8 – Christianity’s God and Human Suffering
From a general perspective
Christianity’s God- If He is all powerful and all-good, why so much evil and pain in the world?
Extract from John W Loftus article ‘A summary of my case against Christianity’:
‘As James Sennett has said: “By far the most important objection to faith is the so-called problem of evil—the alleged incompatibility between the existence or extent of evil in the world and the existence of God. I tell my philosophy of religion students that, if they are Christians and the problem of evil does not keep them up at night, then they don’t understand it.” If God is perfectly good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, then the issue of why there is so much suffering in the world requires an explanation. A perfectly good God would oppose it, an all-powerful God could eliminate it, and an all-knowing God would know what to do about it. For the theist, the extent of intense suffering in the world implies that either God is not powerful enough to eliminate it, God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it. If God exists, the reality of intense suffering is a stubborn fact indicating that something is wrong with God’s ability, goodness, or knowledge.
Christians believe that God freed the Israelites from slavery, yet allowed multitudes to be born into slavery and die as slaves in the antebellum American South. They believe that God parted the Red Sea, but refrained from holding back the waters when an Indonesian tsunami killed a quarter of a million people in 2004. God provided manna from Heaven, so the story goes, but does nothing to prevent the deaths of over 40,000 people around the world who starve every single day, nor anything to alleviate the hunger pains and malnutrition that the starving face throughout their short lives. God is said to have made an axe head to float, yet allowed the Titanic to sink. He is said to have added 15 years to King Hezekiah’s life, but does nothing for children whose lives are cut short by leukemia. God allegedly restored sanity to Nebuchadnezzar, but does nothing for those suffering from schizophrenia and dementia today. While alive Jesus is said to have healed the sick, but does nothing today to stop pandemics which have destroyed whole populations of people. The handicapped and those born with birth defects are untouched by divine healing. As God sat idly by, well over 100 million people were slaughtered in the 20th century due to genocide and war. Well over 100 million animals are slaughtered every year for American consumption alone, while other animals continue to viciously prey on each other.
Consider the 2004 Indonesian tsunami. If God had prevented it, none of us would ever know that he had prevented it precisely because it didn’t happen. A good person who knew that it would happen and who could easily prevent it would be morally obligated to prevent it, and God said to be capable of preventing such a thing with the “snap” of his fingers, so to speak.
Stephen Wykstra argues that it’s possible that we cannot see the good reasons why an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good God allows so much suffering. Because God is omniscient while our knowledge is limited, we are told, we can’t understand God’s purposes, and thus can’t begin to grasp why there is so much evil in the world if God exists. But if God is omniscient as claimed, then he should know how to create a better world, especially since we do have a good idea how God could’ve created differently. The most probable reason that we find so much apparently gratuitous suffering in the world is that there simply is no perfectly good, all-powerful, and omniscient God of Christian theology. The existence of so much apparently gratuitous evil in the world seems to me excellent reason not to believe in an all-powerful, all-good God (Parsons, 1989; Drange, 1998).’
(Reprinted by permission. Source: John W Loftus ‘A summary of my case against Christianity’, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/john_loftus/christianity.html)