Natural disasters, mass shootings, and the death of a Christian apologist. In this episode, Kurt speaks to Dr. Clay Jones on why God allows evil and suffering.
Kurt: Well, thanks for joining me here on another episode of Veracity Hill, where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. You’ll see here that we’re not exactly in our office this week. We are on location at the Moody Church in downtown Chicago and I have the great pleasure of being joined by one of my former professors, Dr. Clay Jones.
Clay: Thank you. Good to be with you, Kurt.
Kurt: Thanks, Clay. So today we’re going to be exploring the question “Why does God allow evil?” and before let me again just briefly let me mention some announcements that we have. Veracity Hill right now is doing a fundraiser. We’re looking for monthly donors and our goal is $800 a month and we are 15% of the way there, so this past week we’ve got a few more people to chip in and I want to encourage you as well to go to our website, Veracityhill.com/patron and consider supporting our cause and our mission. Now the second announcement is to have mark off November 3-4 on your calendars because here in Chicagoland, we’re going to be doing a conference on the Protestant Reformation. We’re going to be exploring the good, the bad, and the ugly of the events that transpired 500 years ago, commemorating that event and for some of you, you might not have all that much background information so there will be talks exploring what that’s about, but also maybe considering some of the misconceptions people have and perhaps even the shortcomings that the reformers didn’t quite hit upon and so we’ll be exploring different things. We’ve got all sorts of different scholars coming in and so again mark off November 3-4 on your calendars and I hope that you will be able to join us. Alright, so today we’re talking about why does God allow evil and this is a question, Clay, that you have been teaching and speaking on for many years now. It was a class that I took at Biola. Now you’ve finally got it into book form and it really is a broad question and there are different ways in which people are seeking a response. Sometimes people can be seeking an intellectual academic response and other times they may be just looking for a hug, but the problem of evil is made known to them in a relational way and so before we get into some of the more, I’ve got some sort of nitpicky questions if we will, I want to ask you about natural disasters. We’ve had hurricanes and now we’ve had the loss of a good man, Nabeel Qureshi, so why do bad things happen to good people. Before we get into those questions, give us a little bit of a broad overview about the problem of evil here.
Clay: I think that, I’m going to just say free-will has an awful lot to do with it. I always kid when I lecture, I say, “If God wanted to create beings that had free-will, He has to allow evil. He has to. Because you can’t create a free being and not allow them to use their free-will wrongly.” That’s just as logical as it gets, but I find that people don’t really understand the significance or the value of free-will, and I mean Christians, they don’t understand it, how valuable is it? What is it really? And because they don’t understand the value or significance of free-will, even though if you ask the average Christian and they go why does God allow evil and they’ll go “Free-will”, but they really haven’t thought through to where that’s compelling to them. What it means to give beings free-will and to let them have free-will. You can’t, for instance, tell your daughter that she can go out on a date with a punk down the street and then chain her to a heavy Christian appliance. That’s not giving them free-will. Free-will actually has to entail allowing people to use them wrongly. God could have created us as beings that have lesser free-will. He could have created us like all, the free-will like a golden retriever. We’re sitting there panting, and He could pat our heads, but if He wants really significantly free beings, then here we are. We’re significantly free beings and that means that we can use our free-will very rightly or very wrongly and so I am arguing for free-will and also in a sense, I’m arguing, what I present, I’m arguing in a sense for soul-building, that we’re learning lessons here that are valuable for eternity, and I think that we’re going to have free-will in heaven, but not sin, and for a lot of reasons. One of the reasons is because we’re learning how stupid sin is here and at the judgment, we’re going to learn a lot more about the stupidity of sin. I’ll throw in just one more thing on that.
Clay: I’ve never seen anybody actually try to do this and I don’t know how long the judgment’s going to be. I don’t know. How would I know? But just a thought experiment. If every, there’s 7 billion people alive today, roughly speaking.
Clay: If every person was to be judged for ten minutes, that’s 133,000 years, so that’s going to be, cause people ask me, I was just asked, “What about children that are aborted?” They didn’t learn anything. My answer to that is “Well I think after 133,000 years after the judgment they’re going to learn quite a bit, one. Two, also they’ll probably be able to see their own murder. That’d be quite an education too, and the motives that went into why they were murdered and into the society that caused that and so on. So basically, this is knowledge that’s important for our eternity, because I think God is teaching us, among other things, that just sin is a really stupid thing to do.
