Why Would a Good God Allow Pain and Suffering?

As Christians, we acknowledge God is good, all-powerful and all-loving. If this is the case, why does God permit the pain and suffering we see all around us? A good god would not allow the kind of suffering we see in our world, would He? Those of us who have tried to comfort a gravely sick child understand the difficulty of explaining how a good God could allow such agony, particularly when the person suffering appears to be innocent or helpless. If an immaterial, eternal God exists, however, it is reasonable to expect this God to value immaterial and transcendent realities over the physical and temporal comforts we often seek as humans.

Good God Pain Suffering

We Sometimes Overvalue the Pursuit of ‘Comfort’

A good God values character over comfort. Creature comforts are temporary, but character transcends time. It shouldn’t surprise us that a transcendent God would understand the difference, even when we don’t. Unfortunately, character is often best developed as a result of our temporary pain and suffering. Patience, determination, the will to persevere and the ability to retain hope all result from the trials and tribulations of life. God may allow some level of temporary pain and suffering in order to develop our eternal, transcendent character.

We Sometimes Misunderstand the Nature of ‘Love’

A transcendent God understands that ‘love’ is the perfect balance between mercy and justice. We, as humans, often hold a very temporal understanding of love; we think of love as a warm, instantaneous feeling, a lustful desire, or a passionate season of romance. But God understands that true love transcends the moment and often requires discernment, discipline and judgment. We could hardly say we loved our children if we didn’t care enough about their future to discipline them, and discipline often feels painful. Love sometimes requires a concern for justice that focuses on the future, and justice often requires the infliction of pain and suffering to achieve the greater good. God, therefore, may allow some level of pain and suffering to maintain the just and transcendent character of ‘love’.

We Sometimes Underestimate the Danger of ‘Immediate Gratification’

An eternal God provides humans with an existence beyond the grave. We usually want our desire for comfort, love, mercy and justice to be satisfied in this life (and immediately, if at all possible. But our pursuit of immediate gratification often leads us to do things that are ultimately harmful. Most crimes, for example, are committed in an effort to immediately satisfy some perceived desire. If there is a transcendent, eternal God, our desire for happiness, love, mercy and justice need not be satisfied in this life; all these desires can (and will) be satisfied in eternity. God, therefore, may allow some level of pain and suffering because he knows (and has communicated) the fleeting, short nature of our mortal experience.

So, how can a loving all-powerful God allow pain and suffering? The same way a loving father can allow his infant child to suffer the doctor’s needle. From the child’s perspective, the shot is terribly painful and unwanted, but the father knows that the pain of the injection will result in something beneficial to the infant. The father also knows he is acting in love, even though a painless day (from the child’s perspective) might seem like a more loving approach. Finally, the father knows that the pain of the injection is fleeting relative to the life of the child. For these reasons, it is reasonable to surmise that a good, loving God might allow pain and suffering in our own lives as well.


 

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9 replies
  1. ANTHONY says:

    200,000 dead in the Asian Tsunami was “fatherly discipline”?

    Do you ever stop to think about what you write?

    Reply
    • David says:

      Natural evils are a very difficult thing to grasp. Especially when it involves people losing their lives in the process. I think because we don’t live in a perfect world that these types of things happen. Sometimes I look at these natural evils and see if they bring about a greater good. But I know in the moment they can be hard to grasp. Sometimes if gives a human response to help people like this.

      Reply
    • Nathan says:

      It certainly makes us think about life and eternity and I’m not sure if this is fatherly discipline rather than a natural event in a world that requires tectonic plates to move to maintain a stable earth. No doubt it is a sad event and a great loss of life and something paiful for many. I can see though that we are all temporary on this earth and believe that our death is a transition to another existance rather than an outright finish to our existance. This offers hope…unlike the pitiful indifference of the alternate view.

      Reply
  2. Len Johnson says:

    If God exists and if God created the universe and man, then the mind of God must transcend human thinking far beyond human ability to reason. If God exists, why he puts up with humans at all is a mystery to me. If God does not exist and the idea of God is a mind construct, why worry about it. When you’re dead, you rot. Life is absurd–an interesting anomaly in the universe.

    If one judges death by any means as cruel, are you not using a standard by which to judge? And if so, is that standard not a mind construct? And isn’t a mind construct simply a random result of brain chemistry?

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      “And isn’t a mind construct simply a random result of brain chemistry?”
      You’ve shown no reason to think so. Why would it be random? Why would a God existing make it less random?
      “the mind of God must transcend human thinking far beyond human ability to reason”
      If it’s unfathomable then why assign the label ‘good’ to it? Any declaration that the God has benign or malign intent for us would be equally unsupportable.
      “If God does not exist and the idea of God is a mind construct, why worry about it”
      If there’s no God and this is the only life we have then we’re wasting a huge amount of time, resources and lives fighting over which God is right and what God wants us to do.

