I recently wrote a response to Mal Fletcher’s article on Sight regarding science and Christianity. Fletcher states, correctly, that “atheism offers us no explanation for the presence of evil in the world”. The atheist response is to state that it doesn’t have to, and to ask how there could be a loving God when there is so much evil in the world. As Fletcher also correctly states, this is “one of the great dilemmas facing people who believe in God - and perhaps particularly Christians, who believe that God is love”.
However I was reading Philip Yancey’s book Rumours of Another World this morning in which he gives a brilliant response to this problem. Yancey recalls a conversation with Bob Seiple, then president of World Vision, after he returned from Rwanda at the time of the genocide there.
Here is Yancey’s description of what Seiple told him:
“Standing on a bridge, he (Seiple) had watched thousands of bodies float beneath him on a river scarlet with their blood. Hutu tribesmen had hacked to death with machetes almost a million Tutsis - their neighbours, their fellow parishioners, their school classmates - for reasons no one could begin to explain. Seiple seemed badly shaken. ‘It was a crisis of faith for me,’ he said. ‘There are no categories to express such horror. Someone used the word bestiality - no, that dishonours the beasts. Animals kill for food, not for pleasure. They kill one or two prey at a time, not a million of their own species for no reason at all.’
“As I listened to Seiple, I too could think of no force in nature to explain what was happening in Rwanda, only a malevolent force from supernature - the same kind of inexplicable force that caused Hitler to divert badly needed resources during wartime in order to carry out genocide against the Jews.”
Yancey goes on to explain that:
“…the Bible’s language about spiritual powers speaks to actual realities that cannot be adequately described in terms of [natural] evolution and politics. Try to explain on rational grounds the mass insanity that seized Germany in Hitler’s day. Explain the logic behind the Cold War arms race, in which the two strongest nations pursued the precisely-named policy of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction). Explain the rationale behind the overnight collapse of economies in Asia and Latin America, or a sniper who starts picking off suburbanites in shopping malls and gas stations. What keeps a wealthy nation like the United States from finding shelter for its homeless population? What keeps the world from feeding the thousands who die malnourished each day? The experts have no answer but ‘forces beyond our control’. New Testament writers agree and do not hesitate to identify those forces.”
While I don’t agree with Yancey and Bob Seiple that the genocide in Rwanda happened for no reason - there were deeply complex reasons for it - I still came to see that, as I read this piece from Yancey’s book, my doubts about evil in the world and the seeming conflict with this and a loving God went some towards being satisfied. I had been troubled by the point of atheism not needing to explain evil and that the lack of necessity for an explanation in a sense does explain it for an atheist. But then as I read Yancey I began to think that the presence of evil in the world is, in a strange paradoxical way, evidence for God. If we simply kill for pleasure, or out of a sense of bitterness, where does that fit into the evolutionary cycle? If there really is evil, it is something beyond nature, which then points to supernature, and then by definition to God. This may sound simplistic to some, and is by no means any proof at all, but it does state to me that the presence of evil points beyond nature to something bigger.
Along with evil, deep down we also know that if we live by love, then survival will be enhanced for all people. This often means going against our own instincts. Giving and forgiving are not just nice Christian things to do; they are vital for our survival as a species. Martin Luther King said that our options are nonviolence or nonexistence. There is evil in the universe but it can always be overcome by love. And when it is, the human race is better off because it not only survives , but it also thrives.