Kurt: So why is it, and maybe you can hash or rather rehash this out, so why is it that God couldn’t just create a world where humans had free-will but never sinned?
Clay: Yeah. It’s funny, in other words, how could God create a world where humans have free-will, and never use it wrongly? The only way I think you can do that would be through determinism.
Clay: There are people, theological traditions that hold to determinism. I don’t. I’m a libertarian.
Kurt: Not politically libertarian, in terms of philosophical debate.
Clay: Thank you for that. I believe in a libertarian, thanks for clarifying that, a libertarian is someone who believes that you can do other than you do. That you don’t have to make the decisions that you do.
Kurt: And at least for some life decisions, not all life decisions.
Clay: Yeah. Sure. Not all of them. In fact, I always point out to people, “Well you’re saying God doesn’t have sovereignty.” No. I think God probably determines most things. He determined that I would be male. He determined that I would have blue eyes. I think He determines most things, but I don’t think He determines every human’s every thought and deed, such that they could never do other than they do. I can believe, in fact, that God determines most things, but not everything. A determinist, and this is where the language gets a little bit confusing to those that aren’t used to it, a determinist is someone who believes that God determines everything. There’s nothing that He did not determine, but that means then that when a man decides to torture to death a little girl next door, that every cut, bruise, penetration, burn, humiliation that he does, God so arranged the affairs of the universe that that man couldn’t not, he had to do those things. He couldn’t not, and by the way, there’s a lot of double negatives as you know when you talk about this because what we tend to do in this debate, is we say, “The man couldn’t not do those things.” In other words, he had to do those things, but he couldn’t not because God had so arranged the affairs of the universe, he had to do those things and he had the desire to do those things. He couldn’t not desire because God so arranged the affairs of the universe that he would want to do those things and then you actually have some of them go so far as to say God Himself doesn’t have free-will.
Clay: When you do that, if you say God could never do other than He did, then that means Auschwitz necessarily had to come out of the nature of God. God couldn’t not have arranged a world where Auschwitz wouldn’t happen. WOW! To me, the implications of that…so anyway.
Kurt: If God were to create a world with free-will where no evil occurs, really, it’s not free-will.
Clay: What the determinists do, and this is usually in the serious Reformed camp, and I don’t want to, let me just clarify, I respect these people and people I’m talking about is like John Piper, I respect him. I think he’s a great guy, great man, great Christian. R.C. Sproul. J.I. Packer. They’re determinists. I just want to say, I respect these men and I think too often, especially in Christian apologetics, we could demonize, I respect them. I just think they’re wrong on this and of course, they would conversely think I’m wrong, but I’m just saying, the implications for their view, what happens is is R.C. Sproul said, “I do not know the answer to the problem of evil nor do I know anyone else who does.” I think he’s right, because if you think that God determines everything, why does He determining that people would torture each other to death? Why would He do that? Anyway, I think that’s the trouble with it is, and what happens is that the determinists then are redefining free-will and how they redefine it is, free-will for the determinist, they say you have free-will, but the way they redefine it is free-will only means that you’re doing what you want to do. As long as you’re doing what you want to do, even though God made you want to do that, then you have free-will. I just simply, I don’t agree with that.
Kurt: Sure. Okay. So let’s move into some other areas here. On your model, you think there’s a historical Adam and that his sin brought about devastation and consequences into the world. What would you say are some of those consequences?
Clay: Remember after Adam and Eve sinned, God looked at planet Earth and said “I curse you.” Right? Genesis 3, and God cursed the ground. What pestilence, what disease, what horror cannot have been unleashed from God looking at planet Earth and saying “I curse you.”? Wow. Romans 8 says all of creation is held in bondage and is looking forward to the revelation of the sons of God. Well when did that bondage occur? It occurred, almost every theologian says, it occurred when Adam sinned. That’s when it occurred. Creation’s messed up. We live in a fallen world. We live in a world of sickness and disease. I’m going to tell you something about Kurt that I really haven’t talked to anybody about yet. My next book is probably going to be entitled How Does God Use Suffering? and I’ve come to a strange conclusion. God is doing all of humankind a great favor by creating so much suffering. The reason He has to do it is, and this is what I’ve been spending my time studying is, every human on Earth has an immortality project. All of them.
Kurt: This is the soul-building theodicy.
Clay: Well, no. This is a little different. Every human on Earth, you and I, everybody you and I know, all the non-Christians, all the Christians, we all have an immortality project. What I mean by that is we’re trying to find some way to live forever. Atheists are doing it through legacy. My works are going to go on and continue.
