I agree that evil and suffering pose a serious intellectual and moral challenge for Christians. (Interestingly, in Hinduism and Buddhism there is no such problem. Hindus believe your suffering in this life is the consequence of your actions in a previous life.Buddhism holds that suffering is the product of egocentric desire and can be overcome through a dissolution of the self that has those desires.) When terrible things happen they seem more easily explained by God’s absence in the world than by His presence. But what few have noticed is that evil and suffering also pose a formidable challenge for atheists. The reason is that suffering is not merely an intellectual and moral problem; it is also an emotional problem. Suffering doesn’t wreck minds; it wrecks hearts. When I get sick, I don’t want a theory to explain it; I want something that will make me feel better. Atheism may have a better explanation for evil and suffering, but it provides no consolation for them. Theism, which doesn’t have a good explanation, nevertheless offers a better way for people to cope with the consequences of evil and suffering.

I noticed this in April 2007 when the deranged student at Virginia Tech went on a homicidal rampage, perpetrating one of the worst mass killings in American history. In the aftermath of the carnage, even on the secular campus, atheism was nowhere to be found. Every time there was a memorial ceremony or a public gathering, there was talk of God, divine mercy, and spiritual healing. Even people who were not personally religious began to use language that was drenched with Christian symbolism and meaning.