Does He exist? What is He like?
Who is God? And if He exists, why did He create me? What does God want from me? How can I believe in God? And how can I know God? These are a few of the topics I will address in this article.
Note: as a convention I'm using the capitalized word "He" as the pronoun for the word "God." I could have used any other pronoun such as "she," "She," "it" or "he" but I prefer to use the indefinite gender-unspecific pronoun that was in use 20 years ago. And I capitalize it for emphasis. In using "He" for God I am not in any way implying that God is a male.
Atheists say there is no God; others say they don't know if there is a God or not; the rest say, yes, there is a God. But why should we believe in God? What evidence do we have?
Evidence for God
Evidence for No God
The rest of this article ponders the nature of God from a Christian perspective.
There are many ideas about God's attributes. Many of them are contradictory — if one is true then the others are false. This has led to heated arguments and bloody wars throughout history. But we don't want to approach God in that manner. Anyone who sincerely seeks to know of God should be peaceable and respectful of differing opinions. We must stop killing in the name of God.
Ideas about God
So Which is Correct?
Are some of the ideas about God listed above correct? Are some incorrect? And how can we even know the truth in the first place? Some key points...
An "eastern" viewpoint is that evil is an attribute of God. Shiva is the god of destruction and Kali is the goddess of evil. These are worshipped just as any other "eastern" god is worshipped, and there are sects that focus on worshipping a particular one of these gods.
But how do we react to evil and sin? For example, if someone for no reason walks up to us and slaps us in the face would we thank them and think they were within their rights? Would we tolerate this kind of behavior from them? What kind of society would we be living in if we found this kind of behavior acceptable? Would it express God's nature?
Evil is Abnormal
Let's look at the same action from a different perspective. What would you be thinking if you walked up to someone and for no reason slapped them in the face? Is this "normal" behavior? Wouldn't we instead refer this kind of behavior as deviant, abnormal or psychotic?
When looking at the issue of evil the obvious thing we can all see and agree on is that evil is not "normal" — it offends us, it angers us, it somehow doesn't seem right. Evil is abnormal. This is easy to see in an extreme example like an unprovoked amputation but it is sometimes less easy to see with other examples. But let's stick with the obvious example for a while longer so we can understand the concepts. Then we can apply these principles to less clear examples.
Is God Evil?
Is God evil? Would God slap someone in the face for no good reason? The answer must be no, He wouldn't. Just as a parent wouldn't do that to one of their children who they love, so God wouldn't do that to one of the creatures He created and who He loves. But we see people doing this kind of thing to one another all the time. And we see animals eating each other all the time — in fact the carnivores must do this and are driven by their instinct to do this. How do we explain the contradiction?
When a person slaps someone in the face for no good reason, who is responsible? Certainly the person doing the deed is responsible. They thought of doing it, they planned to do it, and then they did it. They are guilty of sin. But is God also guilty for their action? Did God think of doing this deed? Did God plan to do this deed? Did God do the deed? The answer to these questions is that God had nothing whatsoever to do with this evil deed. God didn't do it. So why do we wish to blame Him? Consider if Joe slapped me in the face for no good reason. Is it right for me to blame the deed on Fred? Obviously not, unless Fred had a part in it.
Why do we think we need to blame God for the evil deeds of fellow humans? The reason is that we think that since God created the world that He is responsible for all that goes on in the world, including evil deeds by the people He created. And this seems like a reasonable approach. After all, God could have created a world in which there was no evil but He didn't. Therefore, He must be responsible for all the evil that happens.
What is Evil?
But what is evil? Is it a thing, like a rock that you can throw at somebody? Or is it a power that overtakes us, that controls our actions, and that we can't resist? Does evil exist as a latent force or does it only manifest at the instant in which we act or speak? When animals kill and maim one another are they being evil? Is pain a manifestation of evil? When someone feels pain, is the source of the pain a result of evil?
I hate evil. I hate it when someone treats someone or something else badly. If I could I would destroy evil so that it could never happen again. And I even hate the evil within myself. When I do or say something that hurts someone else, I hate that part of myself that did it or said it. But yet I continue to do it over and over again. It's as if I'm addicted to evil, as if there is a power that controls me that I can't resist.
If I hate evil, then certainly God must hate evil. It is the most natural thing in the world to hate evil. God hates evil. But this implies that God isn't the source of evil. If God hates evil then He wouldn't create such a thing. If God is really a God of love then He wouldn't create people who have this evil tendency. And God Himself doesn't do evil deeds.
The Source of Evil
So what is the source of evil? It comes from free will. Because I can choose what I do and say, I can choose to do and say something that hurts someone. I can choose to do and say evil things. But God can never choose to do or say evil things because He is not evil and has no evil within Himself. The source of evil is the ability of us created beings to act and speak in a way that is out of harmony with what God would desire for us to do and say. God wants us to only do and say loving things to one another but we say and do hateful things, things that hurt.
The Responsibility for Evil
But it is God who created us. So if He created us in a way that makes evil possible, then it must be His fault, right? First we need to clear up one thing. The issue of whether or not God has any guilt in the matter has nothing to do with our responsibility in the matter. We are created as responsible beings. We are fully responsible for what we do and say. If I slap someone in the face for no good reason, even the government (which tries me, finds me guilty, and punishes me) believes that I am responsible for my actions. So we need to bear the responsibility for our evil actions and words. There is a tendency for us to place the blame elsewhere. When I sin, I want to blame God for making me this way. But the sin I do is my responsibility and I am guilty for it. Human civilization would collapse without this idea as a cornerstone.