Kurt: Or freezing themselves.
Clay: Scientific. That’s another one. Scientific immortality. Having children. My children are going to go on forever. They’re trying to get glory for themselves that they call fame and renown and they don’t use the term glory very often, but what I’m saying is is that what a weak kind of immortality, a super super super, I mean, and these atheists that are writing on the topic. They all agree that Christians have true immortality. The atheists say this. The atheists say Christians have true immortality. What’s my point? My point is look at how we’re looking for immortality and we’re looking for it through our children, through our legacy, through our accomplishments, that’s our immortality. Can you imagine if all of us lived 900 years in good health? Nobody would need God. Who would need God at all? So the Lord is actually doing us all a favor by not allowing our immortality projects to succeed.
Kurt: Now I’ve got one concern is here you said that it’s a good that God has allowed suffering.
Kurt: I just want to be careful. You’re not saying though that God intricately orchestrates….
Clay: No. I mean obviously in Scripture sometimes He does. I mean obviously, but for the most part, no. I think He just cursed the world, I think He probably in a sense too cursed it and went, “Okay. You just go on and try to live on and see how this goes”, but I don’t think that for the most part that God is going, “I’m going to make this suffering strike this person at this moment.” I don’t think that for the most part. Are there occasions? Oh yeah. Sure. Absolutely, but I don’t think for the most part that’s how it’s working.
Kurt: So when God cursed the Earth, that brought about disease pestilence…
Clay: Earthquakes. Tsunamis.
Kurt: People in this nation have been hit hard by hurricanes the past month and a half here. Why is it then that God would allow hurricanes to devastate masses of populations?
Clay: Several things. First, natural laws must work in regular ways if our actions are going to have meaning and our trouble is that we like to build on the beach and we tend to build on floodplains, frankly, we just do, because the beach is beautiful. I want to be close to the water. Who doesn’t want to be close to the water? The trouble with that is being close to the water is, you’re going to have these things. People used to, now they’ll probably ask Harvey, but I was asked about Hurricane Katrina. Why did God allow Hurricane Katrina to destroy New Orleans? I just said, “Well let’s think about it. We built the city below sea level and we built it with walls that we knew could not withstand a hurricane above category three. When hurricane categories four and five were already a regular part of our existence.” In other words, it isn’t like we thought that hurricanes only went to three and then when Katrina came along we went, “Wow. They go higher. Who knew?” So we built the city below sea level with defenses that we knew for sure were inadequate to stop things that are a normal part of our experience and the Scripture is in Proverbs 19:3, Solomon said, “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord.” We do something stupid, like build a city below sea level with walls that can’t withstand forces that are common to our experience and then go, “Why did God do that?”
Kurt: So a lot of here can be self…
Clay: Don’t build on a floodplain or watch, we know this could happen in Houston. It’s horrible. I pray, as I’m sure most of the people watching this, prayed for them, but think about it just for a minute. They’re going to rebuild. Right? They’re rebuilding. It’s not like they’re going, “Wow. We’ve learned our lesson.” I’m not saying they shouldn’t rebuild. These things are, this kind of hurricane only comes once, every century or who knows how long….
Kurt: So ultimately we humans collectively think, “Oh It’s still worth it for us.”
Clay: It’s still worth it, but then, the one in New Jersey, the hurricane that wiped out a lot of homes along the beach, well, don’t build at the beach. But, it’s like, I want to build at the beach, okay, but then they’re assaulted because hurricanes are a normal part of our experience and we need to be intelligent and react to that responsibly and I frankly, if I was in Houston, I’d probably rebuild my house in Houston too. Right? Fix it. I mean, I get it, but I’m just saying this is the kind of thing that happens to normal people.
Kurt: So moving along from natural disasters, I want to maybe look at more of the personal side here of evil that some folks might be thinking about. Why is it that God would create a world in which a two year-old or three year-old suffers from a terminal illness.
Kurt: Why would God create a world like that?
