Table of contents
- Did God create evil?
- Robinson Crusoe
- God allowed the suffering of righteous Job
- Physical disabilities
- Natural disasters and atrocities
- Our earthly death is not the end
- Suffering “perfects” us
- Suffering helps us to know Christ
- Suffering makes us better servants of others
- Suffering prepares us for greater glory in Heaven
- Suffering completes Christ’s suffering
- The Son of God became a man and endured both suffering and a horrible death on man’s behalf
- The Son of God rose from the grave so that He could provide eternal life for all who believe (John 3:16)
- The Son of God sympathizes with our sorrows
- God has prepared an eternal home where there will be no more death or suffering
- There is also a place of eternal separation from God
- What about aborted babies and the mentally handicapped?
- What about ‘those who haven’t heard the Gospel’?
Why would a loving God allow death and suffering?
The origin of death and suffering is vitally important in defending Christianity, and many people use the present suffering and death as an excuse not to believe. So it is vital to have an answer―such a justification of God’s goodness in the face of evil is known as a theodicy.2
The big picture is that Adam’s sin is the reason for all the death in the world. A consistent biblical answer points out that death is an intruder, so it is not part of God’s original creation, but is ultimately due to man’s sin.
However, according to theology that accommodates long ages, death has always been with us, and theistic evolution even says that God used this ‘last enemy’ as His means of producing His “very good” creation!
Death and suffering is everywhere!
Over a decade ago, evil terrorists struck the Twin towers (11 September 2001), murdering 3,000 people. This morally evil deed led many to question why a loving God would allow such evil acts. As a result, we produced the earlier version of this booklet, now available online at creation.com/death. And of course, this wasn’t even close to the worst mass murder by evil men or regimes. The evolution-based Nazi regime3 wiped out 6 million Jews and many others (see also Appendix).
Yet in recent years there has been much suffering caused by ‘natural’ evils, i.e. not caused by humans. E.g. a 7 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti on 12 January 2010, killing at least 220,000. A year later, on 11 March 2011, Japan suffered the magnitude 9 Tōhoku earthquake, which is actually a thousand times stronger,4 followed by a tsunami. An even more devastating tsunami followed a 9.3-magnitude earthquake west of Indonesia on 26 December 2004, and killed over 230,000 people in 14 countries.5
Even these tragedies pale somewhat compared to some other natural evils. For example, in a few years of the mid-14th century, the Black Death (bubonic plague) painfully wiped out an estimated 75–200 million people in Europe, or 45% to 50% of the population. In quite recent times, the devastating First World War, with 9 million killed, was followed by the even more devastating Spanish Flu epidemic. This killed at least 50 million, or about 3% of the world’s population, many of them young healthy adults.6
Another type of natural evil is physical disability or handicap. We can think of Helen Keller, who lost the senses of both hearing and sight when she was a baby, and Joni Eareckson-Tada who was paralyzed from the neck down when she was a teenager.
In addition to the headline events, each of us suffers pain at one time or another—illness, headaches, accidents, and eventually, death. It’s not surprising, when the burdens become too great, that people cry out to God in anguish, “Why don’t you do anything? Don’t you care?”
How can an all-powerful, loving God allow suffering?
As the shock of each traumatic event subsides, people begin asking why such things occur. Reading about past wars or visiting memorials like the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., inevitably raises the same question, “How can there be a loving God controlling the universe in the light of such death and suffering?”
The pervasiveness of suffering is possibly the most effective tool that atheists use to attack the Bible’s picture of a ‘loving God’. Atheists make what appears to be a reasonable complaint: “If God is loving and all-powerful, then why doesn’t He use His power to stop the evil, suffering, pain, and death?”
Multitudes have rejected God because of suffering!
Sadly, most people—even Christians—have no ready answer to the question of death and suffering in the world. Believing that the world is millions or billions of years old, they have a difficult time explaining the purpose behind the apparent cruelty that they see.
Charles Darwin (1809–1882) rejected Christianity after the death of his daughter. “Annie’s cruel death destroyed Charles’s tatters of beliefs in a moral, just universe. Later he would say that this period chimed the final death-knell for his Christianity,” says a recent biography of Charles Darwin. “… Charles now took his stand as an unbeliever.”7
Darwin is only one of thousands of famous people who have struggled with this issue, trying to reconcile belief in God with the death and suffering he observed all around, which he believed had gone on for millions of years. When Charles Darwin wrote his landmark book On the Origin of Species, he was in essence writing a history of suffering and death. In the conclusion of the chapter entitled On The Imperfections Of The Geological Record, Darwin said the modern world had arisen “from the war of nature, from famine and death.”8 Based on his evolutionary perspective, Darwin considered death to be a permanent part of the world.9
Darwin himself said in his autobiography:
“A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create the universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient, and it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of millions of lower animals throughout almost endless time? This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent first cause seems to me a strong one; whereas, as just remarked, the presence of much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection.”10
Charles Templeton (1915–2001), a famous evangelist rejected Christianity, in part because of the suffering he saw. He published Farewell to God in 1996,11,12 describing his slide into unbelief and his rejection of Christianity. Once listed among those “best used of God” by the National Association of Evangelicals,13 Templeton listed several “reasons for rejecting the Christian faith.” For instance:
- Geneticists say it is ‘nonsense’ to believe that sin is the “reason for all the crime, poverty, suffering, and general wickedness in the world.”14
- The “grim and inescapable reality” is that “all life is predicated on death. Every carnivorous creature must kill and devour another creature. It has no option.”15
Templeton, like Charles Darwin, had a big problem understanding how to reconcile an earth full of death, disease, and suffering with the loving God of the Bible. Templeton stated:
Why does God’s grand design require creatures with teeth designed to crush spines or rend flesh, claws fashioned to seize and tear, venom to paralyze, mouths to suck blood, coils to constrict and smother—even expandable jaws so that prey may be swallowed whole and alive? … Nature is in Tennyson’s vivid phrase, ‘red [with blood] in tooth and claw,’ and life is a carnival of blood.16
Templeton then concludes: “How could a loving and omnipotent God create such horrors as we have been contemplating?”17
Templeton is not the first person to talk like this. When told that there is a God of love who made the world, embittered people often reply: “I don’t see any God of love. All I see are children suffering and dying. I see people killing and stealing. Disease and death are everywhere. Nature is ‘red in tooth and claw.’ It’s a horrible world. I don’t see your God of love. If your God does exist, He must be a sadistic ogre.”
Below, we see how Templeton’s questions can be answered by a proper understanding of biblical history.
We shall stay with the idea of a planner, a designer, but our planner will be a moral philosopher rather than an economist. A beneficent designer might—you’d idealistically think—seek to minimize suffering. … it unfortunately doesn’t happen in nature. Why should it? Terrible but true, the suffering among wild animals is so appalling that sensitive souls would best not contemplate it. Darwin knew whereof he spoke when he said, in a letter to his friend Hooker, “What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horribly cruel works of nature.” The memorable phrase “devil’s chaplain” gave me my title for one of my previous books, and in another [River out of Eden] I put it like this:
[N]ature is neither kind nor wasteful. She is neither against suffering, nor for it, Nature is not interested in suffering one way or another unless it affects the survival of the DNA. It is easy to imagine a gene that, say, tranquillises gazelles when they are about to suffer a killing bite. Would such a gene be favoured by natural selection? Not unless the act of tranquillising a gazelle improved that gene’s chances of being propagated into future generations. It is hard to see why this should be so and we may therefore guess that gazelles suffer horrible pain and fear when they are pursued to death—as most of them eventually are. The total amount of suffering per year is beyond all decent comprehension.”18
Death in general
Actually, although most atheists prefer the emotion-tugging tragic examples, the case is even stronger. ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’, T.H. Huxley, had it partly right, “If our hearing were sufficiently acute to catch every note of pain, we would be deafened by one continuous scream.”19
Consider a funeral of someone who lived a rich, happy, and long life, making productive contributions to his family and society, and dying peacefully in his sleep. The bereaved might console themselves with, “He had a good innings, and it was time to go”, or words to that effect.
