Can An Understanding of Eternal Life Change the Way We See Evil?Thursday, August 20, 2015
In my latest book, God’s Crime Scene: A Homicide Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, I examine eight pieces of evidence in the universe as I make the case for God’s existence. When a piece of evidence points toward a particular suspect it is called inculpating evidence. If it points away from a suspect (or, more precisely, excludes the possibility a particular suspect is involved), it is called exculpating evidence. The existence of evil in the universe has been trumpeted by many skeptics as a form of exculpating evidence, excluding the reasonable existence of God altogether. After all, how can an all-powerful, all-loving God allow evil to persist? An ancient form of the problem is sometimes 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 able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God? ”
Does the persistent existence of evil exclude the reasonable possibility God exists? No. As I’ve described in God’s Crime Scene (Chapter Eight - The Evidence of Evil: Can God and Evil Coexist?), I offer an explanatory filter built on seven considerations related to the existence of evil, the nature of the universe, and the desires of God. One important consideration we must consider when evaluating the potentially exculpatory nature of evil is the nature of life, particularly if, as Christians believe, life extends beyond the grave.
Evil and suffering are typically experienced and understood within the context of one’s life. For thirty-five years an atheist, I thought of my life as a “line segment” spanning two points: my birth and my death.
All Illustrations from God’s Crime Scene
I hoped for a life (a “line segment”) of approximately ninety years. In the context of this span of time, if I had developed cancer in my forties, I would have been angered by the amount of time stolen from me as I battled the disease. In fact, if I had been diagnosed with a terminal disease at that age, I would have been outraged to be deprived of fifty percent of the life I expected.
If theism is true, however, and we are more than mere material beings, life is not a line segment. Life is, instead, a ray stretching from the point of our birth, passing through the point of our physical death, and extending to an eternal life beyond the grave.
Now consider any experience of evil, pain or suffering in the context of an eternal life. You may, for example, remember the painful vaccinations you received as a child. If you’re reading this book at the age of thirty, the small period of your life occupied by the pain you experienced during those vaccinations has been long outdistanced by the years you’ve lived since then. As time stretched on from the point of that experience, you were able to place the pain within the larger context of your life. You don’t even remember it now.
If dualism is true, we are both material and non-material, eternal beings who will live forever. Our experience and understanding of pain and evil must be contextualized within eternity, not within our temporality. Whatever our experience here in our earthly life, no matter how difficult or painful it may be, must be seen through the lens of forever. As our eternal experience stretches beyond our struggles in this life, our temporal suffering will become an ever-shrinking percentage of our consciousness. The anguish we may have experienced on earth will be long outdistanced by the bliss we’ll experience in eternity.
When someone asks me why something bad or evil has occurred (particularly when an evil act involves an innocent child), I am hesitant to offer a quick answer, even if this answer is evidentially or philosophically accurate. The truth related to evil is always far more complex and inter-related. As I describe in God’s Crime Scene, there are seven considerations we must weigh and evaluate when trying to explain any act of evil. One of these considerations involves the nature of life and eternity. If the Christian worldview is true, evil must be assessed through the lens of eternity, not through the limited perspective of our mortal lives. And eternity changes everything.
This brief excerpt from God’s Crime Scene doesn’t begin to adequately explain the inculpating nature of evil (yes it actually does point toward the existence of God). For more information, please read Chapter Eight - The Evidence of Evil: Can God and Evil Coexist?