Here is a sermon manuscript (albeit a brief one!) based on the STEPS model for apologetic preaching, as applied to negative apologetics, i.e., where the apologist is playing defense…seeking to remove obstacles to belief. To help understand the “flow” of the message, the manuscript is in five parts based on the STEPS acrostic.
Specify the Apologetic Challenge
If God exists, why is there so much evil in the world? A tsunami destroys several coastal villages, sweeping entire families into the sea. A military dictator decides a neighboring people are a threat and orders his troops to kill them all in a merciless genocidal purge. A car spins out of control on a patch of black ice, crashing into a ravine and leaving a mother and her infant son dead. These are real examples of evil in the world around us, and each one brings heartache and brokenness in its wake. Such instances leave many unsure how to reconcile the existence of God and the existence of evil, and some even conclude that in a world of such pain God cannot exist.
Maybe you agree with them and sit here today not believing in God, or at least you are not sure if God exists. You have experienced evil, and know of others who have, too, and now the idea of God seems more of a fairy tale than a reality. Surveys of religious beliefs, and specifically about whether God exists, show that you are not alone in your conclusion and questioning. Not everyone believes in God, and often the reason is related to so much evil in the world. Let’s think about this together. Does evil in the world prove that God does not exist?
Tell the Critic’s Best Argument
Before I present what I think are good reasons to believe in the existence of God in spite of the evil in the world, I want to talk a bit more about what many atheists have argued in defense of the conclusion that evil rules out God’s existence. The atheist begins by acknowledging the presence of evil in the world. Consider, for example, what I discussed earlier. The tsunami that kills thousands; a tyrant who commits genocide by killing an entire neighboring people; the mother and child who die in a car crash—these are examples of evil in world. The tsunami and car crash represent what may be called natural evil, and the genocide is an example of moral evil.
If God exists, the atheist continues, then surely he would be powerful enough to stop evil, both natural and moral. God is all-powerful, right? Further, if God exists, then surely he would want to stop evil. God is all-good, right? Yet, evil still exists, both in natural disasters and in the wicked choices people make. So, the atheist concludes that God is either not powerful enough to stop evil, or he is not really good, since he does not stop evil. Therefore, since evil exists, God must not exist, at least not an all-powerful and all-good God. This is especially challenging for the Christian conception of God, which considers God’s power and goodness as essential to his existence. Thus, if the atheist is right, and evil proves God is not all-power or all-good, then what of the Christian God?
Expose the Weakness of the Critic’s Argument
But wait a minute. Before we conclude that the presence of evil in the world is proof that God does not exist, and if he does then he is weak, wicked, or both, I think there are some problems with the atheist’s argument. Let’s consider these as questions. What if God is all-powerful and all-good, but he refuses to override human free will? While we can certainly imagine a world without moral evil—without genocidal military dictators, without child molesters, without rapists—such a world would also be somehow less than human if free will were taken away and the only reason for no moral evil was because there was no human freedom. True freedom implies choices, the freedom to choose good or to choose evil.
Further, if God does not exist, then where does the atheist get the ideas of good and evil, of right and wrong? If the atheist responds that each person must decide what is right and wrong, then possibly what the rapist does is actually right in his own way of thinking. Even if the atheist refuses to go along with such relativism, insisting that there are actual moral facts, a real and objective right and wrong, they have no ultimate standard from which to make this conclusion. Moral laws require a moral lawgiver, but the atheist does not think one exists. There are other questions to ask the atheist who believes evil and God cannot coexist, but these represent what I think are the ones especially important for now.
Present the Answer to the Apologetic Challenge
What does the Christian faith teach about God’s existence, especially considering the presence natural and moral evil in the world? For starters, the Bible explains that God made the world and everything and everyone in it, and that when he did this he made humans as his special representatives. Genesis 1:1 declares that, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and in 1:27 that, “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” However, as the Bible goes on to reveal, the first humans chose to disobey God in the very area we are discussing—in the area of good and evil. Genesis 2:15-17 describes how “the LORD God took the man and put in in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Perhaps you have heard how this all turned out, how the man and woman chose to disobey God and eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and how that resulted in several far-reaching consequences. These include a breakdown in human relationships and, eventually, the first murder. Likewise, the natural world became a difficult place for the man to work and live. What are we to make of this? It seems reasonable to me that the misuse of human freedom goes a long way in explaining the presence of evil in the world that God created. The account doesn’t stop here, though. No, far from abandoning the world to evil, God began redeeming it, promising one day that he “will wipe away every tear…there shall be no more death, no sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain” (Rev. 21:4). Thus, it also seems reasonable to me that God will one day bring an end to all evil and, though I am not immune from its effects, that God’s existence is a key to understanding evil in the world.
Summarize and Transition to a Related Invitation
I don’t pretend that this brief message answers every question related to the presence of evil in the world and whether God exists. There are other aspects of the topic to discuss, and you may have even deeper, more personal questions. However, what we have heard does offer a possible solution to the dilemma created by evil. Yes, evil exists. There have been and will likely be more terrible natural disasters, more evil regimes, and more fatal crashes. Natural and moral evil are part of the world we live in, and they touch all of our lives. Does the Christian faith offer a solution? Absolutely, though it is not a simple, quick fix. The Christian faith not only explains the presence of evil related to human freedom and the promise that evil will one day be fully dealt with; the Christian message is also one that includes God’s own struggle with evil. Jesus Christ was the victim of moral evil. He was murdered in a most ruthless, painful manner, even though he had done no wrong. Jesus took evil personally, dying a criminal’s death on a Roman cross, centuries ago. The Christian faith does not teach that it ended on the cross, though. Rather, as an example of how God will eventually overcome evil, Jesus rose from the dead and will return to earth someday.
What does all this mean to you as you struggle with evil and God’s existence? Maybe it means that you have begun to consider that evil is not all there is, that God really does exist. If that is you, I hope you will continue to wrestle with these matters and let the evidence build. Talk with the person who invited you here today or talk with me after the service. There is more to know about evil and God and the hope of the Christian message. Maybe you are that person here who has decided it is time to stop doubting and start believing. The evidence makes sense. You’ve heard this message and others like it, maybe even read books and talked with others, and now you are ready to follow the evidence where it leads. It leads to Jesus, and in just a moment we will offer you an opportunity to talk with someone about taking the next step in your journey of faith.
(Next week’s article will give another sample apologetic sermon outline, one that focuses on positive apologetics.)
T. J. shares a passion for the moral argument(s) and brings much to his new post. He is, in his own words, a “mere Christian with genuine fascination and awe for the breadth and depth of God’s gracious kingdom.” He became a Christian in 1978, and began pastoral ministry in 1984. He has worked as a youth pastor, senior pastor, church planter, church-based seminary professor, a chaplain assistant in the Army, and a chaplain in the Army National Guard. A southern Illinois native, T. J. is a graduate of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a BA in Political Science; Liberty University with an MAR in Church Ministries, an MDiv in Chaplaincy, and a ThM in Theology; Luther Rice College and Seminary with an MA in Apologetics; and Piedmont International University with a DMin in Pastoral Counseling. He is currently writing his dissertation on crisis leadership in the epistle of Jude for the PhD in Leadership at Piedmont, as well as pursuing a PhD in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty, hoping to write his dissertation on some aspect of the intersection of moral apologetics and the pastorate. He is the author of several books, including God Help Us: Encouragement for Evangelism, and Thinking of Worship: A Liturgical Miscellany, as well as journal articles on liturgics, pastoral counseling, homiletics, and apologetics. He and his wife have five children. T. J.’s preaching may be heard at www.sermonaudio.com/fellowshipinchrist.