But why is it time to go? Why should his good life and his contributions need to end? If there was a chance for a healthy physical immortality, then would he not take this chance, and wouldn’t his friends and family want him to?
And if we demand that God prevents all deaths of, say, children, then why draw the line there? Why at five years old rather than 21, or 75?
Consider also, all the deaths from those man-made atrocities and natural disasters were really hastening something inevitable. These tragedies were really just a drop in the bucket compared to the billions of people who have died. And all the seven billion people on earth today will die one day, barring a miracle. Here again, should we demand that God prevents only hasty death, but not ‘ordinary’ death?
Do atheists really have a case?
Before we proceed to an answer, it’s often useful to ask a questioner to justify the validity of his question under his own belief system. For an atheist to complain that the Christian God is ‘evil’, he must provide a standard of good and evil by which to judge Him. But if we are simply evolved pond scum, as a consistent atheist must believe, where can we find an objective standard of right and wrong? Dawkins said, “The universe we observe has … no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music [emphasis added].”20
Our ideas of right and wrong, under this system, are merely artefacts of some chemical processes that occur in the brain, which happened to confer survival advantage on our alleged ape-like ancestors. But the motions in Hitler’s brain obeyed the same chemical laws as those in Mother Teresa’s, so on what grounds are the latter’s actions ‘better’ than the former’s? Also, why should the terrorist attack slaying thousands of people in New York be more terrible than a frog killing thousands of flies?
But a Christian believes there is an objective standard of morality that transcends individual humans, because it was given by an objective and transcendent moral Lawgiver who is our Creator. An atheist’s argument against God because of objective evil inadvertently concedes the very point he is trying to argue against!
Note that our argument is not that atheists cannot live ‘good’ lives, but that there is no objective basis for their goodness if we are just rearranged pond scum. Evolutionist Jaron Lanier showed the problem, saying, “There’s a large group of people who simply are uncomfortable with accepting evolution because it leads to what they perceive as a moral vacuum, in which their best impulses have no basis in nature.”
In reply, Dawkins affirmed, “‘All I can say is, That’s just tough. We have to face up to the truth.” So here we have a leading atheist admitting that evolution provides no basis for morality. Instead, some of his fellow atheists have needed to borrow from Christian concepts.
For example, British politician Roy Hattersley (1932– ) is an atheist, but an expert and admirer of the Salvation Army.21 He admits:
“I think it remains a vibrant organization because of its convictions. I’m an atheist. But I can only look with amazement at the devotion of the Salvation Army workers. I’ve been out with them on the streets and seen the way they work amongst the people, the most deprived and disadvantaged and sometimes pretty repugnant characters. I don’t believe they would do that were it not for the religious impulse. And I often say I never hear of atheist organizations taking food to the poor. You don’t hear of ‘Atheist Aid’ rather like Christian aid, and, I think, despite my inability to believe myself, I’m deeply impressed by what belief does for people like the Salvation Army.”22
His fellow British politician Matthew Parris (1949– ) even wrote an article for The Times, entitled:
“As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God”
… and subtitled: “Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem—the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset.”23,24
Thus as shown, atheists can’t attack the goodness of God from their own premises, because under their own system, there is no meaning to the term ‘good’. Rather, they need to hijack the term from a Judeo-Christian morality. And this morality stems from God’s own perfectly good nature, which in His love produces good commandments given for our good.25
The atheistic argument summarized
The usual attempt at a logical argument fails. It goes back to the pagan Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BC), who was cited by the early Christian apologist Lactantius (AD 240–320)26 then used by the Scottish ‘Enlightenment’ skeptic David Hume (1711–1776). In schematic form, the argument could be written thus:
- If God exists, then God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect.
- If God is all-powerful, then He has the power to eliminate all evil.
- If God is all-knowing, then He knows when evil exists.
- If God is morally perfect, then He has the desire to eliminate all evil.
- Evil exists.
- If evil exists and God exists, then either God doesn’t have the power to eliminate all evil, or doesn’t know when evil exists, or doesn’t have the desire to eliminate all evil.
- Therefore, God doesn’t exist.
The first premise describes the Judeo-Christian God as revealed in the Bible. Premises 2–4 are plausibly held to be what the Judeo-Christian God would do with such attributes.
The first two are held to be the Judeo-Christian premises, while #5 is indisputable (although only truly justifiable under a Judeo-Christian world view). So antitheists draw the conclusion that God cannot have the attributes that the Bible reveals about Him (#6), and conclude that such a God doesn’t exist (#7).
Some theistic philosophers try to retreat on #1, by denying that God is all powerful, such as ‘open theism’ and ‘process theology’. But this is not the true God of the Bible.
However, Christian philosophers have long argued that Premise 4 should be extended to:
4′. If God is morally perfect, then He has the desire to eliminate all evil—unless He has a good reason for allowing it.
Then there is no incompatibility with #5. Since no antitheist can show that there is no possible good reason for allowing evil, since that would be a universal negative, the argument collapses as logical disproof of theism. This was expressed in a wonderful book Dr A.E. Wilder-Smith (1915–1995): “This is how God triumphs over evil—not by ‘stopping’ it, but by using it to His greater glory.”27 Later, we see some biblical reasons why God is permitting suffering.
Indeed, Lactantius used much the same argument against Epicurus himself. Before that, we will argue that one good reason for God’s allowing evil in the world today is a just judgment resulting from the man’s sin (see Death and suffering is the penalty for sin).
Apologists have also long pointed out that the argument doesn’t work for another reason. The existence of evil now would be incompatible with #4 only if it read:
4″. If God is morally perfect, then He has the desire to eliminate all evil immediately.
But is this really so? As will be shown (and was well explained by Daniel Defoe), for God to get rid of evil immediately, He would need to destroy all of us!
With this understanding, we can correct #5 to:
5′. Evil exists for now but will one day be destroyed (as the Bible says); or God has not got rid of evil—yet!
1, 4/4′ and 5′ are certainly compatible.
This is enough to show that atheists lack a logical case against God. But it is still important to go further and explain where evil came from, why He allowed it, and what He is doing about it—and has already done about it.
Where did evil come from?
As said in the introduction, this is a key argument for atheism. Before proceeding with the answer, here is yet another statement of the problem, by a professor of philosophy and religion, in a letter to CMI:
In your refutation of atheism, I could not find any reference to ‘the problem of evil’, which is a main plank in the atheist’s reasons for denying the existence of God, or at least of a God who is worth worshipping. Appeals to ‘mystery’, ‘scripture’, or ‘faith’ are, of course, begging the question.28
But as I pointed out in my reply, which I will explain in the next section of this booklet:
Not “of course” at all. Rather, someone in a university philosophy department should be well aware of: if someone tries to show that a certain philosophical system is incoherent, it is perfectly in order for a defender of this system to invoke certain aspects of this system to defend its coherence. So when an atheist attacks biblical theism, it is perfectly in order to cite propositions from the Bible to defend the integrity of this belief system.29
That’s why this article unashamedly invokes biblical principles to defend the God of the Bible.
Did God create evil?
God originally created a perfect world, described by God as “very good” (Genesis 1:31). So when God created moral beings, there was no actual evil. In fact, evil is not a ‘thing’ in itself, even though it is real. Rather, evil is the privation of some good that something ought to have, as Augustine pointed out. Considering a moral evil like murder, this is a removal of a ‘good’ human life. Adultery is a privation of a good marriage. Good is fundamental and can exist in itself; evil cannot exist in itself. Evil is always a parasite on good.
The same applies to physical evils. For example, a wound cannot exist without a body, and the very idea of a wound presupposes the concept of a healthy body. Blindness in a human is a physical evil, because humans are supposed to see (but oysters are not, so blindness is not an evil for oysters). Also, evil actions are done to achieve things like wealth, power and sexual gratification, which the evildoer finds ‘good’ (meaning ‘pleasing’). Evil things are not done as ends in themselves, but good things are. Now, since evil is not a thing, God did not create evil.30
This lack of evil extended to the animal kingdom. In particular, people and animals originally ate plants, not other animals (Genesis 1:29–30). There was no violence or painful suffering in this “very good” world. There is a biblical illustration in Isaiah 11:6–9 and 65:25 which are pictures of a future with allusions to the Edenic paradise God originally created.31,32 These are famous passages about a lion and calf, wolf and lamb, and a vegetarian lion and a non-harmful viper. Significantly, both passages close with indications that this reflects a more ideal world and the current world does not: “They shall not hurt or destroy …” “They shall do no evil or harm …”. These indicate that hurting, harming and destroying animal life would not have been part of a “very good” creation.
