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A Short Answer to the Objection of Suffering in the World

The problem of evil and suffering is often a reason that people dismiss the existence of God. Our children will run into this question and will probably have the question themselves. You might even have it.

I received the following question:

I was talking to a friend at school about God, and she responded that a God who is all-powerful and good couldn’t exist because of the evil in the world. She says that hurricanes and earthquakes prove that God does not exist. I didn’t know what to say to this. What do you think?

How would you give a short answer to this question as a pastor or parent? Here is what I said:

Sarah, thanks so much for writing me. This is a common objection to Christianity. It has been around for many years.

One point to ask your friend is this: Is there  any real suffering behind this question for her? Often, the issue is not so much philosophical, but personal. Your friend may have gone through a time of pain like losing a good friend in a car wreck or a family divorce, and God did not seem to answer her prayer. The pain can push a person to this conclusion. Most objections to Christianity are moral not mental.

The first thing we need to realize is that suffering is a problem for any view of the world. Before giving the Christian view, we need to see how inadequate other views are. For example, the naturalistic view says there is no reason for suffering since we are evolving upwards. Death and destruction are just a part of life. The Hindu view says that suffering is because of bad karma. The Buddhist view says that it is an illusion. None of those last three views hold up to the pain she may have experienced.

A False Syllogism

Really what she is repeating a form of the syllogism that was articulated by the philosopher David Hume in the 18th century. If God is all-powerful, he can stop suffering. If God is all-loving, he would stop suffering. Suffering and evil exist, therefore God is not all-powerful, all-loving, or he does not exist at all. She, and many people, have chosen that final option.

The problem with that logic is that there could be another reason for the suffering that we don’t know. If there is a great God that we know only in part, then it is at least possible that there are reasons we don’t know about. It is similar to a parent holding a child while a doctor gives a painful injection. The child may look at the parent and think, “You don’t love me.” The purposes of the pain are beyond the understanding of the child.

What God Says

Interestingly, when God is asked about suffering in the Bible, he does not explain himself. There are plenty of secondary causes of suffering like Adam’s sin, the evilness of our heart, and even demonic forces. But when Job asked the Lord about his suffering, The Lord responded by asking Job, “Where you there when I laid the foundations of the world?” (Job 38:4).  Jesus, when asked a similar question, did not answer but instead called on his hearers to repent (Luke 13:4). God seems to imply that the “Why” question is above our understanding. The more important question is the “What” question. “What does the Lord want me to do in this situation?”

Although, I believe Christians have the best answer for the question of evil and suffering, the proof of God’s existence does not rest on this answer. Instead, it rests on the person of Jesus – his life, miracles, death, and resurrection. The resurrection proves that God exists and Jesus was who he said he was. The resurrection proves God exists and the cross proves he cares.

Ultimately that is probably what your friend cares about. “Does God care about our suffering? Does God care about my suffering?” The answer is a profound yes! We see this in the cross where God the Son became a person, entered into our world, and suffered the most cruel death on the cross. He knows what our suffering is. So though we may not know why he allows suffering in our lives, we know what it is not. It is not, that he doesn’t care.

There are plenty more resources on this topic. Let’s talk more.