The perception of evil is very much real and that is because humans are of divine origin and see things from a divine perspective. There is the possibility of corruption to the extent that evil becomes the standard of excellence and its pursuit seen as the attainment of greatness. That is the ultimate expression of an extreme absence of divine love. The atheist is on the spectrum somewhere between embracing and living through and for divine love and living in a disconnected state of unawareness of the Divine, and not engaging with the Divine in one’s life in an active way. The confusion comes in because even the atheists can be moral in their choices and have an egalitarian perspective that has room for the rights of others and who sees the value in sharing and in hewing to principles some might see as divine, but others as practical give and take, as in embracing the golden rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and so forth. This is very true that atheists can be good citizens, good parents, and contribute many things of value and live lives of happiness.
The problem comes when trouble appears they are unable to cope with themselves. Who can they turn to? This is especially true when the problem is greater than fellow humans are able to assist with, such as natural disasters. There are many things that happen beyond the ability of people to control, including severe illness, the loss of loved ones, business reversals, being victimized by evildoers with criminal intentions, and so on. There are not always good human solutions available. Many times life and its disappointments can mount and weigh on a person so heavily that they will even die before their time or even lose hope to the point where they take their own lives. These are all circumstances that seem larger than life and larger in magnitude than many can cope with successfully, let alone reverse entirely. Yet these are all healable through divine intervention.
The non-believer closes off this option and this is the great loss for them. When one starts from a point of non-belief, one is choosing that set of options and potentialities. When they defend their perspective by demanding proof in order to believe, they are further walling themselves in and creating a prison of their own making and may have a lonely existence, and may well be doomed to fail in a very unpleasant fashion through establishing a set of constraints to limit their own possibility of rescue. This is quite a lot to lose as a consequence of a philosophical position that may serve the ego but cost them dearly in every other respect.
We start our discussion here in this way to make a point that the world you inhabit is filled with choice. This is no accident. It is the design. All beings were created, but given autonomy. The world you see and experience, is the world created by your fellow human beings, you included, each playing a part, playing a role among others, following rules set in place by humans to serve human needs from human perspectives. If it is imperfect, it is because humans are imperfect. If someone suffers, it is because suffering is possible given their circumstances. That can be due to many more things than simply that God does not exist, and therefore, suffering happens because otherwise God would simply prevent this, being all-powerful. Or, in the worst-case scenario, a God exists, but one who is arbitrary and uncaring to allow such suffering to happen to one of its creations. We can weigh in on this debate wholeheartedly in favor of there being a third possibility here. If there is a possibility of both good and evil, but a God who wants humans to have autonomy and freedom in order to learn and grow in the most effective possible way, which is to let them learn through their own choices and experiencing the full brunt of the consequences that ensue, this cannot happen if God rushes in to fix things at every turn, or somewhat arbitrarily picking and choosing favorites to support while perhaps ignoring others who are less desirable for some reason in God’s eyes.
This would certainly be a God with imperfections in allowing flaws and then being more human than divine in being unfair by bestowing help on some but discriminating against many others. If one looks at the current state of the world with that perspective, there would certainly be lots of divine discrimination going on, almost seeming like hatred. It is easy then to see why the human perspective became distorted in thinking there is a powerful but judgmental God running things. But we can assure you that behind door number three is indeed a loving God who wants abundance, and happiness, and joy for all, and has created all of the possible potentials for that to be so. But given free will and free agency, many have chosen to squander these privileges, and through service to the ego and an inner corruption to desire power and control over others, suffer the consequences of selfish actions, and find that their ill-gotten gains are easily lost. And given enough time, their short-term gains of power and seeming glory are taken away eventually, and they may suffer a worse fate than the trouble they have caused to others in overpowering them and causing them to be held back and to suffer in some way.
