The problem of evil is an age old problem that has it’s own branch of theology reserved for it –Theodicy. The problem has probably been stated best in a quote usually attributed to Epicurus:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then He is not omnipotent.

Is He able, but not willing?
Then He is malevolent.

Is He both willing and able?
Then whence comes evil?

Is He neither able nor willing?
Then why call Him God?”

There you have it in a nutshell. Centuries later and volumes of discussion there still isn’t a satisfactory solution for those holding to the goodness of an all-powerful god.

The Westminster divines, in a sleight of hand that would amaze most magicians, got around the problem by simply stating it away:

“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” (Westminster Confession of Faith).

God ordains “whatsoever comes to pass” but isn’t responsible for “whatsoever” happens! Huh? Doesn’t god say:

Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it? (Amos 3:6)

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isa 45:7)

But god isn’t to blame? Of course not, man is to blame. Paul said:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned–(Rom 5:12)

Doesn’t this let god off the hook, so to speak. This is the standard free-will argument that some use to explain evil in the world. However, I don’t think it is a satisfactory answer. There are several reasons why:

1. According to the bible, who created man and who ultimately tested him? God created man with the ability to disobey him but without the knowledge of good and evil (see Gen 2:17, eating of the fruit of the tree gave this knowledge). Without this knowledge how did Adam and Eve even knew what they were doing was wrong! And even if they did, a sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient god put them in a situation in which he KNEW they would fail. Since he knew for certain they would fail, one can argue that he wanted them to fail. He wanted all the evil that resulted from that fall to occur. (If he didn’t, he could have easily created Adam and Eve differently.) The evil that resulted from the fall, according to Paul was sin and death. Wonderful. One act of disobedience and a world full of misery. And this god is supposed to be good and merciful and just?

This is like putting a candy jar out in front of your children, telling them not to eat of it and then leaving the room. I’m guessing that most children would eat the candy, especially if they have never been punished before and had no real concept of “no”. And I’m guessing that most parents, in response to that violent disgusting act of disobedience, would throw the child out of the house forever. And I’m guessing, just guessing here mind you, that any parent who did such a thing would be arrested, tried, found guilty and would be serving some prison time. I don’t think any judge would accept the defense of “I told him not to eat the candy. He disobeyed so it isn’t my fault that I threw him out of the house. He is to blame.” To the same effect, god is not guiltless. He can’t wash his hands of the situation and say “It’s not my fault”.

The Islamic sage and heretic Ibn al-Rawandi (9th century) said the following: A God who inflicts illness upon his slaves cannot be counted as one who treats them wisely, nor can he be said to be looking after them or to be compassionate toward them. The same is true concerning he who inflicts upon them poverty and misery. Also unwise is he who demands obedience from a person who he knows will disobey him. And he who punishes the infidel and disobedient in eternal fire is a fool.”

If god exists, maybe he is just a fool?

2. If you want to argue that god needs man to have free-will so that he can know that man freely loves him, then god really isn’t omniscient is he? And then, what about heaven. It will be impossible to sin in heaven, so where is free-will if it is so important that death and destruction are minor problems in comparison? If mans nature is to sin as the doctrine of original sin states, then why couldn’t god create man with a nature not to sin? Wouldn’t that be better than what we have now?

3. We may not be a “free” as we think. Neurology is showing that much of what we think we are freely choosing may be more determined that we think. (e.g. see NY Times: Free Will. Now You Have it Now You Don’t for a quick into into this subject).

What about the justification that god’s thoughts and ways are not like ours? Man’s moral sense, which God supposedly gave us, tells us sin, misery, death, destruction, poverty, natural disasters, etc. are bad things, but the “loving” God says – NOPE. If you had my understanding then you would see all these things show my love for you? If this ridiculous statement was made in another religious system, you would see it for what it is – an empty justification. Tell this to the child starving to death. Tell this to the person ravaged with parasitic diseases, never knowing a day of health in his life as he toils endlessly under the son. Tell that to the parents whose child dies of cancer. Tell that to the 200,000+ people who died in a Tsunami a few years back. Tell this to the citizens of Pompeii as they are covered with volcanic ash. Tell this to the victims of Katrina. Tell this to those who died on 9/11. God’s ways aren’t our ways because fortunately, man, in many cases, appears to be much more compassionate than the all loving God. (Not that man can’t be as mean and cold hearted as god.) Of course, there will always be those who will give praise to God for whatsoever comes to pass. Interestingly, if they see someone in another religious system do that, they pity them and call them deceived.

