Monday, December 15, 2008

The Problem of Suffering


Perhaps the most commonly asked question among those struggling with the existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God is "Why do Bad things happen to good people?"

Yesterday in the midst of hope and anticipation of Christ's advent into the world, our church talked about the problem of suffering. It seems like an unlikely topic to pick up on during Christmas, but the reality is that for many, depression soars around the holidays, jobs are being lost at an alarming rate and elderly folks often lose their lives in the winter months. So if God is all powerful and all loving, then why on earth would he allow this kind of pain?

Those who hold to atheism based on this argument contend that if God is all powerful and he chooses not to intervene for those in need, then he is not all loving. If He is all loving, then he must not be all powerful because he does not intervene in every instance of suffering. So either we have an impotent God or an evil God...neither of whom are worthy of worship.

The problem with this argument is threefold in my estimation. First, the question is framed incorrectly. It is inadequate to say that bad things happen to good people. Is there truly a 'good' person. There are certainly those who do great things and have a lot of good in them, but if we frame this in an understanding of humanity's sinfulness, then, no one on their own is 'good'. So the proper question then, is "Why is their suffering or evil in the world?" This question is answered through a proper understanding of the repercussions of sin. Sin is death. Why do people in Africa suffer from disease, starvation and death? Because we are all linked together and the West's tendency toward overindulgence and neighbor neglect has left them without resources to survive.

Problem two is in our definition of omnibenevolence. What does it mean for someone to be perfectly loving? Does it mean forming a protective cocoon around others and not allowing anything to happen to them, not allowing them to make any decisions, choose any paths that are hurtful or detrimental to themselves or to others? This seems to be the notion of how people view God's role in humanity. When trouble comes, God better give them a bail out plan. This view of perfect love is nowhere near correct. Our expectations that God always rescue us from our circumstances (often brought about by our own sinful choices and indulgences) is very self-oriented. That we are entitled to rescue is another faulty framework. BUT, that God sent his Son to be our ultimate rescue demonstrated his perfect love.

Problem three has to do with our understanding of omnipotence. If God is all powerful, it does not necessitate that He work based on our expectations of him. God has control, is in control and yet in some ways, has relinquished his control so that humanity can freely choose him. God is indeed sovereign, but not in the 'powerbroker' sense that we often anticipate. God is not simply playing chess with the devil in regards to humanity, where Satan makes a move and God in his power makes a responsive move. Instead, sovereignty is demonstrated by God in his willingness to give people the choice to choose whether to follow Christ or not. The fact that God then woos humanity into romance with him, where they freely choose him as Lord and Savior demonstrates his ultimate sovereignty. We are not mere robots or chesspieces that God controls.

Well, that's my take on the problem of suffering. I'm curious to hear what your response is.

1 comment:

Mary Beth said...

I would have to agree with your thinking in this. We have been given free will which unfortunately causes a lot of the bad stuff to go on. But it also plays a big part in the good stuff. God is an awesome God through the good, the bad and the ugly. Sadly enough though, in hard times, people find it easier to blame him because they don't want to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask "what things or choices in my life have caused this to happen?" If bad things don't happen, how do we learn from our mistakes? If we were all perfect what would our purpose be? I think this time of year is a great time to be reminded of the suffering going on in the world. Thanks for posting.