Power of Contrary Choice
But God created both Adam and Eve, as well as the angels, with the power of contrary choice. This means that they had the power to make a choice contrary to their own nature. Even God does not have this power, for He cannot sin and go against His perfectly holy nature (Habakkuk 1:13, 1 John 1:5).
The power of contrary choice was a good, with no actual evil, but it meant that there was the possibility of evil. But, evidently, God saw that a greater good would come from it, for example, that the result would be creatures who genuinely love God freely. Actually, real love must be free—if I programmed my computer to flash ‘I love you’ on the screen, it would hardly be genuine love.
But Adam’s misuse of this good (Genesis 3)—not the good thing itself—resulted in actual evil befalling him and the rest of the material creation, over which he had dominion (Genesis 1:28).
Adam’s sin and its results
A very short time after Creation Week,33 Eve was deceived by the Serpent’s temptation, and in turn gave the forbidden fruit to Adam, who was not deceived, but still ate (1 Timothy 2:13–14).
As a result of his sin, Adam and his descendants acquired a sin nature (Romans 5:12 ff.), and lost the power of contrary choice. But in this case, it now meant that they could no longer go against their sin nature (Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 7:15–25). So people today don’t get their sin natures by sinning; they sin because of their sin nature.
The potentiality of evil, but not the actuality, is also illustrated by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the original creation, God knew evil in the same way as an oncologist knows about cancer—not by personal experience but by knowledge about it (in God’s case, by foreknowledge). But after Adam and Eve sinned, they knew evil in the same way as a cancer sufferer knows cancer—by sad personal experience.34
In the Eternal State (see God has prepared an eternal home), redeemed humanity, having been purified by Christ, will no longer even have the potential for sin. So in this sense, the Eternal State, with the new creation of the new heavens and new earth, will be even better than Eden.
In summary, following Augustine:
- Adam and Eve were created with the ability not to sin.
- After the Fall, humans had no ability not to sin.
- In the Eternal State, humans will have no ability to sin.
Free will defense?
Sometimes Christian apologists invoke something similar, the well-known ‘free will defense’ to the problem of evil. But the biblical account is more nuanced—any ‘freedom’ applied only to Adam and Eve; their sin lost the true freedom they were created with. Their descendants are now in bondage to sin. Only redeemed humans in the eternal state will have true freedom from this bondage.
But indeed, humans have a voluntary will, and very many evils can be caused by this, including the 9–11 terrorist attack. For God to intervene against this type of evil, he would need to remove this volition. But then, how much volition should He remove, and would an atheist really be happy with this solution? If God stops evil murderers, should He also stop evil thoughts, which Jesus said were behind evil deeds (Matthew 15:19). But then, if this were acceptable, then should God give all atheists a splitting headache when they think a militantly atheistic thought? They would probably protest mightily!
It’s interesting to see the insights of Daniel Defoe (c. 1660–1731) in his classic Robinson Crusoe (1719). The title character was marooned on a desert island for 28 years, and rescued and befriended a native he named “Friday”, and taught him Christianity. Crusoe taught about the devil, his origin, rebellion against God, and his terrible enmity against man. This dialogue ensued:
“Well,” says Friday, “but you say God is so strong, so great; is He not much strong, much might as the devil?” “Yes, yes,” says I, “Friday; God is stronger than the devil—God is above the devil, and therefore we pray to God to tread him down under our feet, and enable us to resist his temptations and quench his fiery darts.” “But,” says he again, “if God much stronger, much might as the wicked devil, why God no kill the devil, so make him no more do wicked?”
Crusoe eventually responded:
“God will at last punish him severely; he is reserved for the judgment, and is to be cast into the bottomless pit, to dwell with everlasting fire.” This did not satisfy Friday; but he returns upon me, repeating my words, “‘RESERVE AT LAST!’ me no understand— but why not kill the devil now; not kill great ago?” “You may as well ask me,” said I, “why God does not kill you or me, when we do wicked things here that offend Him—we are preserved to repent and be pardoned.”
What about natural evil?
Now the philosophy professor mentioned above argued, “The ‘free will defense’ is fine in the face of moral evil, but is irrelevant with regard to natural evils.” He is mainly right about that—free will of moral agents doesn’t explain the ‘dog-eat-dog’ world that bothered Darwin, Templeton and Dawkins. So for the right answer, we need biblical history: what happened after Adam’s sin.
Death and suffering is the penalty for sin
God created Adam, and gave him only one command, and warned him that he would die if he disobeyed (Genesis 2:17). Thus when Adam sinned, God had to judge sin with death, to keep His word (Genesis 3:19). This is the first indication that death is an intruder into the world, not the way God originally made it. The New Testament calls death “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26) and “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23). Thus the Bible is consistent throughout in linking death to sin.
Indeed, God apparently directly caused the first death in the world—an animal was slain to make clothing for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). As a result of God’s judgment on the world, God has given us a taste of life without Him—a world that is running down—a world full of death and suffering.
Now the Bible tells us that Adam was the head of the human race, representing each one of us, who are his descendants. Paul says in Romans 5:12–19 that we sin “in Adam”, after the likeness of Adam. In other words, we are born with the same problem Adam acquired after his Fall—we are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). When Adam rebelled against God, all human beings, represented by Adam, effectively said that they wanted life without God.
Now since God is the author of life, death is the natural penalty of choosing life without God, the giver of life. Also, because the Lord is holy and just, there had to be a penalty for rebellion.
The Bible makes it clear that death is the penalty for our sin, not just the sin of Adam. If you accept the Bible’s account of history, then our sins—not just the sins of ‘the other guy’—are responsible for all the death and suffering in the world! In other words, it is really our fault that the world is the way it is. No one is really ‘innocent’ in the sense of ‘sinless’.
Furthermore, Genesis 1:26–28 says that mankind was given dominion over the whole creation. So when he sinned, the whole creation under him was cursed as well. So the Fall was cosmic in scope, affecting the entire creation.35,36 As Romans 8:22 says, “the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs”—because God Himself subjected the creation to futility (v. 20).37
This also explains why the living world is at war.
God has removed some of His sustaining power—temporarily. At the same time that God judged sin with death, He withdrew some of His sustaining power. Everything is running down because of sin. God has given us a taste of life without Him—a world full of violence, death, suffering, and disease. If God withdrew all of His sustaining power, the creation would cease to exist. Colossians 1:16–17 tells us that all things are held together, right now, by the power of the Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Hebrews 1:3). However, in one sense He is not holding it together perfectly, as He is deliberately letting things fall apart to give us a taste of what life is like without God. In other words, God is allowing us to experience what we wanted—life without God (cf. Romans 1:18–32).
In the Old Testament, we get a glimpse of what the world is like when God upholds things one hundred percent. In Deuteronomy 29:5 and Nehemiah 9:21, we are told that the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, and yet their clothes didn’t wear out, their shoes didn’t wear out, and their feet didn’t swell. Obviously God miraculously upheld their clothing, shoes, and feet so that they would not wear out or fall apart as the rest of the creation is doing. One can only imagine what the world would be like if God upheld every detail of it like this.
The book of Daniel, chapter 3, gives us another glimpse, when we read about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walking into an intensely blazing furnace—yet coming out without even the smell of smoke on their clothes. When the Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of the universe (John 1:3, Colossians 1:15 ff.), upheld their bodies and clothing in the midst of fire (v. 25), nothing could be hurt or destroyed.
These examples help us understand a little of what it would be like if God upheld every aspect of the creation—nothing would fall apart.
At the present time, we are living in a universe where things are decaying. Around us we see death, suffering, and disease—all as a result of God’s judgment against sin and His withdrawal of some of His sustaining power to give us what we asked for—a taste of life without God.
Is it fair that God cursed the whole creation?
