William Lane Craig explains why God permits evil and suffering

The first video is from his debate with Dr. Bruce Russell at West Point. Dr. Russell asks why an all-powerful, all-good, all-loving God would allow his creatures to suffer. Dr. Craig responds to the argument in the two clips below.

Part 1:

This is one my favorite debates. You can buy it here.

And here’s a clip from the re-match with Austin Dacey.

Part 2:

Craig says something like this in the first clip: (paraphrase)

It is not God’s purpose to create a comfortable environment for His human pets.  On the Christian view, we are not God’s pets.  And the purpose of life is not happiness, as such, but rather the knowledge of God and His salvation––which will ultimately bring true happiness.  But many evils occur in life which are utterly pointless with respect to producing human happiness.  But they may not be pointless with respect to producing a deeper knowledge of God.

I have to confess that the argument from evil and suffering lost all force for me when I began to think of it as the argument from self-centered hedonism, or “the argument from whining”. We don’t have a right to happiness in this life. That’s not the point of life. I think that God expects us to rise above that sort of selfish pleasure-seeking and to look to his interests – defending his reputation, telling people the truth about him, and achieving his goals. And it doesn’t matter if it makes us unpopular or causes us to suffer. We have to do the right thing, and there are no promises. Sometimes you will do everything right that God wants you to do, and you may still face some kickback. And it happened to Jesus.

When I look at Jesus I do not see a man trying to make himself happy in his own way. I do not see a man who views his relationship with God as a means of achieving happiness in this life. I see a man who thinks that his service to God may cost him everything, including his own life. The normal Christian life is a life of self-denial and suffering. We ought to do what is necessary (study, charity, chastity, sobriety, fidelity, self-sacrificial love, etc.) regardless of whether we like it. We do what is best for God. I think that some of us twist Christianity into hedonism. We just add an imaginary old man with a white beard sort of standing back and wishing us to have a good time in our own way. That’s not Christianity.

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17 thoughts on “William Lane Craig explains why God permits evil and suffering”

  1. The part about the haunted house absolutely cracked me up. I love the dry humor. Plus, he presents a logical flaw in believing that we will know why every type of suffering occurs. Gotta love Craig!

      1. WK,
        I didn’t watch the videos, but I like your thoughts in this post.

        Here’s a question related to your reply: Is trust really the issue here? True, God wants us to trust Him, but it doesn’t seem like He would use the problem of evil as a way for us to trust Him. Doesn’t the trust that Christians place in God come from the reasons given in the past (in Scripture) and the things we know, and not because of something we do not know (why He allows evil)? It seems like if God would have good reasons for allowing evil, and the more He revealed the more we would trust Him (this rests on the HUGE assumption that we could grasp the reasons and our fallenness wouldn’t get in the way, which of course don’t practically work out in real life). But I’m not sure this means that God wants us to trust him based on what we don’t know. That seems like blind faith. I could be wrong, but those are just some thoughts.

        1. I think that what God does is that he reveals reasons for his existence in nature (big bang, fine-tuning, origin of life, Cambrian explosion, habitability), conscience (moral law, consciousness, free will, rationality) and history (resurrection). Then one of the people in the Trinity becomes a man and suffers like a man does with us, and even dying for our sins when we did not want him. God loved us first. So the trust is based on the evidences, as well as on Jesus’ compassion for us – suffering with us to redeem us.

          Consider Hebrews 5:7-9:

          7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
          8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered
          9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him

          And Philippians 2:5-11:

          5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
          6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
          did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
          7 but made himself nothing,
          taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
          being made in human likeness.
          8 And being found in appearance as a man,
          he humbled himself
          and became obedient to death—
          even death on a cross!
          9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
          and gave him the name that is above every name,
          10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
          in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
          11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
          to the glory of God the Father.

          Here’s a post I wrote about the experience of learning to trust God through suffering. Evidence is not the problem. The problem is being willing to give up acting in your own self-interest. It’s like buddy-breathing. You share your oxygen supply with your friend. It’s scary at first, but then you learn not to need to have your way all the time. You learn to do without happiness. You learn to be content with God’s friendship instead.

          Here’s a bit of quirky post I once wrote about what my relationship with God is like. You can also read my testimony.

          1. WK,

            I REALLY enjoyed your posts/links.

            I’m still not sure the first post answered my question though. Maybe I missed it or I didn’t word my question clearly or succinctly. All distinct possibilities.

            Your post seemed to say that we had more room to trust by not knowing why God allows evil. The gist of my question was to ask: Why does not knowing why God allows evil give us more room for trust?

  2. Just a few comments.

    One, why would a perfect God CARE at all about his reputation? Again you seem to be suggesting a God that is proud, concerned for his dignity, etc.

    Second, its one thing to say we don’t have a right to hedonistic excess (although I don’t equate pleasure with happiness) but its another to say God is perfectly justified in allowing countless millions over the centuries to starve, be tortured, die in warfare, die in death camps, be raped, lose their children, suffer from horrible diseases, and then, when their earthly sufferings are done, according to fundamentalist christianity, the vast majority of these people will then find themselves tortured for all eternity by being burned over and over for not believing the right things.

    This is not a God who is merely against our right to self-centered hedonism. Its a God that really, really LIKES suffering, and has setup earth and eternity accordingly.

    Finally, on the “how can we possibly understand God” theme, you can use that argument, e.g. “its a mystery” to explain away anything. For example, I could say God wants us to burn our bibles and worship fish, don’t ask why, its just a mystery.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to be harsh about this, but its something I’m passionate about.

    Respectfully,
    Craig (Not of the William Lane variety.)

  3. WK, I enjoyed the videos and loved your commentary, especially; “We don’t have a right to happiness in this life. That’s not the point of life. I think that God expects us to rise above that sort of selfish pleasure-seeking and to look to his interests – defending his reputation, telling people the truth about him, and achieving his goals.” Excellent! However, while I agree some suffering may serve God’s purpose (this has been so in my life-with clarity of time I can see how some of my suffering turned me to God or made me a better person or kept me from making destructive choices) I don’t think it is correct or helpful to assign all suffering to “God’s plan.” I have given this a lot of thought in an attempt to resolve, in my mind and heart, what can seem as pointless suffering or the indifference of God. As I see it, either we have free will or we don’t. Either there are laws of nature and physics or there aren’t. For God to stop every evil deed (to prevent suffering) or even some evil deeds would negate that person’s free will to choose evil over good. For God to stop every hurricane or other natural disaster, would negate natural law. While God will and has intervened in free will and the natural law to answer prayer, I don’t think we can expect God to always intervene if we are to enjoy the gift of free will. Anyway, I just thought I would share my thoughts on this. If there is a flaw in my thinking, I welcome corrections.

    1. “As I see it, either we have free will or we don’t. Either there are laws of nature and physics or there aren’t. For God to stop every evil deed (to prevent suffering) or even some evil deeds would negate that person’s free will to choose evil over good. For God to stop every hurricane or other natural disaster, would negate natural law. While God will and has intervened in free will and the natural law to answer prayer, I don’t think we can expect God to always intervene if we are to enjoy the gift of free will.”

      You’ve obviously looked into this issue deeply. The two theodicies you cite are called the “Free Will Defense” and the “Natural Law Theodicy”. You’re absolutely right, of course, to say that some evil may be gratuitous just because of the fixed nature of natural law or the respect for free will.

      Sometimes, people act in a way that hurts me and I will bad about it. But I remember that they have free will – and that not even God is willing to override that freedom to be evil. And when I think of that, I feel better. But I need to work on accepting that the natural laws may also introduce some suffering. So, you could be right!

    2. Um, Tina, the free will defense’s logical conclusion would be that God values the free will of a criminal over the free will of a victim. After all, nobody asked a murder-ee if s/he wants to be murdered, and hence, their free will is violated rather drastically. Why couldn’t God, in his omniscience, allow the murderer his decision to kill/rape/.whatever, without violating his/her free will, and then smite them an instant before they had a chance to commit their crime, thereby saving an innocent life and allowing them the continued exercise of THEIR own free will? Something does not parse.

