Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Place for Suffering

As we originally laid out the logical problem of evil, it included the three 'omnis' of God (His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence) along with the undeniable existence of evil and suffering in the world.

Although we have already seen that--according to even the atheist philosophers of our day--there is no logical incompatability in the simultaneous existence of God and evil, let's look today more specifically at one of the premises. Critical to the argument is that this premise be true...
If God were all-loving, He would want to eliminate all evil and suffering.
But is this premise true?

It is not necessarily the case that God would want to eliminate all suffering and evil. And we can arrive at that conclusion through reflecting on the behavior of good parents. The best parents do not shield their children from all suffering and disappointment, but--within the context of a loving family--help them to mature and grow through such experiences. There seems to be a common-sense recognition that we become better people--stronger, wiser, more independent and courageous--through trials. This, of course, is also specifically a part of the Christian message. James begins his letter to the earliest Christians by declaring that suffering and testing will produce in them endurance and patience, growth and maturity--they will grow toward becoming "perfect and complete" (James 1:2-4). It has, in fact, been argued that all of the great men and women of history have overcome greater-than-average suffering or hardship that was instrumental in their developing the character traits that made them great.

To say that God would desire to eliminate all suffering is to put ourselves in the place of God. What we're really saying is "I have no place or purpose for suffering. If I were God, there'd be no suffering in the world." This, of course, turns the argument into a "straw-man" argument. This is because we are not God, and to view God as no more wise than ourselves is silly and blasphemous. According to Isaiah 55:8-9, God's thoughts and ways (including His wisdom and purposes) are much higher than ours. To argue against the existence of the God of Christianity (on the basis of the existence of evil) requires acknowledging the biblical portrayal of Him rather than seeing Him merely as a wise but finite human. Indeed, the God of the Bible is infinitely wise (whereas our wisdom is, at best, finite).

Another biblical understanding that bears on this question is that God indeed intends to eliminate all evil and suffering. According to Scripture, God is preparing a better place, one in which there will be no sorrow or tears, and one inhabited by His perfected children, free-moral agents who will never choose to do wrong. On this--the biblical view--this particular creation in which we now live is as it is (with evil and suffering) because it is the way through to that better creation that God has planned for His children for all eternity. This is perhaps best expressed by God through the Apostle Paul (in Romans 8:18)...
For I know that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.
This seems to be a continuation of his thoughts (in Romans 5:3-5)...
we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Not only is it not logically incoherent that both God and evil exist, but the Scriptures clearly confirm that God has purposes for allowing evil and suffering in the present world and at this time.


Anonymous said...

While I know this to be true, it's certainly hard for us sometimes to grasp the concept of suffering from a humanly perspective. We all grow so much more when going through the tougher times but unfortunately when this discussion arises with non-believers, they can't always draw on their personal experiences that equates suffering with personal growth and ultimately good. The Bible spells this out but if your perspective is non-biblical, the discussion becomes tougher.

Rick Gerhardt said...


You're absolutely right. And I guess what I'm trying to do here is merely laying out some groundwork, some talking points for getting past the unbeliever's objection that logic leads to the conclusion that the God of the Bible cannot exist, since there's so much suffering.

As I'll probably discuss when we get to the existential (the personal experiential) aspect of the problem, it is not even words or arguments that are needed when we meet someone currently going through suffering--it's empathy, hugs, and tears.

Thanks for reading!