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.


 

Free CrossExamined.org Resource

Get the first chapter of "Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case" in PDF.

Powered by ConvertKit
15 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
      • Brad Nitzscheb says:

        I don’t waste time and resources fighting over God with anyone. I live my life in a way I believe is pleasing to him. I am not losing out on any “fun” and I am not seeking out anyone to fight or argue with. I give to charities and try to be kind and helpful to all I meet. I don’t care what their belief system is and I will not engage in argument over it. I don’t preach at people, but I certainly tell them what I believe when asked, and I have had people I associate with ask me. If I am a light in the world for him (Christ) people will be drawn to him…not me, HIM because I am nothing without HIM.

        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
  5. Susan says:

    Interesting post above, Len. The Bible says we are God’s workmanship and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is an orderly God.

    Look at this passage from 1 Corinthians 15:

    The Order of Resurrection
    20But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21For

    since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all

    die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23But every man in his own order: Christ the

    firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. 24Then cometh the end, when he

    shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all

    rule and all authority and power. 25For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his

    feet. 26The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. 27For he hath put all things under his

    feet. But when he saith, all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which

    did put all things under him. 28And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the

    Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

    Note verse 23 in particular: Each man is saved in his own order.

    This reminds me of science’s classification system where everything is put in order.

    What if during this lifetime God is placing people in orders?

    If your point above Len is that randomness can’t bring forth a human mind then I agree with you. Human minds are much too diferent and have too many capabilities to be a product of randomness. We’re a lot more funtional than dysfunctional.

    Reply
    • Susan says:

      I think we’re still in an intermediate stage of development because He builds a whole new nature in His people but it could be some are more successful at manifesting His nature than others.

      It says we’re His workmanship and we need to be restored into a right relationship with Him so He is recreating a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

      Once you have the relationship then you can try to understand and master doctrine.

      But a lot of people reason to wrong conclusions from bad examples who observe Christianity.

      Personally, I try not to reason from the bad personal examples. I always study Jesus, the apostles and the spiritual winners of the Old Testament.

      That is thinking in a spiritually critical away.

      Atheists base their reasoning on the spiritual failures and like to let other people’s failure control things.

      But I have better perception than they do and you don’t explain away the successes because there are some failures.

      Instead you seek to become a spiritual success yourself.

      Why would anyone prefer carnal success ahead of spiritual success?
      That could come from a lack of critical thinking and from messy priorities or a weak will.

      But I know everything doesn’t depend on me. I make a sincere effort but ultimately everything depends on my faith in God and He is able to do anything.

      So I never believe atheist attacks on Christianity. They don’t think critically enough.

      They can’t even tell thatnChristianity is a relationship not a religion.

      They prefer focusing on failure and if you focus on failure then spiritual failure will manifest in your life.

      “As a man thinketh in his heart so he is.”

      The Bible is God’s counsel and God said for everyone to fix their eyes on Jesus. He’s the primary example of spiritual success for the whole world and if these silly atheists can’t learn to model themselves after a spiritual success then that is their problem.

      I know Jesus is the best person because he was God in the flesh and I even know a person he cured of two medical problems.

      So God can do anything He wants to but we have a lot of trouble in this life understanding that because we let people argue us away from using our own faculties to think critically about spiritual matters and to deny our own commonsense.

      Reply
      • jcb says:

        To say “God can do anything He wants to” is to “deny our own commonsense”.
        Of course, there is no known god. And, if God killed someone for fun that would be immoral/unkind (to that person). That is, God cannot be all kind (for all eternity), and then act unkindly. That would be a contradiction. Hence, such a being, god, could not do anything he wants to.

        Reply
  6. Susan says:

    Atheists resemble Pharisees. The Pharisees were the ones who showed up to tell Christ he was breaking the law when Christ who was God in the flesh came down to Earth to set a new standard for human behavior.

    Faultfinding atheists….just like the Pharisees. You don’t have to obey God, do you if you can figure out ways to find fault with Him do you?

    So who are the self deceptive liars?

    Somebody who humbly acknowledges the fault lies in himself or the people who deny anything is wrong with themselves and find fault non-stop with God and Christians?

    Why would I acknowledge arguments from a pack of self deceptive liars.

    God said it in His Word. Some get offended at the notion that they are sinners. They point to their works and accomplishments trying to get themselves off the hook and feel better about themselves. But that doesn’t justify your evil deeds and self deception.

    Everyone has to repent. God will be satisfied with nothing less than repentance and a complete change of heart towards Him and if you think I as a Christian am going to accept your evil lies and conjectures about Him and entertain them in my heart then you are vastly mistaken.

    I like the truth. I have been guilty of seeing myself at times as better than I really am but in the end the more I deny my old self the more I will end up like Christ because I am declared a new creation by God and that means I am considered to be a new creation by God right now….that doesn’t mean I am done assimilating doctrine and not still in the process of changing into a better person.

    If an atheist had ever dared to accept God at His Word to accept him and study to master doctrine and actually entered a faith process with Him then he would be justified in his objections.

    But an atheist has never accepted God at His Word so he never mastered doctrine or tried to perform it so he doesn’t know personally what he is talking about.

    But that won’t stop him from trying.

    John 7:

    16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.

    17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

    There you have it in the above verse. The Spiritual Success of the Whole Universe saying you will know if you will do God’s will.

    But how can you know God and do His will if you are busy projecting evil onto Him and seeking out people to point out their failures when they are still assimilating and conforming in the process of God transforming them.

    People are slow to master doctrine so some are slower than others at changing plus Christians have enemies trying to trip them up….

    Then along comes a Pharisee…” Hey you Christian did you know you are less than perfect? I have a whole stack of statistics that says Christians do this or that.”

    Well you know what Pharisee ….everything depends on God…I am working out my own life and issues one day at a time and at least I work at it with God….You can’t even take direction from Christ like a good disciple would and examine yourself. You are too busy getting offended and seizing on perty things to take stock of yourself and acknowledge you have broken God’s law and are a sinner and get your heart right with God.”

    And who is really in charge of making our hearts right with God? That’s right: God.

    So keep tallying your records of wrongs by Christians, atheists. Then you can keep failing spiritually and continue to let Satan keep you in darkness.

    As for me I will continue to let God work on me, in me and through me….I know I need a lot of work…

    You can’t choose which human family you are born into …some are more dysfunctional than others….but you can choose to go into the most fully functional house of all and allow yourself to be adopted and that house is God’s House.

    Thanks for reading and God Bless! Hope you regain some of your spiritual functionality and don’t let science or philosophy underscore your old weak error ridden sin nature when God gives out whole new spiritual natures to anyone who receives Jesus and you ought to love Him for that even if you don’t understand the Cross.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *