It’s an argument I’ve heard people like Neil deGrasse Tyson use more than once—though it’s by no means a new argument:
“Every description of God that I’ve heard holds God to be typically all-powerful and all-good. And then I look around and I see a tsunami that killed a quarter million people in Indonesia, an earthquake that killed a quarter million people in Haiti, and I see…tornados and disease, childhood leukemia—I see all of this and I say, ‘I do not see evidence of both of those being true simultaneously.’ If there is a God, the God is either not all-powerful or not all-good. He can’t be both.” ( – Neil deGrasse Tyson on “Chelsea”)
What surprises me, however, is what a (very!) intelligent person like him clearly misses in terms of that line of thinking:
A. God’s Ways vs Our Ways
First, think about this: if the God of the Bible does exist, then how powerful would He have to be in order to create the universe? (Pretty powerful, right?)
And what kind of knowledge and understanding would He have to have to create the universe? (Quite a vast knowledge and understanding, right?)
In fact, how knowledgeable, understanding and powerful would He have to be in comparison to us? (There wouldn’t even be any comparison, would there.)
So, if we’re looking at this topic logically, and an all-powerful and all-loving God does exist, then shouldn’t we actually expect Him to operate on a level that we wouldn’t always be able to completely comprehend with our limited understanding? Doesn’t it strike you as not only arrogant, but downright illogical to dismiss God’s existence as a possibility, simply because we don’t understand why He would allow certain circumstances to occur? (See also Job 38-42.)
Granted, in the Bible, God does reveal to us some of the reasons that we experience suffering in this life, as I’ve written about previously in blogs 9, 10 and 11 at bigquestions411.wordpress.com. But ultimately, we still have to accept that—whatever the case—His thoughts and His ways are truly as far “above” ours as the heavens are above the earth (Isaiah 55:9).
B. Who Defines “Power” and “Goodness”
Secondly—in light of A—it’s interesting to me to note that people like Tyson are so quick to imply that things such as tsunamis and earthquakes and such are “evil.” In fact, it’s interesting to me on at least two levels:
First: if there is no God, then where did people like Tyson get their concept of evil in the first place? In order for something to bother a person as an “evil occurrence” or an “injustice”, it implies that the person is weighing it against an unbiased standard of goodness that we all share. But if there’s no God, then what would define that standard—let alone ingrain it within us?
“Well, obviously,” the skeptic may retort, “if I’m debating about God, then I’m referring to His own standard that’s in the Bible. I’m saying He doesn’t line up to His own standards of goodness and love.” Are you sure about that?
After all—secondly—in light of what the Bible demonstrates repeatedly,
“The statement, ‘A good God always prevents evil as far as he is able to,’ is simply false…Instead, it is more accurate to say that a good God always prevents suffering and evil unless he has a good reason to allow it. Sometimes God might allow an evil because it will prevent a greater evil. Sometimes he might allow evil because it will produce a greater good. I am not saying that evil can be good, but rather than there may be good reason to allow bad things. Allowing some evil for a time, for example, may result in a better world in the long run than a world that never had evil to begin with. That certainly is plausible…God is not obligated by his goodness to use his power to prevent all evil in every circumstance, but may have morally sufficient reason to allow it in some cases.
“It is often hard for us to see how the bad thing God permits in the present could ever bring a greater good in the future. This is because we do not know the future or the infinitely complex set of events that fall like dominoes from our lives into the lives of others.” (Gregory Koukl, The Story of Reality.)
C. The Rest of the Story
As Cure International representative Brant Hansen points out on his radio podcast, it’s also worth noting that Tyson conveniently doesn’t mention what happened immediately after the earthquake and tsunami he references. As Hansen explains,
“I happened to be in Haiti shortly after the earthquake, and I happened to be in Indonesia within a week after the tsunami. And I saw a lot of Christians there…I do think it’s worth noting that—whatever fault you’re finding with this God—His followers are the ones that stream in like a river into the hurt, into the wound [to bring healing and help].”
How can we explain the kind of heart-change that prompts such unselfish love without an all-powerful, all-good God involved in the process?
D. “Deleting” God Doesn’t Fix the Underlying Problem
As Gregory Koukl also makes the point,
“Nothing is really solved by getting rid of God…because removing God from the equation, though understandable, does nothing to eliminate the problem that caused someone to doubt God’s existence in the first place. God is gone, but the original problem remains. The world is still as broken. Atheism settles nothing on this matter. What now is the atheist to do? Nothing has really changed. Things still are not the way they’re supposed to be, so the atheist continues to be plagued with the same problem he started with. But given a Godless, physical universe, the idea that things are not as they should be makes little sense. How can something go wrong when there was no right way for it to be in the first place?”
By contrast, however—as apologist Doug Groothius has rightly argued—“the resources of the Bible, the Christian worldview, give us wisdom for living through suffering better than any other worldview; …because of the themes of Creation, Fall and Redemption—which are rooted in reality—and because of the suffering and resurrection of Christ, we are able to suffer ‘better’ than those of any other worldview.”*
…Which, it seems to me, is an ability that an all-powerful and all-good God would certainly enable people to possess who choose to put their faith and trust in Him.
E. The Ultimate Goal
Besides, no one ever claimed that the ultimate goal of a relationship with God through Christ was to have a safe, comfortable life here and now. Christians know this world is broken, which is why we maintain an eternal perspective and look forward to the eternity with God that the Bible describes—a place where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (see Revelation 21).
In fact, the most logical proofs for the existence of Heaven actually are the concepts of the existence of evil and a loving God, since such a God must logically have an alternative to this broken world available for those He loves!
A place where, most importantly, we’ll be with our all-powerful, all-good God.
After all—as one sees in the Bible’s accounts of everyone from Job, to Christ Himself, to the Apostle Paul—once a person grows in their faith to a point of mature love for God, such a devotion is no longer conditional for that person upon worldly circumstances (whether favorable, prosperous, or not). They simply love God for Who He is, not what He gives (or doesn’t give) them. And regardless of what comes their way, they have an unshakeable hope in Him.
“Timeout, Matt,” the skeptic may say; “how do you even know that we have souls that will live forever in the first place?”
That’s a great question for my next blog. Be sure to subscribe—or just check back next week!—for my answer.
*For one of Groothius’ complete talks on this subject, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dezb1Ns14k8