More than one person has joined the ranks of atheists or agnostics because of this problem. Dr. Bart Ehrman, who was an evangelical before becoming an agnostic said this: “I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life. In particular, I could no longer explain how there can be a good and all-powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things.” (God’s Problem. Kindle loc 110)

I have to agree with Dr. Ehrman.


Note: This is a vast subject and I can’t possibly deal with all the justifications and implications of Theodicy. For a good readable book on the subject, I highly recommend Bart Ehrmans, God’s Problem)
An important axiom pertaining to those who rule is simply stated as “a King is not above the Law”. While it certainly has been abused and some have flaunted their lawlessness, the general agreement is that a King, Ruler or Leader is NOT above the law even if it originates with him. This is even stated in the Bible:

Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book… And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left…” (Deut 17:18-20)

Solon (638 BC–558 BC) appeared to have this concept in mind for ancient Athens “by giving common people the power not only to elect officials but also to call them to account” (see Solon) and of course the Magna Carta codified this concept in Western law. Winston Churchill said “ is a law which is above the King and which even he must not break. This reaffirmation of a supreme law and its expression in a general charter is the great work of Magna Carta; and this alone justifies the respect in which men have held it.” (see The Magna Carta)

Does anyone really respect anyone who thinks they are above the law or that the law doesn’t apply to them, especially when they are rulers or leaders? What happens if this ruler is a god? Obviously, the person is condemned but excuses are made for a “god”. One of the things that I always found amazing were people that would worship a “god” who required, by “divine” law, they do something that the “god” would not or could not do.

For example, the Hare Krishna movement worships the Hindu god Krishna. When I was in college it was hard to escape their proselytizing on campus. Their religion demands sexual purity from their members yet Krishna, their god, is exempt. Krishna is far from pure having upwards of 16,000 wives and then some (Krishna). Now I ask you, if a superior god cannot be pure and cannot control his passion, why is it demanded of his mortal followers? Something is obviously wrong here, but not in the eyes of those in the Hare Krisha movement. The action of gods can always be justified by their believers.

What does this have to do with Christianity? Surely, the Christian god is not above his law? He would never ask a believer to do something that he won’t or can’t do? Well, yes he does. In the case of Christianity, it comes down to forgiveness. The story goes that God is so holy he cannot forgive without the shedding of blood, yet he commands that his followers should forgive. In fact, Christians must forgive without any such such sacrifice or face dire consequences:

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matt 6: 14,15)

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord,how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times? Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven…Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times? Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. (Matt 18:21-35)

Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions. (Mark 11:25,26)

But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. (Matt 5:39)

These are clear statements: Forgive or else. Yet, god is exempt. For the crime of disobedience, for acting how god himself created man, the entire world was plunged into death and destruction. Apparently god is unable to forgive his creation unless blood is shed. This is conditional forgiveness. “I will forgive only when my wrath is consumed and it can only be consumed by the shedding of blood.” Where is unconditional forgiveness? Where is turn the other cheek? God can’t, yet, his followers are commanded to “turn the other cheek”. How many millions of people have been supposedly condemned to hell because of the sin of Adam and Eve – a choice they never even made. Forgiveness with God only comes by a blood sacrifice which, according to many Christian doctrines, ultimately required the sacrifice of His Son. From a human standpoint (sorry, that’s the only standpoint I have), this is crazy. If my neighbor stole something from me and asked forgiveness, what would people think if I told him I couldn’t unless I killed my son for him? And, really, would killing my son for something my neighbor did make me feel better? Seriously think about this. Personally I would think that any person would actually be more angry at his neighbor if such a bargain were made. And how would killing my son make any type of atonement for my neighbors sin? (1)

