This is one of the primary arguments for atheists against theism, and rightfully so may I add. I have seen loved ones go through suffering and the thought of “why would God permit this?” inevitably creeps into your mind. Particularly when you see someone who you love go through tremendous amounts of pain and suffering for seemingly no justified reason. When you personally see someone who you love suffer, it fills your heart with doubt and tackles your emotions forcefully. This emotional problem of suffering also creeps in when you see how many underserved deaths due to free moral agents (terrorist attacks, car bombs, genocide, etc…) or natural evil (cancer, hurricanes, tornados, etc…) of people who you’ve never met before. We see these types of events on television frequently and it grieves us to think that God would allow these types of sufferings to occur under His discretion.
I, admittedly, have overcome this obstacle and feel that it was the biggest one to conquer in my Christianity. It was only when I looked into the issues of suffering from the eyes of God would I find peace in the fact that suffering and God are not incompatible in any light. I know that statement requires justification, and I am prepared to give that justification with a clear conscious and while fully trusting the Lord.
In the above video, Dr. William Lane Craig suggests that “God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil and suffering in this world”. As Christians, how do we justify a statement that would allow God to permit suffering and evil as long as they are morally sufficient? Let’s start by identifying the two problems of suffering. There is the intellectual problem and the emotional problem of suffering. The intellectual problem of suffering addresses the plausibility of God and suffering coexisting at the same time and the emotional problem of suffering is when people dislike the prospect of a God permitting suffering 1. Of these two, the intellectual problem addresses the reality of the issue while the emotional problem results in a rejection of faith rather than a refutation of the faith 1.
Atheists/skeptics would argue that if He did exist and He permitted the suffering/evil, He obviously prefers a world with suffering/evil within it and therefore He is evil or perverse. However, if God exists, we would be extremely miniscule and not have the capacity to grasp an omniscient mind such as the one God has. We are not capable of foreseeing the long-term benefits of the current suffering in this world. For example, taking our child to the doctor when he/she is convinced we’re torturing him/her; however, as parents, know it is for the greater good. On a much grander scale, God can be arranging the pieces of life in a manner that allows for the greatest amount of people to engage in a relationship with Him while justifiably allowing the evil/suffering 1.
Our human limitations are drastically impotent in foreseeing the greatest good of suffering. Some people claim that it is improbable that God lacks a good reason for allowing the suffering in this world; however who are we to say what is and is not improbable? We are finite beings that live in very limited space and time. God, being the greatest possible being, is omniscient of all events of past, present, and future. We cannot make an accurate claim to know what God has in store for humanity throughout times of suffering. As finite beings, we are extremely limited within the framework of history 1.
If you look back to the moral argument (refer to post on 5/31/12), the simple identifying of objective moral values would indicate that there is a God. Since we are able to identify objective morality and sense that evil and suffering are objectively bad, we must acknowledge that we cannot allow our emotions to take ahold of our intellect and convince us that there isn’t a God or that He is evil because He allows suffering/evil. Based upon our past observations of Jesus, we see that God loved us enough to send His son Jesus Christ to die for our sins!
While I acknowledged my own struggles with this particular issue myself, I found that God understands my best interests better than I do due to His omniscient nature. In addition, this line of reasoning falls in line with the overwhelming amount of other evidence in favor of there being a God. The full scope of evidence leads me to believe that God isn’t a God of malice of ill-intent. He is a personal God that we can experience and rely upon. When we do, we find that God can have a significant personal impact in our lives.
1 William Lane Craig, On Guard (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook) Chapter 4