I recently heard a Christian friend say that they don’t have an explanation for why God allows suffering. I am sure many Christians feel the same way because when your hope is secure in your faith this issue doesn’t shake your faith. I have spent the better part of a year in the trenches of experience and study in this area and I can confidently say that everyone asks, why does God allow suffering? As Christians we must do as 1 Peter 3:15 says, “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (NIV).
We cannot change the views of unbelievers if we have not earnestly thought through life’s difficult questions ourselves. Afterall, this question is one of the top objections to Christianity that an unbeliever has and if you don’t have a response besides, “Jesus is the solution”, then the unbeliever will just assume your faith is shallow. As Christians we have to remember we aren’t always talking to believers as this topic comes up. So we must explain our response in a way that the unbeliever can understand. A good question to ask is if they are really wondering why God allows evil and suffering or are they wondering if God really exists. Below are 3 defenses as to why God allows evil and suffering.
“The problem of evil is the most powerful objection to traditional theism.” -Richard Swinburne, Oxford Companion to Philosophy
When God created us he gave us the gift of free will. C.S. Lewis says it best, “If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible”. It’s easy to complain that there is evil in the world but then we love the freedom to choose what we think is best for ourselves. We are free to choose God or reject him and it doesn’t make much sense for a person to reject God but then complain that he is allowing evil to co-exist with us. People are quick to blame God for all the evil and suffering in the world but they don’t always give God credit for the goodness in people or situations.
We have the opportunity to be very good or very bad. Looking at evil and suffering in the world it’s imperative we ascertain how it was caused. I recently read a news story about 19 Coptic Christian children who were brutally murdered because they would not renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. This evil was carried out by man–not God. So, as with these types of evil we must remember our free will gives us all the choice to hurt others or to help them. Further, even after these horrible events happen we have the opportunity to help others.
Free will could only exist in a world that God created, otherwise we would not have the need to know the difference between good and evil.
Objective Good and Evil
God allows evil and suffering, that is a fact that both Christians and unbelievers have to account for. The Christian does not have the burden to prove God’s existence in the midst of the presence of evil and suffering, although they can. The problem of suffering is a dilemma for every human being. Further, it does not create a snafu for the Christian in how they explain their faith in God. In fact, the presence of evil and suffering provides more evidence for God’s existence and goodness. If someone is questioning why God allows suffering or if they question his existence because of the presence of suffering it’s important to point out the most obvious fact. When asking this question we are assuming that there is the presence of objective evil such as what we see on the news.
There is no question that we can agree that there are some atrocities that all make us wonder why violence is taking place. So if we are assuming that there is objective evil then we must also assume there is objective good in the world. C.S. Lewis says it this way, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust.”
“So evil can’t exist unless good exists. But good can’t exist unless God exists. In other words, there can’t be no objective evil unless there is objective good, and there can be no objective good unless God exists. If evil is real–and we all know it is–then God exists.” -Frank Turek, Stealing From God
Meaning and Purpose
Great Philosophers have written on the topic of the meaning of life for centuries. We live our lives, following our passions as if they mean something, because they do. Evil is only possible in a world that God created, otherwise we are just puppets without purpose. But we know that there is meaning and purpose in our world, science is just one example of many, where there is evidence of intelligent design. And if there is evidence of intelligent design then there has to be an intelligent designer. If everything that begins to exist has a cause then we can conclude that we too also have a cause and reason for existing. Even our suffering has great meaning.
“The point is this: If God does not exist, then life is objectively meaningless; but man cannot live consistently and happily knowing that life is meaningless; so in order to be happy he pretends life has meaning. But this is, of course, entirely inconsistent—for without God, man and the universe are without any real significance.” -William Lane Craig, Philosopher
We all will face suffering at some point in our lives. It is not something we can escape from so how can we justify God allowing evil to co-exist with us? Experiencing suffering does not diminish the goodness of God or his plans for us. However, Atheists rest on the idea that if they can create enough doubt in your mind that for God to really exist that he must create only goodness in your life, then you will question his existence and goodness. This idea necessitates the fact that you would be playing God in order to determine this idea of what goodness is. The real problem here is the condition of our hearts and where it leads us.
In short, Christianity does answer why God allows suffering and these are only 3 defenses as to why. We must not soften the real pain of suffering and evil in the world. Suffering is not easy to endure and if we are careful we will not fall prey into being desensitized to seeing its severity. It is clear that evil and suffering is all around us and it is pertinent for everyone, regardless of faith, to continue to ask life’s difficult questions. Are we objectively looking at good and evil as we discern how they both can co-exist in a world that God created?! As Christians we must answer this question especially when unbelievers ask us to explain our position. Christianity is the only religion that can give a reasonable explanation to the problem of evil and suffering.