The Problem of Evil - Part 1
Hello, my name is Adam and this is the first time I came across your web site. I'd like to thank you for your efforts to present your belief system in an intellectually respectable manner, and I'd like to take the opportunity to benefit from that attitude by asking a question regarding (what else?) God's permissive will concerning the suffering of the innocent and the unaccountable. Other than one very respected, loved and admired Christian, whose answer is on the way, no one has ever answered the question (posted below) in a satisfactory manner (that is, in a manner that does not reek of non-sequitur type arguments and/or contradictions. If you are an exception, I would be sincerely grateful if you directed me toward the appropriate web-site. Otherwise, could you please consider MY question if and whenever you see fit to do so? I would sincerely appreciate it.
Whenever the "problem of evil" pops up, apologists respond in three general ways (three basic patterns of response):
- God suffered too, and he suffered for all of us even though we were unworthy, even though he did not deserve to suffer. Furthermore, he suffer much more than we'll ever be able to comprehend, since we have never been impeccable like he is (and therefore we cannot relate to what an IMPECCABLE agent's loss of fellowship with the Father entails).
- God created man with volition out of love. It is not God's fault that man freely chose to abuse that gift.
- The "Cancer Surgery" argument: we don't know all the facts but God does; thus, the unaccountable may suffer in a providential, preventative manner, for future or eternal blessing. [Again, maybe I'm missing other types of responses which you may have posted in your web pages; if so, please advise]
About #1, it does not answer the question "Why does (and how can) God allow innocent, unaccountable children (sometimes infants) to be tortured for a substantial period of time and then to be killed, if he is the God of justice, love and power?". It answers the question "Did God ever suffer?" or "How did God suffer?". Furthermore, I would propose that it is not consistent with either fairness or justice to allow nightmarish, unspeakable suffering on a creature just because the creator also suffered. The creator's free will chose for the suffering in question while the creature's free will did not. In addition, if the creature is unaccountable, then the creator's suffering does not adequately answer the charges of his unfairness with regard to the creature's being allowed to suffer. Neither are future or eternal blessings an adequate solution. Compensation and/or reward does not mean that the suffering of the unaccountable must be overlooked. The question remains: "why was it allowed to happen in the first place?". Response #1 is the C.S. Lewis type of response, quite evident in his 'Mere Christianity', quite known in Christian circles, and quite invalid as an argument (as any first year Logic Student would be able to confirm). I suppose on COULD try to resort to the old "doctrine of total depravity of man" (sinful nature, Adam's sin, "in Adam all die") type of answer, but I think you'll have a pretty hard time offering LOGICALLY permissible and satisfactory EVIDENCE (i.e., verifiable, open to scrutiny) for the actuality of such a concept.
About #2, What kind of evil (whether inherent or acquired) in 7, 8, 10 year olds prompts their being tortured for days before being murdered (and the cases of such atrocities, sadly, abound)? What fault is it of theirs if the world has chosen to be evil? Why does God not intervene to save THEM at least?
About #3, what kind of prevention-benefit do the victims receive since death follows right after hours or days of suffering? What evil is prevented by such a fate?
I realize that if God DOES exist, then our inability to adequately answer these questions becomes of no consequence. However, that would imply that 1) apologists better be able to DEMONSTRATE that God does exist, and 2) Apologists better admit that they cannot adequately answer the question instead of employing C.S. Lewis type cope-outs. I'd be grateful for your response.
You ask a superb question, and I can see your frustration on the issue. Given the responses you've received (or discovered) the problem doesn't seem to make much sense. Hopefully, I can help a little bit. First, let's examine the problem and then we will try to approach a reasonable answer. The question of why God allows innocent children to suffer assumes a few things:
- That God exists as an eternal being, one who is supposed to be just, loving, and all-powerful - or at least powerful enough to judge evil.
- The "innocent or unaccountable" (generally regarded as children by most who pose the question) are being allowed to suffer unjustly by the hands of another.
- Those who inflict suffering sometimes escape their due recompense.
- When that suffering leads to death, the injustice is more heinous.
- God has allowed this suffering through the ages, and He isn't eliminating it.
Now we must deal with the problem of the existence of evil. I will assume by your question that you recognize evil exists. If something exists that falls short of a standard, then that standard must also exist. If we define evil as that which is not good, then an absolute of good must be recognized, else evil is just a matter of opinion. If evil is only opinion, then it is subject to the observer's interpretation, and may no longer be considered evil. In order for an absolute good to exist, God is necessary. You must have someone who draws a line in order to compare against it, and only an absolutely righteous being can draw a line of absolute good. If he is flawed, then his standard runs the risk of being flawed also.
