Does God Exist?

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Job 40:1-8
Job 42:1-6

Objection: There is no real evidence for the existence of any God. In fact, if you consider how much suffering there is in the world, it seems as though the evidence is against it.

For the past few messages I have been responding to a series of objections against Christianity that mostly involve intellectual problems like the identity of Jesus Christ or the trustworthiness of the Bible. Now, however, we come to a difficulty not primarily of the head but of the heart; one that can shake the very foundations of faith even for a believer.

The Problem of Evil

The problem is this: If there is a God such as the one Christians believe in, a God who is powerful and loving and good and who rules all things, then why is the world the way it is? Why do the innocent so often suffer? Why does injustice run rampant through the earth? Why do little babies die? Why are teenagers’ lives snuffed out in accidents? How could a good God allow something as monstrous as the holocaust to happen? Or something as painful as your broken heart? All of these questions, together with many others like them, make up what philosophers and theologians call “the problem of evil.” And I can tell you that for faith this is the biggest problem there is.

It is a problem, though, only for those who believe in the Christian God. It strikes me that the very fact we struggle with this problem is evidence that God does exist. If there were no loving and sovereign God, then why would anyone be bothered by the injustice and suffering in the world? How could we even have thought up a concept like “evil” that presents a “problem” for faith?

If you do not believe in God, you really should not be bothered by the problem of evil, because without a God in control, there is no reason for anything that happens. Then it is all just a matter of luck. If your life is good, there is no one to thank for it, and if your life is bad, there is no one to complain to. It is all just a roll of the dice. Suffering should not be a theological problem for atheists. Nor is it a mystery to those who follow one of the religions that say good and evil are only illusions, or to people who have a fatalistic faith in a powerful but an uncaring God, or who are dualistic (two equal spiritual powers, one good, one bad). No, the existence of evil in the world is a difficulty only for those who believe, as Christians do, in a personal God who alone rules the world, and who is both all-powerful and all-loving.

Many Christian children learn a little prayer that begins, “God is great; God is good.” That is exactly what we do believe about God. God is both great – sovereign, totally in control, all powerful; and good – loving, gracious and kind. But it is just this belief that suffering and evil call into question. When something bad happens, we wonder: If God is great, why does he allow it? And if God is good, how could he allow it?

The Story of Job

There is nothing new at all about the problem of evil. One of the most profound stories ever written, the book of Job in the Bible, focuses squarely upon it. Job was an important man. He had enormous wealth and vast possessions, but all his pleasure and delight was in his children. He prayed for them every day. Job was not only the greatest man of his time; he was also the most godly. And then came a day when Job lost everything. The messengers visited him, one after another, each with worse news than the one before, and the reports of loss fell like hammer blows on Job’s defenseless head. “It’s all gone, Job,” they told him. “Your flocks and your herds, your servants and your goods, your daughters and your sons.” Overnight Job went from being on top of the world to sitting in the ashes, scraping his sores and crying out to God in his pain.

Attempted Answers

The great question raised by the story of Job, of course, is the same question we ask when we suffer. It is the question “why?” Why do people who do not deserve it suffer in so many terrible ways? People like Job. People like us. How can God permit this to happen? And since it does happen, could it be that there is no God after all? Does God even exist?

Almost everyone struggles to find an answer to these questions, because we refuse to believe that life is meaningless. But so many of the answers that are offered are inadequate. One such answer is the one that was first suggested by Job’s friends. Three men came to visit him in his affliction and tried to set Job straight about the meaning of his suffering. Their explanation was quite simple. Job was responsible for what was happening to him. His suffering was a punishment for his sin. After all, you reap what you sow. If you sin, you will suffer. So if you are suffering, they reasoned, it must be because you have sinned. The answer of Job’s friends resolved the problem of evil by explaining that the tragedies that had befallen him were really not senseless or unfair. What happened to him was not evil; it was justice.

But the explanation of Job’s friends completely missed the mark where he was concerned. It is just not true that all suffering is a deserved punishment for sins. Much of the suffering in the world is unearned and undeserved. Did the 5,000 people who died in the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, deserve what happened to them? No more than Job deserved what happened to him.

God’s Not to Blame

Another possible answer to our dilemma is to absolve God from blame for the problem of evil by relieving him of responsibility for the bad things that happen. In this view, God does not really control everything that goes on in the world. His power is limited. He does care, but he cannot always help. Often all God can do is to suffer along with us.