This is how karma, the law demanding the universe be in balance, goes about its business to see all wrongs are righted, that all conquerors be conquered and that all sufferers be healed. It is a question of time to determine how this comes about and when, but karma is the fabric of things and is the major force in play that determines much of what happens. There is free will up to the point where it bumps into karma underway, and the energy of the karma may well overpower them and overpower a deliberate action taken by someone and this may block their progress, undo their plans, and even take their life, if that resolves the dilemma of karma to rebalance a prior obligation. Karma teaches many lessons, has many demands, and many mechanisms. It is a very involved subject because, like all laws of the universe, it has many intricacies. Even though it can be described simply as a concept, the execution is exceedingly complex. The reality of karma alone, undermines the philosophical position of the atheist, thinking that the universe is devoid of reason or purpose other than what they themselves and their brethren may create in their thinking and put into action through human hands.
Only a Divine Creator would construct a universe of purpose and meaning filled with an information construct of this elegance—the idea of unity and balance, that all are involved and interdependent and in a state of perfection only when in balance with everything else in reference to their original plan of creation—this is something that cannot happen by chance when it involves trillions of worlds and organisms both, of which humans are a small component but nonetheless quite important, contrary to the perspective of the atheist, that humans are mere products of evolution arising from the primordial ooze and being merely animals with a better brain able to contemplate the self. The existence of consciousness itself is a miracle beyond the possibility of random energetic interactions, let alone the need to explain existence of energy in some fashion.
We cannot answer fully the argument here in a simple straightforward way because this falls into the same problem underlying the deficiency of those who simply deny divine existence. We would need to simply make a declaration of how things are and why, just as they declare their position of how things are and why. The truth, as in all things, is in the details, but we are doing our best here to create some broad outlines of why the possibility of the Divine is more than an idea, but indeed encompasses the reality of things much, much better than the hollow argument of the atheist, that because they do not have the photos to prove it, God is therefore not real. The reality we would state for them is that God is truly in everything and that everything would simply not exist but for the reality of a loving Creator to bring it into being in the first instance.
The problem of evil is both a human and a divine problem. We launched humans into the world to be autonomous beings, knowing full well the range of possibilities would extend from being in divine alignment, to being at an extreme disalignment to the extent of being engaged in depravity of all kinds. This is inherent in the possibilities of the universe on all levels when there is a freedom to act. When constrained by rules, things can be orderly and divine in appearance at all times. When all is allowed and there is the beginning of an exploration to the extremes of possibility, there can be situations where people go too far and find it difficult to return to a former divine way of being because they have slipped too far, and the path back has become too challenging. They have lost strength, they have lost understanding, and truly lost direction to even know how to proceed.
This is the dilemma of many non-believers. It is not that their world is perfect, that they reject the possibility of the Divine. Often it is because of the suffering, and this is the greatest argument they bring forth in defense of their perspective. How can God exist and allow such suffering to occur? We would simply say—this is a human’s choice to suffer, not a divine one. It is as well, a consequence of human choices that suffering has occurred. The very possibility of suffering is due to the absence of divine alignment. A state of divine perfection is a state of divine love in its ultimate expression of bliss beyond measure. Being in that state precludes every kind of suffering. The fact that humans are not in divine alignment is not proof God does not exist, it is proof God is not being fully expressed through them at the moment in how they are living their life, in the way they think and feel. That is a problem for human to solve in a world of free will.
As the Creator of All That Is, we can be patient knowing that each person will find their way back to the light eventually. That is why we can tolerate the existence of evil. It is inherent within the range of possibilities in a world truly free, and therefore, is simply an existence more on the negative end of the spectrum of possibilities through circumstances and not having a broader meaning than that. Love is open to all. Greatness is open to all. It is a choice. When people choose to suffer, through harming others, seeking power and control, and then having their day of reckoning when it is lost and the shoe is on the other foot, it is their doing and not ours. The fact they exist at all and have this quandary is very much a reality of Divine existence and is our creation unfolding for all to see and experience who are a part of the human project.