Answering Objections about the Problem of Evil and Suffering, Part 4

suffering childrenA Christian Answer to the Problem of Evil and Suffering

The Christian answer to the problem of evil and suffering begins with God himself. When we have a proper view of God, the apparent problems begin to melt away.

God’s Nature

First, God is the standard for his actions—whatever he does defines concepts of justice, goodness, love, and mercy. Too many times the supposed problem of the justice of God begins when we mistakenly believe that there is some standard of justice that stands above God and to which God’s actions must conform. Such a view reflects the philosophy of the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato. In reality, however, God is ultimate and his character sets the standard for what justice is. We can’t do all that God does, because of our limited knowledge and creatureliness, but God can do as he pleases and whatever he does is just.

Second, some people believe that God needs to justify certain actions recorded in Scripture. However, Scripture makes it clear that God does not need to defend his actions to us. He does not defend himself for giving Adam a wife who led him into sin (Gen. 3:12), or when he tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22), or when Job wants answers for his apparent unjust suffering (Job 23:1-7; 31:35ff; 40:4-42:6). God is the sovereign Almighty Lord who does what he pleases (Psalm 115:3; 135:6; Eccl. 8:3) and owes no one an explanation (Rom. 9:19-21).

Third, as fallen, finite, and created beings we cannot understand the reasons of a perfect, infinite, and uncreated God (Ezek. 18:25). Like a two-year old can’t understand the reasons a parent insists on a necessary medical procedure for the child, so we do not have the capacity to understand all that God ordains in this world. To assume that God does not have a good reason for something he allows is to presume that because we do not understand God’s reasons, He could not possibly have any.

Finally, God is not obligated to show kindness or mercy to anyone, or to deliver anyone from human evil or suffering (Exod. 33:19). Sometimes there is an underlying assumption in objections to God’s existence that fallen humans deserve mercy and a trouble-free life. In reality, fallen human beings deserve nothing but God’s wrath. The fact that God allows anyone to live and experience good in this life is purely by his own benevolent kindness.

God’s Reasons

An even better Christian answer is that God may have a perfectly good reason for allowing evil and suffering that we cannot know or comprehend. The standard atheistic view assumes that God could not possibly have a good reason for allowing evil and suffering, yet cannot prove that assertion in any way. The Christian answer says that with man’s limited understanding, he cannot possibly know whether or not God has good reasons for allowing suffering.

The Christian response to the standard atheistic view might look like this:

  1. Premise 1: If God were all-powerful, he would be able to prevent evil.
  2. Premise 2: If God were all-good, he would desire to prevent evil.
  3. Premise 3: But there is evil.
  4. Premise 4: God may have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil that we don’t know about
  5. Conclusion: Therefore, God may allow evil for reasons we don’t know, and still be all-powerful, all-good

We understand this in real life. If you see a man standing over a child slicing open the child’s body with a sharp knife, you might assume that what he is doing is evil. But then if you see that the man is a doctor and is performing surgery, your view of the situation changes. You begin to see that the man is actually being good and merciful, even though he is causing pain to the child. In the same way, humans can only see the evil and suffering that God allows from a limited viewpoint. Only God knows the ultimate, eternal plan for evil and suffering that will end in good.

Taking Evil Seriously

Ultimately only the Christian worldview validates that suffering is genuine, yet not meaningless. Unlike worldviews that deny evil and suffering, the Bible fully acknowledges that such things truly exist. Further, the universal human longing to find meaning in suffering is fulfilled only in the Christian faith. Evil and suffering do have a purpose, and they are guided and limited by the all-powerful God of the Bible. Some worldviews, especially those that believe in the evolutionary progress of man tend to minimize evil so they can claim that the world is evolving into paradise.

God does not stand aloof from evil and suffering. Instead, he enters the creaturely experience by taking on humanity in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus experiences every kind of trial and temptation that can be experienced by human beings, yet without sinning (Heb. 4:14-16). He willingly subjected himself to the frustration and sorrow of life in a sin-cursed world, and grieved it passionately. God grieves over evil and suffering (John 11:35). In order to make sure that evil and suffering would not be the final chapter of the story of creation, God himself experienced the greatest suffering in order to ensure an end to suffering. Jesus suffered the ultimate evil and pain by taking our hell on the cross in order to offer redemption and rescue from sin and the curse.

Hope for Deliverance from Evil and Suffering

Ultimately only the Christian worldview has grounds to call evil what it is, to see evil as destructive and awful as it really is, and to provide hope for future judgment on those who perpetrate evil. The Bible tells us that God hates evil and has nothing to do with it (Hab. 1:12; Jam. 1:13-17). Evil is the enemy of God and all he has made. When God brings all things to an end, the devil, Death and Hell are cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10, 14). This speaks of the absolute end of death, evil, and suffering.

Non-Christian views minimize evil, fail to recognize it as such, or are unable to give distinctions between good and evil. The Christian worldview sees evil in all its complexity. First, evil is individual—there is evil in each individual. Second, evil is collective—societies can do evil, such as Nazi Germany, Communist Russia and China, or the murderous tyranny of ISIS in the Middle East. Finally, evil is structural—such as international sex slavery or government corruption. Christianity has a thorough view of evil that considers any failure to keep God’s commands as sinful, rebellious, and mutinous.

The Christian worldview, however, provides a decisive answer for good and evil. God ultimately overcame evil by the death of his Son, Jesus, who conquered the consequences of sin and death by his resurrection (John 16:33). He makes it possible for us to overcome evil by copying his example (Rom. 12:17-21; John 11:25). By Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross we are now victorious over sin and already enjoying the benefit (1 John 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4).