Now the fact that God does suffer along with us is both true and profoundly comforting. But to say that God is not responsible because he is not in control is grossly inadequate. This view was made popular several years ago by Rabbi Harold Kushner in his best seller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. God “wants justice and fairness but cannot always arrange for them,” wrote Kushner. “Fate, not God, sends us the problem.” And the best that we can do is “to forgive the world for not being perfect, to forgive God for not making a better world, to reach out to the people around us and to go on living despite it all.”

The trouble with this is that it offers only half a God. This God is good, but he is also rather helpless. That seems like an arbitrary choice. You could just as easily resolve the problem of evil by thinking of God as being powerful but not very good. But the God of the Bible, the God of Job, is both great and good. The children’s prayer has it exactly right. This is what Job believed. When he lost everything, his first response was to bow his head in worship and say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” As far as he was concerned, it was God who was behind everything – not the storm, not the devil, not the enemy, but God.

Sometimes we try to help God with his public relations. We play the role of theological “spin-doctors.” We attempt to do damage control, to protect God’s image when he does things that do not seem right to us. But the one thing we cannot do if we are going to remain faithful to the Bible is to stop God from being God. Job’s story says that God is always in charge. Go ahead. Try to figure that out. Wrestle with questions about his goodness and his purpose. Cry out to him if you must and ask your questions. Come face to face with the mystery of God, but don’t rob him of his sovereignty, because if you do, you will be left with nothing.

Questions Without Answers

So what do we say about the problem of evil? I have to tell you honestly that this is one objection I cannot finally answer. But I can tell you that it is possible to believe in God – the real God, the God who is always both great and good. At the end of his story, Job finally encounters the living God. He has been searching for answers, for some relief from the pain in his spirit that went deeper than any physical affliction. Job could not be satisfied with any of the easy explanations. He cried out to God over and over, asking him to come and explain himself.

In the end, God did come. But he did not explain. Instead of answers, God gave Job more questions.

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”

(Job 40:6-7)

God’s response to Job does not solve the problem of evil for us, but it does shed light on it in two ways. First, it suggests that part of the problem is our own limited perspective.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?… while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind?”

(Job 38:4, 7, 16, 18, 31-33, 36)

What God is doing here is contrasting his infinity with Job’s limitations. How can we begin to understand everything that God is doing when he is the eternal Creator and we are only finite creatures, limited by time and space? Imagine trying to explain to a sick baby why you are causing him to suffer more by forcing him to take medicine. The baby doesn’t even know what’s wrong; how can he possibly grasp the reason for his pain? He looks as though you are tormenting him but in fact you are making him well. God’s questions to Job suggest to us that before we look at the world around us and convict God of wrong, or even decide that he must not exist, we should consider the possibility that the problem lies not in God’s actions but in our ability to understand them.

The second thing Job teaches us is that the problem of evil becomes less a problem when we talk to God instead of just talking about him.

Then Job replied to the Lord, “. . . Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. . . . My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

(Job 42:1, 3, 5, 6)

What Job suggests is that in the end we will never reconcile the existence of suffering and evil with the nature of God as long as we treat it as an abstract problem. The only satisfying answer is not just to think about God, but to know God himself in his greatness and his goodness, to be drawn into his presence and to be comforted with his life and love.

The Whole Story

But the one thing Job cannot do for us is to tell us the whole story, because, of course, he lived b.c. (before Christ). You cannot get to the heart of the problem of evil until you understand what God did about it through Jesus Christ. Because Jesus came into our world, God himself knows what it is like to feel pain, to experience the effects of evil, to suffer, even to die. But because Jesus is God, death and evil will never have the last word.

A number of years ago Bishop Festo Kivengere, the great Ugandan Christian leader, was asked how he was able to serve in Africa where there was so much poverty, famine, and violence – so much suffering.

“We don’t claim to know how to cope with bewilderment. Christ alone can pierce the gloom of terror, fear, and insecurity. He is the one who gives new hope. The only way to minister in heartbreaking situations is to be closer to Jesus, who died and rose again.”

(Bishop Festo Kivengere, as interviewed in Christianity Today, August 8, 1986)

How I hope for you to know this same truth yourself! Whatever pain you bear, whatever your questions and struggles might be, if you draw close to the Lord Jesus you will find the only answer that matters.