Why Does God Permit Evil to Exist/Part 8

By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©2002
Would it be better never to have been born than to suffer? Why is there a hell? What about those who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus? These three questions are answered this month by Drs. Ankerberg and Geisler.

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Why Does God Permit Evil to Exist?—Part Eight

Dr. John Ankerberg: Jesus said about Judas, Mark 14: 21, “It would have been better if he had never been born.” A lot of people say that it would be better if the world had never been created. To go through all of this stuff—it’s not worth it. What would you say?

Dr. Norman Geisler: Well first of all, certainly Jesus was not saying that non-existence would be better than existence, because you can’t compare existence and non-existence. You have to have something in common in order to make a comparison. That wouldn’t even be comparing apples and oranges. That would be comparing apples and non-apples, and you can’t compare apples and non-apples.

I think what he was saying is look how great Judas’s sin was. When you compare the parallel passages in the Bible, it says, “it would be more tolerable for”. In other words, this would be a hypothetical hyperbole indicating the intensity of Judas’s sins: his sin was so great, my goodness, it would have been better if he had never been born.

But he is not saying that a state of non-existence would be better than the state of exist­ence because you cannot compare something and nothing. There is nothing in common with them. And so the people who say, “Wouldn’t no world at all be morally better than this world?” are making a meaningless statement. It would be like comparing blue and taste. You can’t taste blue. Those are two different categories. Because no moral world is not a moral world and you can’t make a moral comparison between nothing and something. And you certainly cannot make a moral comparison between a non-moral world and a moral world.

Ankerberg: I think they are coming from an existential point of view of saying, the feel­ings that I have; the future feelings of pain, I can do without that. Is it better to experience solid pain as opposed to no pain at all?

Geisler: I didn’t see the force of that mistake until years ago. I heard somebody argue, “it is better to exist than not exist.” I thought that sounds good; “to be or not to be.” “To be is better than not to be,” to rephrase Shakespeare. And I thought, “to be” is not better than “not to be” because you cannot compare “to be” and “not to be.” There is nothing to com­pare them with. So if “to be” is not better than “not to be” than neither is “not to be” better than “to be”.

Ankerberg: Okay, let’s jump to the next one. The reason that takes such a hard turn is that people are saying, “Okay, what is this thing about hell?” Why did God have to put that in there?

Geisler: Well, first of all hell is necessary because God won’t force anyone against their freedom. Jesus said, “Oh, Jerusalem, oh Jerusalem, how oft I would have gathered you together as a mother hen gathers her chicks, but you would not.” So He did not force them into the fold. Second Peter 3:9 says, “God is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should repent.” But if they don’t repent, He can’t twist their arm. There are no shotgun weddings in heaven.

Ankerberg: But why not annihilation? Why eternal suffering?

Geisler: Well, annihilation wouldn’t be fair either. That is like my saying to my son, “Now if you grow up to be a doctor, I will really be proud of you. But if you grow up to be a plumber, I’m going to shoot you. You see, he has the right to choose what he wants. I can train him the way I want; I can love him. But love is only persuasive, never coercive.

Ankerberg: Why couldn’t God just have reshaped the rules and said, “Listen, I’ll just let everybody in?”

Geisler: Well, He could but if He had “let somebody in”, it would be worse than hell. C. S. Lewis has a book entitled Great Divorce in which people on a bus get to heaven and they find that in heaven they are out of place, it is too heavy for them. In fact it would be worse punishment than hell, because did you ever see somebody who can’t go to church for an hour? They just can’t stand it. How would it be if God sent them to church forever? They would say, “Man, that’s hell.” It would be better for God to consign them according to their will. Hosea said, “Ephraim is joined to his idols. Leave him alone.” That is what he wants. Let him have it.

Ankerberg: Okay, the opposite coin is what about those who have never heard?

Geisler: First of all, there isn’t anyone who has never heard something about God. Romans 1:19 said, “They all know there is a God.” Romans 2:12 says “those that sin with­out the law, perish without the law because there is a law in their heart.” Everyone has a conscience. Everyone knows there is a creation and must be a creator. If they respond to the light they have, Hebrews 11:6 says, “He that cometh unto God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” But they are not seeking Him; therefore God is not obligated to give.

Ankerberg: Okay, put it in concrete terms as we sum up here. For the guy that is sitting on his bed out there and he has just learned he has cancer, for the person that has real pain, for the person that has got emotional heartbreak, and all of this, what can we say about this? Why did God let this come his way; that would be encouraging to him? Is there anything encouraging about evil?

Geisler: Let’s take the classic example in the Bible of Job. He himself said, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” And the book of James says, “You have heard of the patience of Job and have seen the end [that is the Greek word, telos, which means design, so “and seen the design”] of the LORD.” God has a design in your suffering. The divine architect of the universe doesn’t build staircases that lead to nowhere. There is a purpose and there is a greater day. “This light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” Second Corinthians 4 says.

Ankerberg: Norman, you have written much more on this subject in your books The Philosophy of Religion and The Roots of Evil. What other books might you recommend that would with this thing of evil and suffering from the Christian position?

Geisler: C. S. Lewis has a good book, The Problem of Pain, and Phillip Yancey’s book, Where is God When it Hurts.

Read Part 9

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