Can God Exist in a World with the Holocaust?

When someone declares a tragedy like the Holocaust prevents belief in God, while they may be stating an intellectual or logical objection, there could lie a more personal or existential reason beneath: Does God exist, and if so, where is He? Where was God when over six million innocent Jews were slaughtered and where was God when my wife was told she has cancer? We can address evil logically to see it does not exclude the existence of God while then laying a foundation that God’s existence is the most reasonable response to the existential problem of our suffering (please understand this short essay is not an attempt to give reasons why God would allow certain evils; it is merely a brief defense of God and the Christian worldview in light of evil).

Evil is not something that is only a problem for the theist; it does not discriminate its existence based upon one’s belief system. Consider that every worldview or religion must account for evil. It is as much a reality of our world as gravity, and getting rid of God does not get rid of evil any more than Isaac Newton dying caused gravity to stop working. As will be shown, abandoning belief in God because of evil removes both the grounding for the objection to evil as well as the solution to the concern!

Christianity teaches that God created the world and it was good. He then made humans to be His image bearers, which included free will as to be morally good. Through the Fall, that is Adam and Eve’s free choice to disobey God and not trust Him (i.e., sin), our world became disordered and humans no longer naturally desired to reign as God willed. We now see and experience the groaning of a world that is evil because we do not order our love and rule rightly unless we are made new in Christ. The Christian worldview does not deny the reality of evil; man is sinful, and sadly we should expect many atrocities of our kind.

Vince Vitale writes regarding evil that “The challenge is often framed this way: if a loving powerful God exists, He would not allow evil to exist; evil exists; therefore, there must be no God.”[1] The argument would be sound if not for the premise “He would not allow evil to exist.” Pastor and theologian Timothy Keller explains that “Tucked away within the assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil is a hidden premise, namely, that if evil appears pointless to me, then it must be pointless.”[2] Keller continues to argue that just because we cannot comprehend a reason that it does not logically follow there are no reasons. A way to think of this is a toddler having to receive a spinal tap because they have leukemia. Can that child understand the reasons why a large needle is being shoved into her spine? Of course not! But it does not follow that the doctor does not possess a reason for procedure. Therefore, we cannot logically say the existence of evil precludes a loving God because we do not understand all that God does or what His reasons may be for allowing evil.

Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga also argues that the most moral good can only arise with moral freedom, but with that freedom comes the possibility of evil.[3] Evil is then a result of our choices. Norman Geisler and Ronald Brooks write that God “created the fact of freedom; we perform the acts of freedom. He made evil possible; we make evil actual.”[4] Since the source of evil then comes from our hearts and choices, evil cannot be destroyed as it would destroy both our free will as well as ourselves. It must be defeated whereas it no longer has power over us in this life.

An event like the Holocaust also touches on the evidential problem of evil which argues there exists so much evil that it outweighs any positive evidence for God. The fault in that argument is that the evidence for God, and more specifically the Christian God, is overwhelming. Consider the strength of the evidence regarding the Cosmological (the existence of the universe from nothing), Teleological (the design of the universe, earth, and life, argues for a designer), and Moral (objective morals point toward a moral law giver) arguments as well as the facts of the resurrection, and the reliable eyewitness testimony contained in the New Testament. The existence of evil does not counter any of the premises contained within the positive arguments for God above (i.e., the presence of evil does not discredit the evidence our universe came out of nothing in the Big Bang, or counter any of the minimal facts of the resurrection). Evil does not outweigh the evidence for God and, along with the logical possibility, it remains more probable than not that God exists. Plantinga writes we may want to tell “him [God] off face to face” because of all the evil we see or experience but still “A problem of this kind is not really an evidential problem at all, and it isn’t a defeater for theism.”[5]

When we reflect upon genocides, what has happened ought not to have occurred. And it is the “oughtness” that reveals the truth of God. We can agree that what Hitler did to the Jews during the Holocaust was wrong for all people, at all times, and under all conditions; it is an objective wrong. C.S. Lewis wrote “human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it.”[6] Our outrage towards genocide argues in favor for the existence of a God from whom we inherit an objective morality more so than the evil of genocide supports the non-existence of God.

Logically, belief in God is not discounted because of evil and theism better explains our world in which we find evil. Although we may overcome this mental barrier in understanding evil and God, because of personal suffering we may believe that God does not care. The Bible reveals God is neither above as if he doesn’t care, or below, as if he is powerless when it comes to our suffering. “Jesus wept”[7] is the shortest verse in the Bible, yet one of the most powerful concerning God’s response to our pain. It describes Jesus’ reaction to those grieving over the death of Lazarus, who Jesus would raise from the dead. Even though Jesus knew what he was about to do and the joy that would follow, He wept with them revealing how much God cares about every tear we shed.

Jesus hates evil and suffering and His concern for the victims of atrocities such as the Holocaust, along with personal struggles, dwarfs ours or anyone else’s in comparison. Also, Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection defeated evil, preserving our free will and our hearts. The empty tomb is one piece of evidence that the afterlife is real, our soul is eternal, and God is triumphant over death and evil. If true, besides the fact those who commit genocide will face God’s ultimate justice in the next life, it means our suffering can be viewed through an eternal lens, trusting that the God who created us loves us enough to make us holy through all that happens in our fallen world. Which is why the Apostle Paul, amongst his tribulations, can confidently state “For this momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison….”[8]

Resources

[1] Vince Vitalie, “Why God Might Allow Suffering,” Zacharias Trust, accessed April 11, 2018, https://www.zachariastrust.org/if-god-why-suffering#_ednref5.

[2] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York, NY: Penguin Group, Inc., 2008), 23.

[3] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 30.

[4] Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 56.

[5] Alvin Plantinga, Knowledge and Christian Belief (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 2015), 119.

[6] C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity,” in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002), 13.

[7] John 11:35 (English Standard Version)

[8] 2 Corinthians 4:17 (English Standard Version)

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