The Western culture is very individualist in thinking, but the Bible was more collective, as are most cultures even today.38 This explains the frequent corporate punishment in the Bible. But Adam also had dominion over the rest of creation, so when he sinned, the whole creation under him was cursed as well, in line with the principle of corporate punishment.39
Note, if corporate punishment is ‘unjust’, whatever that might mean in a godless framework, then so is corporate redemption (see Is God doing anything about death and suffering). Yet the Bible teaches this concept: believers in Christ are saved because our sins were corporately imputed (credited) to His account (Isaiah 53:6) when He was on the cross. And His perfect righteousness was imputed to believers in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Using this framework, the well known Christian apologist Norman Geisler (1932– ) provided the only correct response to Templeton’s complaint about ‘natural evil’, including “nature red in tooth and claw”:
God did not create animals to be eaten in paradise, and animals weren’t eating each other. The prophet Isaiah said someday God will “create a new heavens and a new earth” where “the wolf and the lamb will feed together and the lion will eat straw like an ox.” In other words, there’s not going to be the same kind of killing that goes on now.
In sum, everything God created was good. What changed things was the Fall. When God was told, in effect, to shove off, he partially did. Romans 8 says all creation was affected—that includes plant life, human beings, animals, everything. There were fundamental genetic changes; we see, for instance, how life spans rapidly decreased after the Fall [sic–actually after the Flood; see Genesis 1140,41]. God’s plan was not designed to be this way; it’s only this way because of sin. Ultimately it will be remedied.42
A very good summary. (Space doesn’t permit explanations of how vegetarian animals became carnivorous and how good germs became bad, but the books in Ref. 43 provide evidence for several possibilities). But this has implications about world history that Geisler overlooks, as will be seen.
Why billions of years undermines this teaching
Geisler is also well known as a believer in billions of years. Yet he fails to realize that his answer will only work within a biblical (“young-earth”) framework.
The billions of years he proposes are not derived from the Bible, but were argued from the supposed length of time to form the rock layers. Now his science is grossly flawed, but this is outside the scope of this book, and has been refuted elsewhere.44 But the main problem the billions of years pose for Geisler’s explanation is that these supposedly old rock layers contain fossils. And fossils are the remains of dead things! Yet this billions-of-years dogma puts most of this death before Adam’s sin, undermining the consistent biblical sin-death causality.
Even leaving aside the problems of animal death before sin, it’s hard to deny that the Bible teaches that human death began with Adam’s sin. Consider:
- Romans 5:12–19—“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
- 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 45–47—“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. … The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.”
These passages teach that human death came through the disobedience of “the first man, Adam”. Furthermore, they connect this death with the obedience and resurrection of Jesus, “the second man” and “the last Adam”.45,46
Yet the dating methods that Geisler accepts place human fossils before Adam. For example, the ostensibly reliable Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) 14C method ‘dates’ Aborigines in Australia to 41,000 BP (before present).47 Less reliable thermoluminescence methods date the Aborigines to about 60,000 years BP.48 Geisler would not deny the humanity of the Aborigines, unlike many evolutionists of Darwin’s day.49 Geisler would acknowledge that the Bible teaches that all humans come from Adam, but there is no way to stretch Adam’s creation this far back, given the constraints of the biblical chronologies.50,51
An even bigger problem comes from the recent redating of two partial skulls of Homo sapiens that were unearthed in 1967 near the Omo River in southwestern Ethiopia. Radiometric dating (which Geisler tacitly supports) has now placed them at 195,000 years ago.52
So undoubtedly modern humans are dated—by methods that Geisler tacitly upholds—to be far older than any possible biblical date for Adam. Even worse, there are many proven victims of human cannibalism in the fossil record,53 again way before any possible date for Adam.
Thus human fossils alone, ‘dated’ by methods that allegedly also prove the earth is billions of years old, are not compatible with the biblical picture. Geisler’s answer above to Templeton was very good, but totally incompatible with his acceptance of billions of years. Long-age apologists usually don’t realize this incompatibility, including John Lennox54 and William Lane Craig.55 We hope the human fossils alone will open their eyes to the fallacy of long-age ‘dating’ and to the unshakeable truth of the biblical timescale.
Geisler was right to point out that animal carnivory and suffering also began after the Fall of Adam. But the same problem for human death is magnified for animal death. For example, the fossil record includes a turkey-sized Compsognathus found with a lizard in its belly;56 a famous fossil of Velociraptor locked in mortal combat with a Protoceratops, and a T. rex coprolite (fossil dung) found with a “high proportion (30–50%) of bone fragments”.57 We also find tumours in the fossil record.58
No, the only way Geisler’s (correct) argument works is to accept the biblical history, where the earth is only about 6,000 years old. This history also has a coherent explanation for placing fossils after Adam’s sin. That is, most animal fossils were formed by the global Flood of Noah’s day (Genesis 6–9), while human fossils were mostly post-Babel (Genesis 11).59
The future restoration
In contrast to the view that death and suffering have continued for millions of years, this biblical view of history has a wonderful implication for the future. The world will one day be restored (Acts 3:21) to a state in which, once again, there will be no violence and death. Dr Randy Alcorn, author of If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil, points out:
God has never given up on his original creation. Yet somehow we’ve managed to overlook an entire biblical vocabulary that makes this point clear. Redeem. Restore. Recover. Return. Renew. Resurrect. Each of these biblical words begins with the re-prefix, suggesting a return to an original condition that was ruined or lost. God always sees us in light of what He intended us to be, and He always seeks to restore us to that design. Likewise, He sees the earth in terms of what He intended it to be, and He seeks to restore it to its original design.60
And that’s yet another problem with billions of years: if this past were true, with all the death and suffering it entails, there is a problem with all these “re–” words. That is, “restoration” to what? Billions of years of more death, suffering and disease?61,62
No! Clearly, this future state reflects the paradise that was once lost, not some imaginary land that never existed.
What about specific cases of ‘senseless suffering’?
The Bible teaches that suffering is part of the ‘big picture’ involving sin, but individual cases of suffering are not always correlated with particular sins of individuals, in several areas:
God allowed the suffering of righteous Job
A man named Job, who was the most righteous man on Earth at his time, suffered intensely—losing all his children, servants, and possessions in a single day. Then he was struck by a painful illness. Some of this was due to evil acts by men, and others due to ‘natural evils’. The Lord never told Job the specific reasons for his suffering, but He lets every reader of the book of Job witness some extraordinary ‘behind-the-scenes’ events in Heaven, which Job never saw. The Lord had reasons for allowing Job’s suffering, but He never told Job these reasons, and He demanded that Job not question the decisions of his Maker.
When Jesus and His disciples passed by a blind man, His disciples asked Him whether the man’s blindness from birth was due to his own sin or the sin of his parents. Jesus explained that neither was the case. The man was born blind so that God could demonstrate His power (when Jesus healed him, John 9:1–7).
Also, even if a person is not healed, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he is committing any particular grievous sin or ‘lacking faith’. Paul testified that he prayed three times for God to take some sort of physical disability from him. Yet God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Many Christians with disability have testified how God can heal the hurt and anguish, and help them live through it. And they demonstrate God’s power, not in physical healing, but in their witness to God’s gracious empowering.
One of my friends has been deaf and blind from before she can remember. She ‘talks’ by typing on her keyboard and by sign language. ‘Listens’ for her means reading on her Braille keyboard what someone’s typing, or if a person is skilled in sign language or there is an interpreter, she will place her hand gently over one of the signer’s hands and ‘read’ the movements (although American Sign Language uses both hands, she somehow manages to decode by reading only one hand).
She has told me with indignation of total strangers placing their hands on her head in an attempt to ‘heal’ her. Yet she is sure that it was not a lack of faith on her part that she still can’t see or hear. Instead, she thinks that God is instead using her to teach others about disabilities; she has travelled to a number of different countries to do this.
Indeed, although God certainly can heal organic physical disabilities, in the modern western world, He often chooses not to. A church elder from my teenage years, who was crippled from polio, said that God’s action these days is often to remove the emotional pain from the disabilities.
