People - those who are more ignorant of the Scriptures than they will admit - will often claim that there are contradictory images of God in the Bible, one of the loving God we see in Jesus, the other a wrathful God who, for example, told Israel to destroy the societies on Canaan. However, the problem isn't the God that we see in Scripture, but rather the view of God from which they make their judgment.
What these people, whether professing Christians or honest unbelievers, fail to acknowledge is that they are judging God, as He is presented in the Bible, from a humanistic worldview, that is, from an assumption that people are inherently good and deserving of hugs, self-esteem, flowers, and all the other syrupy slogans that have become so common in our society. However, that isn't the view of the Bible.
The worldview of the Bible includes the understanding that humans, from the moment of conception (Ps. 51:5), are wicked (Rom. 3:10-18), sinful (Is. 64:6, Jer. 17:9), and separated from God (Is. 59:2, Hab. 1:13). The Bible says that all men are "dead in trespasses and sins, by nature children of wrath" (Eph. 2:1-3). This is not a syrupy view!
Thus, we are forced to conclude that those who hold to this syrupy worldview are seeking to impose an anti-biblical presupposition onto a Bible that teaches a contrary worldview. Of course this results in conflict!
In contrast, we must view the Bible from its own worldview. Consider Psalm 34:15-16:
"The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears toward their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth."
In these two verses, an example of Hebrew parallelism, we see God in two distinct fashions: in the first two lines, there is a kind God; in the latter two lines, there is an unkind God, as the two sides of a single coin. Do these two verses confirm the view I described above? I am sure those folks would say so. But that would only be because they avoid considering the other side of the verses, i. e., to whom is God kind or
unkind. The first reaction is to the "righteous," an epithet for the people of God, or the Church. The second is to "those who do evil," that is, those who are not His people (Rom. 1:18, 2:8). In other words, these verses - and the rest of Scripture - are far from teaching contradictory views of God. Rather, they reveal one God who responds with justice to different types of people! That is the fundamental error of the humanistic interpretation of scripture, not that there are two kinds of God, but that there are two kinds of people, and His reaction is distinguished by which type of person a particular individual is. God's actions are always consistent with His nature.
For the man who submits to receive God on His terms, not ours, there is this message of kindness (Rom. 3:21-26): "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom
God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by
faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine
forbearance He had passed over former sins. It
was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be
just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." This passage shows that God's attitude to the particular individual is changeable. How does one move from the class of people under the wrath of God, to the class under His love? Through Jesus Christ alone. If you fear the wrathful God revealed in Scripture, as the unbeliever should, then He calls you to give up your unbelief, receive Him as He is offered in Scripture, and then you will be under His love (John 1:12), no longer under His wrath (Rom. 5:9).
Have you ever cruised through the reviews on Amazon? If you have some time to kill someday, I recommend this informative way to use it. I especially enjoy going through the reviews of the various translations and editions of the bible. Part of my purpose is just to see to see what is available, but it is also instructive to see what people say in the reviews, especially "reviews" from atheists. I put that in quotation marks because their comments consistently demonstrate that they haven't actually read the Bible; they are just using the opportunity to spout off against it.
Which brings me to my topic.
I have also looked at the reviews of the various editions of the Koran and Buddhist/Hindu texts. The absence of atheist comments is glaringly obvious. Why is that?
I haven't read the Buddhist/Hindu texts. I have, however, read the Koran. It describes a vicious deity who commands his followers to do vicious things, such as those we see committed by ISIS in Syria. Since it glorifies demonic behavior, both in deity and in men, I consider it of demonic origin.
In contrast, the atheist ridicule of the Bible usually consists of assertions that there are "contradictions," without naming any. And that is only if the "reviewer" attempts to say anything more than juvenile ridicule. Again, they do neither of these things for the sacred texts of other religions.
Hmmm... ridicule without thoughtful interaction with the text... What could that indicate? I suggest that it indicates, not that they disbelieve the Bible, but rather that they hate it! Why? Because, unlike either the Koran or the eastern mystical texts, the Bible reveals the sin in the hearts of men and reveals judgment against it. Atheists hate the Bible because, in it, they are confronted by their own wickedness and the wrath of God. And they know that these two things are true!
