Last time I talked about my decision to really begin to follow Jesus whole-heartedly, despite the fact that I was seeking love in teenage infatuation. This time I’ll talk about how I took on the role of Job’s comforters shortly after I made this decision.
After only a couple months after I made my decision to devote my life to Christ, I had the deepest and most challenging conversation of my life. It was with a friend that I had known for about four years at the time. He was my best friend, and is still one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met.
We talked about everything that night: life, God, death, family… you name it. What compelled me then, and still compels me now, was his story. He had become an atheist, and he wanted my help thinking through some issues that bothered him.
He had been born and raised in Christianity. His father was an itinerant preacher, and his mother had been a Christian her entire life. He was baptized when he was only 8 years old, and from that time loved God intensely. He loved the Bible, and he loved hearing his father preach to large crowds.
But one day his uncle contracted stomach cancer. Even though his family gathered and prayed, his uncle still passed away. This wasn’t enough to make him stop believing, but it shook his faith.
He turned to another uncle of his for guidance at the time. In his emotional toil, my friend was told that God allows evil to occur in our lives largely because he cannot interfere with human free will. This answer satisfied him, so he was able to move on.
But the uncle who was always there to give him advice was also taken by the disease a few years later. My friend was without his best friend and without answers. After describing all this, he then asked me to explain to him how God and evil (particularly suffering) can both exist in the world. As you can tell, this was my first encounter with the philosophical problem of evil.
I tried to give an answer. To this day, I still regret what I told him: His uncles, even his believing uncle, had somewhere sinned and God allowed Satan to infect them with cancer. Does this sound like Job’s comforters to anyone?
He actually then proceeded to walk me through an argument from evil that, to him, proved that God does not exist. I had no idea what to make of it. I didn’t even know what deductive logic was. Even more than that, he gave many reasons for thinking that the Bible simply can’t be trusted as a rule of faith and practice.
By the end of our conversation I knew that I had failed to give an adequate answer about the co-existence of God and evil in the world. The issue was much deeper than I had ever imagined. At the end of our conversation I vowed to explore the topic further, and to address any and all of the doubts that he raised about the Bible.
Even though he was convinced that God didn’t exist, he encouraged me to bring my questions to God and pursue them into the ground. It is simply the best advice I’ve ever been given:
The final most important thing, if you have a question, [is to never], ever put it on the back burner. Seek an answer, for if no answer can be [found], a reasonable one can be forged by you. Man has sought answers to questions forever. You are capable of answering questions. Do not fear questions that seem contradictory to your own purposes; instead seek to answer them. To me, this shows faith. For the faithful knows the answer to his question will support his conclusion and not deter it.
In my next post, I’ll talk about how I began to seek answers to the questions my friend raised, and how I began to grow intellectually and spiritually.