As an example, the blind gospel singer Ginny Owens says that one of her biggest problems as a child was loneliness, because she couldn’t see, and just because she was noticeably different. One profile reports:
Ginny says she’s never been mad at God for her blindness.
And though she says she’d love to be able to see, she doesn’t think God will heal her.
“I’m not saying God can’t do a miracle,” she says. “I’m just not sure that he’d choose to. And that’s all right. Miracles are wonderful, but they don’t happen every day. And looking for one to happen for me might make me waste my time.”
Ginny cites a favorite Old Testament passage that convinces her that God can do great things through us despite our limitations—even blindness.
In the story, Moses stands before the burning bush, and God speaks directly to him. God tells Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, promising He’ll be with Moses all the way. But Moses actually has the nerve to argue with God, giving a ton of excuses why he’s not the man for the job—including the fact that he doesn’t speak very well.
God tells Moses, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Exodus 4:11–12).
“That’s really cool,” Ginny says. “I believe God gives and He takes away. God isn’t stupid. He has a perfect plan in everything he does, including my blindness.”63
Natural disasters and atrocities
Jesus discussed why eighteen Jews died tragically when the tower of Siloam collapsed. This is directly applicable to modern atrocities, such as the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States on September 11, 2001. Luke 13:4 records His words: “Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were sinners above all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!” Suffering in our lives is not always related to our personal sin.
Note, however, that Jesus went on to say that, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” No one is innocent, in the sense of sinless.64 All of us are sinners and therefore condemned to die and deserving of death. Thousands of people died in the World Trade Center catastrophe, and millions died in the Holocaust. But hundreds of millions of people who saw and heard about this event will also die one day—in fact, thousands of them are dying every day—because all humans have been given the death penalty because of sin.
Our earthly death is not the end
The Bible is never embarrassed to talk about the question of suffering. God’s past judgments have included almost every type of suffering imaginable, and He repeatedly asserts His absolute power and authority over men’s lives. Yet in one of Christ’s most memorable teachings (Luke 16:19–31), the Son of God gives the key to understanding the apparent injustices of this world: the account about the rich man and Lazarus.
A wicked rich man lived in splendour, while a faithful beggar named Lazarus sat at the rich man’s gate, covered with sores and eating table scraps. But the story does not end here. There is an eternal world to come, where God will make all things right. The hope of a resurrection is the key to understanding our suffering.65
The atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) once challenged:
I would invite any Christian to accompany me to the children’s ward of a hospital, to watch the suffering that is there being endured, and then to persist in the assertion that those children are so morally abandoned as to deserve what they are suffering.66
A minister who actually had experience with dying children (unlike Russell who never got his own hands dirty with such practical things) challenged Russell to explain what he could offer such a child. An atheist could only say, sorry chap, you’ve had your chips, and that’s the end of everything for you. But the Christian has hope that this life is not the end.
Suffering is God’s ‘megaphone’
The famous literature scholar and apologist C.S. Lewis (1898–1963),67 himself no stranger to suffering,68 wrote a book The Problem of Pain (1940). He argued that people have lost the sense of the seriousness of sin, and God can use suffering as a reminder of this horror. That is, our world is not good; rather, we live in a world cursed as a judgment on sin:
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
Indeed, people might remember how many people were seen in Church for the first time in years after the Twin Towers terrorist attacks.
Biblical reasons for suffering
The Apostle Paul found reasons to “glory in my infirmities”
Paul’s ‘résumé of suffering’ included torture, beatings, imprisonment, stoning, shipwreck, robbery, infirmities, exhaustion, hunger, thirst, cold and finally execution. His letters show that Christ’s Resurrection was the key to his making sense of his suffering. Without the Resurrection, “then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain, … [and] we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 19).
Paul’s letters are filled with practical reasons for the suffering of God’s children, even when they have done nothing wrong. But we can boil them down into five points:
1. Suffering “perfects” us
That is, it makes us mature in the image of Christ. Job himself declared, “When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). God even used suffering in the life of the Son of Man, to bring Him to full maturity as a man—“though he were a Son, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:8–9).
2. Suffering helps us to know Christ
After all, Christ was a “man of sorrows”, who bore the sorrows and the suffering of the world with Him on the Cross. When we suffer, we better understand the surpassing glory of the suffering Saviour, and the wonders of what He did for us. Paul gladly suffered the loss of all things “that I might know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Philippians 3:10).
3. Suffering makes us better servants of others
The Bible declares that Christ’s own suffering enabled Him to succour others (Hebrews 2:18). Likewise, as we receive comfort from “the God of all comfort”, we are able to comfort others also (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).
4. Suffering prepares us for greater glory in Heaven
In a beautiful passage on his troubles and persecutions, the Apostle Paul ends with an affirmation that he does not faint because “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Suffering is the door through which we enter future glories that we, as yet, know nothing about.
5. Suffering completes Christ’s suffering
This statement may, at first glance, seem strange. But since the eternal Son of God took upon Him all the sufferings of all mankind—past and future—then it appears that our sufferings somehow complete the sufferings He suffered (see Colossians 1:24). God sends us suffering to add to the glory of what His Son suffered. Even though it’s hard to understand such a concept, at least it is clear that God has many marvellous reasons for sufferings that we do not yet fully understand!
Is God doing anything about death and suffering?
People who accuse God of sitting back and doing nothing are missing a vital truth. In reality, God has already done everything you would want a loving God to do—and infinitely more!
1. The Son of God became a man and endured both suffering and a horrible death on man’s behalf.
Adam’s sin left mankind in a terrible predicament. Even though our bodies die, we are made in the image of God, and thus we have a non-material part that survives physical death (Matthew 10:28, Philippians 1:21–23, Revelation 6:9–11). Our conscious being is going to live forever. Unless God intervened, Adam’s sin meant that we would spend an eternity of suffering and separation from Him.
The only way for us to restore our life with God is if we are able to come to Him with the penalty paid for our sin. Leviticus 17:11 helps us to understand how this can be done. It says, “The life of the flesh is in the blood.” Blood represents life. The New Testament explains that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness [of sins]” (Hebrews 9:22). God makes it clear that, because we are creatures of flesh and blood, the only way to pay the penalty for our sin is if blood is shed to take away our sin. But if death and suffering were natural, and occurring for millions of years before Adam, then why should blood-shedding have this sin-removing property?
In the Garden of Eden, God killed an animal and clothed Adam and Eve as a picture of a covering for our sin. A blood sacrifice was needed because of our sin. The Israelites sacrificed animals over and over again; however, because Adam’s blood does not flow in animals, animal blood, though it could temporarily cover our sin, could never take it away. The Hebrew word translated “atonement” is kaphar, which means ‘cover’.
The solution was God’s plan to send His Son, the Second Person of the triune Godhead, the Lord Jesus Christ, to become a man—a perfect man—to be a sacrifice for sin.69 In the person of Jesus Christ, our Creator God stepped into history (John 1:1–14) to become a physical descendant of Adam, called “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45), born of a woman (Galatians 4:4) who was a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23, Luke 1:34). Because the Holy Spirit overshadowed His mother (Luke 1:35), He was a perfect man, one without sin, despite having been tempted in every way that we are (Hebrews 4:15), who thus could shed His blood on a cross for our sin.
Because mankind’s first representative head—Adam—was responsible for bringing sin and death into the world, the human race can now have a new representative—the “last Adam”—who paid the penalty for sin. No sinner could pay for the sins of others (Hebrews 7:27), but this last Adam—Jesus Christ—was a perfect man. God in human flesh was able to bear the sins and sorrows of the world; a perfect sacrifice of infinite value.
2. The Son of God rose from the grave so that He could provide eternal life for all who believe (John 3:16)
After Christ’s suffering and death, He rose from the dead, showing he had ultimate power—power over death. He can now give eternal life to anyone who receives it by faith (John 1:12, Ephesians 2:8–9). The Bible teaches us that those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and believe that God has raised Him from the dead, and receive Him as Lord and Saviour, will spend eternity with God (1 Cor. 15:1–4).
3. The Son of God sympathizes with our sorrows
Christ’s suffering and death mean that God Himself can personally empathize with our suffering, because He has experienced it. His followers have a High Priest—Jesus—who can be “touched with the feeling of our infirmities. … Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15–16).