Thus, the very hatred which atheists express against the Bible proves that it is true and that the wrath of God is real. The Bible describes this in Romans 1:18-22: "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and
unrighteousness of men, who, by their unrighteousness, suppress the truth, for what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature,
have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse, for,
although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts
were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools."
However, I am glad to say that the Bible also gives the solution in the same book, Romans 10:9-10: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your
heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved, for with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved."
My hope is that there is an atheist reading this, who recognizes the futility of his refusal to see God and His righteousness in the world. In the state of unbelief, every person carries the load of conscience, knowing the evil he has done, but with no solution. That's why every unbeliever depends on denial to keep himself going under that load. I know because I have been there. But here I hope that you have seen the solution. You are right to feel that you cannot bear your sin. Only Jesus can do that.
There is a standard question that has been going around for hundreds of years, traditionally called "the Problem of Evil." It is stated to this effect: If God is all-good, and all-powerful, why is there evil in the world? If He is all-good, then He would desire to prevent it, and if He is all-powerful, He would be able to do so. Therefore, God must be either not all-good or not all-powerful. And, since those are both necessary attributes of the biblical God, He must disappear in a puff of logical smoke. Or so we are supposed to believe.
I will speak to the origin of evil below. For now, I am going to address the question itself, and why it actually demonstrates the illogic of atheism, not Christianity.
Mr. Atheist, what is evil? You probably answer something to the effect of "whatever hurts people." And I would certainly agree that hurting innocent people is evil. But then, on what basis do you decide that hurting people is evil? A cannibal would be fine with hurting people, because doing so feeds his family. On what basis would you say that he is wrong? Both Stalin and Hitler believed that shedding rivers of blood was good, because (in their minds) doing so benefited a greater number of others. Were they wrong? On what basis do you say so?
Those questions are my rhetorical means of making this point: a materialist worldview has no basis for deciding right and wrong, good and evil. We are, in the atheist universe, just DNA seeking to sustain its existence. What an atheist views as evil derives from his cultural heritage of biblical theism, i. e., Christianity. This is called "precept stealing." Therefore, for the atheist to ask the question with which I started this post is for him to admit - unconsciously, I admit - that Christianity is true. That is why I
described the question as a problem, not for the Christian, but for the atheist. For the atheist even to ask the question is to concede the argument! As Richard Dawkins, a leading and outspoken atheist, admits (The God Delusion, p. 266): "It is pretty hard to defend absolutist morals on grounds other than religious ones" [emphasis mine]. He is partly correct: It's not just "pretty hard"; it's impossible!
To the Christian who has been befuddled by the question, I will now turn to answering it. The problem is the assumptions that undergird it. It assumes that I, or you, or whoever - i. e., a finite human being - is able to judge what is good, above the ability of the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God. It assumes that I can know every possible way in which an act can be good, but He cannot. Or, put another way, it assumes that He cannot have a perspective that shows the goodness of His acts in a way that I cannot perceive.
Let me give a hypothetical illustration: imagine a wreck, in which a drunk driver kills a mother and her two children in another car. I am sure that we agree that this would be an awful thing, so how could that be good? Well, what we might not be aware of us is that there was a school bus full of kids the next block away, which would have been hit by the drunk driver, if he hadn't been stopped. When we accuse God of allowing evils in our lives, those are the things we cannot know. What would have happened otherwise, that I cannot foresee? To ask why an all-good God makes the choices He does would require us to have the same omniscience that He has. Why does an all-good and all-powerful God allow evil? To prevent greater evil. It is impossible for us to know any more than that.
