Christianity responses to main criticisms

On pain

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God did not create robots but humans who are free to choose between him and his opponent every moment of their lives.

Sometimes, rather often, suffering is the only way to change one’s character so one truly becomes Christ-like, which is God’s ultimate goal with every human being.

The Cross is God’s own deep suffering and his capacity to turn evil into good.

The notion of hope in suffering and in death is very strong in Christianity.

 

God did not create robots but humans who are free to choose between him and his opponent every moment of their lives.

The Christian view is that clearly God can not be made responsible for what humans choose since they, same as angels, have been given the freedom of choice. He hasn’t created robots.

Also God is acting on Earth but He is not the only one. The forces opposing him are human’s biggest enemies from the beginning of the world (more at Christianity summary/evil)

 

Sometimes, rather often, suffering is the only way to change one’s character so a person truly becomes Christ-like, which according to Christianity, is God’s ultimate goal with every human being.

Ravi Zacharias said in ‘Can man live without God’: ‘I’m absolutely convinced that meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain: meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.’*

According to the Christian doctrine there are several reasons for allowing suffering and pain in the world. One would be to turn people’s attention toward God when they continue to ignore him despite the fact that they may not realize the cost for this ignorance both here on Earth and after this life. A well known Christian author, C S Lewis, said that ‘“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Another would be to change the character of human beings, transforming and making them resemble to Him and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Based on the Bible, a clear characteristic of the Christian God personality is the fact that He can always turn evil into good for those who trust Him. (A famous example is the story of Joseph from Genesis). The Bible clearly says that He is sovereign and remains ultimately in control, that He certainly is able to transform evil into good and that Satan, despite his own temporary power, is totally limited by God (see another example from the Bible with the story of Job).

So evil is in this world partly because humans give it its place but more importantly because God in His sovereignty still permits it. Why didn’t He make perfect creatures? According to the Bible He did, He created a perfect man, Adam and he chose to disobey God and sin. He also created a perfect angel, Satan, and he chose to rebel against his creator. The Christian belief is that God has a purpose for everything He does even if we may not understand it fully. Ultimately, He also has the right to do as He wishes. He has the right to permit evil but use it to accomplish His ultimate will. The main example of how He does that is the cross where by evil means Christ was crucified, still his sacrifice is the source of forgiveness and good for many people. The story of Joseph from the Bible is another example- he was sold by his own brothers into slavery, yet because of his obedience throughout his trials, God orchestrated the events of his life to lead to Joseph’s promotion as well as the rescue of all his people including his own brothers.

So Christians believe that God is so powerful and great that He is able to use for good and for the accomplishment of His plans even what man, Satan and his demons intend for evil.

(*Reprinted by permission. ‘Can man live without God?’ by Ravi Zacharias. Thomas Nelson Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved.)

 

The Cross- God’s own deep suffering.

Ravi Zacharias, former atheist, gives similar explanations when talking about pain from a Christian perspective. He mentions 3 main answers that the cross brings, as summarized below:

1. First, the cross symbolizes the deep anger of man toward the notion of good itself, toward God himself. According to the author if we look into our own hearts with honesty we all have to admit our will’s inclination for rebellion cohabitating with good intentions. Unfortunately it seems there is no limit to how far anyone of us can go when this rebellion goes unchecked. To prove this statement the author mentions the Holocaust tragedy as documented by the historian Christopher Browning in his book called “Ordinary Man” when he says “it was not a few brutes, but many good and ordinary men, who committed murder for Hitler.” The Cross represents first of all the ultimate act of human rebellion against its Creator.

2. Second, the Cross represents an incredible forgiveness that is unique to the Christian faith. While showing evil at its ugliest it offers a starting point for new beginnings, for rebuilding one’s own life. Because God Himself has paid the price, he can extend to all the grace of forgiveness that gives every human the possibility of a fresh start.

The concept of grace is unique to Christianity and stands in sharp contrast to an often hate-filled, unforgiving world.

In practical terms, without forgiveness, the world would actually not be able to survive. Just think about the logic of unforgiveness as seen in Bosnia or Rwanda where the slaughter of so many people are such powerful examples of human vengeance and of a life without the cross.

