God and Suffering: The Problem of Pain



When we object to the existence of God based on the fact that we perceive injustice and evil we’re making a moral judgement.

And this brings us to an immediate difficulty because if we are drawing a conclusion from a moral judgement, we’re admitting that there is such a thing as good and evil and that’s it’s universal and objective. It’s not just your own subjective preference because if it were, you couldn’t use it as a judgement upon others, let alone the whole world and a concept of God like the Christian one.

Are you someone who believes that each of us decides for ourselves what is right and wrong or do you believe that there is an objective, invisible, transcendent, standard of morality that is, itself, immaterial, but haunts the material world and dictates to us how we all ought to behave?

That’s the difference between objective morals and subjective morals.

Like, how do you respond when someone lies to you or cheats you and inflicts real harm on you? Do you say, “Ah well, to each his own. They’re just doing what they think is best for them. Who am I to judge?”

Or do you say, they shouldn’t have done that and they should be held accountable. Most people respond according to the latter reaction. Which is ironic, considering the opposite seems to be true, for a lot of people, when you survey them about what they believe about morality.

So there’s a massive inconsistency there. But then on top of it, some of us survey the moral landscape of the world and say, there is too much meaningless suffering. There’s no way that a good or just God could be the author of such a tragedy. Well, that is the greatest objective moral judgement a person can make.

That’s taking an inventory of the entire universe and judging it to be, in the end, a tragedy. This is the greatest concession anyone can make that there is an objective standard of right and wrong that we can judge the world against and unless you’re willing to concede that fact, then you have to admit that your judgement about the world is completely subjective and, therefore, is irrelevant as a statement about God or the world.

It’s just your own narrow perspective and if it is, then you certainly can’t use it to render a judgment against a God of Love. But what if you do make that concession and say, “OK, fine there really is a universal standard of justice and morality and by it, I say that the world is not a good place, therefore, it cannot be the work of a good God.”

OK. Well, we need to start by appreciating that we, as limited human beings, can only manage so many variables at once to make our judgments. Think about the scope of the entire universe, or even just our world.

All the lives that are intersecting, all the natural events that accumulate and influence the whole story, all the intelligible laws that govern actions and reactions, all the joys, all the sufferings, all the pain, all the pleasure.

The most powerful computer in the world can’t manage that much data, but you, who can’t even do your own taxes, think that you’re in a position to consider that entire matrix and render a judgement about whether or not, on the whole, it serves good ends or evil ends. We don’t know how our own story is going to end, let alone the whole story.

We don’t know how the traumas we’ve experienced might serve some greater good. As long as our story and the grand story are still unfolding, we can’t say if it’s a comedy or a tragedy.

For you or I to use suffering and apparent injustice as a premise for belief or disbelief in God should require us to admit that that isn’t a conclusion based on logic because logic requires comprehension of the data… which we don’t have and can never know.

And between those two options, I’d rather not consign myself to a life of despair where I have to reinforce the guess, that in the end, this is all meaningless and serves no greater good; in the end, life is a tragedy. To believe that is to paralyze yourself with hopelessness and it has huge implications for how you’re likely to live your life. If none of it matters, why help anyone else? Why try to relieve the suffering of others that you perceived as being so wrong in the first place?

That’s what suffering confronts us with. We can either throw up our hands in despair, and say, “well this just sucks.” Or we, can get to work doing the good that is written on all our hearts when we first encounter the pain and suffering of this world. We can let it transform us so that our subjective stories serve the objective good that we initially perceive before we started feeling sorry for ourselves.

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  2. In Scripture, the Biblical God is quite different from the gods that reason produces. There is no problem of evil with the Biblical God. He takes responsibility for for much of the good and the bad.


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