How long will this suffering and death go on?
People who complain about the suffering on this Earth need to understand God’s perspective of time. God dwells in eternity, and He is lovingly preparing His people to spend an eternity with Him. As the Apostle Paul said, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). The book of Hebrews says that Jesus Himself, “for the glory that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
The present suffering is so insignificant, in view of eternity, that it can’t even be compared to the glory to come.
God has prepared an eternal home where there will be no more death or suffering
Those who put their trust in Christ as Saviour have a wonderful hope—they can spend eternity with the Lord in a place where there will be no more death. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Also, in this eternal state, there will once again be a tree of life, as in Eden, and no more curse (Revelation 22:2–3).
Indeed, death is really the path that opens the way to this wonderful place, called Heaven. If we lived forever, we would never have an opportunity to shed this sinful body. But God wants us to have a new body, and He wants us to dwell with Him forever. In fact, the Bible states that “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Death is “precious” because sinners who have trusted Christ will enter immediately into the presence of their Creator (Philippians 1:21–23), in a place where righteousness dwells.
There is also place of eternal separation from God
The Bible warns that those who reject Christ will taste a “second death”—eternal separation from God (Revelation 21:8).
Most of us have heard about Hell, a place of fire and torment, and eternal shame. None other than Jesus Christ warned of this place more than He spoke of Heaven. He also made it clear that the torment of the wicked was as eternal (Greek aionios) as the life of the blessed (Matthew 25:46). God does not delight in the death of the wicked. “Say unto them, ‘As I live’, said the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn, turn from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11). God takes no pleasure in the afflictions and calamities of people. He is a loving, merciful God—it is our fault that man is in the current state of suffering and death.
This is only right: for those who cling to their sins, God will grant them their wish, and separate them from Himself, the source of goodness, for eternity. There will be only two types of people: those who say to God ‘Thy will be done’ who will be happy in the new heavens and earth for eternity; and those to whom God says: ‘thy will be done’, who will be separated from goodness for all eternity.
Another reason for Hell is that God is perfectly just, meaning that He will always act justly according to the moral / legal principles that He instituted. So He must punish violations of His law. Since our shortcomings offend His perfect, infinite holiness, the punishment must also be infinite. Because we are finite, it follows that the punishment must be of infinite duration (Matthew 25:46). The only way out is for a perfect divine and human substitute to take our place—see Good News!.
As we face horrible suffering, such as the tragedy at the World Trade Center or the Holocaust, let it remind us that the ultimate cause of such calamity is our sin—our rebellion against God. Our loving God, despite our sinfulness, wants us to spend eternity with Him. Christians need to stretch forth a loving, comforting arm to those who are in need of comfort and strength during times of suffering. They can find strength in the arms of a loving Creator who hates Death—the enemy that will one day be thrown into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14).
What about aborted babies and mentally handicapped?
Actually, the Bible doesn’t say explicitly. All we really have to go on is “Shall not the God of all the earth do right” (Genesis 18:25). Some think that they go automatically to heaven, which would be what I would like to believe, and this would comfort parents who have lost young children or miscarried, and those with mentally handicapped children. However, this actually leads to a serious problem: moral hazard.
Economists use the term ‘moral hazard’ when a particular policy provides an incentive for wrong or counter-productive behaviour.70 The moral hazard in this view is that it would be better for the babies in an eternal sense to be aborted and be guaranteed heaven than to be allowed to live, with a good chance to be damned eternally. After all, Paul said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
This would lead to the perverse position that the greatest soul-winner in history would not be the Apostle Paul, Wesley and Whitfield, or Billy Graham, but the abortion industry Planned Parenthood. And the greatest individual soul-winner would be Planned Parenthood’s founder, the racist Darwinian eugenicist Margaret Sanger (1879–1966).71
This doesn’t mean that those who die in childhood automatically go to Hell either—indeed, such a view would contradict Scripture. For example, after God punished David’s adultery with Bathsheba by causing their infant son to die, David says, “I will go to him” (2 Sam 12:23). This seems to indicate that this infant would be in Heaven, where David would go. And while the Bible doesn’t teach an ‘age of accountability’, there are biblical indications that the rules are different for children. For example, Isaiah 7:16 says, “before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.” Paul tells us that the thoughts and reasoning of children and adults are different (1 Corinthians 13:11). So since the Bible doesn’t say one way or the other, we are obliged simply to obey God, thus refrain from murdering children, and to trust His judgment.72
What about ‘those who haven’t heard the Gospel’?
Another moral hazard can arise concerning this question as well. That is, some argue that people will be damned only if they reject Christ after hearing the Gospel. But the moral hazard here is: we should thus never preach the Gospel or send missionaries, because then we are giving people the chance to reject the Gospel. In reality:
- People go to hell because they have sinned against the infinitely holy God, as explained above, not because ‘they haven’t heard’.
- Romans 1:18–28 points out that some truth about God is obvious (in the heart) from creation, so that all people are ‘without excuse’.
- Romans 2:14–16 says that people also have a conscience, and don’t even live up to their own standards, let alone God’s.
- Romans 10:9–13 explains the only way out: belief in Jesus as YHWH (aka Yahweh, Jehovah, the Lord), who died for our sins.
- Thus Romans 10:14–18 explains the urgency of getting this message to everyone, so they will have a chance to hear.
What this means for us now
We have two options: separate from our sins by trusting in Christ, and dwell with God forever; or cling to our sins, in which case God will grant our wish and separate us from Himself for eternity. This is why Jesus on the Day of Judgment says to evildoers, “Depart from me …” (Matthew 7:23, Luke 13:27).
When we understand the origin of death and the Gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed in the Bible, then we can understand why this world is the way it is and how there can be a loving God in the midst of tragedy, violence, suffering, and death. Which view of death do you accept? Is it one that makes God an ogre responsible for millions of years of death, disease, and suffering? Or is it one that places the blame on our sin, and pictures our Creator God as a loving, merciful Saviour who wept over the city of Jerusalem, who wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, and who weeps for all of us?
Appendix: what about ‘Christian’ atrocities and hypocrites?
Another common argument concerns the atrocities committed in Christ’s name, and hypocrites in the Church.
It’s vital to note that atrocities in the name of Christ are inconsistent with real Christianity, which is revealed in the Bible. But we showed above, atheism provides the basis for no coherent ethical theory. Thus atrocities in the name of atheism are not inconsistent with it. And the corrective for faulty application of Christianity is not atheism but correct (biblical) application of Christianity.73
Furthermore, atrocities committed in Christ’s name pale in comparison to the record-breaking tens of millions killed by atheistic regimes just last century. This was thoroughly documented by Rudolph Rummel (1932–2014), Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Hawaii, who coined the term democide for murder by government:74 77 million in Communist China, 62 million in the Soviet Gulag State, 21 million non-battle killings by the Nazis, 2 million murdered in the Khmer Rouge killing fields. This is many times more deaths than all ‘religious’ wars put together in all centuries of human history.
A few more cases follow:
Between 1,500 and 4,000 people were executed for heresy over its 350-year span. Thus its rate of carrying out the death penalty was lower than the state of Texas today, and Stalin killed that many before breakfast. Furthermore, Inquisition trials were often fairer and more lenient than their secular counterparts—indeed, some criminals uttered heresies precisely so they would be transferred to the Inquisition courts from the civil courts.75
Salem witch trials
They killed fewer than 25 people, and were stopped when Christians protested at the travesty of justice in the unfair trials.76
While many people attack Christianity for the Crusades, an increasing number of historians regard them as a belated response to centuries of Islamic aggression.77
The Muslims quickly conquered the Iberian Peninsula well before the Crusades. They probably would have almost certainly conquered Europe if the Frankish king Charles Martel’s infantry had not defeated the Muslim cavalry at the Battle of Tours/Poitiers in a brilliant defensive strategy.
