Thomas Griffin (8/10/20)
Jon Steingard was a pivotal figure in the success of a Christian band named Hawk Nelson who he led as lead singer and guitarist. His recent statements regarding the existence of God have catapulted him into the national spotlight. After leading Christian concerts for years, which often include prayerful encounters, he has issued a declaration to the world that he no longer believes that God is real.
Steingard grew up in a vibrant Christian family where his father was the pastor of the local church. He recalls that “when you grow up in a community that holds a shared belief, and that shared belief is so incredibly central to everything, you simply adopt it…so I did too.” Jon is now at the point where he finally realized that his faith was empty. He admitted that his belief was simply the result of the family he was born into and the customs instilled in him by his peers.
The habit of his worship, belief and practice of faith was merely a blind following of what others told him was the case, not what he investigated thoroughly for himself. This is evident from his own words which recall the experience of feeling like public worship was a “kind of weird performance art.” Steingard even goes as far as to accuse church gatherings as being “manipulative.”
Jon claimed that his doubts were suppressed inside of him because he believed that he was simply “overthinking all these things.” Once he ceased to bury his doubts he began to see more issues with the Christian faith: “If God is all love, and all-powerful why is there evil in the world?” The previously acclaimed Christian songwriter noted here, the most prominent and profound argument against the Christian God known as the problem of evil.
The answer from the church is that God allows evil because he sees freedom as a greater good than the existence of evil. In order to stop moral evils (acts we commit against each other) God would have to intervene in such a way that disrupts the order of freedom which would disable humanity from accomplishing what the Christian creed claims is its signpost: a free response to love God and live in relationship with him.
Steingard knows about this response to the problem of evil and even concedes that the free will argument has worth. His main concern is how free will accounts for natural disasters, famines, and pandemics? God does not need to destroy free will in order to lower the waves of a tsunami, heighten the nutrients in the soil, or insert the recipe for a vaccine against the coronavirus.
Christian authorities in his life and in the church advised that he look to the Bible for the answer, which only raised more questions because many Christian denominations (including his own) are fundamentalists in regards to their reading of Sacred Scripture. This means that the Bible has no human or divine errors and every passage and line is to be read literally. For Steingard, difficult passages forced him to conclude that “the Bible was simply a book written by people as flawed and imperfect as I am.”
A Christian response to these questions is not simple, but there are answers. Evil is problematic because every individual knows that the world is not how it should be. Bad things happen to good people, our loved ones die, and unexplainable tragedies occur for seemingly no reason. Evil personified as natural disasters, famines and pandemics are horrible realities. God’s decision to permit these atrocities is similar to the free will argument. The laws of physics and nature determine how a tsunami occurs; the laws of agriculture and biology determine the existence of a famine and the laws of molecular strands of disease determine pandemics.
These realities are the result of a world that is not as it should be. Human beings fail to treat each other correctly and the tectonic plates, soil nutrients, and molecules in a cell fail to co-exist properly as well. The pivotal answer is that the fact of evil’s existence is not the end of the Christian message, malice does not receive the final word.
The message of Jesus Christ is vastly unknown even though his accusers are ever-prevalent. Jesus came to set the world aright; he came to free the captives, heal the sick and enliven humanity with the capacity to choose good over evil. The response of the world was to nail him to a tree and execute him as a criminal punished to the highest extent of the law.
Jesus came to defeat evil and the world laughs because evil conquered him. However, the end of the story is not darkness, but the light emanating forth from the empty tomb. His body was never found and countless friends and followers died rather than deny the truth: even the most powerful evil, death itself, could not conquer God: Jesus is alive.
Doubt and evil are realities that we, and Jon Steingard, must all sit with. But the truth is, God is either real or he is not. Jon is either right or wrong in his position; God cannot be fake and real at the same time. The question is not whether or not his doubts are authentic, but whether or not his understanding of Christianity is valid.
Evil is real and if we read the Christian message authentically we find that the answer to the dilemma of evil is not an explanation of its worldly defeat, but a person (Jesus Christ) who made it powerless. This is the Christian response to Jon Steingard, and it may not dispel all his doubts, but it should push him and us to further investigate where we land on the God question because one side must be right and one side must be wrong. – “As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15).
Thomas Griffin teaches Apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.
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