of evil is not solved by doing away with the existence of God; the problem of evil and suffering must be
resolved while keeping God in the picture.
Copyright 2000 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM)
God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.19 They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them.20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies.25 They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other.27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.
28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done.29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip.30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents.31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.
–Apostle Paul, Romans 1:18-35 J.B. Phillips New Testament
Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor who endured the horrors of Auschwitz, astutely commented on the way that modern European thought had helped prepare the way for Nazi atrocities (and his own misery). He stated, “If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity, and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone. I became acquainted,” Frankl continued, “with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment—or, as the Nazi liked to say, of ‘Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.”
On a trip to Russia just after the collapse of communism in 1991, I had a conversation with a Marxist scholar who was devastated by revelations about the horrors just then coming to light in his country. “I had no idea things like this were taking place,” he said. “I became a communist with the best of ideals, to fight racism and poverty, to bring about a just society. Now I learn that we created a monster. We saw evil in others—the capitalists, the rich, the exploisters—but not in ourselves. I have learned to distrust any utopian philosophy, especially one that sets ‘us’ against ‘them.’ The danger of evil is inside of all of us, rich or poor, socialist or capitalist.”