3. Finally, God’s ability to turn evil into good is proved most powerfully through the cross’s message that God is not distant at all from human pain and suffering. Through His own terrible suffering- as a Father giving his son to die to save the very people that hated him- and as a Son sacrificing himself willingly, God transformed evil into good while providing a solution for evil.

Quoting the same author:
 “The cross uniquely reveals not a God who is taciturn and disengaged from the human scene but a God who is right in the middle of human conflicts and struggles. This is not the Buddhist notion of retreating from the real world through monastic self-renunciation or of counteracting with good to offset the ever present evil. This is not the Hindu notion of a pantheon of gods whose lives so transcend this earthly domain as to be wedded to myth. Nor is the Islamic concept that endeavors to build an earthly kingdom by whatever means it takes, even the sword
…Christ arms are outstretched toward the stubborn will of humanity.”

James Stuart of Scotland said: “In the Bible there is a saying ‘He led captivity captive’. In other words, the very triumph of His foes, it means, He used for their defeat. He compelled their dark achievements to subserve His ends, not theirs. They nailed Him to the tree not knowing that by that very act they were bringing the world to His feet… He did not conquer in spite of the dark mystery of evil, he conquered through it.”

(Reprinted by permission. ‘Can man live without God?’ by Ravi Zacharias. Thomas Nelson Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved.)

 

Lee Strobel in his article, ‘Why does God allow tragedy and suffering?’ has the same view: “God’s ultimate answer to suffering isn’t an explanation; it’s the incarnation. Suffering is a personal problem; it demands a personal response. And God isn’t some distant, detached, and disinterested deity; He entered into our world and personally experienced our pain. Jesus is there in the lowest places of our lives. Are you broken? He was broken, like bread, for us. Are you despised? He was despised and rejected of men. Do you cry out that you can’t take any more? He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Did someone betray you? He was sold out. Are your most tender relationships broken? He loved and He was rejected. Did people turn from you? They hid their faces from Him as if He were a leper. Does He descend into all of our hells? Yes, He does. From the depths of a Nazi death camp, Corrie ten Boom wrote these words: “No matter how deep our darkness, He is deeper still.” Every tear we shed becomes his tear.”

(Source: Lee Strobel‘Why does God allow tragedy and suffering?’)

 

The notion of hope in suffering and in death is very strong in Christianity.

According to the Christian view, from individual needs to international struggles the only hope that makes sense and is legitimate is the hope that comes from God, the hope for life and beyond death. Where there is no answer for death hopelessness invades life.

The more one seeks answers the more one understands how complex an issue this is for every worldview- theist, because the anti-theist has no answers at all from this perspective. It is a complex issue for Christianity too and in some regards- may defy justification altogether, like in the story of Job from the Bible. In Christianity the power and benefits of suffering for the sake of human transformation are clear but there are situations and cases like Job’s where the issue becomes more complex and is certainly very hard to grasp for Christians themselves at this point.

Still in spite of all the virulent attacks that religion has to face though, it should be noted that it is still the only bastion of hope in the face of death for both the deceased and the grieving survivors.

Blaise Pascal -the 17th century scientist (who put the basis for the theory of probability and the hydraulic machine through his law for fluids), a Christian himself- said that he learned to ‘define life backwards and live it forwards, meaning that he first defined death and then his life accordingly’ which certainly makes sense considering that all journeys are planned with their destination in view.

Malcolm Muggeridge- British journalist, media personality- 20st century, gave his own version of the same idea when he said: “…I’ve learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence has been through affliction and not through happiness whether pursued or attained. In other words I say this, if it were to be possible to eliminate affliction from our early existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo-jumbo, the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable…”

(Sources: Ravi Zacharias- ‘Can Man Live Without God?’,  ‘Where is God when I suffer’ and ‘Disappointment with God’- both by Philip Yancey)

1 Comment

  1. I think there is also a point to be made on the “problem of pain”. It is only a problem in the Christian worldview. And that is because we believe in a just and loving God, whereas in Atheism, the is no problem – morality is just as much an accident as is Creation. And in Islam, you do not have a loving God, as in Christianity. So pain is only a problem for those who believe in Christianity’s loving God and it is an internal matter at most. 

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