Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Evil and Suffering

Just a quick note, I use the terms bad, evil, harm, pain, and suffering synonomously. I do not necessarily assume any sort of supernatural forces of evil for this argument.

A common argument against the existence of God is that He cannot exist because bad things happen in this world. It is a valid question to ask why a loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God would allow bad things to happen. However, as an argument against God, this is an illogical and self-refuting argument. The premises and conclusion of the argument go something like this.

P1. God is all-good
P2. God is all-knowing
P3. God is all-powerful
P4. Bad things happen

C1. Therefore, God does not exist

In other words, if premises 1-3 are true, then God should know of all evil that would happen and His goodness would compel Him to prevent it. Since bad things do happen, God doesn't exist.

As an argument against the existence of God, it is self-defeating. Instead of disproving God, it proves God because it assumes He exists for the conclusion to follow logic. The reason why is because of premise 4, that bad things happen. Without the existence of God, there is no such thing as absolute good or bad. We are just animals following our instincts like a lion that kills a zebra. It's neither good nor bad, it just is. Without God, moral judgments of good and evil are purely opinion.

Although this argument is illogical as a proof against the existence of God, it is still a valid and important question. To my knowledge, the Bible doesn't directly answer this question, but it does give us some insight. There have been whole books written on this subject, one of which is The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis, so please understand that my answer is one of many and a very short version of it. Additionally, please remember that my answer and any others are merely possibilities. They could very well be correct, but we cannot know for sure since God has not given us the answer.

Before we begin, I think it important to address the different types of evil. There is harm done by people and by nature. Man is often responsible for bringing harm to himself and no reasonable person can blame God for this. For instance, the Bible is clear that we are not to have sex before marriage, so when a person does so willingly and gets a disease, they only have themselves to blame. On the other hand, innocent people are also intentionally and accidentally harmed by others. When this happens or when nature is to blame, people often feel God should have prevented it, but both can be explained biblically and logically.

The first answer that much be given to explain evil is original sin. God created a perfect world, but also gave us the choice to disobey His commands and we did. At this moment, sin entered the world. You may say it is unfair to pay for the sins of Adam and Eve, but an honest investigation of what happened leads me to the conclusion that every person who has lived since then would have done the same thing.

Beyond original sin, the typical answer is that bad things happen because God gave us free will. In this context, free will means that God does not force people to believe in Him and follow His commands. With this God given freedom, people are able to choose to do evil. The second part of this is love. If God forced us to believe in and follow Him (by not allowing us the ability to deny Him or through undeniable evidence of His existence), then we couldn't truly be able to love Him or anyone else. Without freedom, our love for Him and each other would be like the love a pet has for its owner.

In a broader and simpler explanation, God allows bad things to happen because He is looking at it through the big picture and sees the greater good. This is a good that we don't always see or think about but it is there. These greater goods could be love, free will, heaven, or commitment to God. This may seem harsh or cruel when speaking theoretically so I will use an illustration that I think is helpful.

All parents allow their children to be harmed in some way. Perhaps it is not always preventable, but I would suggest that it nearly always is. For instance, a child that falls and gets a scraped knee has been harmed. A child who is mocked on his first day of school or feels dumb for not understanding long division as quickly as his peers has suffered. The girl who feels self-conscious about her body or doesn't think she's very smart has felt pain. The child whose trust is betrayed by a teacher or neighbor has experienced evil.  All of these could be prevented by the parents. Yes it would be tough, but it could be done. A parent could essentially child-proof or pad their entire home and never let the child leave or interact with others and they would be safe. The child would be free from ridicule, most illnesses, jealousy, self-doubt, and almost all physical pain. Ironically, any parent who did this would be considered abusive. We let harm come to our children because we love them. We know that removing all potential sources of harm also removes so many more sources of joy, happiness, excitement, fun, and love that it is better to allow some harm to come to our children.

God allows us evil in the world because He loves us.  For the Christian, we can take comfort in the fact that Christ suffered for us on the cross, suffers with us, and will one day remove all suffering. By obeying God's word, we can virtually eliminate all self-caused suffering from our lives. When evil does come upon us, we can know that God will be there to see us through it and that it is only temporary. When the end comes, we get to go spend eternity with Him in Heaven, where this is no pain or suffering.

Here are a few verses that I think might be encouraging...

Romans 8:18 - For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us

1 Peter 5:10 - After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you

Revelation 21:4 - and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.