One of my favorite atheist podcasts is from The Thinking Atheist. Seth, the proprietor of TA, is a former Christian who is now an outspoken atheist apologist. He is both thoughtful as well as, at times, maddeningly blind to his lapses into some of the typical straw men and caricatures of Christianity used by anti-theists. I guess we all do that to our ideological opponents.
In one of Seth’s recent posts entitled Ten Questions About God, he provides an incisive list of questions that he feels he SHOULD have asked himself as a believer, and he asks us to do the same.
I have given each set of questions a Difficulty Rating, from 1-10, where 1 is an easy no-brainer, and 10 is a question which I find very challenging to my faith, and have no good answer for. Ready?
1. Is God really all-powerful? Omnipotent? Is it true that He can do anything? If this is the case, why has God not already defeated and destroyed Satan? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to conquer Satan before Adam and Eve could be tempted in the garden? Why do you think God is waiting?
Difficulty Rating: 7
Although he is making overtures to the classic argument from evil (if God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, why doesn’t he stop evil?), it seems that his real question here is ‘Why is God waiting to finish bringing an end to evil?’
We could insert the many theodicies crafted to answer this question, such as soul-making (Irenaean theodicy) or maximizing good (or the number of souls in heaven). But I suspect that Seth, who probably knows that the logical problem of evil is largely sufficiently answered, is really re-asking the evidential problem of evil – that is, the reality of evil in the world makes God less likely, especially natural evil (suffering caused by nature).
From where I sit, the question of ‘why does God wait?’ has the possible answers above, but to some extent, it’s irrelevant if God is waiting for His own, unfathomable mysterious purposes. And I think that, in addition to the theodicies, this is the final answer.
Look, I hate the appeal to mystery as much as any, but I find that in the scriptures, there are only two subjects to which this is presented as a final answer (after first proposing some questions to us on our perspective and ability, as well as proposing some answers). These two subjects are the problem of evil, and predestination. And I think that it is eminently reasonable that, due to our human limitations, there are at least a FEW things that might be beyond our grasp. A list of two is not a copout, but very generous, if not realistic.
To the problem of evil, the book of Job reaches a conclusion – you and I have insufficient perspective and knowledge to figure this out or even understand the answer when presented. Check out Job’s dialogue with God:
Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind:
“Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.” ~ Job 38:1-4
“Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?” ~ Job 40:2
Then Job replied to the Lord:
“I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” ~ Job 42:106
So that’s my answer. I’m not sure, but this is not a reason to abandon faith because it lies in the realm of the two items to which the Bible says “trust me.”
I think that Seth has missed the more difficult question here, which is ”Why didn’t God, being omniscient, stop this mess before it all got started?’
My reply to that would be, in addition to what I have said above, is that we ought to be more concerned about what is true, not why it played out the way it has. That is, is there evil in the world? Yes. Does Christianity provide a working, logical world view to address it? Yes. Is it superior to the answers provided by other world views? Yes, including atheism.
I realize that the question ‘does it make sense logically’ is part of how you answer ‘is it true,’ but in light of the inscrutability of the problem of evil (it’s also quite a problem for the atheist view), we ought to shift to the question ‘if logical fails me in answering this, how else can I determine what is true?’ That’s how I address this.