      Reply
    • KR says:

      “If God exists and if God created the universe and man, then the mind of God must transcend human thinking far beyond human ability to reason.”

      This is an “explanation” which could be used to excuse any action (or inaction) by God, whether this God is benevolent, malevolent or indifferent. As some kind of grounding for God’s goodness, it’s completely vacuous.

      “If God does not exist and the idea of God is a mind construct, why worry about it. When you’re dead, you rot. Life is absurd–an interesting anomaly in the universe.”

      Well, I do worry that believing in things for no good reason can lead to terrible consequences – as witnessed on September 11th, 2001. One of the things I find meaningful in life is to point this out and argue for reason and rationality over acceptance of dogma, be they religious or political. The mere fact that there will be people alive when we’re gone who will still have the capacity to feel pain and suffering should be enough motivation to try to make a positive difference, should it not?

      “If one judges death by any means as cruel, are you not using a standard by which to judge? And if so, is that standard not a mind construct? And isn’t a mind construct simply a random result of brain chemistry?”

      I don’t see anyone arguing that death is cruel. What’s being argued is that if a supposedly omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient God lets something like the Tsunami happen when He clearly could have stopped it, the excuse that He “transcends human thinking” seems rather hollow. There’s a reason that the problem of evil shows no sign of going away – the solutions offered just don’t seem very convincing. I’ve always found the most parsimonious explanation for why God doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything to be that He doesn’t exist. This explains our observation that bad things happen without having to tie ourselves into knots trying to reconcile it with an all-powerful and all-loving God.

      Reply
  3. will R says:

    I believe it all comes down to a matter of perspective, providing that God exists, especially the Christian God, natural events are not evil, and he is not unloving for not intervening every time people lose their lives due to natural or even unnatural events. But of course we must address whether or not belief in a theistic God reasonable? As Dr. Turek and many others have demonstrated reasonable evidence for such a belief I’ll address it at the end. But for discussions sake, assuming that God does exist, and as stated especially the Christian God, this world is a temporary staging point for all eternity and everybody is being relocated at some point to a state pf permanence. As far as Christianity goes, everything has been laid out in advance, other than those who die before the age of accountability, everyone else has free will, everyone gets one shot to choose between one of two options, and God will honor which ever choice we make, although he deeply desires that we will use our free will to choose him.

    Again, if the Christian God does indeed exist, there are a million ways one can be relocated from their temporary location (earth) and removed from their disposable body of flesh, to their permanent location and spiritual body, and this relocation process can happen at any point during the journey as mentioned throughout the New Testament, i.e. the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13, verse thirteen reading “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour”. In the meantime, we must keep in mind that God is outside of time, and though millennia may seem long to us, especially in the midst of our own suffering, it is but an instant to one outside the constraints of time. It is important given his seemingly lengthy delay, not to assume indifference on Gods part, but to consider that if he exists then he can take that which is broken and has caused pain and make it new, and if for those who have of their own free will chose him, he makes all things new, it will be as if one had never experienced it in the first place. This is what new means in context of scripture. Revelation 21:4-5 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

    Again, this is speaking strictly of the God of the Christian bible of Christianity. So in light of Christianity at least, God is not unloving, or indifferent to pain and suffering or evil, the majority of which has come from man’s behavior towards man. Natural events are simply natural events, even if certain groups of people by either knowingly or unknowingly placing themselves in the path or vicinity of where these events would occur, have been relocated to their eternal residence. Stated as simply as possible, life on earth is simply where we decide whether or not we want to spend eternity with God or apart from him.

    So back to the question of is it reasonable to believe in God? Science has shown that our universe had a beginning, time, space and matter came into existence simultaneously and instantaneously from nothing. Since nothing can cause itself, we know the cause was outside of these three things, it was timeless, spaceless, and immaterial. It was not caused by nature because nature itself, along with natural laws came into existence with time space and matter, and so the cause was also outside of nature, meaning it was extra or super natural. The cause was also extremely powerful to create everything from nothing, and personal because only persons can choose to create. So as Dr. Turek and others have stated previously, the evidence leads to a cause that is spaceless, timeless (no beginning and no end, eternal), immaterial, extra natural, extremely powerful and at the same time personal. Call it what you will, but that sounds like a theistic God to me.

    The only alternative is to claim that the universe came into existence from nothing without a cause, which not only goes against science in every possible way, there also isn’t a sliver of evidence in support of any theory claiming anything ever popped into existence from nothing uncaused. And though some may claim that science will one day provide an explanation for the beginning of the universe, we know this is false. Why? Because science is nothing more than a feeble human endeavor to understand the world and the unfathomable vast universe around us, it is not some all-powerful, unlimited source or force, it is confined to the prison constructed of our own limitations. Keep in mind that the average distance between stars is thirty trillion miles, and there are trillions of stars in our universe. So all anyone who believes we’re going to discover through human effort how everything came into existence from nothing has to do is assemble any team of scientists, to go into any lab in the world and produce anything at all from absolutely nothing.

