In his book, Why There Is No God, author Armin Navabi states, "Moral standards, as we understand them, are social constructs. They are tied intimately to cultural circumstances and can change over time." Navabi believes that if God truly existed that evil would not exist. However, Navabi has failed to understand that without the existence of evil, there are certain attributes of God's character that man could never experience. Our knowledge of God's character and love would be very much limited without the existence of evil. Allow me to give three examples.
First, man could never experience the wonder of God's unconditional forgiveness. We could never know, by experience, what it is like to be freely and completely forgiven by God. This wonderful attribute of God's character would go unrevealed and unexercised if evil did not exist.
Second, we could never experience God's grace or mercy. Mercy is God's expression toward the guilty. Grace is his giving us what we don't deserve.
Third, we could never experience freedom and free will. Experiencing these things in our relationship with God helps us to know him in ways that would not be possible without the existence of moral or functional evil.
Navabi goes on, "Religions do seem to incite violence." On the contrary, only certain religions, as a matter of doctrine, incite violence. Islam is one such religion where violence is commanded rather than prohibited (as Navabi's shows in his book). Compare that to the New Testament, which forbids violence as a tool for spreading one's faith.
"If morality truly stemmed from an all-powerful deity, it would not change over time." I think Navabi is confusing moral principles will legal practice. Let's take slavery as an example, since Navabi also brings that up. Slavery is certainly not desirable in a society. But allowing it is not the same as condoning it. God regulated slavery to something more humane than Israel's surrounding nations. This was an issue like divorce, which was allowed under Old Testament law, but which was also hated by God at the same time (Malachi 2:16). Jesus said that Moses permitted divorce because of Israel's "hardness of heart" (Matthew 19:8). This is the same as slavery, but with a significant twist.
Under Mosaic Law, slaves were given familial and freedom rights. Slavery was primarily an economic relief system for Jews. They could sell themselves to wipe away their debts, but they could not be held as slaves permanently. Jews could not kidnap others to become slaves (unlike the slave trade in the 17- and 1800s). Slaves could only be taken from other nations in war. And those slaves still had rights.
Ultimately, slavery was used as a picture of our relationship to God. We are his slaves. We deserve nothing more. But God has shown us his love by giving us familial and freedom rights through his grace.
We may not like this part of our faith history because of our modern sensibilities, but God alone is God and he has the right to establish whatever system he sees fit. Whether we like it or not won't score us any points with God.
Navabi states, "Many religions claim an all-powerful, all-loving benevolent deity. However, physical reality often contradicts this claim. Terrible things happen to people everyday. Children die tragically young, natural disasters wipe out whole communities and people die from accidents and disease. These do not suggest a righteous and compassionate God. These suggest that God is either powerless, cruel, or non-existent."
Navabi is confusing functional evil with moral evil. Though we sometimes use the same word, "Evil," to describe these, they are not equivalent. He also makes an assumption that since God doesn't appear to act against these things that he therefore does not exist. But that is a leap, not a direct correlation.
Navabi misses the fact that God has done three things about evil. (1) God has given the job of relief, compassion, and justice to man to carry out against functional and moral evil. By giving us dominion over his creation he has given us responsibility to correct functional and moral evil. Our failure to relieve functional evil and punish moral evil does not obligate God to do it for us. However, (2) Jesus experienced functional and moral evil on our behalf. God began addressing the problem of moral evil with the law, then in the death of Jesus. Moral evil was judged on the cross of Christ. (3) God commands the advocacy of the Gospel as the long term solution to this problem. Man's rejection of God's solution does not make God responsible for evil. Rather, it multiplies our guilt since we reject his solution.
God has done something about evil—just not on our timetable. Our outrage and protests do not obligate God to do things any other way.
Navabi goes a step further, "An all-loving god would surely not damn his children to an eternity of torture simply for being born into a culture that believes in the wrong deity, follows the wrong holy book, or attends the wrong type of church service."
The New Testament book of Romans makes it clear that man is judged according to the level of knowledge that he has. His condemnation is for sin, not because he knows or doesn't know something. His salvation happens when he responds to God's grace.
Getting into Heaven is like getting into a house. If a stranger comes knocking on your door and says he'd like to come in and watch your TV and eat from your fridge, and sleep with your wife, you're not likely to let him in. He doesn't know you. He also doesn't respect your moral values since he want to sleep with your wife. So too, Heaven is God's house (so to speak). God doesn't just accept anyone. Only those whom his son invites are welcome and who have had their lives and worldview changed through gaining a new life with Jesus.
If God did not punish sin then God cannot be just. If he was not just then Navabi would have a point. Hell is not unfair, but fair. Allow me to show you why this is true.
Just as Heaven is eternal, so too Hell is eternal.
The scripture says that there will come a time when those in Heaven will never leave its gates. We will remain there for eternity. Just so, those who go to Hell will never leave its gates. They will be there for eternity. In this sense Hell is fair. The same eternity in terms of time is present for both. This is fair.
How we get to Hell is also fair.
Getting to Heaven or Hell is always the result of a single decision. Are you for Christ or against Christ? The works of our lives do not determine our eternal destiny. Our placement in Heaven or Hell is totally dependent upon one single decision. Christ or no? Bad deeds, good deeds, they don’t play into the equation of where we go. We can accept Christ’s deeds on our behalf or we can reject Him. It’s that simple. No one goes to an undeserved hell. Rather, we go to an undeserved heaven.
Hell is a just place.
People don’t go to Hell for something someone else did. People go to Hell for rejecting what someone else did. Christ bled and died on our behalf. In the acceptance of his sacrifice there is freedom. It’s like a prisoner being handed the key to his cell. The prisoner would be an idiot not to accept the key. So too, we have been given the key, in Christ, to escape eternal punishment. Why reject it?
Hell is a just place because sin is punished there.
Should not sin be punished? Our sin was punished in Christ on the cross. Would it be fair to Jesus if he suffered for the sin of others then accepted those who reject his sacrifice? Those who accept his substitution do not suffer eternal punishment—Christ took it for them. But those who do not appropriate Christ’s substitution must suffer for their own sins—the chief of which is rejection of Christ. Heaven is Christ’s home. Should he let you in the door of his home if you repudiate Him?
Hell is fair.