These questions have been debated for over two millinia now. They are undoubtedly tough questions with no easy answer. We look at the suffering in the world and begin to wonder about the character of God. How could He allow this? Why would He allow this?
Unfortunately, most of the time these questions are not asked by people who sincerely want answers. They are mostly asked antagonistically by those who hate God and any form of religion. They point to suffering as evidence that there can be no God. Reasoning that, if there was, He could not and would not allow suffering. Nor would He have ever created a world with suffering in the first place. Does suffering prove there is no God?
Many of my friends and family think I am some sort of scholar because I love to learn and regurgitate what I learn. But I’m really not. I’m just a normal guy who loves Jesus and thinks way too much about everything. So the answers I’ll give you here won’t really be of the scholastic sort. It’s really just some food for thought.
Historically, the orthodox answer to these questions is simple. Suffering exist because of sin. Sin exist because of free will. Free will exists because God, in love, gave us the freedom to choose because without it we would be motonomous beings who were more like robots controlled by the puppet master than humans created by God.
Therefore, in order for God to create a world without suffering He would’ve had to create humans without choice. It’s really quite simple. However, this answer does not suffice for the atheist or agnostic because they don’t really want an answer. I recently saw a post by one atheist who commented, “ONLY AN UNCARING, MALICIOUS, UNCONCERNED GOD WOULD MAKE A WORLD AS THIS; ESPECIALLY SINCE THE CHOICE WAS HIS OWN TO MAKE, AS THE CREATOR OF LIFE!” Ironically, the exact opposite is true. An uncaring, malicious, unconcerned God would’ve made a world with motonomous beings whom He could control with His puppet strings.
The choice God made was to give us life and the choice we made was to ruin it. The only way God could’ve prevented that was by not giving us life and not giving us a choice. The atheist fails to see the irony that the kind of God they think God should be is the very same kind of God they already think He is and they hate Him for it.
Here’s the thing I always think about whenever I hear this argument brought up. While you put God on trial for other people’s suffering what have you done to help alleviate their suffering? This is the heart of sin: I want to accuse God for doing nothing about something I too have done nothing about. Do you honestly care about these people’s suffering or is it just convenient for you to use them as a scapegoat for why you hate God? It would be much more beneficial for all of us to actually get up and do something about the suffering in the world then to sit around arguing about whether or not God exists because He hasn’t done something that we ourselves won’t even get off our butts and do.
I say that to myself and my fellow Christians as well. We’re so quick to engage in heated debates with atheists and hurl our condmenation at them. Why don’t we show them a little love and invite them to join with us in doing something about the suffering? Why? Because the vast majority of the time they don’t really care about the suffering and neither do we. What’s really in our hearts is evidenced by how we are so often quick to spew out hate and condemnation on those who don’t see the world as we do.
Let me just get a little more blunt with this if you will allow me a short rant. Is suffering God’s fault or our fault? Is it God’s responsibility or our responsibility? All I’m really saying is who cares! It’s there so let’s stop bickering about it and do something about it. What if everyone that was obsessed with this debate said, “Hey. I hate you and you hate me. We don’t see eye to eye theologically. But let’s get together and do something about human trafficking, drug addictions, hunger, aids, etc…”? But the mere fact that this will never happen is only evidence that we are the problem.
Let’s say that God is not real. That he is only an imagined delusion. And let’s take all the religion and theology out of the picture. Now put all of us in a room together and try to get us to agree on one cause that’s worth pursuing for the good of others at the expense of our own good… Good luck!
And if it’s not our theological differences that keep us from coming together for the good of others it will be the love of our own comforts. Is anyone here willing to give up two meals a day and live off of only one so some starving child somewhere else can eat? Is anyone here willing to sell their $40,000 car, buy a $5,000 one, and give the other $35,000 away to a charity where they know it will go to good use to change someone else’s life? Is anyone here willing to say, “Instead of being gluttonous this Thanksgiving and Christmas we’re going to go spend all that money on feeding some other family that can’t afford to be gluttonous and watch them stuff their faces”? Or make a decision to only live off of 30% or less of our income and give the rest away?
We all know the answers to these questions. And I am no better than anyone else. I like my three meals a day and love my truck. We would sit in that room and argue while a child somewhere else died from hunger, or suffered the abuse of sex slavery, or whatever other injustice you could think of that would be going on while we sat around arguing.
One atheist asked me recently in regards to this subject, “Does God by your notions have responsibilities?” Technically, no. He is God. He holds us accountable. We don’t hold Him accountable. But pragmatically you could say that God is a responsible God. He’s definitely not an irresponsible God. This would be inconsistent with His nature.
But God is also being merciful to us by not yet fully fulfilling His “responsibilities.” If God were to set right all the injustices in the world then there would be some things in our own lives He would have to set right too if He was going to fully carry out His “responsibilities.” But see. We don’t want a God like that. A truly just God who will alleviate all the problems in the world. Because that would mean we’d have some things to answer for too. What we want is a God who will alleviate what we deem to be problems in others but not tamper with ours. But that would not be a God who is truly committed to alleviating injustice and suffering.
One day God will set right all the wrongs and suffering. For most that will not be a good day. The atheist thinks the Christian lives his/her life in fear of God. We do not live my life in fear of God in the way they think we do. Our faith is not some fearful stroghold on our lives to get us to live a certain way. It is an alleviating freedom which empowers us to live a certain way. When God does set right all the injustices of the world I don’t have to worry about being one of the injustices which must be set right. That’s freedom, not fear. And it empowers me to live and love others and do something about suffering and injustices.
I am not an apologist or theologian. There are other men who would enjoy this conversation much more than me. I would rather spend my time convincing others to join arms with me in serving others then I would in trying to convince them my God is real. Let’s get together and feed the hungry children. But while we refuse to do this we want to blame God for not doing what we ourselves won’t do. Whether or not God is real do you see the irnoy and hypocrisy in this whole argument?
The entire discussion is the proof in the pudding that we ourselves are the problem. It is our own indictment against ourselves. It supports the biblical conclusion that suffering exists because of sin. Your sin, my sin, the athiest’s sins as well as the Christian’s sins. We’re greedy, gluttonous, prideful and love our own lives too much to give them up in service for others in order to alleviate suffering.
I enjoy my three meals a day and I’m not giving up two of them or even one to feed a child somewhere else that might not die if I did. I like my truck and I’m not selling it to buy a cheaper vehicle and giving the rest of the money to someone else who needs it more than I do. I’m not going to make a commitment to live off of only 30% or less of my income and give the rest away because I’m comfortable and work hard for that money. I’m not going to give up Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family so someone else can have one with their’s because I enjoy being gluttonous and spending my holidays relaxing instead of serving others.
But I want to stand here and ask questions about why there is suffering in the world. You see. It looks a whole lot different when you personalize it doesn’t it? That last paragraph probably makes me sound like a real selfish prick. If it doesn’t it should have. Because all of those are true statements. I didn’t make them up just because I thought they’d sound good in this article and get my point across.
But they do get my point across. Most of us are pretty much in the same boat. Christians and non-Christians alike. If we give at all we only give what we can to the extent that it doesn’t intrude upon our comforts. We’re really left with no room to question God about suffering.
– Joseph Sterling