We’re using the “Handbook of Apologetics” by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli to go over the arguments for the existence of God. Today, we will be covering the above subject in relation to the existence of God. Dr. Kreeft teaches logic in two major universities, so his arguments tend to be clear, concise and very helpful.
The Dilemma of Evil
The primary place where evil exists, then, is within the drama of human history. But that is precisely where the problem seems the most insolvable, even if a clever philosopher “solves” it intellectually. It seems inevitable that evil will succeed in destroying good. Good seems like delicate china: precious but fragile. Evil seems like a bull in a china shop: strong and triumphantly destructive. To use another metaphor, it takes a lifetime of careful balancing to keep the ball of goodness in the air, and only one moment of relaxed vigilance to drop it. One cruel word can ruin a friendship, one affair can ruin a marriage, and one psychotic’s finger on a nuclear button can ruin a world. As Ecclesiastes puts it, one fly spoils a whole barrel of ointment.
The greatest good of all is love, and nothing seems more weak and vulnerable than love, nothing more easily betrayed than trust, nothing more easily disappointed than hope.
The problem is solved by concretizing it, by looking at how Christ solved it. Let us move not from general problem to general answer but from general problem to specific problem to specific answer to general answer. How did Christ solve the dilemma of evil?
A dilemma was posed to Christ: What do you say, should the adulteress be stoned or not? If Christ said to stone her, he was cruel; if he said not to stone her, he was indulgent. If he said to stone her, he betrayed his own teaching of forgiveness; if he said not to stone her, he betrayed Moses’ (and God’s) law. If he said to stone her, the Roman state had grounds against him, for they denied the right of capital punishment to the Jews. If he said not to stone her, the Jewish authorities had grounds against him, for Moses ordered stoning for adultery.
Or similarly, should taxes be paid to Caesar or not? If Christ said yes, he was treasonously supporting the Jews’ enslaver. If he said no, he was treasonously disobeying Roman law. For Jesus’ stunning answers, see John 8:1–11 and Matthew 22:15–22, 46.
These and many similar examples allow us to generalize Christ’s answer to the dilemma of evil. The dilemma is: Yes or no? Yes to evil condones it; no condemns it. The Sadducees, the liberals of their day, condoned some evils (like divorce and disbelief in the supernatural), while the Pharisees, the conservatives of their day, condemned all evils. How did Jesus distinguish himself from both with the same stroke?
To love evil is to become evil, to succumb to it. But to hate evil is also to succumb to it. For it is practically impossible (1) to avoid Pharisaic self-righteousness and (2) to hate sins without hating sinners. Finally, (3) to hate at all is to become hard and dark and negative; even hating evil hardens us into haters.
Jesus’ simple answer was, in one word, forgiveness. Forgiveness neither condemns nor condones. It admits that evil is evil; it doesn’t say, with the bland indifference of pop psychology, “there’s nothing to forgive.” It dissolves the glue between the sinner and the sin and sets the sinner free. Repentance does the same thing from the side of the sinner. Repentance and forgiveness work together like a reverse epoxy.
It seems impossible for God to solve the dilemma of justice versus mercy, but we know from the Gospel account how he does it. The problem is that he cannot, it seems, do both; he must either exact the just penalty for sin—death—or not. Mercy seems a relaxation of justice, and justice a refusal of mercy. Either you punish or you don’t. The laws of logic seem to prevent God from being both just and merciful at the same time, just as the laws of physics prevent a body from being two different places at the same time.
God solves this dilemma on Calvary. Full justice is done: sin is punished with the very punishment of hell itself—being forsaken of God (Mt 27:46). But mercy and forgiveness are also enacted. The trick is to give us the mercy and him the justice.
One way of explaining how it “works” that may be helpful is the following. One body cannot be in two places at once, but two different bodies can. The sinner with his sin cannot receive simultaneously just punishment and merciful forgiveness; but Christ’s vicarious atonement separates the sin from the sinner. We can only mentally distinguish the sin from the sinner; Christ really separates them. The sin receives its just punishment in his own divine person on the Cross, and we sinners receive mercy and forgiveness in our own persons.
That is why the biblical formula for what we must do to be saved from sin is “repent and believe.” Objectively salvation was accomplished by Christ on the cross, but subjectively we must accept him and his separation of sin from sinner. Our repentance and faith is our yes to this; our impenitence and unbelief is our no.