The question goes something like this: “How can an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God coexist with the oh-so-apparent evil in the world?” The common answer is that one of those three prongs of the triangle isn’t true. Either God isn’t all powerful, and thus he’s unable to stop evil; he isn’t all-knowing, and thus doesn’t comprehend our suffering on some level; or he isn’t all-loving and doesn’t care about us.
It’s implied that one of these things, or more, can’t be true, and therefore the Christian God, who claims to be omnipotent, omniscient, and loving, cannot be real. It’s also one of the most common “intellectual” arguments against the existence of God.
But something was recently pointed out to me about this question, often called The Problem of Pain (or Suffering). There’s an underlying assumption that the powerful, aware, loving God cannot coexist with evil, so the question is asked with the answer already in mind. Since evil is plain to see, God must be the lie.
Haven’t we skipped a step? Shouldn’t we first prove that these two forces, God and evil, can’t both be real in the same space? Why can’t an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God allow evil?
Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda
There’s a question within the question (you following me?): why would this God allow evil? What could possibly be the reason? And the Christian answer is…
“Pfft, I dunno.”
Christians have been attempting to explain this for…oh…millennia? And there’s no suitable, one-size-fits-all answer. And non-Christians can’t think of one either. So then we come to the conclusion on which this whole Problem of Pain is based: “There’s no good reason such a God would allow evil. He can eliminate it and wants to eliminate it, therefore he would, or at least he should.”
Now let me ask this: How do you know there’s no good reason God would allow evil?
It’s difficult to answer, isn’t it? In fact, I’d wager it’s impossible to answer that. “I can’t think of a good reason.” “No one can give me a good reason.” “Even the deepest tenants of Christian faith can’t give a good reason.”
These are all perfectly reasonable answers, but reason and logic state that just because an answer can’t be given doesn’t mean an answer doesn’t exist.
How many planets are in the entire universe? No one knows, but that doesn’t mean an answer doesn’t exist. What is that person over there thinking at this exact moment? Who can say? But I guarantee it’s either something or nothing because it can’t be anything else. How many years will the United States last? I haven’t a clue, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a number.
So why do we say that because no one knows why God would allow evil that there is no good reason for him to do so?
And perhaps you say, “It’s not just me. No one from the dawn of time until now has given a good reason why God would allow evil.” But I would reply, “Have we reached the zenith of human knowledge? Is this the smartest we’ll ever be? Are there no more answers to be found?”
I say all this as though I’ve never asked the question myself, but boy have I! I’ve been hurt, angry, and heartbroken, and I’ve asked, “WTF, God?!” I think that’s when most of us ask these questions. “If God can take away this agony, why doesn’t he? What’s he playing at?”
And I’m not saying it’s wrong or sacrilegious to ask these questions. Job certainly did in the Bible and in the end God still approved of him. You are not a sinner for wanting to know why.
However, I think this Problem of Pain says more about us than God. We, as humans, hate not knowing the answer to the question. It’s like a spider crawling inside your brain, or one more knife plunging into your already-perforated heart. Not knowing why is almost as agonizing as the pain that sparks the question in the first place (if not more so).
So we rationalize that there must not be an answer. I mean what could God possibly say to defend himself in light of the Holocaust? Or 9/11? Or the very Satan that God himself hates, yet created? What explanation could possibly suffice?
But this goes back to the unsupportable idea that “If I can’t find a reason, there must not be one.” Round and round we go.
Dissolving the Problem
The paradoxical thing about the Problem of Pain is it’s not actually talking about the Christian God at all. It assumes (this again) that God would either A) have a reason for allowing evil that we can figure out on our own, or B) that God would or should come down from the heavens and explain it to us.
Neither of these claims defines the Christian God.
The Christian God claims to be bigger than we are, different, and not fully comprehensible. This means we can’t understand everything God thinks or does, nor is he obligated to explain himself. This means the Christian God could easily coexist with evil, even if we couldn’t explain how or why.
So who is the Problem of Pain talking about? A man-made construct called God. It assumes (seeing a pattern here?) that God is a fabrication, not a reality. So in that sense, Christians would agree. Yes, this man-made God does not exist. But we’re talking about a God that we didn’t make up, but that we believe is actually an uncreated being of cosmic power and intelligence.
That God cannot be contained in this little box. That God cannot be disproven by the Problem of Pain because the Problem of Pain is talking about a little god that we can understand, and what Christian is trying to defend that?
A Sigh of Relief
Christians, don’t be frightened by the Problem of Pain. Its underlying assumption of “An all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God would not allow evil” is unsupportable. It contains as much invisible faith as the Christians it mocks.
This means the question doesn’t need to be answered. “I don’t know” is sufficient. If God really is bigger than us, then “I don’t know” only proves his bigness.
Trust is the key component here. Trust is what gives Christians their identity, not absolute understanding. Trust is that thing the humanistic world loathes because the concept of trust implies a limitation to understanding. Trust and knowing are not the same thing.
The Problem of Pain is the Devil’s way of getting you to focus on your own knowledge or lack thereof, not God’s character. The Problem of Pain doesn’t challenge the existence of God.
It challenges you. Don’t get distracted.
4 thoughts on “The Problem With the Problem Of Pain”
God post. I think free will has something to do with this. In order for God to stop evil He would need to take away our power of choice.
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If God is all good and all powerful how can He let not-good humans go unpunished? Another good question. The Bible can answer it.
People who “ask” this “question” are basically concluding evil exists so the God of Jews and Christians can’t.
How do they judge good from evil? Without the concept of a Just and Righteous Deity there can be no objective way for us to tell right from wrong. It’s way to easy to rationalize any behavior we want to indulge in to justify it. We may not fool others into thinking we’re perfect saints, but we’re masters of self deception.
“Her mouth said no but her eyes said yes.”
“The jerk MADE me hit him.”
“Abortion is a boon to women (and makes me rich too).”
“The homeless should have their own church services at the shelter. Our church isn’t equipped to handle those people.”
“But I was just following orders.”
If not for the grace of God I would be a misanthrope.
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Oof, yeah. You see similar stuff when Hell comes up. But if God doesn’t punish, then the only law in life is Don’t Get Caught.