Over 800 churches in the Chicago area have been carrying on a discussion under the heading, Explore God. The discussion is prompted by a series of seven questions. A couple of weeks ago, the question was this: Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?
This is “the” hard question. It’s a question with which most believers struggle to reconcile with the idea of a loving and all-powerful God. It is the stated reason why men such as Darwin and Einstein were not believers in the God of the Bible. It’s a question we should take seriously, though the answers may not be easy or simple to understand.
As with the natural world, answers to very difficult questions like the problem of evil may be complex. We live in a complex world in which the theory of relatively seems to be contradicted by quantum theory. Sometimes answers aren’t readily seen and require careful study and reflection to determine. Sometimes we have to dig, and engage our minds and work through the details.
How long have we been studying the stars and galaxies and the tiniest particles of the world? And we haven’t yet begun to fathom all the mysteries. Little by little we make progress. Since the days of Job (from the oldest book in the Bible), the problem of evil has been a mystery to be fathomed. As with science, we have made a great deal of progress, but to begin with, we need a good understanding of the problem.
In a nutshell, it is this: If God is all-knowing, all-powerful and all good, there should be no evil in the world.
I have written about and around this issue for years. There are answers. There are explanations and ways of understanding why a good, all-powerful God puts up with evil in the world. For some, the answers may be intellectually viable, but they fall short emotionally. I would not pretend that the issue is an easy one to grapple with.
As in science, though, we have to start with a premise. For this issue, we start with the premise that God exists, that God is good, and God is all-powerful. How do these things fit together in harmony (if they can be fit together in harmony)?
Just as there are tensions in science between things like the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, we have to hold on the premise that we are trying to test, as hard as it is to reconcile. Only then can we begin to find possible solutions to the dilemma.
Scientists accuse people of faith of being lazy intellectually. If we respond to the mysteries of science with the statement, “I don’t know; God did it”, we do science a disservice. The same is true of theology. We shouldn’t be lazy in our understanding of God and the reality in which we live.
I am indebted to the discussion of The Problem of Evil and Suffering on Veracity Hill between Kurt Jaros, the host, and John Peckham from Andrews University. I apologize for the length of this piece. I have only focused on the things that seemed most significant to me and which have advanced my thinking on the subject. Still, the summary isn’t short.
Therefore, I am breaking it up into parts. This is only the introduction
We will tackle the logical issues first. to expand on the basic problem expressed above, it goes something like this: How can an all-powerful God who is good allow pain and suffering? Either God isn’t all-powerful, or He isn’t good, so the logical conundrum goes.
Before jumping way ahead to some deep level discussion on this point, we need to concede that goodness is defined by God if God exists. Some may argue that goodness is an absolute truth by which even God can be judged, but then the Being we are calling God and judging isn’t God.
Dr. William Lane Craig and others describe God as the maximal being. God is the being that is maximal in every way: maximally good, maximally powerful, maximally knowing, etc. If we are speculating about a god who is judged by a standard of good that is greater than god, we aren’t talking about a maximal being. We aren’t talking about the God revealed in the Bible.
If God exists, He is maximal, and He has purpose. Goodness doesn’t apply in the abstract. Without the context that purpose provides, we can’t determine what is good (as in what is best).
For instance, I might be ordered by my boss to deposit the money in the bank to cover the employee’s next paychecks. On the way to the bank, I might encounter a homeless person asking for money. If I gave the money meant for the employee’s paychecks to the homeless person, it would be wrong.
Giving money to the homeless isn’t wrong in itself. In fact, it is very good. But the money was meant for a different purpose, and not using it for that purpose would cause multiplied hardship for all the people who were counting on their paychecks. In that context, giving the money to a homeless person would be wrong. This is what I mean by context.
Likewise, we need to try to understand God’s purpose before we can address the problem of evil in the world. We need to understand the context in which evil exists in the world. We could do this for each world religion that provides a description of who God is, but I am using the Christian version, the Bible.
The Bible lays the groundwork for who God is, not only that He is all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing, but He is love. (1 John 4:16) Love requires relationship. It requires reciprocity. This explains why God is one, yet three in person. God embodies love in God’s nature. (See The Plurality of God)
We also see that God created mankind (male and female) in God’s image. (Genesis 1:27) God created us to participate in and reflect back His love.
These are the basic components of the problem and of a possible solution to the problem. The more I test and consider these things, the more it makes sense to me. In the next piece, Another Look at God in Light of the Evil In the World (Part 1), I will get into some nuances that I haven’t seen before that round out that possible solution to what may well be “the” hardest problem for the believer in God.