We don’t often publish a response from a reader, but the following comments on human suffering were so good I had to share them:
“The classic argument against the existence of God fails because of a false dichotomy. Quite simply, no one is in a position to know that it is God’s agenda to remove all suffering and evil from the world. *God created neither good nor evil. Good is an extension of His essence. Evil is merely the absence of good. *Although God is ultimately in control, He does not control every event. The One who created the world – electrons, protons, energy, physical parameters – does not micromanage. *Those who blame God on account of suffering – or deny there is a God, given the degree of the world’s suffering – are open to the charge of hypocrisy unless they are actively involved in doing something about the problem.”
Each of these three comments on human suffering raises many questions for discussion. The last point is especially interesting. It is easy to sit in the philosopher’s chair and complain about why God doesn’t or can’t do something about human suffering. It is more important to get involved in correcting those things that cause much of the suffering.
Someone asked me, “Why did God do it that way? My only reply was, “I don’t know. I would not have done it that way. I guess you’ll have to ask God.” Why is it that we want God to do things the way we would do them? Are we remaking God in our image?
One of the objections that people have to God’s existence is that they think a loving and omnipotent God would do things differently. Why does God allow suffering? Why did God create viruses? Why didn’t God do a better job of designing (insert anything here)? Like Job in the Old Testament, we think we are smarter than God, and we want to tell Him how to do things. God set Job straight by giving him some challenges such as: “Do you know how to make (insert item here)?” – “Where were you when I did (this thing)?” – “Do you know how (this works)?” Job suddenly realized that he didn’t know everything. He was not as smart as the thought he was.
I could list several things right now that I think God should have done differently. But, before I do that, I have to look at my own failures and weaknesses. I have to look at times when things didn’t work out the way I planned, and I am thankful they didn’t. Small changes in my life’s circumstances would have led me in a completely different direction. God knew what was going to happen. He knew what was best. I can only be thankful that God has not allowed me to remake Him in my image.
We are created in the image of God, but sometimes we become guilty of remaking God in our image. Can we fully understand God and why He does things the way He does? Absolutely not! Can we trust Him to do things right? Absolutely yes! J. I. Packer, the late Bible scholar and author of Knowing God, was interviewed at age 89 after losing sight from macular degeneration. When asked how he felt about no longer being able to read, write, and teach, he replied, “God knows what He’s doing,…this comes as a clear indication from headquarters. And I take it from Him.”
We need to stop remaking God in our image and simply trust God to be God. He knows what He’s doing.
“That’s not fair!” We hear that not only from adults but even from young children. It seems that the concept of fairness is something that we don’t have to learn. It’s built into us. We see injustice in the world or in our personal space, and we cry out, “That’s not fair.”
Where do we get that concept of fairness and justice? Could it be that our Creator placed it within us? In the DOES GOD EXIST? ministry, we talk about evidence for the existence of God. We see design in the universe, in living things, and in our own bodies. Is it possible that we can also see evidence of God’s existence in our desire for justice? Could it be that the God who is just and loving has placed the passion for justice within us? After all, He created us in His image. One of the great frustrations we face is our inability to rid the world of injustice. But more than that it seems that we can’t even rid ourselves of injustice. We often act in our own self-interest even when it causes undesirable consequences for others. It’s easy for us to see injustice in other people but difficult to see it in ourselves.
Christians have often been champions of justice in the abolishing slavery, in the struggle against human trafficking, and in helping the poor and oppressed around the world. When we demonstrate a passion for justice, we are emulating the life of Jesus. He was concerned about the poor and oppressed, the suffering, the neglected, and the outcast. He wept at the tomb of Lazarus as He could see the pain and injustice that sin had brought into the world. The Bible records Jesus weeping again as He approached Jerusalem for the last time. He wept because He pondered the fact that the people had not learned His message of love and justice. They were seeking someone to forcefully overthrow their evil Roman occupiers without realizing that Satan occupied their hearts.
We received the following email: “How can you expect me to believe in a God who created me against my wishes and without my consent, and then because I don’t do things the way he thinks I should, sends me to eternal suffering in hell? That is a product of a twisted mind and is not something I can believe in or serve. I didn’t ask to be born, and I won’t spend my life worshiping an evil, abusive God who rejoices in bringing pain to everything he touches.”
Obviously, this email was sent by a person in pain – a person who is angry, frustrated, confused, misinformed, misled, and disconnected from reality. Many of this person’s problems are due to the traditions of human creeds and theories. Much of the frustration is due to assumptions that are not valid or biblical.
There are some questions and challenges in the message that I, too, struggle with, and I make no pretense of having all the answers. What we would like to do is to dissect this email in the hope that it will help some of our readers who may have some of the same concerns and struggles. I am sure there are others with the same complaints but are not willing to be quite as honest in expressing them.
“I didn’t ask to be born.” Have you ever gotten so frustrated with life, and especially with people in your life, that you wished you had never been born? I think that most of us have gone through that. Job certainly radiated that feeling when he said: “May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said ‘A boy is conceived’ “(Job 3:3). As an atheist, I said almost those very words in a modernized form and got so far down the road of despair that I attempted in a crude way to end my life. From an atheist perspective, there are times when we feel that life is a worthless, meaningless, painful experience that we would rather not endure.
However, at the end of every night, there is another day, and things do get better. For the Christian, the meaningfulness of life is more easily seen because of the purpose that a Christian has in living. If your only goal in living is seeking selfish desires and pleasures, it is easy to run out of reasons to live. If your life has a bigger purpose, then you have a reason to live, a purpose, and a goal.