Now, the next thing we notice is a fallacy of time. If God is an eternal being (that means one who exists outside of time) and we the observers are not, how can we say God is not doing anything about evil? Just because we don't see God moving in a time frame that we would like doesn't mean that He is not judging evil or absolving the world from it. On the contrary, the whole point of the Bible is to declare that God knows about the problem of evil and He is dealing with it very precisely. The Bible declares that He will not allow the wicked to go unpunished (Proverbs 11:21) and their punishment will be measured by their actions. Furthermore, God promises to comfort those who've suffered unjustly. We may not see immediate consequences to evil acts, but it does not follow that those consequences are non-existent.
Also, we know that God's nature is one of patience. If God were to immediately destroy all who violate His laws, then none of us would remain. If a completely just God were to judge all the inhabitants of the world of their evil right now, then no one would escape His judgment. He could not judge the "really evil" and not those who are just "not really good at times". That would be unjust and therefore contradictory to the idea of an all-just God. We have all been "not good" and sometimes gotten away with no immediate repercussions. God must judge everyone when judgment comes, and all against His perfect standard. Sometimes God permits evil to continue for the greater good. The crucifixion of Christ was an evil act in and of itself, but God permitted it to accomplish His ultimate goal of salvation for humanity. Their are people of whom I'm aware that have committed the most heinous acts, but have since repented. Now, I'm not saying that they should escape the consequences for their actions (for "Whatsoever a man sows, that he will also reap"), but immediate judgment only rescues the suffering and not the one committing those acts.
God also allows suffering to serve a purpose. Evil exists and it is important for us to recognize that. The human body is equipped with a capacity for feeling and recognizing pain. This is a necessary part of our anatomy, for it warns us that our current activity is harmful. Suffering, too, demonstrates that the world in which we live is in need of change. God did not want us to experience pain (Gen. 2:16:17), but because we disobeyed we now live in a world where pain is the natural outcome of disobedience to God and His ways. Pain then draws a distinction between God's goals and those of this world. I'm not saying that if you choose God's ways you will never experience pain, but I do believe that God will ultimately deal with pain and suffering, and those who truly seek Him will arrive at a point where they will no longer be able to be afflicted. In other words, God allows pain to identify evil and make one repel from it.
Now, the arguments you've cited are useful to show a few things. I agree that alone the idea of Christ's sufferings are not enough to answer the problem of evil. They do provide us with another point, though. The idea of Christ's sufferings being incomparable with our own demonstrates that He knows what it is to experience pain and suffering. Therefore, we can be confident that He can empathize with us. He is not one who doesn't care about suffering, but rather made sure He experienced the greatest suffering so we wouldn't have to be condemned to an eternity of affliction.
The claim I made in the paragraphs above is one you might be tempted to classify a "cancer surgery" argument. Your reasoning in the futility of this argument has overlooked a couple of points. First, you assume that death is the ultimate end, and that isn't necessarily so. If there is an eternal life beyond what we experience now, then all of our existence in our present state will be like an instant there. The Bible holds that eternity will be spent in fellowship with God, or in banishment from Him. Again, God demonstrates that living apart from Him produces a natural outcome of pain and suffering (for if everyone followed the moral criteria set by the Bible, then torture would not be an issue). Also, if God were to rescue everyone afflicted, then there is no real consequence of actions.
Finally, about the total depravity of man argument. It is interesting that you can call the motives of God into question ("Why doesn't He do something?"), but what of the motives of man? Doesn't the persistent and pervasive demonstrations of human cruelty over man's history demonstrate he has a proclivity toward that which is evil? Does man have a sinful nature? Well, every parent of toddlers can tell you one must work at instilling moral values in children. You never need to teach a child how to be selfish or how to hurt another's feelings. They seem to not only know how to lie, but they will put their knowledge into action until you instruct them otherwise. I have yet to meet a man who lives by his own standards, whatever they may be, much less God's standards.
No one will ever be able to completely comprehend why suffering exists while we are limited beings with a limited point of view. However, that does not mean that we cannot apprehend the idea that suffering can serve a purpose for a designated time, and it is not outside the bounds of reason to have a loving God allow that purpose to play out its role. I know that this is probably an incomplete look at the problem, so please write me and tell me where you feel I have missed a point. I hope to hear from you.