Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Problem of Suffering / Pain

I've been asked a lot by non-Christians concerning the unfairness of God such as why a loving God would allow suffering (cancer, Holocuast, childhood mortality, etc.). I normally respond by saying that Jesus suffered the ultimate pain and unfair punishment by dying in our place on the cross so that we would not have eternal damnation. Are there other responses you would make and are there any resources or Bible verses to back up the views? Thanks in advance!


Daniel Kim said...

In the examples that you give, there are actually 2 types of suffering that are mentioned. Cancer falls under the type of suffering that nature seems to inflict. Holocaust falls under the type of suffering which human beings inflict on each other. Childhood mortality is ambiguous, since it could be that it's due to some natural cause, or perhaps because someone did not take care of the child.

The answer is different for these two types. When most people talk about suffering, they are actually thinking about the evil suffering, like the Holocaust, like all the evil things that are done. That's the one with the emotional "umph" -- how could God, if He's good, allow for such evil things? When talking about natural disasters or diseases, it's not usually seen as something "evil".

Well, given that the emotionally more powerful problem of suffering is the problem of suffering due to human evil, it's ironically the easier one to answer. The free will defense proposed by Alvin Plantinga has pretty much been accepted as the defeater for this logical problem of evil. This is also covered briefly in C101.. that it is impossible for even an omnipotent being to create a world of free willed beings who never choose evil.

As for the natural disaster and suffering caused by naturalistic causes, not many would consider that a problem of "evil", but that of pain. And the nature of that problem is not a logical one, but an emotional one. The biblical answer is that nature seems to have fallen along with mankind (Romans 8:18-25), but ultimately, no answer can really answer our gut-level reaction toward that kind of tragic suffering. Well, perhaps even the problem of evil also has this emotional aspect to the objection. And that's where the cross of Jesus comes to us personally and answers our heart's yearning, as you mentioned. This is discussed in a different post: Problem of Suffering.

So in summary, the answer to that question is two-fold. The logical answer, which is the free will defense, and the existential (emotional) answer - which is the cross. One has to determine which one the questioner is actually asking. If the questioner is struggling with the logical aspect of it, then point them toward Plantinga's defense. If the questioner is asking about his mother's death, we need to be sensitive enough to recognize that he is not asking about some logical answer to his question. One of the memorable ways in which I heard this issue being talked about was this:

There are two types of questions regarding suffering/pain... One is the question "Why is there suffering?" with a question mark. Another is the question "Why is there suffering!" with an exclamation point.

Dan Kinder said...

For extra reference, here is a good article addressing the logical/philosophical problem of evil.

There is also a reasonable faith podcast here about the earthquake in Haiti, addressing this real example and answering the following questions:
-Is natural evil the judgment of God?
-Do natural disasters challenge the idea of a loving God?
-If an earthquake is God's will, why should we offer support to victims?

Having just returned from Haiti about a week ago, I felt this to be quite relevant; although I don't think much can be added to what Daniel said, being in Haiti made consider one more point.

Even when it comes to the problem of evil, "much depends on the seeing eye." When C.S. Lewis made this statement in his essay The Seeing Eye, he was referencing the Russian astronaut's inability to find God in space, while so many have found him here on earth; the difference between the two groups is the judger, not the creation judged.

I found this relevant because in visiting Haiti, in meeting the people with the best reason to question God's love and existence within tragedy, I found many(if not most) with strengthened faith.

Though it is never wise to accuse the skeptic, as opposed to the evidence, of being the problem(even if it may be true), it is nonetheless encouraging to see the strengthening - not diminishing - faith among those most challenged by the problem of natural evil.

Daniel Kim said...

Following up on what Dan shared above, it is sobering to observe that the objection to the existence of God based on the existence of evil is almost exclusively espoused in countries which are sheltered from evil.