Clay: Yeah. I have an article that you may know, the article is also in my book. The article’s entitled, “Why Did God Let That Child Die?” Because that’s one of the biggest questions. The question, as I say in the book, is never vague. It’s never general. I’ve never been asked in my life, not even once, why does God let children die? I’ve never been asked that question. The question is always, “Why did God let seven year-old Kali die of cancer?” It’s always very specific. And whenever I’m asked that question, I say, “Well, let’s think about it just for a minute. It’s not just Kali, right? You don’t think God ought to let any child die of cancer. Right?” And they go, “Well, no. Of course not. God shouldn’t let any child die of cancer.” And I go, “It’s not just cancer. Right? You don’t think God should let children die from other diseases do you?” 100% of the time. Try it. Try it when somebody says it, try it. It’s not just cancer. “No!” 100%. No. Of course, God shouldn’t let children die of other diseases. “You don’t think that God should let children be killed in accidents?” “No! Of course not!” 100%. Try it. I just keep going through and finally, finally, as I keep going through analogy, thing after thing, “You don’t think they ought to be maimed or raped. Right?” “No. No. Of course, God shouldn’t let children be maimed and raped.” Finally, I go, “At what age do you think children should be indestructible?” At that, most people laugh, because it’s ridiculous. Anybody with half a brain has already seen through this.
Kurt: That’s just not the way the world functions.
Clay: But then see, how would you, if you just keep thinking, just let me back up and then come back to this subject. This is a question of God should have arranged the universe differently, and when anybody says that, say “How should He arrange the universe differently?” Then when they tell us, what will happen though? They’re going to get frustrated. They almost always get angry and frustrated, but just pull it apart.
Kurt: If I were God, I create a world like this.
Clay: So with children, God should have made it so children wouldn’t get killed. How would He do that? What mechanisms does He put in place so children can’t be injured or harmed or killed? How does He do that? Does He literally just make them indestructible? Until what age? Could you imagine indestructible three year-olds? I kid, I oppose officially all forms of child abuse. There, I’ve said it. Disclaimer. But you can have an indestructible three year-old, that you could throw that child across the room and he’s coming back at you, because he’s indestructible. Guess what? You’re not. That child, indestructible? He’s coming back! It’d be like a Chucky kind of, it’d be this weird, he can do whatever he wants.
Kurt: Even then in some crazy world it’s likely an impossible world where that could happen, then the burden will just be moved. “Why does God allow the twenty-one year-old.
Clay: When does that stop? One woman blurted “Twelve!” Does she really think that thirteen years, and all of a sudden, so you’ve got indestructible children and you tell them “Go out and play marbles in the freeway. You’ll just bounce around a lot. Go out and have fun.” You could free climbing. “You wanna go free climbing. Go free climbing.” I mean, you’re eleven. In fact, you’d be begging your kids to go free climbing because do whatever you want.
Kurt: It’s just unrealistic.
Clay: And then when they hit thirteen all of a sudden the world’s dangerous.
Kurt: So bringing it back here to the young ones that are sick and it hurts our souls…
Clay: And it hurts our immortality project. It endangers our immortality project of I’m going to live forever through my children. Let’s just be honest here. Most humans, their children are their idols. They are. God doesn’t want us to have idols. It’s not the way we should revere Him and so what the death of some children does, is it threatens our idols and it puts things in proper perspective and you have to realize then, your children aren’t safe, and your love for them and your worship even of them is endangered and God, that’s valuable knowledge for us here on Earth. Painful! We don’t like it, but if you’re going to build a life without God, that’s the kind of thing you build it on. My kids are going to live forever.
Kurt: So you really see that it’s not God causes the child to get sick, but God has created a world in such a way that these sort of things happen and it is sad so dealing with that suffering can be a challenge and a call for pastoral care.
Clay: And Christians help each other. Christians get, the Christian community can reach out and love each other through it. It reminds us, I’m going to tell you a story, I don’t think I’ve said this in a long, long time or hardly ever, but there was a couple, and I happen to know this because they attended a friend of mine’s church, but they really weren’t walking with the Lord. I don’t know how many details I should give. They went to Yosemite and this was in the papers and one of their children, maybe both or two of them were killed. They let them swim below Vernal Falls. They weren’t really walking with the Lord. After that happened, man, they were on fire for Jesus. I do not find, by the way, I do not find that disaster or sickness or disease, I don’t find a correlation on whether it draws people closer to the Lord or farther.
Kurt: Because people react differently!
Clay: I’ve watched this, Kurt, and you probably have. Just watch. Some people get closer. Some people, “If God’s going to do that then I don’t want any part of Him!” I just don’t see a correlation.
Kurt: Right. You don’t see more people doing this or the other. It really is…
Clay: I really don’t. I really don’t. Some people get bitter and turn from God and others go “I need you like I never have” and you’d think that somebody loses a couple of children in a, go, “How could God do that?” Well, I mean, natural laws work in regular ways and the water that we drink and swim in can drown us. I wish He could make water that you could drink and swim in and not drown. Okay. Tell me how that works. Once you begin to pull that apart, it falls apart.
