Summary: How can we explain the existence of suffering in a world made by a loving and omnipotent God?
This is a series based on and heavily dependent on Timothy Keller’s Best Seller "The Reason For God" for which I’m deeply grateful. It uses much of his argument though with various additions by myself or the other preachers of the series.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does a 17 year old get hit by a train and die? Why does a 2 year-old child just stop breathing in the middle of the night? Why does a 35 year-old mother develop cancer and die, leaving a husband and 3 children behind?
Why does an earthquake off the coast of Indonesia cause a tsunami that kills a quarter of a million people?
The list is never ending isn’t it? All we can do is cry out in pain when these inexplicable things happen to us; and join with the psalmist in asking “How long O Lord?”.
But we feel the need to do more than that don’t we? We want to know how to answer those who ask how we can continue to believe in and all-powerful, all-loving God when these terrible things keep happening. How can God let them go on?
At first it sounds like there are only three possible conclusions to this dilemma. Either God is not all-powerful, or he’s not all-loving or else he doesn’t exist in the first place.
You’ll find no shortage of people who’d argue for the latter. They’d suggest that atheism is the only logical solution to the state of the world. Clearly there is no God, of the sort Christians believe in, or else he’d never allow evil to persist.
So how do we answer such an objection to the Christian faith?
Is evil in the world an evidence for or against God?
Well, as we saw last time, the first step in answering any objection to the Christian faith is to examine the presuppositions of the questioner. What’s behind the question?
When someone complains about suffering in the world what’s the difficulty they’re grappling with?
Suffering is inflicted for no good reason.
The first problem may be that too often suffering appears meaningless or unconnected with any fault on the part of the sufferer. The child who dies through a cot death dies through no fault of its own. The villager who’s drowned by a tsunami was just doing their everyday chores. So we conclude there’s no good reason for it all.
But of course the error we make at that point is to assume that we can see all the possible reasons that someone might die. We set ourselves up to be the all-seeing, all-knowing God.
I imagine you all know the story of Joseph. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, he was unjustly accused of sexual assault by Potiphar’s wife. He was thrown into gaol where he was let down by his friends. But eventually he became the Prime Minister of Egypt. It’s a great story isn’t it? But do you know in that whole story God is not mentioned once until we get to the very end. And perhaps that’s fair enough because if you’d been Joseph you’d have thought that God had abandoned you long ago. But right at the end of the story, when Joseph confronts his brothers, after it’s all over, we read these words: “45:5Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” Later he tells them: “50:20Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”
The fact that we can’t see the reason for bad things happening doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Though, having said that, we do have to be careful not to assume that the reason for one bad thing happening will be the reason the next bad thing happens.
Suffering isn’t fair
The second objection is that too often the way things happen seems to lack all sense of fairness or justice. Evil people prosper and good people suffer. One family can have all sorts of tragic events happen while others seem to live a charmed life. And it all seems so unfair.
But is that an argument for or against God? If you’re an atheist do you have any right to expect fairness in life. Isn’t the cornerstone of evolution the survival of the fittest? So how can they complain if evil people prosper. That’s simply evolution working itself out. If some disaster happens to someone, isn’t it just a test of their suitability for life on earth. If they survive it’s to the enrichment of the human race. If they die weren’t they just less suitable specimens that nature is simply eliminating from the gene pool?