Also, just think about the historic centres of Christianity such as Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and the rest of North Africa—they are now Muslim lands, converted at the point of the sword. And after the crusades, the Muslim Turks conquered the ancient land of Asia Minor, the birthplace of the Apostle Paul, the site of many of his missionary journeys and home of the Seven Churches of the book of Revelation. Furthermore, when they conquered Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453, they turned Hagia Sophia (‘Holy Wisdom’), the world’s biggest church of its day and centre of Eastern Orthodoxy, into a mosque.
In this, they were following the example of Muhammad himself. Evangelist Lowell Lundstrom observes, “During Muhammad’s ten years in Medina, he planned 65 military campaigns and raids, and he personally led 27 of them.”78 In Sura 66:9, the Koran affirms, “O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be stern with them. Hell will be their home, a hapless journey’s end.” Historian Sir Steven Runciman notes, “Unlike Christianity, which preached a peace that it never achieved, Islam unashamedly came with the sword.”79 So while atrocities committed in the name of Christ, such as during the Crusades, were inconsistent with the teachings of Christ, the atrocities committed by Muslims are consistent with Muhammad’s teachings and example.80
Jesus reserved some of his strongest criticism for the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. But he in no way condemned the righteousness that they stood for in public. Matthew 23:1–3 records:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practise and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.
Thus the charge of hypocrisy was not an attack on the morality they preached but on their failure to live up to it. He actually told his followers to be even more righteous than them (Matthew 5:20).
We are so upset by hypocrisy precisely because we recognize that something intrinsically good has been debased and let down by a failure to meet the standard proclaimed. Hence the saying, “Hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue.”
The atheist criticism amounts to preferring that we both say and do the wrong thing rather than say the right thing and do the wrong thing.81
(Hyperlinked titles are available from CMI)
- Kumar, Steve (with Sarfati, Jonathan), Christianity for Skeptics, Creation Book Publishers, 2012.
- Alcorn, Randy, If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil, Multnomah Books, 2009.
- Sarfati, Jonathan, The Genesis Account: A theological, historical, and scientific commentary on Genesis 1–11, Creation Book Publishers, 2015.
- Batten, Don (ed.), Catchpoole, David; Sarfati, Jonathan; Wieland, Carl; The Creation Answers Book, Creation Book Publishers, 2009.
- Death and Suffering Questions and Answers, creation.com/curse.
- Lewis, C.S., The Problem of Pain, New York: Macmillan, 1948.
- Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom and Evil, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.
- Sarfati, Jonathan, The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on evolution, Creation Book Publishers, 2010.
- Sarfati, Jonathan, Refuting Compromise: A biblical and scientific refutation of ‘progressive creationism’ (billions of years) as popularized by astronomer Hugh Ross, Creation Book Publishers, 2011.
- Wenham, John W. The Goodness of God, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1974.
- Wieland, Carl, Beyond the Shadows: making sense of personal tragedy, Creation Book Publishers, 2011.
- Wilder-Smith, A.E. Why Does God Allow It? San Diego: Master Books, 1980.
References and notes
- Note, my booklet Why would a loving God allow death and suffering? is a condensed version of this paper. Return to text.
- From Greek theos (θεός) = God and dikē (δίκη) = justice, right. Return to text.
- See documentation in Sarfati, J., The Darwin—Hitler connection, creation.com/hitler-darwin, 19 November 2008. Return to text.
- Earthquake “moment magnitude scale” is logarithmic: an 8.0 magnitude earthquake has 10 times the shaking amplitude of a 7. Further, the energy is proportional to the 3⁄2 power of amplitude. So a ‘9’ earthquake has 100 times the amplitude of a ‘7’, but 1000 (1003⁄2) times the energy. Return to text.
- Walker, T., Tsunami tragedy, Creation, 28(1):12–17, 2005, creation.com/tsunami-tragedy. Return to text.
- The virus often killed by causing an over-reaction of the patient’s own immune system (‘cytokine storm’). The healthiest people had the strongest immune systems, and this was turned against them. Return to text.
- Desmond A. and Moore, J., Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, p. 387, 1991. Return to text.
- Darwin, C., On the Origin of Species, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 490, 1964 (1859). Return to text.
- Sarfati, J, Refuting Evolution 2, ch. 2, Creation Book Publishers, 2011. Return to text.
- Darwin, C.R., The Autobiography of Charles Darwin: 1809–1882, ed. Nora Barlow, p. 90, W. W. Norton, NY, 1958. Return to text.
- Templeton, C., Farewell to God, McClelland & Stewart, Inc., Toronto, Canada, 1996. Return to text.
- For a refutation of Templeton’s arguments, see Wieland, C., Death of an apostate, Creation, 25(1):6, 2002. Return to text.
- Martin, W., A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story, p. 110, William Morrow and Company, Inc., NY, 1991. Return to text.
- Templeton, C., Ref. 11, p. 30. Return to text.
- Templeton, C., Ref. 11, p. 198. Return to text.
- Templeton, C., Ref. 11, pp. 198–199. Return to text.
- Templeton, C., Ref. 11, p. 201. Return to text.
- Dawkins, R., The Greatest Show on Earth, pp. 390–1, Free Press, 2009. Return to text.
- Quoted in Oliphant-Smith Debate, p. 28, Gospel Advocate Co., Nashville, 1929. Return to text.
- Dawkins, R., River out of Eden, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, p. 133, 1995. Return to text.
- Hattersley, R., Blood and Fire: William and Catherine Booth and their Salvation Army, Doubleday, UK, 1999. Return to text.
- Broadcast on BBC World Service, Saturday 2nd January 2010, www.bbc.co.uk. Return to text.
- Parris, M., As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God, The Times Online, www.timesonline.co.uk, 27 December 2008. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D., Atheists credit the Gospel: Two high-profile atheists concede that to get practical help to the poor and liberate them from poverty you need Christianity’s teaching about man’s place in the Universe, Creation, 32(4):48–49, 2010; creation.com/atheists-credit. Return to text.
- In sum, this is the answer to Socrates’ ‘Euthyphro Dilemma’. Space doesn’t permit a detailed discussion, so for more information, see Sarfati, J., What is ‘good’? (Answering the Euthyphro Dilemma), creation.com/euthyphro, 5 May 2007. Return to text.
- Lactantius, On the Anger of God, chapters 4, 13, Ante-Nicene Fathers 7, newadvent.org/fathers/0703.htm. Return to text.
- Wilder-Smith, A.E., Is This A God Of Love?, TWFT Publishers, Costa Mesa, California, p. 159, 1991. Return to text.
- Keyworth, Donald, now Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa, email to CMI, 2004. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., CMI answers philosophy/religion professor on biblical exegesis and the problem of evil, creation.com/evil2, 26 November 2004; reposted and updated 2 June 2007. Return to text.
- Some have resorted to Isaiah 45:7 (KJV) to claim that God really creates evil. But here, the Hebrew word ra is not contrasted with moral goodness, but with ‘peace’. So the NIV translation “I bring prosperity and create disaster,” and the NASB “Causing well-being and creating calamity,” are more accurate. But in the phrase “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil”, ra is here contrasted with “good”, so in this context refers to moral evil. Return to text.
- Motyer, A., Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, UK, argues this in his commentary, The Prophecy of Isaiah, IVP, Leicester, UK, p. 124, 1993. Return to text.
- Gurney, R.J.M., The carnivorous nature and suffering of animals, J. Creation, 18(3):70–75, 2004; creation.com/carniv. Return to text.
- For the time frame, see Sarfati, J., Why Bible history matters, Creation, 33(4):18–21, 2011; creation.com/ bible-history. See also Refuting Compromise, p. 295, 2011. Return to text.
- MacArthur, J., The Battle for the Beginning, p. 211, W Publishing Group, pp. 199–204, 2001. Return to text.
- The theological implications of the Fall, what was affected, are discussed in Refuting Compromise, ch. 6 (see Recommended reading). Return to text.
- See also The Fall: a cosmic catastrophe: Hugh Ross’s blunders on plant death in the Bible, J. Creation, 19(3):60–64, 2005; creation.com/plant_death. Return to text.
- For a thorough treatment of the implications of the Fall taught by Romans ch. 8, see Smith, H.B., Cosmic and universal death from Adam’s Fall: An exegesis of Romans 8:19–23a, J. Creation 21(1):75–85, 2007; creation.com/romans8. Return to text.
