Atheists say that the presence of suffering and pain in life is evidence that God is not all-powerful or all-good. They say, in fact, that if God was a loving Father, as Christians say He is, then He would only give His children good things, a life of ease and prosperity if you will, and rescue them from all suffering. This is the parenting model that atheists seem to propose.
In fact, this is a flow of thought that is often attributed to David Hume but it originated much earlier with Epicurus. Probably he was only the first to write it down and have its existence survive. After all, any thinking person will encounter these thoughts on their own at some point in their lives. Formally, the accusation goes something like:
. If God is all-powerful, He would be able to remove suffering from our experience.
. If God is all-good He would want to remove suffering from our experience.
. But the world at large and our own lives reveal a great deal of suffering.
. Therefore an all-powerful, all-good God must not exist.
This kind of thinking is again evidence of an arrogance that says, “Because I can't think of any reason that suffering might be necessary, there can't be any good reason for God to allow suffering.” This is a little strange since our own experience as parents (those who have the power and who want good for their children) reminds us that even we allow or cause pain and suffering in the lives of our children in order to achieve a greater good. Immunization comes to mind. Or treatment for cancer. The amputation of a limb to save a life. Or logical consequences for misbehaviour. On the other hand there are some parents who act like atheists demand that God should act. I've actually worked with parents who used their power to keep their child from experiencing immediate pain and discomfort. They did this in part because of the child's – well – childish protests regarding potential pain. Because of the child's aversion to potential pain the parents refused to take the child to the dentist. Like atheists and their demand that a good and powerful God would rescue everyone from all suffering, this was the parent's idea of love and goodness. Of course this is very short sighted since avoiding mild discomfort now (by not getting regular dental check-ups) will likely lead to significant discomfort later through tooth decay and more serious dental work being needed. Another example I encounter are parents who will not say “no” to their child's whining for food. As a result they raise obese children who will experience far more pain in the future than any pangs of emotional or physical hunger now. Whether it's parents who neglect their child's greater needs, or a God who would rescue us from all suffering, this is not a sign of power but of weakness. This is not a sign of love but a fear of rejection.
Atheists can never figure out that physical and emotional pain now is exactly what leads many, many people to a healed and forgiven relationship with Jesus, thereby avoiding unimaginably more pain later through banishment in hell. I actually believe that God uses pain for at least the following reason and for probably many more reasons. He uses the pain and suffering that we both observe and experience to drive those who will reject God further away from Him, and He uses the same pain and suffering to draw those who will accept Him closer to Him. Our Creator showed through not only allowing but determining the torture and death of God the Son, on our behalf, that if hell is real then no amount of pain during this stage of our lives is too much - not if it will result in our salvation.
This kind of jerking of our chain is seen all the time. It might involve a person who is being sent to jail, or being caught in the possession of child porn, or simply having one's spouse leave the marriage. Often these events are enough of a wake-up call to make people realize that they are in serious emotional and spiritual trouble.
Our very salvation is dependent on getting our priorities straight. Pain and suffering is often the best motivator for this change. Sadly, this idea is incomprehensible to atheists who can only imagine a “good” God being one who always protects us from any and all difficulty.
I suggest that when atheists look at life, when they see pain and suffering and say that God is powerless or not loving enough to stop pain and suffering, they speak too soon. What's happening is like you coming into the kitchen and asking what I'm doing. I say “I'm making a chocolate cake.” The term “cake” to you means something soft to the touch, covered with icing and yummy to eat. You observe that all I have is a bowl containing a sloppy mixture that I'm stirring and which tastes slightly bitter. You recall my statement that I'm making a cake and say, “Either Rod is not able to make a cake, or by the term “cake” he means something much different than what I mean by cake.” You've spoken too soon. So too, if we were at the end of history and things remained as they are, I would tend to agree that it appears the presence of evil must mean that God either can't or won't do something about it. However we are not at the end of history. God tells us that until that time His plan is to use the reality of evil agents (that's all He has to work with) for His own plan and purpose. He's still mixing the cake batter. On the other hand, by bringing good out of all things, at least for those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose, God demonstrates that He can and does defeat the plans of evil at each and every turn, even prior to the end of history. He let's us lick the spoon from time to time. Also, it's important to remember, God has not just created a universe. God has created a certain type of universe and He uses it to raise up a certain type of being: an intelligent, rational, moral, free thinking being who is able to exist – more than that – who is being groomed to exist within a mutually loving relationship with h/her Creator, for eternity.
In reality the problem Epicurus created for himself (as it is for all atheists), need not have been a problem at all. Without an anti-God bias, this could have been seen quite clearly.
. God is powerful enough to remove all suffering from our experience. However at present He has sufficient moral reason (to bring about a greater good) to allow this amount of suffering in our lives. You may think it's excessive but He disagrees and I think He knows better than you.
. God is good and loving and He does want suffering to be eliminated from our experience. However at present He has sufficient moral reason (to bring about a greater good) to allow this amount of suffering in our lives. You may think it's excessive but He disagrees and I think He knows better than you.
Three facts remain:
- Most of the suffering in our lives is created by us and our plans.
- The suffering that occurs from natural disasters is essential for the existence of life on this planet.
- We can change the former but not the latter.
. Obviously there is pain and suffering but as pointed out above, it is not pointless or unnecessary suffering. The only way that suffering would be pointless is if Creator God does not exist.
. Therefore there is no proof from suffering that a good and all-powerful God does not exist.
The fact is, there is no morality or virtue without a freewill choice to not be moral or virtuous. Actions have no moral value when there is no choice to do anything other than the “right” thing. Without freedom to choose right from wrong, good from bad, we cease to be human beings. It's one or the other.
We are either created human, or we lose freewill.
We are either created human or we lose the ability to be morally good.
Evil is simply the choice to misuse our freewill. And just because the option of evil exists doesn't mean that we have to choose it. Through our faith in Jesus, God will remove the dominion that evil holds over us in our natural state. Is that the right way to go about achieving His goal. Well, we don't have a complete, clear and concise picture of what that goal is but, God obviously decided that it was worth the risk to give us that option in order to achieve the ends that He has in mind. You don't have to like that plan, but remember:
“One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Because God is all powerful, He CAN rid the universe of evil.
Because God is all good, He WILL rid the universe of evil.
Yes, there is still evil present in the universe. Nevertheless – at the end of history,
God CAN and WILL rid the universe of evil, and all those who side with evil against their Creator will be banished for eternity.
He promised to do that and He showed us His bloodied corpse as a deposit and guarantee that He will fulfil that promise.