One of my favorite actors recently released a video in which he says he can disprove the existence of God. I first encountered Stephen Fry in the BBC version of Jeeves and Wooster, P.D. Wodehouse’s hilarious comedy. Fry starred along with the fabulous actor, Hugh Laurie. Fry recently produced a the video in which he questions the existence of God. To prove his point he articulates precisely what he would say to God if, upon arriving at the pearly gates, he discovered that he was mistaken in his atheism. Fry says that he would ask God why he made a universe in which children get bone cancer, a universe in which human beings suffer horrifically and without justification. If such a monstrous, self-absorbed, and stupid God exists, Fry insists, he would decidedly not want to spend eternity with him.
This is Fry’s version of the Problem of Evil, one of the most powerful objections to the Christian faith throughout the centuries. If there is an all powerful, loving God, then how can there be so much suffering and evil in the world. If he is all powerful, he has the ability to stop it; if he is all loving, he should have the desire to stop it. If then there is evil in the world, such a God must not exist or he would have moved long ago to eliminate it.
For those who are really suffering, the issue transcends the mind. They are hurt and afraid and find it hard to trust other people much less God. For such people, only the actual love of Christians in friendship can help. Arguments are of little value. They need to experience the reality of love so they can learn to trust again. It is the job of Christians to love people so well that they learn that God can be trusted.
However, the problem of evil is also presented as an intellectual objection to faith. In another essay on this blog site, I try to give an overview of the problem, touching on all the issues involved. In this essay I want to expand on one point I made in that earlier post. I will endeavor to show there is a problem in using the problem of evil as intellectual evidence against God’s existence. That problem is this: it actually provides evidence for God’s existence. It actually proves what it intends to disprove.
In a totally materialistic universe, there is no supernatural reality. The only thing that exists is our naturalistic experience. If our natural experience is one of suffering, that is the ultimate reality. Suffering, evil, injustice are all just natural experiences, part of the normal warp and woof of our existence. They are not wrong. They are not bad. They are just what is and there is nothing else. We would not complain because we there would be no other reality by which to question them. If there is no God, there would be no standard by which we could determine whether these experiences were good or bad. Suffering would just exist, and we wouldn’t complain because it would be the ultimate reality.
When we complain that things are not the way they should be, we are appealing to some kind of higher standard by which we judge the current situation to be wrong, bad, evil. The only possible source for such a higher standard is God, one who is outside of this reality, judging what is good and what is bad. Thus the fact that we complain against God in the problem of evil is actually evidence that God’s exists for we are holding him to a standard of goodness that only he can supply. If he didn’t exist, there would be no problem. Only his existence can make the problem of evil a real problem.
I agree that there are many questions I have for God about the bad things that happen in this world. Yes, at times, I want to complain against God about these things. But I do so because I know him to be the ultimate good and I can’t understand how these things exist within his good plan. It’s his existence in goodness that produces the thought, “Why aren’t thing different?” If he didn’t exist, there would be no body to complain about and thus there would be nothing to complain about. We wouldn’t even think of it. Suffering would simply be what is. The fact that we do complain, the fact the evil and suffering is a problem, is in fact evidence that we are made in the image of God and that we realize something is wrong. Only the existence of God makes evil and suffering a problem. The fact that we want to complain about it is proof he exists. We wouldn’t be mad at God if there were no one to get mad at.