- Holding, J.P., Honor and Shame in the Biblical World, tektonics.org. There are pluses and minuses of both types of cultures. However, the countries most influenced by the Reformation are the most individualist, with all the prosperity that individual and property rights can bring. This is due to the rediscovery of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith, which elevated the independence of the individual. So did Jesus’ condemnation of sins of the heart that no other human could see, such as anger and lust (Matthew 5:22,28). So while biblical culture was collectivist, and must be understood in this context, many of its teachings subtly addressed the downsides of this type of culture and laid the foundation for the positive aspects of an individualist one. See Robbins, J., Christ and Civilization, Trinity Foundation, POB 68, Unicoi, TN 37692, 2003. Return to text.
- This is a big problem for alien life: this passage logically entails that the Vulcan and Klingon home worlds would have been cursed because of Adam’s sin. See Bates, G., Alien Intrusion, CBP, 2011; Did God create life on other planets? Creation, 29(2):12–15, March 2007; creation.com/lifefromplanets. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Living for 900 years, Creation, 20(4):10–13, 1998; creation.com/900. Return to text.
- The Greatest Hoax on Earth? pp. 56–59 (see Recommended reading). Return to text.
- Cited in Strobel, L., The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), pp. 176–177. See also Catchpoole, D., ‘Billions of years’ makes Christians dumb (and atheists loud): A brilliant way to muzzle Christians: Get them to believe in long ages, 23 April 2013, creation.com/muzzle. Return to text.
- The Creation Answers Book, ch. 6, and The Greatest Hoax on Earth?, ch. 16 (see Recommended reading). See also the articles under creation.com/carnivory. Return to text.
- The Greatest Hoax on Earth?, Chapters 11–12 (see Recommended reading). Return to text.
- Cosner, L., Romans 5:12–21: Paul’s view of literal Adam, J. Creation, 22(2):105–107, 2008; creation.com/romans5. Return to text.
- Cosner, L., Christ as the last Adam: Paul’s use of the Creation narrative in 1 Corinthians 15, J. Creation, 23(3):70–75, 2009; creation.com/1-corinthians-15. Return to text.
- O’Connor, S., Carpenter’s Gap rockshelter 1: 40,000 years of Aboriginal occupation in the Napier Ranges, Kimberley, WA, Australian Archaeology 40:58–59, June 1995. Return to text.
- Allen, J., A matter of time, Nature Australia 26(10):60–69, Spring 2000. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Darwin’s bodysnatchers: new horrors: People deliberately killed to provide ‘specimens’ for evolutionary research, Creation, 14(2):16–18, 1992; creation.com/bodysnatch. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Biblical chronogenealogies, J. Creation, 17(3):14–18, 2003, creation.com/chronogenealogy. Return to text.
- Freeman, T., The Genesis 5 and 11 fluidity question, J. Creation, 19(2):83–90, 2005, creation.com/fluidity. Return to text.
- McDougall, I., Brown, F.H. and Fleagle, J.G., Stratigraphic placement and age of modern humans from Kibish, Ethiopia, Nature, 433(7027):733–736, 17 February 2005. Return to text.
- Lubenow, M., Pre-Adamites, sin, death and the human fossils, J. Creation, 12(2):222–232, 1998; creation.com/pre-adamites. Return to text.
- Lennox, J., Seven Days that Divide the World, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2011. See also review by Cosner, L., Who is being divisive about creation? J. Creation, 26(3):25–28, 2012; creation.com/lennox. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., William Lane Craig’s intellectually dishonest attack on biblical creationists, creation.com/craig, 17 September 2013. Return to text.
- Ostrom, J.H., The osteology of Compsognathus longipes, Zitteliana 4:73–118, 1978. Return to text.
- Chin, K. et al., A king-sized theropod coprolite, Nature, 393:680–682, 18 June 1998 | DOI:10.1038/31461. Return to text.
- Scientists find first dinosaur brain tumor, Yahoo News, 28 October 2003; Wieland, C., First-ever dinosaur brain tumour found, Creation, 26(2):21, 2004; creation.com/dinotumour. Return to text.
- See Refuting Compromise, chapters 8 and 9 (see Recommended reading). Return to text.
- An eternal perspective on creation: Lita Sanders chats with Randy Alcorn, writer and founder of Eternal Perspectives Ministries, Creation, 34(2):40–43, 2012; creation.com/alcorn. Return to text.
- Grigg, R., The Future: Some issues for ‘long-age’ Christians, Creation, 25(4):50–51, 2003; creation.com/future. Return to text.
- Verderame, J., Theistic evolution: future shock? Creation, 20(3):18, 1998; creation.com/future2. Return to text.
- Moring, M., Blind Faith (interview with Ginny Owens), christianitytoday.com, 2002. Return to text.
- In the context of definitions like ‘murder is intentionally taking an innocent human life’, the meaning of the word ‘innocent’ is related to its Latin derivation in-nocens = not harming, i.e. not guilty of a capital crime. Return to text.
- Wilder-Smith, Ref. 27, pp. 43–46. Return to text.
- Russell, B., Why I Am Not a Christian, ed. Paul Edward, p. 22, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1957. Return to text.
- See Barnes, P., C.S. Lewis and evolution, creation.com/cs-lewis-and-evolution, 27 April 2007. Return to text.
- Lewis, C.S., A Grief Observed, 1961, his journal after his wife died from bone cancer. Return to text.
- See Sarfati, J., The Incarnation: Why did God become Man? creation.com/incarnation, 23 December 2010. Return to text.
- For example, if welfare policies mean that a woman is better off financially being a single mother than marrying the working father of her child, then they will incentivize single motherhood and discourage the biblical ideal of a family with a married mother and father. Economists Thomas Sowell (1930– ) and Walter Williams (1936–2020), themselves ‘African-American’, argue that such policies have done what slavery, overt racism, Jim Crow laws, and segregation could not: destroy the black family in America. Return to text.
- Bergman, J., Birth control leader Margaret Sanger: Darwinist, racist and eugenicist, J. Creation, 22(3):62–67, 2008; creation.com/sanger. While Sanger herself opposed abortion, her eugenicist views were taken to their logical conclusion by the organization she founded. See Margaret Sanger and the minority holocaust: Why is Christianity Today trying to rehabilitate Margaret Sanger’s legacy? Return to text.
- It is beyond the scope of this article to take sides on Calvinism vs Arminianism. A Calvinist could argue that the baby’s eternal destiny would be determined by whether he was part of God’s elect. For example, the Westminster Confession states: “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.” But it doesn’t state all those who die in infancy or are mentally handicapped are members of the Elect. An Arminian could say that the destination was based on God’s foreseen choice of what the child would have done if he had lived long enough. Again, since we can’t know these things, we should “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13) Return to text.
- See also Sarfati, J., What about bad things done by the church? Creation, 36(1):16–19, 2014; compare creation.com/christian-vs-evolutionary-atrocities. Return to text.
- Rummel, R.J., Death by Government, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1994; hawaii.edu/powerkills/NOTE1.HTM. Return to text.
- Kamen, H., The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision, Yale University Press, 1999. Return to text.
- D’Souza, D., What’s So Great About Christianity? p. 207, Regnery, Washington DC, 2007; see review by Cosner, L., J. Creation, 22(2):32–35, 2008; creation.com/ dsouza. Return to text.
- Spencer, R., The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And the Crusades), Regnery Press, 2005; Spencer, R., Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t, Regnery Publishing, 2007; Stark, R., God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, HarperOne, 2009. Return to text.
- Lundstrom, L., The Muslims are Coming, Sisseton, SD: Lowell Lundstrom Ministries, 1980, p. 37. Lundstrom served for ten years as president and chancellor of Trinity Bible College, in Ellendale, North Dakota. Return to text.
- Quoted in Lundstrom, Ref. 78, p. 37. Return to text.
- See Sarfati, J., Unfair to Islam? creation.com/islamunfair, 2008. Return to text.
- See also Wieland, C., The Haggard tragedy: ‘Christianity must be wrong because of all the hypocrites in the church!’, creation.com/haggard, 9 November 2006. Return to text.