By Nic Bertsch
The pervasive ethos of our culture could likely be summed up with one familiar sentiment: everyone has their own truth. Schools from elementary all the way to post-secondary continue to perpetuate the philosophy that it is wrong to tell another person they are wrong, that things can be true for you but not for everyone, and that morality is dependent on personal preference rather than objective truth. This system of belief has a name: relativism.
Relativism is simply the belief that there is no objective truth, especially moral truth, and that right and wrong are up to each individual person to decide. It is necessary as Christians to be able to break down this confused philosophy, as it is one of the biggest obstacles to the gospel that exists in our culture. After all, if there are no such things as true right and wrong, then there is no such thing as sin. If sin does not exist, then the concept of a Saviour becomes irrelevant. This is why the Christian message—that people are sinners in need of forgiveness—is met with apathy, and even anger, in our culture. It is held by most, almost dogmatically, that no one has any right to judge another person’s moral choices by calling them sin.
In order to break down this confused philosophy, we as Christians have an unlikely ally on our side. It just so happens that the most common objection thrown at followers of Christ actually shows that relativism must be false. This objection, of course, is the problem of evil.
Open any atheist book, visit any atheist website, or listen to any atheist talk, and the problem of evil will inevitably be brought up. And how could it not? It is impossible for any sane person to deny the extreme evil that exists in the world. It is only necessary to watch the news for a few minutes, and one will be confronted with the reality of human depravity. Horrible, terrible things have taken place in the course of human history, and continue on every day. The question has been asked by skeptics and believers alike since the dawn of man: How can a good God allow so much evil? The reality of this world is, evil exists, and not many will deny it. But how does the existence of evil disprove relativism?
It is quite simple. If there is a problem of evil, then objective right and wrong exist, and relativism is false. In order to defend relativism, a person will have to take the wildly counter-intuitive position of saying there is no such thing as real evil or real good, but rather everything is just a matter of opinion. At this point we are free to bring forth one of the infinite examples of truly evil things we can think of, just to watch them squirm, but be forewarned—extreme examples are often necessary with a person like this in order to drive the point home.
For example: “Are you really saying that when someone kidnaps an innocent child, only to rape and murder him or her, it is not always evil in all cases? Is it evil for someone to torture another person just for the pure amusement that it brings them?” In order for a relativist to hold their ground, they must insist that such acts are not evil for everyone. In fact in order for relativism to actually be true, it would mean that that there would be absolutely no moral difference between pushing a toddler out of the way of a car in order to save them, and pushing the same toddler in front of a car to kill them! What would we call a person who lives perfectly consistently within a framework where there is absolutely no difference between good and evil, where such categories do not even exist? A sociopath—a homicide detective’s worst nightmare.
As we can see, there is a high price to pay in order to affirm relativism. One must abandon the problem of evil completely, and in the process abandon all common sense, or humanity for that matter. However, as soon as a person concedes that just one thing is objectively evil or good, relativism can no longer be true.
The reality of evil, in fact, is precisely why the moral argument for the existence of God is so powerful. For those who are not aware of the moral argument, it goes something like this:
If evil exists (that is, it is evil to rape and murder innocent children), then objective morality exists. If objective morality exists, then human opinion cannot be the standard of what makes something good or evil. If human beings are not the standard, then something that transcends humanity—the character of God—must be the standard. So by proving the existence of objective evil, we can not only dismantle relativism, but simultaneously make a case for the existence of God.
In reality, relativism is an unlivable system. No one can function in the world as though every individual can make up good and evil for themselves. A person cannot even demand things like tolerance and equality if they are a relativist. After all, if we can all make up morality for ourselves, that is a great reason not to tolerate anyone! Why should we treat people as equal if we are not obligated to do so by some standard beyond humanity? Hitler certainly didn’t think all people were equal, and he had the power to act on that belief by killing millions he deemed unworthy of life. By affirming relativism, a person would have no basis from which to argue against what Hitler did.
That is why no one who says they are a relativist is actually a real one. They are likely just more liberal-minded, and don’t want anyone to “judge” them for their lifestyle. By removing any standard of right and wrong, people feel like they are now free to do whatever they want. I hope I have shown there is a high price to pay in order for them to do that consistently. They must deny the existence of both evil and good.
By affirming the problem of evil, we defeat relativism, and establish God as the standard of what defines right and wrong. In doing so, we hopefully have a much better chance of creating fertile ground for the seeds of the gospel to be planted. If God is the standard after all, then what He calls sin is what matters, not our personal preference, which makes everyone guilty.
It is this guilt that we have before God that makes the person and work of Jesus so essential. God did not simply stand back and rightfully condemn every human being for violating His perfect standard. Rather, He entered into time and space as the person of Christ, to suffer the punishment that His perfect justice demanded. He offered forgiveness and mercy when condemnation is what we deserved. When people are able to abandon relativism, and come to terms with their crimes against the creator of the universe, Jesus is there to meet them with love they want, and the pardon they desperately need.
The problem of evil is something that all Christians must wrestle with, but it in no way disproves the existence of God. Rather it is our ally in the cultural battle of ideas, a battle which seeks to undercut the entire Christian worldview with its relativistic philosophy.