I’m not saying forgiveness is bad, it certainly isn’t and there is much that is noble about forgiving freely and without conditions (and some very real dangers). What I am saying is that if man is capable of forgiving without a sacrifice of blood, indeed without any kind of sacrifice, does that make man more merciful than God? More moral than God? Why is the King above his law? I suppose one could make the argument that god freely forgives his people now, but that “freely” is tied to the blood sacrifice of his son! I suppose one could also make the argument that Christians must freely forgive because of what Christ did for them. Christians are forgiven so they must forgive. But this doesn’t hold water. The fact is many people who are not Christian freely forgive their fellow humans without the need for the torture and death of an animal or person. If man can do it, why can’t a god?

Of course a god’s unwillingness to forgive without serious bloodshed doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist, but if he does mercy is far from his heart. Justice maybe. Mercy, no.

1. The whole concept of blood atonement is primitive and makes no sense. How is watching an animal (or person) be killed in a ritualistic manner supposed to make a god feel better? If you are angry at someone will watching a goat be sacrificed appease your anger? Would watching a person be sacrificed appease you? How about watching someone torture & kill your only son? Other gods, in other religions required both human and animal sacrifice. How do you see those religions? Brutal? Primitive? Shocking? But the Christian god who required animal (and the occasional human) sacrifices in the OT and required a human sacrifice in the NT, gets a pass from believers. After all, Christ died for them. Exactly how is that either justice or mercy?
One of the basic tenants of scripture that I was taught was the Perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture. As Hodge stated, “Protestants hold that the Bible, being addressed to the people, is sufficiently perspicuous to be understood by them, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and that they are entitled and bound to search the Scripture, and to judge for themselves what is its true meaning” (Systematic Theology Vol. 1). When you are in the “Christian bubble” this sounds true and reasonable. Overall, the scriptures appear to make sense. They seem very clear to you (excepting some difficult passages). Others can’t see what you see because of sin or an unwillingness. I thought that the scriptures clearly taught Calvinism. Others didn’t see it because they didn’t like the implications. We had the truth. They ignored it. The truth is, the scriptures appear clear because in your “group” it is clear. Everyone confirms each other. The books you chose to read confirm it. Everything appears good, reasonable and clear. However, when you begin to think about it, a clue should have been that there are disagreements. There are different denominations that think differently.

In 2001 The World Christian Encyclopedia listed 33,000 Christian “denominations” with 39,000 listed as of mid-2007 and 55,000 projected for 2025 (see Facts and Stats on 33,000 Denominations)! If this isn’t to your liking (some might not like the definition of a “denomination”), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary maintains a detailed listing of 9,000 of these denominations (World Christian Database). Even the smaller number should give one pause when the Perspicuity of Scripture is brought into play. Every one of those 39,000 denominations defends their beliefs from the bible and many think the others are heretics, cults or worst. (They just don’t see what the scriptures clearly teach!) Even if we narrow the scope down to conservative evangelical Christians, they can’t agree on:

1. Baptism – infant, believers only, baptismal regeneration
2. Lords Supper – transubstantiation, consubstantiation, Zwinglian (symbolic), Calvinist (symbolic + spiritual)
3. Salvation – faith alone with no proof in your life (say a prayer), faith + Lordship, faith + works, faith + baptism, faith+baptism+works, faith + gifts of the spirit as evidence, etc.
4. Worship – what goes into a worship service and how we are to worship
5. Prayer – what exactly does it do and whose benefit is it for
6. The Cross – did Christ actually purchase redemption or did he just make it possible
7. Spiritual gifts – Pentecostal gifts or not
8. Not to mention Calvinism vs. Arminism vs. Pelagism

I could go on, but even in this brief list there are huge issues. I know Christians like to make light of these differences saying they are basically “internal” issues and they agree on the majors, but his just isn’t so. Take worship for example. If the Calvinistic position is correct and God has a set way to worship and He takes that seriously, then those who disregard those instructions are calling down wrath upon their heads every time they gather for worship. And if it really doesn’t matter, then the Calvinists are “adding to scripture” and placing a burden on people when no such burden should be imposed. In regard to baptism, if Christians are to baptize infants, those who don’t are breaching the word of God. And if it is incorrect, baptizing infants would be a sin against God. Not to mention that Calvinsim, Arminism and Pelagism are essentially different Gospels. Who is correct? Which one of the 39,000+ Christian variants is the truth?

