The question of suffering is the biggest question of all when it comes to any insinuation of God. Why would an all loving, and all powerful God allow so much suffering and pain? The question is a heavy one, and I am greatly sensitive to it. The short answer is, a universe where true love is possible, there must be free will. If there is free will, there is the possibility of pain.
If one is to use the argument of suffering to argue against God, then they must explain the issue of moral reasoning. Why do we perceive innocent children dying of starvation as a moral issue? It most certainly is, but if there is no God, and morality is subjective, then it’d be perfectly valid for someone to shrug their shoulders and say there’s nothing wrong with it. It just is what it is. But, this view worries me, and indeed, leads to a moral landscape that is devoid of human dignity and worth.
If we truly believe there are things that are evil though, such as the Holocaust, or the Red Guard Rebellion, regardless of how others feel about them, then we assume there is good also. Contrary to moral relativists, I do believe there is an objective standard of morality in which we are striving towards in society. We cry out against injustice, and claim we have a basis for this. We all behave like there is objective morality, but there are those of skeptics that deny it, and in doing so, deny their very question and reason to explain that anything is inherently wrong.
I watched a video the other day of an atheist claiming the prophet Muhammad marrying a 6 year old girl was wrong, while in another video, claiming moral facts don’t exist. Where then do we turn?
The problem of suffering and evil is more of a mystery than a problem. Just as sending humans to the moon was a problem, and falling in love is a mystery. We all experience pain and suffering, and so the question of suffering is to actually address ourselves and our own experience in a complex world.
“In looking at the problem of suffering and evil, we’re looking for a purpose to explain it.” – Ravi Zacharias
The skeptic will or should inevitably conclude there’s no true purpose to life itself – and so the problem of suffering becomes unanswerable to them. They could come up with cultural and socio ethical reasons of some sort, but the ultimate purpose of what we so desperately desire is still left unanswered. Why do we come to the defense of the innocent? Why do we have the idea of justice?
Richard Dawkins, an atheist and evolutionary biologist, says, “DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” In this case, if we are nothing more than highly intelligent animals, then it’s ok to dance to your DNA. But, when another person is dancing to his and you’re the victim, we seem to think it’s not ok.
“But the new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore, he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore, the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.” – GK Chesterton.
Indeed, skeptics are fraught with great questions. And we should question ideas, beliefs, morals, and reality. But, it seems to me that skeptics questions only lead to more questions. Where then is their answer?
Supererogatory acts, meaning self-sacrificial and good acts, though not morally required, are unexplainable in a morally subjective landscape. The strong saving the weak, the doctor risking his own life to save the diseased, etc. These acts are carried out almost every day, but why?
The biggest question I can ask, is if we ground our morality in naturalism and use this to explain why we must be good and decent to others, and then people of a different culture arrive at a totally different conclusion both culturally and geo-politically, what is the basis of telling them they’re wrong? What basis did we have to tell the Nazi’s they were wrong? I understand, there are many categories to moral theory and it is more complex as I present it here. But in the end, if morality is subjective, we can say what the Nazi’s did was wrong, but there is no grounding for our opinion. We can at best say, it was not good for the longevity of civilization. In a ruthless reality such as Nazi Germany, killing off the weak and dependent among us would lead to a stronger species in the end, a species more capable to survive. They’d be able to preserve more resources, for fewer, stronger people. My point is that is not how we acted or thought about Nazi Germany. We saw their actions as evil, and they needed to be stopped.
By trying to force our moral reasoning into naturalism and nothing more than DNA dancing to its music, we lose a vast part of humanity and the very essence of what makes us human. Our ability to care for truth, justice, and love.
“When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone. I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment; or as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.” – Viktor Frankl, Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, Holocaust Survivor.
“If there is no God, everything is permitted” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
That is exactly where we arrive if we rid ourselves of moral grounding, and lose the intrinsic value of human life.
So why do we assume objective moral standards require God to explain them? Because morality in its essence is grounded in rationality. All questions raised on morality, good and evil, are raised by a person or about a person. We assume value in human life by raising the question of suffering. As we should. And furthermore, if objective moral standards exist, then the rational enterprise of morality is grounded outside of the individual. And so, this outside source of morality must be rational. This rational source, is therefore what we call God.
Indeed, we shouldn’t assume these things are true just because I say them, or the Church says them, or we’ve been brought up to believe a certain religion. No, we should believe based on the evidence. And the evidence for moral realism, and for Jesus Christ, is strong. John Lennox, Oxford mathematician and Christian apologist, says, “Faith is a response to evidence, not a rejoicing in the absence of evidence.”
When asked his greatest commandment, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31. Because of the first command, we have the second. But without the first, there is no grounded reason to explain why we must love our neighbor or our enemy.
Therefore, we have hope and assurance in Christ, that through him there is an answer for our suffering, and there is hope for our future. We do not despair in our sufferings, though it may be hard, but we are given assurance that we have been redeemed through Jesus. Through his redemption, there is the possibility of restoration to the way things ought to be, and indeed eternal life. We, as Christians, should rejoice in our suffering as Paul said in Romans 5:3-5, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – CS Lewis.
To love is to be open to pain. And what life would this be if we were not able to love others? On the cross, Jesus shows his love for us, pays our penalty, and says ‘forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.’ If Jesus is who he claimed to be, he didn’t stay distant from our pain, but instead he became a part of it. The hope and answers we’re so desperately seeking, he alone provides. The power of Christ is the transformation of the heart, for which I have experienced and known to be true. Before I was a follower of Christ, I came to the conclusion that the atheistic worldview inevitably arrives at – and that is hopeless nihilism. My questions remained questions, and my questions held no ground on my worldview. The answers we’re seeking are not waiting to be discovered within ourselves, or within the material world, or science. No, the answers we’re seeking can only be found in a person. And that person is the person of Jesus Christ.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” - Jesus
Peace and love. - GC