Job finally came to understand his purpose in life. He looked at what had happened and what he had endured, and he had a new perspective. He told the Lord that before all these things had happened to him: “My ears have heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5). He then goes on joyously praising God because he sees a purpose in his life.
I am sure Job always had some sobering thoughts and memories of what he had lost. But he was glad to be alive, and God enabled him to see purpose and meaning in his life. Saying “I didn’t ask to be born and I wish I had never been” is a knee-jerk reaction to a crisis. Before we seek a permanent solution to a temporary problem, we should allow God to remind us that we are love, and we have a purpose.
Why does God allow suffering? That is one of the most common questions we hear. Many atheists who comment on our posts try to prove that God cannot exist because there is suffering in the world. They are assuming that if God existed, His purpose would be to give us happiness all the time. Since He doesn’t, that means God can’t possibly exist.
That mindset assumes that we are God’s pets, and His responsibility is to see that we don’t get hurt no matter what we do. There is no doubt that we do many foolish and hurtful things. So why do we think that God should be our servant to keep us always happy as if happiness is the primary goal of life?
However, if God does exist (as we believe He does), He should have a more important goal than taking care to always provide us with what we think we need to be happy. What happens if human parents bow to every whim of their children by always giving them what they want and expect? The result is a spoiled child. Sometimes after warnings to a child, the parent has to stand by and watch the child make bad decisions in the hope that they will learn from their mistakes.
What if the primary goal of human life is not happiness? What if the primary goal is to learn to know and trust God? It is that knowledge of and trust in God that will bring–if not continual happiness–true fulfillment and ultimately, everlasting fulfillment. Why does God allow suffering? Although the suffering in this world may be counterproductive to our happiness, it might help us to gain a deeper knowledge of God and dependence on His love.
There is a constant flow of books, articles, television shows, and blogs dealing with the question of why God allows human suffering. All religions deal in one way or another with this issue, and atheists have attempted to dance around it by denial or avoidance.
We have suggested over the years that Christianity offers the only rational solution to the issue because:
1) The question is only for this life and in the context of eternity is of extremely short duration.
2) Suffering allows ministering to others that Christians are uniquely called to do.
3) To be human there has to be choice, otherwise love is impossible, and choices can have consequences.
Most logical people would agree that if you jump off a bridge, you can’t blame God when you hit the bottom. The fact is that massive amounts of human suffering are because we refuse to live as God calls us to and we do things that bring suffering upon ourselves. God doesn’t cause wars and human actions that cause droughts and famines. God also does not cause us to make bad choices that lead to our own suffering and the suffering of others.
Science News in their last issue for 2017 gave a summary of the latest data in four areas where human suffering is human-caused:
1) 13.4 million U.S. adults misused or abused opioids. (Data from 2015).
2) 19 children die or are medically treated for gun-inflicted wounds every day.
3) 9 million people died directly from pollution.
4) 46% of U.S. adults have high blood pressure largely due to poor diet and lack of exercise.
Every so often we get a negative comment from someone suggesting that this ministry is misdirected. We deal with science and biblical apologetics in an attempt to show that science and the Bible are friends and not enemies. The negative comments are, “You just have to believe” or “Any attempt to use human intelligence to build faith is an exercise in futility.”
Such a view is out of touch with the needs of people living in the twenty-first century, and it also contradicts what the Bible teaches. Jesus frequently used scientific knowledge as the basis of a parable. In Matthew 16:2-3 Christ uses the fact that people can look at the sky in the evening and the morning to forecast the weather. Much of Proverbs chapter 8 tells about the role of wisdom in the creation. Romans 1:18-22 speaks of learning from the design seen in everything around us. Psalms 19 tells us that God’s handiwork in the heavens declares His glory.
One of the most interesting apologetic teachings of the Bible is seen in Job’s statement to his friends in Job 12:2-13:
“And who does not know such things as these?… But now ask the beast, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you; or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; and let the fish of the sea declare to you. Who among all of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind? Does not the ear test words, as the palate tastes its food? Wisdom is with aged men, with long life is understanding. With Him are wisdom and might, to Him belong counsel and understanding.”
In Job 38-41 God confronts Job concerning his complaints about his suffering. God begins with an apologetic discourse on the scientific answers to the creation of the world that we see around us. Job responds with a reflection on our limitations as humans: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things that are too wonderful for me to know… my ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you …” Job 42:3-6.
Some are pushing e-cigarettes as a healthier alternative to cigarettes. The facts don’t support that claim.
One of the major challenges that we all face is how we reconcile the fact of human suffering with the biblical concept of God. Atheists harp on the question of why God allows suffering, and why we were created in such a way that we have a huge list of diseases and maladies. We all have our “why me” moments as well, and many times we have to admit we don’t understand why certain things happen. Atheists have no alternative to offer, and “survival of the fittest” isn’t much help when you are not the fittest.
The issue is very complex, but a major part of the answer to the problems of human suffering is the fact that we do an incredible number of things to ourselves that result in massive suffering. Sometimes we do it in ignorance. A good example of this is the use of tobacco through the centuries. A hundred years ago we had no idea of how damaging cigarette smoking is. Today anyone who smokes is doing so in defiance of massive evidence that it will bring suffering to them and those around them.
In spite of what some are claiming, e-cigarettes are also terribly destructive to smokers. Chemists at the University of Connecticut have found that e-cigarettes cause damage to human DNA. e-cigarettes use an electrochemiluminescent (ECL) agent. The damage it causes to human DNA is as bad as unfiltered tobacco cigarettes. Non-nicotine e-cigarettes also do damage similar to tobacco cigarettes. The bottom line is that our lungs and our DNA were not designed to handle smoke, and the chemicals it contains.