Friday, September 30, 2011

Why suffering?

It has been a busy month, so that is why it's been a while since I've written a blog post. Anyway, this first post will be on the question, "If God is all powerful and all good, why does he allow suffering?" This is a powerful question. Think about it for a second. If indeed God is all powerful, would he not be able to eliminate evil from the world? A being that is all powerful would be able to do so. If he doesn't then he is not good. Yet, Christians claim their God is all powerful and all good. If the God is all good, he wouldn't want his creatures to suffer at all, would he? I certainly wouldn't want my children to suffer. I would do everything in my power to stop the suffering and evil plaguing them. So, what's the deal? This God must not be all powerful and also all good. Or either he is indeed all good, but not all powerful. Something is up.

Mr. Hitchens has given the illustration that God is "up there" looking down on His creation with folded arms looking at the creation with indignation, like a malevolent dictator. On the surface, especially after hearing the dilemma I wrote above, that would seem how God is. Why is there suffering if God can do something about it? Since He doesn't, it would seem He doesn't care at all what happens to us.

Some pastors and Christians say a person suffers due to the judgment of God on their lives. I don't think we are in a position to say that. How can I know if a person's sickness or a person's car having been stolen is due to God's judgment for some sin in their life? R.C. Sproul wrote, "In the ninth chapter of John, the Pharisees say to Jesus, “Why was this man born blind? Was it because of his sin or the sins of his parents?” Jesus said, “Neither one.” We can’t come to the conclusion that an individual’s suffering in this world is in direct proportion to that individual’s sin. That was what Job’s friends did when they came to him and tormented him by saying, “Boy, Job, you’re really suffering a lot. This must be an indication that you’re the most miserable sinner of all.” But the Bible says that we can’t use such a formula. The fact is, if there were no sin in the world, there would be no suffering." 1 We are in no position to judge.

A better answer to the question comes from Greg Koukl. He tackles the question by asking a question (He learned this from Doug Geivett). He asks, "What makes you think that taking away evil in the world has anything to do with God's strength?"

Koukl then goes on to say:

"God certainly is strong enough to obliterate evil from the earth or to have prevented it in the first place. No question about that. But let me ask you a question. Is it a good thing that God created human beings as free moral creatures, capable of making moral choices? It strikes me that the answer to that is yes. Because God is good--which is one of the things in question here--God created free moral creatures. 

But this changes everything, doesn't it? What makes you think that strength has anything to do with God creating a world in which there are genuinely free moral creatures and no possibility of doing wrong? 

You see, now we're back to square circles. It's just as ridiculous to ask God to create a world in which we have genuinely free creatures with no possibility to do wrong, as it is to ask Him to create a square circle. The task has nothing to do with His strength. It has to do with the nature of the problem. If you're going to have morally free creatures--that is, human beings that can make moral choices for themselves--and if God is good, then He is going to create creatures that will be truly morally free. But that entails, of necessity, at least the possibility of evil in the world." 2

God could have created us to make free will decisions without the possibility of choosing evil, but would we have genuine freedom? No, we would have had freedom in the larger sense of freedom, i.e., the freedom to make choices (what to eat, vocation, leisure), but we wouldn't have freedom in the narrow sense, which is moral freedom; we wouldn't have been able to make moral choices. Why is that important? Because God wanted to accomplish plenitude - the highest good possible; the best of all possible worlds requires moral freedom, which also brings the possibility of evil.

All that God made is good, even those things that appear evil to us are good. Our scope is limited because we are finite. If we could view things as a whole, we would be able to see that those things which appear to be evil are actually contributing ultimately to the greater good. This is difficult for us to understand, especially in a time when we are suffering because we want to know why x event is happening to us, but we simply do not know why we were in that place at that time. Some things are easy to know why. For example, if you touch a hot stove, you will get burned or if you willingly take a risk attempting to do a back-flip on your dirt bike; those are things that have answers, but not all of human suffering has easy answers. Cancer for instance does not have an easy answer, nor does being at the scene of a crime have an easy answer. These are things we are simply not in a position to judge "why" they happened.

William Lane Craig wrote, "To borrow an illustration from a developing field of science, Chaos Theory, scientists have discovered that certain macroscopic systems, for example, weather systems or insect populations, are extraordinarily sensitive to the tiniest perturbations.  A butterfly fluttering on a branch in West Africa may set in motion forces which would eventually issue in a hurricane over the Atlantic Ocean.  Yet it is impossible in principle for anyone observing that butterfly palpitating on a branch to predict such an outcome.  

The brutal murder of an innocent man or a child's dying of leukemia could send a ripple effect through history so that God's morally sufficient reason for permitting it might not emerge until centuries later or perhaps in another country.  Our discussion of divine middle knowledge (chapter 26) stressed that only an omniscient mind could grasp the complexities of directing a world of free creatures toward one's pre-visioned goals. One has only to think of the innumerable, incalculable contingencies involved in arriving at a single historical event, say, the Allied victory at D‑day.  This has relevance to the probabilistic problem of evil, for we have no idea of the natural and moral evils that might be involved in order for God to arrange the circumstances and free agents in them requisite to some intended purpose, nor can we discern what reasons such a provident God might have in mind for permitting some evil to enter our lives.  Certainly many evils seem pointless and unnecessary to us ‑ but we are simply not in a position to judge." 3 

In a lecture on the problem of evil, Craig said that the best thing we can do when we are suffering is to ask ourselves, "What can I learn from this?" He mentioned that he had to learn that, just like us, the hard way. He has dealt with suffering, just like the rest of us. The intellectual answer to the problem of evil is easy to deal with, but the emotional problem is tougher. I'll let Craig finish this post for me. 

"Christ endured a suffering beyond all understanding:  he bore the punishment for the sins of the whole world.  None of us can comprehend that suffering. Though He was innocent, He voluntarily underwent incomprehensible suffering for us.  And why? - because He loves us so much. How can we reject him who gave up everything for us?

When we comprehend his sacrifice and his love for us, this puts the problem of evil in an entirely different perspective. For now we see clearly that the true problem of evil is the problem of our evil.  Filled with sin and morally guilty before God, the question we face is not how God can justify Himself to us, but how we can be justified before Him. 

When God asks us to undergo suffering that seems unmerited, pointless, and unnecessary, meditation upon the cross of Christ can help to give us the moral strength and courage needed to bear the cross that we are asked to carry.  So, paradoxically, even though the problem of evil is the greatest objection to the existence of God, at the end of the day God is the only solution to the problem of evil.  If God does not exist, then we are locked without hope in a world filled with gratuitous and unredeemed suffering. God is the final answer to the problem of evil, for He redeems us from evil and takes us into the everlasting joy of an incommensurable good, fellowship with Himself." 4


3. William Lane Craig - The problem of evil

4. Craig, ibid.

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