    The reason that isn’t going to happen is because the concept of “nothing” is simply beyond us, no space, no time, no sound, color, chemicals or gases, no quantum anything thing, we couldn’t even duplicate the conditions of “nothing” necessary to perform the experiment. So no matter how we slice it we’re left with the greatest miracle that has ever occurred, and only two religions that can explain it, and both requiring a great deal of faith. But one requiring much less than the other. One faith or religion posits that we have the greatest miracle ever known, with no miracle worker bring it about, while the other posits the same miracle but demonstrates god reason to believe in a miracle worker in an uncaused first cause. Science itself is more in support of cause and effect, then it is of effect with no cause. In fact, science is in essence a search for causes, do away with the law of causality, and you’ve done away with science altogether. So the question comes down to which best explains the universe theism or atheism. Keep in mind that if you side with atheism, you are obligated not only to demonstrate how from strictly material processes we get everything from nothing, the beginning of the universe, but the fine tuning of the universe, the laws of mathematics, physics, and logic, life, mind and consciousness, free will, evil, and objective morality which without evil could not exist, all which are immaterial. Personally I side with Frank, I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.

    Reply
    • KR says:

      Will R wrote: “Science has shown that our universe had a beginning, time, space and matter came into existence simultaneously and instantaneously from nothing.”
      This is incorrect. The current theory suggests that our observable universe existed in an extremely dense, extremely hot state – called a singularity – about 13.8 billion years ago and has been expanding from this state ever since. It says nothing about how this singularity came to be and certainly doesn’t say that it came from nothing.
      “The only alternative is to claim that the universe came into existence from nothing without a cause, which not only goes against science in every possible way, there also isn’t a sliver of evidence in support of any theory claiming anything ever popped into existence from nothing uncaused.”
      You seem to be assuming that there at some point was a nothing from which something came. What’s your justification for this assumption? Why would nothingness be a more plausible starting point than somethingness?
      “The reason that isn’t going to happen is because the concept of “nothing” is simply beyond us, no space, no time, no sound, color, chemicals or gases, no quantum anything thing, we couldn’t even duplicate the conditions of “nothing” necessary to perform the experiment.”
      Exactly. So, in other words, we have no reason to assume that there has ever been a nothing from which something came.
      “So no matter how we slice it we’re left with the greatest miracle that has ever occurred, and only two religions that can explain it, and both requiring a great deal of faith.”
      I’m not sure which religions you are referring to but I’m pretty sure that there’s more than two. Rather than relying on religion, though, I would recommend the scientific method which has a much better track record than any religion when it comes to helping us understand the world around us.
      “One faith or religion posits that we have the greatest miracle ever known, with no miracle worker bring it about, while the other posits the same miracle but demonstrates god reason to believe in a miracle worker in an uncaused first cause.”
      If by miracle you mean something that cannot have a natural explanation, you’re assuming that which you want to prove, which is obviously a fallacy. The origin of the universe doesn’t become a miracle just because you say it is – it’s a claim that you need to justify. The fact that we currently don’t have an answer is not a reason to insert any deity as an explanation – that’s just god-of-the-gaps reasoning.
      “So the question comes down to which best explains the universe theism or atheism.”
      Atheism is just a lack of belief in deities. It’s not a religion, philosophy or worldview and definitely not an attempt to explain the universe.
      “Keep in mind that if you side with atheism, you are obligated not only to demonstrate how from strictly material processes we get everything from nothing, the beginning of the universe, but the fine tuning of the universe, the laws of mathematics, physics, and logic, life, mind and consciousness, free will, evil, and objective morality which without evil could not exist, all which are immaterial.”
      Since atheism makes no claims about any of these things, your statement is clearly false.
      “Personally I side with Frank, I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.”
      Apparently, you and Frank Turek share the same misconception of what atheism is.

      Reply
  4. Susan says:

    Sometimes I wonder if Satan is responsible for some of the pain and suffering in this world but I can’t come to Definite conclusion yet. It was Satan that tormented Job. But to tell the truth I rarely reflect on this problem so no wonder I can’t come up with an answer. Satan is described as the prince of the power of the air and what the scope of that power is it’s hard to know. If Adam and Eve hadn’t fallen then none of us might be here today. God didn’t pronounce procreation until after the fall so maybe this is just a further creative step that people are passing through and maybe you could speed up the steps for slow them down by what you meditate on. If you meditate on the worst all the time then you will complain but if you can remain hopeful then there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
    Besides it’s more proactive to solve evil problems than it is to try and explain them.

    Reply

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