The source of evil can be found only in the Bible. Atheists might ask the question, but they cannot answer it. The Bible, however, reveals that God created a world without evil. Yet He also placed a choice before Adam and Eve in that world. They could have eternal life without evil - the condition in which they were created - or they could choose to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and die. We all know the choice that they made: they ate of the fruit and brought disease, futility, hardship, and death, upon themselves and upon their posterity. Mankind chose the kind of world for which the atheist seeks to blame God. That is why there is evil in the world. You can read this in the Bible, in the book of Genesis, the first three chapters.
The wonderful thing is that the story doesn't end there, because Christianity doesn't answer just the question of the origin of evil, but also how it will end. That is another answer that cannot be found in atheism. Through the Gospel, as sinners are converted, change our lives, and then change our world, God is creating a New Heaven and New Earth, where there will be no more evil. This is described in a number of places, but start with Isaiah 65:17-25 and Revelation 21:1-4.
You can find other thoughts I have had on this question here and here.
"The Lord said to me: 'Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Declare to them their abominations. For
they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. With their
idols they have committed adultery, and they have even offered up to them for food the children whom they had borne to Me. Moreover, this they have done to Me: they have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and profaned My Sabbaths. For
when they had slaughtered their children in sacrifice to their idols,
on the same day they came into My sanctuary to profane it.'"
- Ezekiel 23:36-39
In this chapter of Ezekiel, the prophet is using the names Oholah for Israel, the northern kingdom, and Oholibah for Judah, the southern kingdom. The story is an allegory of two sisters. The first becomes an adulterous prostitute, and is duly punished. This refers to the destruction and deportation of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians as punishment for turning to pagan gods and practices, including the sacrifice of their own children. Judah witnessed these events. Yet, instead of serving as a deterrence to her, these experiences only provided the template for her own apostasy and consequent destruction by the Babylonians.
However, notice the things that enrage God the most. He chastises the paganism of the sisters, yet He also mentions that, when they had finished their pagan abominations, they then entered His temple to perform His mandated rituals. This is what enraged Him: the hypocrisy of their paganism on the one hand combined with a pretended exercise of biblical religion on the other. This combination of worldviews is called syncretism. Jehovah, the God of the Bible, is a jealous God (Ex. 34:14, Deut. 6:15). That is, He does not share what belongs to Him (Isaiah 42:8, 48:11). Yet, knowing this, Israel and Judah thought that He would be satisfied with half of their devotion, imagining that they were then free to spread the other half of their devotions to any demon that struck their fancy. Thus, the label of whoredom.
This theme also appears in Psalm 106:36-40:
"They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood. Thus they became unclean by their acts, and played the whore in their deeds.
Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against His people, and He abhorred His heritage."
I have previously described the connection between abortion and the ancient cult of Molech. I have also talked about the support that liberal clergy have devoted to this human sacrifice (here, here, and here). They promote the sacrifice of children, including His covenant children ("the children whom they had borne to Me" above). Then they perform their ecclesiastical functions the next Sunday. They are committing the very same whoredoms of Israel and Judah all these centuries after. God's words have fallen on deaf ears again.
My name is Chris Cole. I have lived in the Charlotte, NC, area for over thirty years, and have been an active Presbyterian during most of that time. I love the Westminster Confession of Faith as a beautiful expression of my own personal beliefs.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I prefer the English Standard Version of the Bible, and all quotations are from the ESV, unless otherwise stated.
I have a number of reviews of Reformed books on Amazon. There is a link to them in the Reformed links below.
"Seeing [that] the Lord of lords, the Lord Jesus, is so ready (never was there king so ready to hear a subject as Jesus is), [even] if thou wert the vilest body that goes, a thief, a harlot, etc., yet if thou wilt say this, 'Lord, remember on me, and give me a part of thy kingdom'; - if thou prayest to him from a penitent heart, with confidence and assurance, I promise unto thee, heaven and earth shall go [fall] together ere thou wantest [lack] thine asking. Seeing [that] our Lord Jesus is so liberal [free-giving], then seek more than enough, more than a kingdom, and thou shalt get more. The only cause why we want [lack] is in us: we have no hearts to seek it." - Rev. Robert Rollock, Scottish Presbyterian minister, about 1590, in a commentary on Luke 23:42-43