Kurt: So really for people that are suffering and in a sense, blaming God, you might say, well, this is an instance where we have to be really careful. We shouldn’t just bash them with arguments, but nevertheless, there are faulty assumptions which they’re operating under.
Clay: You started off by mentioning about that we need to weep and be compassionate and when people have just had a loss and glad we have just a moment to talk about this. When somebody’s had a loss like they’ve lost a child or lost a loved one, that’s not when you start giving apologetic arguments!
Kurt: Don’t be like Job’s friends!
Clay: That’s not the time. The Scripture says, weep with those who weep, and Christians too often resort to just, “It’s going to be fine. God’s in control.” It’s not that those things aren’t true, but what that’s doing is saying your tears and heartache isn’t legitimate. Jesus even wept over Lazarus’s death. Just loving people. That being said, there does come a time where those people are ready to go, “So what really happened here? What’s God doing?” But I’m just saying, immediately no, not right away.
Kurt: Alright. I want to ask you one last question here. I know a recent thing, the passing of Nabeel Qureshi, Christian apologist, why would God who wants Muslims to come to Christian salvific belief, why would God take away a good man like him?
Clay: Wow. Yeah. That’s really become a huge, huge, huge, issue, and sadly, I’ve seen some people, some Christians go, this has weakened my faith, that I’ve been hurt. I have several things to say about this. First of all, in a very real sense, it didn’t weaken anybody’s faith. What I mean by that is it weakened their false beliefs in the way God works in the world, because God never promised, there’s this kind of thing, God didn’t promise that you’re going to live, or me, that’s not there. Look it up. Go through the Bible and see if there’s an age where God said He’s going to let you live. Also, God didn’t say, “Yeah, but if you’re really a good minister, I’m not going to let you die.” It doesn’t say that either. It’s not anywhere.
Kurt: And Nabeel seemed to really understand this.
Kurt: He didn’t buy into the hokey pokey about needing more faith more healing and he didn’t buy the other hokey pokey that if you just keep praying it will happen. Of course, he did request prayer.
Clay: Yes, and of course, and when I had cancer, I asked for people to pray for me, and of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but God didn’t promise that he would live to a certain age, and also, I think people need to understand, yeah, he was a very very useful apologist when it came to Muslims. He was really good at it, really blessed and good, but I’ll tell you something. You start looking at the tens and tens of thousands of people that were watching, viewing his blogs and responding to his books and I’m sure buying his books. They’re selling well. I happen to know this for a fact. I looked on Amazon. His books are selling well. I’m not sure, it’s not clear to me that God may not even be more through his death when it comes to accomplishing things for the kingdom than through his life. Now I’m not saying that’s the case, but it might be. We don’t know. We don’t know, but I mean tens of thousands of people, people that didn’t know anything about apologetics know about, I mean, when I talk to people that don’t really know anything, they’re not apolojedis as some people think, but they knew about this situation, churches. But anyway, so don’t.
Kurt: The Lord is using this sad instance of suffering in the world and He’s bringing about a great good from it.
Clay: Yes. And not only that, but there is a good and I actually blogged, I did a Facebook thing on this and I did blogs on prayer for healing. I just did three blogs on prayer for healing, but one of the things is that I put on quite a thing on Facebook is, there’s one lesson that we don’t want to face about Nabeel Qureshi’s death, and that is you are not safe. That’s a big one. And you go and even if you are a faithful servant of Christ, you’re not safe. Natural laws work in regular ways and we live in a fallen world and you need to just continue to honor God as Nabeel did, to the end, you need to just honor God to the very end of your life. Who knows what other lessons are going to be? We could go on, but anyway, I think that’s the jist of it.
Kurt: Clay. Thanks for joining us on the show today.
Clay: Pleasure, Kurt.
Kurt: If you’re interested to learn more and read about Clay’s views, you can purchase his book, Why Does God Allow Evil? Compelling Answers For Life’s Questions. And you also blog regularly at Clayjones.net.
Kurt: Great. So that does it for our short episode today. Next week you can catch us with the full-length back at our office studio, and so I will see if I can do the closing right here. I want to thank the partners that we have, the patrons that support us, chip in a few bucks a month. I want to encourage you again to do that. Become one of our patrons and I’m also grateful for the sponsorships that we have with our partners, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone, and last but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.