Conclusion

The very difficult challenge of the problem of evil and suffering in the world is turned into a positive argument for the Christian God once we see the biblical answer to this objection in all its richness and complexity. Apart from the Christian faith, there is no meaning and purpose in suffering. Human evil will go unpunished and most people in the world are destined for a lifetime of hopeless victimization at the hands of others and cruel nature.

In the Christian worldview, however, we have answer, meaning, purpose, and most importantly, a loving, sovereign God who guides all things for his own glory and the good of his children. Rather than this objection being an insurmountable wall, it is a doorway into fruitful evangelistic and apologetic conversations.

Answering Objections about the Problem of Evil and Suffering, Part 2

suffering

The Problem Stated

Those who see an irreconcilable conflict between an all-powerful, all-loving God and evil and suffering in the world do so with several arguments. Some ask the thought-provoking question, “Couldn’t God have made a world in which evil and suffering don’t exist?” This is a troubling question, because the answer is certainly, “Yes.” As we will see later, this doesn’t mean that God is unjust, but this question does have a strong emotional impact.

Others argue, “I would never hurt my children needlessly, so why does God? If God is not even better than me, why should I worship him?” This is an argument by analogy. By comparing human parenting to the Creator God’s relation to the world, these people use a well-known experience to a deeply spiritual and philosophical problem. Certainly, a parent-child relationship ought to be marked by gentleness, kindness, and protection from harm. If God cannot even live up to basic human expectations, how can he be worshiped?

A more complete objection to God in the face of evil and suffering is the one proposed by 18th century Scottish philosopher, David Hume, whose argument has served as the standard atheistic objection to the existence of God. Hume argued:

  1. Premise 1: If God were all-powerful, he would be able to prevent evil.
  2. Premise 2: If God were all-good, he would desire to prevent evil.
  3. Conclusion: So if God were all-powerful and all-good, there would be no evil.
  4. Premise 3: But there is evil.
  5. Conclusion: Therefore there is no all-powerful, all-good God.

Hume’s argument can be very convincing at first glance. Many people have been swayed by it because it seems like air-tight logic. It also reflects the heart struggle of many people who have grappled with the very painful experience of suffering, either at the hands of wicked people, or in the brokenness of life in this world.

So, how do we contend with this argument? There are several ways to answer this challenge.

Challenging the Assumptions Behind Hume’s Argument

One thing that must be done when evaluating any argument is something we have covered several times in this study—challenge the presuppositions. In other words, we must examine the assumptions behind an argument to see if they are, in fact, true and sound. Several elements of this argument should be scrutinized.

  1. It is assumed that suffering is necessarily bad. Without stating why suffering is necessarily bad or a sign of disorder in the world, this argument assumes it. However, as we have seen in previous lessons, if the naturalistic worldview is true, suffering is a natural part of an evolutionary world, and shouldn’t be considered “bad.”

  2. It is assumed that people are basically good and innocent so that suffering is somehow unfair. The assumption here is that suffering violates an obligation by God to make life in this world only good. This is based on the assumption that man is basically good, worthy, and deserving, and therefore God is obligated to give us a life devoid of suffering.

  3. It is assumed that evil and suffering cannot result in good that will make it worthwhile. In combination with point #1, suffering is necessarily bad, and no amount of suffering can be good, regardless of what good might come out of suffering. At the same time, the unbeliever who uses this argument probably acknowledges the principle of suffering that results in good in other areas of life—an athlete who suffers pain and hardship in training to become good at her sport, someone who says no to spending and lives frugally so he can save money to buy a house, and so on.

  4. BUT, it is also assumed that at there is a distinction between good and evil. In addition to the first three assumptions, there are ethical and spiritual assumptions in this argument. By calling something evil, Hume is assuming that there is good that stands in contrast to evil.

  5. There is a standard by which to judge between good and evil. To distinguish a good act from an evil one, there must exist some kind of moral law that tells us the difference between good and evil, otherwise each person could decide for himself, and there would be no moral difference between kissing someone and killing them. Yet, most rational people intuitively know that there is a moral difference between the two acts. Whatever the standard is that differentiates good acts from evil ones, it must be objective and timeless to avoid relativism, which itself is a justification for the worst kinds of evil.

  6. The standard can be known and ought to compel people. If the standard that discerns good from evil has any usefulness, it must be knowable by people and ought to carry and ethical obligation for them to obey it. If the standard is not known, it is useless. If it is merely a suggestion and does not have the power to demand compliance, with punishment for non-compliance, it has no purpose. Acknowledging evil, therefore, assumes that there is a moral good that beings ought to follow.

  7. Finally, it is assumed that there is meaning to the events in the world and to the suffering of people. In other words, Hume’s objection to God assumes that there should not be contradictions in the world and that things should make sense. However, apart from God, there is no reason to assume that the world should make sense. If naturalism is true, the universe is guided by chance—random, blind, unthinking forces—and we should not expect there to be meaning, which only comes about in an intelligent universe.

It is clear, then, that this seemingly convincing argument against the existence of God is full of assumptions about the world that it cannot prove. It demands an explanation from God when it cannot even explain itself.

Hume’s argument is a philosophical one that is clearly flawed, yet it has the virtue of taking evil seriously. There are other approaches to evil and suffering that come from religion and philosophy that try to do away with either evil and suffering or the nature of God as all-powerful and all-loving. We will explore these in the next post.

 

Read Dystopias!

I often tell my students that the two most important books they can read outside the Bible are 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Both novels capture the outcome of opposing views of the world. Both show that regardless of political freedom or oppression, man will eliminate the need for God in society if possible. Both touch on the philosophical and theological roots of important questions, such as the nature of man, the nature of truth, the power of the state, the exalted place of “science,” and hopelessness of a world without God. Here’s a great summary of the message of both novels: http://highexistence.com/amusing-ourselves-to-death-huxley-vs-orwell/