One of the most often cited arguments against Christianity is that of the problem of evil. One of the permutations of this argument states that because of the existence of evil in this world, God as defined by Christianity cannot exist. This argument, and responses to it, will be examined below.
As defined by the Christian faith, God has three characteristics (among others): He is omnibenevolent, or all loving and all good; He is omniscient, or fully aware of what happens and what will happen in the world; He is omnipotent, or all-powerful and able to accomplish His will. Christians also believe that God created the world, and agree with critics that evil now exists in the world.
From these two premises, that God is omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, and that evil exists in the world, critics conclude that there is a contradiction, and so God cannot exist. The apparent contradiction is that if God is aware of the evil in the world and all good and loving, He should want to remove it, and if He is all-powerful, He should be able to do so. The fact that evil in the world remains means that there is a conflict with one of those two characteristics and thus Christianity is self-contradictory.
This apparent contradiction can be resolved by considering the possibility that the existence of evil is tolerated by God for some good reason that we as humans do not realize. This is certainly logically possible however, and solves the alleged contradiction. One argument that could explain this reason for evil is that God values man’s free will. If God desires a loving relationship with man, as is taught in the Bible, free will is essential. Without the ability to reject the love offered by God, true love reciprocated is not possible. Beings coerced into belief and good behavior are little more than automatons, and would be incapable of true expressions of love.
With this freedom to choose and express love, though, comes the other edge of the sword, which is the ability to reject God and behave contrary to His will, paraphrased as loving God and loving others. This, then leads to the evil that mankind has accomplished in the world. God shows respect for man’s choices and allows for the consequences of the expression of this free will, even when it is contrary to His own perfect will. Since God, in His respect for man’s choices, will not (ordinarily) interdict that will, innocent victims often are made to suffer as consequence of the actions of others. Again, God could intervene at every such occasion, but this would preempt man’s free will and devalue the choices he made, for good or bad.
The main thrust of the argument against Christianity from the problem of evil is an understandable outcry against the frequent unjust suffering in the world. Since Christians believe that God is indeed all-powerful, loving, good, and knowing, they may reconcile the widespread evil in the world with the knowledge that God has a redemptive plan for mankind and can conceivably use the evil actions of others to accomplish this plan, while showing respect for His creation by permitting the exercise of man’s free will.