Lex Luthor’s Problem of Evil

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice is the second installment in the DC Extended Universe film franchise. Though it performed fairly well at the box-office, the film has been critically panned. What with a brooding Superman and a Lex Luthor who appears too much like a Joker character, the film hasn’t exactly been received with excitement by all superhero fans either. Nonetheless, the film manages to be entertaining and raises some good questions about God.

Right before the climax of the battle between Batman and Superman, Lex Luthor offers us a pointed summary of one of the most common objections to Christianity—the problem of evil.

A Tribal God?
Luthor points out, “What we call God, depends upon our tribe . . . ‘cause God is tribal, God takes sides.” Of course this idea is not new. In fact, it was a very common idea in ancient pagan cultures. Each nation had their own gods. Often, towns and cities would have their local deities as well. The defeat of a nation often signaled the defeat of their gods. Ultimately, these gods did not stop evil because they were not all-powerful, and they usually weren’t anywhere near good, either.

Unfortunately, many see the God of the Bible as a tribal God. After all, didn’t he choose Israel to the exclusion of other nations? It may appear this way, but if we read the Scripture attentively, we will see that the God of the Bible claims to be the God of all the earth, who is all-powerful and all-good. Israel is not “God’s favorite team,” as apologist Brett Kunkle points out.¹ In fact, God disciplines Israel for the very same sins for which he condemns the nations.

So, what causes someone to think that God is tribal? Maybe it’s because God doesn’t stop all evil. Perhaps we think that God is letting out his wrath on some—that he really has chosen sides and has his favorites. It would seem that this is what Lex Luthor has come to believe. As he says, “no man in the sky intervened to deliver me from daddy’s fists and abominations.” Where was God when Luthor was being abused as a child? Why would God allow that? Why didn’t he intervene?

Faced with these difficult questions, Luthor states the standard objection, “If God is all-powerful, he cannot be all-good. And if he is all-good, he cannot be all-powerful.” As we look at our world, it’s not hard to follow his logic. We see so much evil—murder, war, human trafficking, child abuse, death, and unspeakable cruelty. If God is all-powerful, he surely could do something about all of that; but he doesn’t, so he must not be good. If God were all-good, he would want to stop this evil, but he doesn’t, so he must not be all-powerful.

A Few Points to Consider
This problem of evil is one of the most difficult questions we face and a full answer can’t be given in a thousand words. Much has been written on this subject elsewhere, so we’ve included several resources below to help. For now, let’s take note of a few things.

First, though this argument is often used against Christianity, the problem of evil is something that every worldview and religion has to deal with. There are a plethora of answers offered, but most of them are unsatisfactory. For example, pantheism explains evil away by calling it an illusion. But we have to ask “how does that help?” Have you ever tried telling a person suffering from a terrible disease or someone who has been abused that it is all in their head?

The Secularist answer is equally unsatisfactory. Most Secularists reject the existence of God but are very concerned about evil and injustice in the world. However, we have to ask, “what is evil if we have no measure of what is good?” We would argue that there is no standard of right and wrong without God, and if that is so, there is really nothing for Secularists to complain about (see resources below for a thorough defense of this argument).

A second thing to note is that Lex Luthor’s argument forces us into a false choice. Either God is all-good or all-powerful or neither; he can’t be both. However, for the argument to work, we would have to be able to prove that it is absolutely impossible that God would have any good reason for allowing evil. No one has yet been able to prove this. On the other hand, there is some evidence that God might have good reasons for allowing evil.

By way of example, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias tells the story of a girl who could not feel any pain. Obviously this causes wide-scale problems. If you can’t feel pain, you might not know that your skin had been punctured and you could get a horrible infection. Zacharias asks the simple question, “If, in our finite existence, we can see the role of pain to warn us that something is wrong, is it possible for God in his infinite wisdom to allow pain in our lives to help us know that something is wrong?”²

This leads us to our third point—namely, that the world is not now the way it is supposed to be. The Scriptures affirm that God made a good world, but that the world has been broken by human sin. You and I each contribute to the evil in the world, and if God were to put a stop to all evil right now, that would mean putting a stop to us. However, God seems to have other purposes.

Finally, we should note that it is not true that God does nothing about evil. The central Christian story revolves around the fact that God did do something about evil. He sent Jesus. This is where Christianity offers an answer that no other worldview or religion can provide. We do not have a God who is unaffected by the suffering in the world; rather, he actively entered into the experience of it. Jesus wept over Lazarus’ death, felt tremendous agony in the garden, was hurt by the betrayal of a friend, and was finally put to death in the most cruel manner imaginable. Jesus is not aloof from our pain.

And this is ultimately what we need, because the problem of evil is not a logical puzzle to solve, but a deeply-felt personal issue. Most of us, like Lex Luthor, have been affected personally by evil in some way. As Christians, we can hold out hope, knowing that Jesus’ death and resurrection set in motion God’s plan to redeem the world and make all things new. Simultaneously, we can recognize the reality of evil and search for ways to help put a stop to it wherever we can. Finally, we can take comfort in knowing that even if we do not have all the answers, we have a God who shared in our suffering and knows what it feels like to hurt.

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Ben Keiser

Ben Keiser is a writer, teacher, and student of theology, whose chief interests include biblical theology of heaven and earth, C. S. Lewis, and early Christianity in the first three centuries. Ben has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Liberty University. He resides in Colorado where you can often find him hiking in the mountains.