The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 changed everything. In minutes this thriving, affluent city was brought to its knees. Roughly 50,000 people died. The sky turned black. Fires raged. Then tidal waves washed over the port, drowning hundreds more.
Later, Voltaire wrote a poem challenging the prevailing view that this was a divine act of judgment. “Whilst you these facts replete with horror view, will you maintain death to their crimes was due?” he penned, adding, “Can you then impute a sinful deed, to babes who on their mother’s bosoms feed?”
Voltaire did not challenge the existence of God. He simply asked what kind of deity would create a world with such design flaws. It’s a question other great thinkers of his day dared to ask as well – a question taken up by today’s angry atheists and carried to the extreme conclusion that God does not exist.
The earthquake and tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia in 2004, and a similar disaster that struck Japan in 2011, are more recent examples of what may be described as natural evil. While many atheists concede that moral evil exists in the world, the idea of natural evil seems to prove either that God does not exist or, if He does, He is not a compassionate, all-powerful God worthy of worship.
Not so fast.
One of the most disturbing truths of the Christian faith is the doctrine of hell. Atheists use it to deny the existence of a loving God. And Christians find themselves squeamishly defending the notion that a good God sends some people to a place of everlasting torment.
“Hell is of course the greatest evil of all, the realm of the greatest conceivable suffering,” writes Christian author Dinesh D’Souza in God Forsaken. “Consequently, hell poses perhaps the deepest difficulty for Christian theodicy [an attempt to reconcile the goodness of God with the existence of evil]. Far from resolving the theodicy problem, hell seems to make it even worse.”
Atheist Robert Ingersoll asserted that hell “makes man an eternal victim and God an eternal fiend.”
Anglican cleric John Stott, who wrote the influential book Basic Christianity, found the idea of eternal suffering so repugnant he rejected it in favor of annihilation.
Even C.S. Lewis shuttered at the concept of hell. “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power,” he wrote.
I just finished reading Dinesh D’Souza’s New York Times best-selling book, What’s So Great About Christianity? I highly recommend it and place it with Tim Keller’s The Reason for God as a must-read for Christians who want to be better prepared to defend their faith. D’Souza writes for the lay person but stands as tall as any theologian in defending Christianity against today’s angry atheists, Darwinists, relativists and others who mock followers of Christ largely because they lack reasonable and convincing evidence against the Christian faith.
To whet your appetite, here is a sampling of quotations from the book:
On reason and faith: “Faith is available to everyone. If the only way to find out about God was through reason, then smarter people would have the inside track and the less intelligent would be shut out. Getting into heaven would be like getting into Harvard. Apparently God wants to have people other than PhDs in heaven; He seems to have made room for some fishermen and other humble folk. Reason is aristocratic, but faith is democratic” (p. 201).
On atheists and revelation: “Atheists sometimes express bafflement over why God would not make His presence more obvious…. Perhaps (as Pascal writes) God wants to hide Himself from those who have no desire to encounter Him while revealing Himself to those whose hearts are open to Him. If God were to declare Himself beyond our ability to reject Him, then He would be forcing Himself on us. Pascal remarks that perhaps God wants to be known not by everyone but only by the creatures who seek Him” (p. 203).
On original sin: “Augustine asks us to look at the infant, how thoroughly self-absorbed it is, how petulantly it strikes its little arms out at the nurse. If babies do not do harm, Augustine wryly notes, it is not for lack of will but only for lack of strength. In the Christian understanding, the inner self is corrupt, so we need god’s grace to enter from the outside and transform our fallen human nature” (p. 258).
What’s So Great About Christianity? is a wonderful resource for engaging unbelieving friends — and doubting Christians — in sincere conversation about the strength and goodness of Christianity.