      1. Yeah, your argument does not parse. If God steps in at every moment to make sure that no one can cause any harm by sinning then we would be robots in a police state, there would be no freedom of the will. All behavior would be coerced by the threat of immediate punishment.

        Below, I edited your comment a little to substitute rape and murder for premarital sex, so you would get an idea of what you are really asking for.

        Here’s what you are really asking for:

        “Um, Tina, the free will defense’s logical conclusion would be that God values the free will of a a lustful person over the objective moral law against lusting after a woman. Why couldn’t God, in his omniscience, allow the luster his decision to lust after someone in their mind, without violating his/her free will, and then smite them an instant after they had lusted, thereby preserving their free will but upholding the moral law? Something does not parse.”

        In Christianity, lusting after someone in your mind is also a sin and would also be subject to God’s immediate punishment. You don’t get to decide what sin is – you’re choosing a definition that you like but that’s not up to you. And the punishment for sin is HELL, by the way. Do you think that immediately punishing people for every sin would encourage people to know God and love God of their own free will? How would you like to be coerced to God’s punishment at every moment sothat the only safe course of action was to love him and obey him in every decision, on pain of eternal fire? You would not like that.

        The purpose of life by the way, not for God to allow us to find happiness in our own way, free from harm. If you think that preventing evil and suffering by coercing the free will of others would allow more people to know God, then please, cite me a peer-reviewed study that shows that and I’ll believe you. You’re making the claim, so show me the data.

        1. WK,

          You are starting from an “a priori” assumption that morality is dictated by the Christian God, his rules as you interpret them in the bible, and his purpose as you often say, to get people to know him.

          For example, I don’t see lust in itself as a sin even if there is God, because it harms noone unless you act on it in a bad way. I “lusted” after my wife before we were married and it lead to a happy marriage and 2 beautiful children. I have also lusted after women and let it get me into trouble. I believe something is only a sin or immoral if it hurts others. To say otherwise is to say that God makes arbitrary rules for no reasons. Its like the rule against “coveting.” How do you make yourself not want something? And whether you do or not, how does it hurt others?

          Also, you are assuming that hellfire is the punishment for every sin. I know many Christians believe this, but it means that God values rules, regulations and perfection over the inherent worth and compassion for human beings. This is the big argument between fundamentalist christian concept of morality and more liberal ones.

          Many secular and religious folks agree on basic objective concepts of morality: avoid lying, stealing, killing, sexual promiscuity, etc. They disagree on things that *seem* to only be wrong to the very religious, like homosexuality, eating pork, pre-marital sex or women wearing burqas. There seems to be no REASON for these moral regulations other than dogma, so secular people reject them.

          I know you disagree, and i don’t mean to side-swipe this conversation, but still your counter argument seems to only make sense given your prior assumptions.

      2. Jorg, I can’t possibly give a more articulate response than WK. However, to me, it is just not a logical conclusion that God values the free will of a criminal over the free will of a victim. God reaching down or stepping in to stop an act, thought or deed negates free will. If we are only “allowed” to choose/think/or act out in good ways, then there is no free will. We would be robots free to only choose/think/or act in good ways or to not choose/think or act at all. Further, we would not be free to learn from and/or grow from bad choices/decisions. How many times did someone fail, before learning what does work-that which is good or right? Where is the growth or human experience if we could only do good/right or not act at all? I might add, at my own peril of opening a whole other can of worms, but another purpose pain, suffering & death serve is so we may know and understand joy, happiness & life. For example, if there were no death, would I treasure and value the life of my spouse or child. If they would never die might I not be tempted to put off until (some imaginary) tomorrow the love or time I should spend with them today. We cherish true moments of joy only because we also know pain. We cherish our loved ones, more so, because we know our time with them is limited.

  4. Great points, Tina! C.S. Lewis described both of these points as well – I’m trying to remember where. It may have been in The Problem of Pain, or possibly The Weight of Glory. Hmmm… Do you remember, Wintery?

  5. Great post WK! I really like your closing thoughts in this post. Popular Christianity wants people to believe that this is our best life now, but it is not. Life is not to be lived selfishly.

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