Is the Holy Spirit then incompetent? Couldn’t a sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent God present his words and commands CLEARLY in the Bible? If you want to play the sin card, go right ahead. It basically means then that no one has the ability to correctly interpret the scripture. How can a Christian possibly know which of the 39,000 variants (if any) has the true Truth? The scripture is about as clear as mud and perspicuity is just a myth to any impartial outside observer.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that god doesn’t exist, but if the Christian god does exist, He is incompetent at best or truth doesn’t really matter to Him.

Many people have asked me why I am an atheist and how I could possibly turn my back on Jesus Christ, after all he has done for me. I hesitate to give a personal story since personal experiences are largely irrelevant. Everyone has a story – the religious as well as the non-religious. Many religious people love their stories and use them as a “testimony” to the power of their god. However, every religious system has similar stories, so such reflection does nothing except to show that people have a story and many justify their beliefs by their story. Some are better than others but unless backed by some type of tangible evidence they are largely untestable. Suffice it to say that I became a Christian at 23 and spent the next 25+ years being committed to and worshiping Christ. Furthermore, I was a committed Calvinist for most of that time, spent a year in seminary, occasionally preached and helped start a church. I would have continued in that vein until a fairly traumatic event happened. In my mind, I simply wanted the Pastor to defend, from the Bible, several issues I saw in the church. I’m sure, in his mind, it sounded like a challenge to his authority and to the unity (actually uniformity) of the church. To make a long story short, I was asked to leave for the “good” of the church. In that moment, essentially 13+ years of investing in people and friendships in that church ended. (It was the if you aren’t for us, you are against us mentality.) To say that I felt “stabbed in the back” is an understatement. I obviously had a huge problem with what happened and the cognitive dissonance caused by it: How the bible says we are to treat others vs how believers treat others. Now there are different ways to handle this situation. You could essentially bury your head in the sand, join another church and continue with life or you can figure out why and how something like this happened. I chose the later. I decided to investigate the evidence for the Christian faith & the psychology of belief. I fully expected to come out of this search a stronger and better Christian. That, obviously, didn’t happen. I came to atheism gradually and not without a fight. It is extremely difficult to come to grips with the fact that you believed a lie and was devoted to that lie for over 25 years. It’s a humbling, traumatic and embarrassing experience.

So, the first reason for my atheism was the conduct of “god’s people”. This isn’t strictly a reason for leaving Christianity since the conduct of any one person or group of persons doesn’t mean that the religion is good or bad or that it proves or denies the existence of god. However, Christianity makes some very specific claims. The most bold of which is that god, through the Holy Spirit, dwells within the believer leading them to truth and helping them lead the Christian life. The fact that many polls and studies have shown that there is very little (if any) difference in behavior between believers (Christians) and non-believers suggests that this Holy Spirit thing is more fiction and wishful thinking than reality. In any case, this “reason” (how I was treated) was the catalyst for my journey.
Over the next few blogs, I will briefly discuss the major issues, during this struggle, that lead me to atheism. They are:
1. The lack of any kind of Perspicuity in the Scriptures
2. God commanding us to do things he himself won’t do
3. The Problem of Evil
4. The Problem of Biblical Genocide
5. The errancy of Scripture
6. The Fact of Evolution
7. Why would a perfect God demand worship?

I don’t expect to convince my Christian friends that their god is make-believe, but I hope they will understand that this wasn’t just a rash reaction to a bad experience.