Yesterday I was invited to a Southern California community college by one of the on-campus Christian clubs to answer questions on God' existence. Near that same time a man burst into classrooms at an Oregon community college and began shooting. He specifically targeted Christians, asking them to identify themselves as such. The news of the tragedy quickly spread that afternoon; ten people were killed and at least seven more injured. The horror of those actions is still shocking. I mourn with those who have lost loved ones in the attack.
Wanton evil like the Umpqua Community College leaves one speechless. It seems hard to even wrap your head around the callousness of a person who would murder others in cold blood. But human beings are far more capable of this kind of evil than we normally consider. In my discussion yesterday, an atheist asserted that he believes people are basically good. They become bad due to circumstances in their lives. I think history has proven that view to be a false one. From the beginning of civilization, people have been warring with one another motivated by a lust for power, greed, or the simple fact that someone else is different.
Christianity holds that people are not basically good. Christians believe that all people are marred by original sin and things like selfishness, greed, and even bigotry come naturally. But it doesn't end there. Christianity also teaches that there is a God who can redeem us from our worst inclinations and that he stepped into history to do that very thing, at the cost of his own beloved son. While Christians recognize that people can naturally be evil, they also recognize there is a solution to the evil that we see.
Where's the Solution to the Evil in the World?That's a key point, I believe. Some may wonder where God was when all these people were being slaughtered. If God is real, why wouldn't he protect his own? Does the fact that Christians died prove the Christian God is not real? No, it doesn't. It only proves that evil exists and needs to be answered. But, as Hamlet would say, there's the rub. What is the answer to evil if God doesn't exist? Was the murder of Christians an example of natural selection allowing the stronger to weed out the weaker? Was it just another act in nature where life comes and goes without any meaning whatsoever? We don't assign much meaning to how black widow spiders kill their mates or how mammals such as lions or chimpanzees will kill offspring other than their own to avoid competition. This is nature "red in tooth and claw" and no meaning other than that's the way it works can be assigned to it.
Those Christians on the UCC campus understood that any evil we find in this world isn't the end of the story. Those who were shot for their faith knew that whatever evil may be inflicted upon them here would be more than made up for in the life to come. They had confidence that evil will in the end be met with true justice. Trusting in God does not mean that he will deliver you from all harm. As I have written elsewhere, God is not "Our Genie who art in heaven." To treat him as such belittles him and diminishes our concept of God within ourselves. Because of the fact of the resurrection, we can know that God has conquered death and sin. We can know the problem of evil is only a temporary one.
Denying the Reality of Natural EvilI feel more sorry for the non-believers at UCC as well as those on the campus with who I was conversing. There is no way for them to make any real sense out of this tragedy. They may hold that mankind is evolving and getting better, but the empirical evidence doesn't argue for that. ISIS doesn't argue for that. The looters who appear any time police presence in a community is restrained don't argue for that. Their claim is unfounded; it's a wish but not reality. They must believe it in order to hold out hope for a brighter future. The only other option is nihilism--the idea that there is no meaning to our existence at all and therefore nothing really matters. That's why I believe it's better to be a Christian even at UCC where one is in danger of being harmed for one's faith than it is to have no faith at all.
Sometimes the truth comes at a cost but the wise man will still seek it out. That's what wisdom means.