How would you respond?
‘If I understand you correctly, you object to the moral evil in this world. That the extreme moral evil committed by humans, like what happened during the Holocaust, would not have been allowed by a loving God if He is all powerful. You find that logically inconsistent? You might be more comfortable with the existence of evil in the absence of such a God? Suffering and evil just a brute fact of life. A pitiless indifferent universe and evil caused by individual decisions or natural disasters. But the existence of a loving God that can prevent it but doesn’t? No. Or if He does exist, that you would rather have nothing to do with Him?’
I can respond with some common, though inadequate poor theological explanations, to this very valid objection but that might make you even more convinced that either He does not exist or if He does, that you would rather not know Him. But here they are: 1. ‘He does whatever pleases Him.’ Psalm 115:3 God can do whatever He wants. No, God will not do anything contrary to His moral character. He is committed to perfect goodness. 2. There has to be evil for good to be possible. No, light does not depend on darkness. Light is an independent entity, and not dependent on darkness. Darkness is not even an entity, it is just the absence of light. Goodness is an entity, it is an absolute and can exist without evil. Evil is relational, cannot exist without good. 3. All suffering is punishment – No, this is not a scriptural statement. John 9:2 ‘His disciples asked Him, “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but it was so that the works of God might be displayed and illustrated in him. …’
Putting these implausible reasons for suffering and the existence for God aside, let us look at more intellectual reasoning why the co-existence of God and suffering is not mutually exclusive as might be suggested in your objection.
I. The Logical Argument.
There is unspeakable suffering in the world. Yet people claim the existence of an all-loving (omnibenevolent) and all-powerful (omnipotent) God. Even if He does exist why would you want to worship Him, you might ask? Let us consider this objection.
If God is willing to prevent evil but not able, then He is not all-powerful. If He is able to prevent evil but not willing, then He is not good. But if He is both willing and able, how can evil exist? If He is not able and not willing, why call Him God?. And if one still believe in such a God, it is irrational.
There are two statements in the above: 1) An all-powerful, all-loving God exists and 2) suffering exists. Are these two statements logically inconsistent? No, it is not the same as; This is a circle – it has a square shape – these are two logically inconsistent statements. There are no logical contradictions in the first two statements.
Are there hidden assumptions? Yes.
1. If God is all-powerful; He can create any world He wants.
2. If God is all-loving; He prefers a world without suffering.
Therefore, an all-loving all-powerful God can create any world He wants and He wants it without suffering. Since suffering exists, you might conclude, an all-powerful, all-loving God does not exist.
But are the assumptions true?
- Can God create any world He wants?
What if God wants free will? It is logically impossible for God to force someone to choose to do good. It is not that God lacks the power but the task is illogical. You cannot have a world with free will and everybody chooses only to be morally good humans. (Alvin Plantinga – free will defense, Freedom and Evil)
Assumption one can, therefore, is not be true.
2. If God is all-loving, He prefers a world without suffering.
Is it true that God necessarily prefers a world without suffering? How can we know this? We permit suffering in our lives for the greater good e.g. surgery.
If God can allow suffering to bring about greater good, then assumption 2 is also not necessarily true.
For For the logical argument to succeed you have to show that it is logically impossible that free will exists and that it is logically impossible that God has good reasons for permitting suffering.
Therefore, it is possible and very reasonable to believe that God an all-loving, all-powerful God and suffering can exist simultaneously.
If it is logically possible that God and suffering both exist, is it likely with so much suffering, you might ask? It seems improbable that God could have sufficient reasons for permitting it:
II. The Evidential Argument.
The magnitude of suffering provides empirical evidence that God’s existence is improbable. Not impossible but highly unlikely. It appeals to the preponderance of the evidence of evil weighed against the probability of the existence of a good God. Is this a good argument? An argument that goes from ‘no apparent’ reason to ‘no morally sufficient’ reason. In defense against this argument, consider the following:
- We cannot say that God probably lacks reason for allowing suffering in the world. The problem is that we are limited in time, space, intelligence and insight. God knows all history from beginning to end. To achieve His purpose God may well have to allow a great deal of suffering. It is in our limited scope of understanding it might seem pointless.
2. Relative to the full scope of evidence, God’s existence might well be probable. Probabilities are always relative to background information. New information my change our understanding of the problem. If we only consider the suffering in the world, then God’s existence might well seem improbable. But, if we are willing to consider all the different arguments for the existence of God e.g.; the cosmological argument, finetuning argument (teleological-), intentionality, evidence for the resurrection of Christ, we might come to a different conclusion. The preponderance of evidence favors the existence of an all-loving, all-knowing God, even in the reality of the existence of evil, and this, I would argue, is beyond reasonable doubt.
3. Christianity entails doctrines that increase the probability of the coexistence of God and suffering
i) The chief purpose of life is not happiness but to know God – this brings true lasting fulfillment. Suffering can bring a deeper knowledge of God. Through suffering God can draw people freely to Himself – the free will defense.
ii) Mankind is in a state of rebellion against God and His purpose. The Christian is not surprised at moral evil but expect it.
iii) God’s purpose is not restricted to this life but extends into eternal life. Paul’s hardship and afflictions: ‘We do not lose heart’ 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18.
iv) The knowledge of God is an incomparable good. Knowing God is the ultimate fulfilment of human existence. So, the Christian, no matter how much he suffers, can still say ‘God is good to me’
Therefore, if Christianity is true it is not improbable that suffering and evil exists.
The evidential argument of evil and God is not reasonable.
And as a purely intellectual problem, the problem of evil but does not disprove God’s existence?
The emotional problem of suffering and evil remains and is very powerful in the face of intense pain. But to remove God from the reality of pain and suffering and deny His existence, does not solve the problem. Evil and suffering will still be real but it will surely be difficult, if not impossible, to find meaning in it.
Our response to evil and suffering will determine its meaning in our lives; it can draw us to God or drive us away from God.
One might still feel ‘Why do I want to worship God that allows so much suffering?’ You are not alone. He knows you and your circumstances. He promises to be with you. He will give you the strength. Jesus Christ also suffered, although innocent, to reconcile us with God and give us internal life without pain and suffering. The ultimate purpose in life is to know God, to enjoy God now and forever and, even more intimately if that is His will in our lives, through our suffering.
If you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will find Me. Jeremiah 29:13Follow us >>