So we may not like it that God created us to be responsible for our own actions but we must face up to it just the same. This is a cornerstone of the Christian faith — that my sinful actions and words are my responsibility and that God holds me responsible.
Now, what about God? Did He create the world in such a way that allows for the existence of evil? Clearly He did. And isn't He therefore responsible for the evil? Certainly He is. But does God do evil deeds? Certainly He does not. Was it evil for God to create the world in such a way that the beings He created do evil deeds and say evil words? That is the real issue. Is God evil for allowing evil? And is God evil for not stopping evil in the world?
How Non-Christians Religions See It
Let's change the subject for a moment to look at how the various religious and spiritual viewpoints deal with the problem of evil.
Materialistic atheism acknowledges that there is such a thing as evil, which is somehow caused by the laws of nature operating within space and time. Evil is merely a part of the larger issue of morality, awareness, emotion, etc. — things that certainly exist but are difficult to explain in terms of materialism but yet must be explained this way. And of course we must deal with evil in our society through laws, education, etc. Evil is bad and should be controlled in society and each individual must control his own evil desires at least so that they don't affect others. But that's the end of the matter. Evil can't be explained, but that's okay — we can't explain other psychological phenomena either. Materialistic atheism doesn't really have much to say about the problem of evil.
"Eastern" philosophical viewpoints are a contradiction. On the one hand they acknowledge the problem of evil and emphasize that people should be morally pure but on the other hand they dismiss evil as merely an "illusion." Evil doesn't really exist — we are deceived into thinking that it does. When we become enlightened we will realize the truth and then evil will be gone because it never existed. A convenient solution to the problem, but not very satisfying.
The Christian Perspective
The Christian perspective is that evil is real and that God hates it and judges it. Natural human responses to this are: (1) we may not want to be judged for our evil and sin, (2) we may feel that it is wrong to be judged for something that we can't control, and (3) we may feel that it is God's fault when we sin since He made us this way. But no matter how we might feel about the Christian perspective it does have some strong points not shared by the other viewpoints:
In society we have the idea that a person who consistently does evil deeds should be punished. They should not be allowed free access to the other citizens to harm them. We should apply this principle to God as well. Do we harm God by our evil acts and words, even if they don't harm anyone else? And should the evil person be punished for his evil acts? Should an evil person be sheltered from others so that their evil acts and words don't harm anyone else?
Heaven and Hell
One way of thinking about the Christian concepts of heaven and hell is in the context of evil. Heaven is a spiritual place where God dwells and hell is that spiritual place where God manifests His hatred and judgment of evil. Since He hates evil (as do we) He can only look upon evil if He is judging it. So hell is where the evil is, but not unrestrained evil; instead it is evil under judgment. Hell is a prison. But heaven (the new heavens and new earth for humans)is inhabited by God Himself as well as those who no longer have the ability to do evil. In the new heavens and new earth, people have free will but they only choose to do and say good and loving things. Whatever it is that compels them to do evil is removed. God prefers that people choose to have this tendency of doing evil removed, but if people refuse the gift, then God has no choice but to incarcerate them. But God would have to give each person the opportunity to choose to have their evil tendency removed and those who end up in hell would have to willingly choose prison over freedom.
How is God righteous if He created the possibility of evil? There is no answer to this question. No philosophical system has ever satisfactorily answered this question. From our human perspective it doesn't make sense. But the alternatives make even less sense. These false alternatives are:
What Must be True
So whether or not we can explain God's role in evil we are compelled to accept certain truths that simply can't be denied — there is no other sensible explanation:
As hard as some of these things are to accept, they simply must be true.
Imagine if you will. Your best friend walks up to you and slaps you in the face giving no explanation. You are horrified by the event. Your friend offers no explanation and acts as if the whole thing never happened. But you stop trusting them; you think they've gone crazy. The whole thing has destroyed your relationship with them. They are no longer your best friend or any kind of friend at all. You feel betrayed.
This is metaphor for sin and its effects. Sin occurs when we hurt someone else, whether a person or God. It breaks our fellowship with them. They stop trusting us. We have betrayed them.
Not all sin affects other people. But every sin affects God. He is with us in our very hearts. His Spirit is blended together with our spirit so that our every thought, deed and word are seen and "experienced" by God. We do nothing in secret for God sees all.
How can our former best friend ever hope to restore the broken relationship after they slapped you in the face? How can they ever hope to convince us that we should trust them again? How can we ever again have that sense of fellowship and the good times we used to share?
There is only one possibility. They must confess their sin before us and beg us to forgive them. And since their deed was so insane they must also convince us that they are now rehabilitated. If they don't ever admit that they wronged us there is no hope for reconciliation. So confession is necessary. And they must confess that they wronged us, and that they sinned against us. If they don't include an admission of their guilt there is no hope for reconciliation
So it is with God and us. Each time we sin against God it breaks our fellowship with Him. This makes us feel distant from Him. The good times we had together are gone. The close fellowship we shared is gone. But we can take the first step to restoring that fellowship by confessing to Him that we sinned against Him — that we thought, did, and said things that were hurtful. Without this there is no hope of restoring our friendship with God.