Why do Christians leave the faith? Dashed expectations of a “nice” God

Part 2 of a brilliant series by Bradley Wright. This time he explains how people leave Christianity because they expect God to meet their needs and he doesn’t.


In a study of religious deconversion, we analyzed 50 on-line testimonies posted by former Christians, and in these testimonies we found four general explanations for deconversion. The first explanation, which I wrote about last week, regarded intellectual and theological concerns about the Christian faith. The second, which I elaborate here, regards a failed relationship with God. Almost half (22 of 50) of the writers expressed sentiments that in some way God had failed them by His not doing what they thought He should.

God’s perceived failure took various forms, most of which fall under the general heading of “unanswered prayers.”

One way that people felt that God had failed them happened when He did not respond to requests for help during difficult times. A young man raised in a Baptist church epitomized this feeling of failure when he wrote about God not answering his prayers about family difficulties. He wrote: “The first time I questioned the faith was when my grandmother shriveled up in front of me for 6 month’s due to cancer. I was 13 & my mother & father [were] getting a divorce. My father told me I should have been aborted. I prayed to God but nothing fails like prayers.”

So you can see here where people have this expectation that it is God’s job to give them good health. But is that anywhere in the Bible? Is it God’s job to make us healthy so that we can have a happy life, even if we are busy spending that happy life ignoring him and not knowing his character. When you ask a serious Christian what it is like to be a Christian, we will tell you that what God is about is NOT making us healthy or happy, but instead giving us time and peace to study him, to make plans to serve him, to execute those plans, and to have (sometimes unhappy) experiences that cause our sympathies to change as we feel what God feels. In short, life is about getting closer to him, and suffering and sickness is one of the tools God uses in order to get us to know him as he is and to participate in the relationship.

Likewise, a woman raised in a Methodist household described her step-father as “cruel and abusive” to her, and she could not understand why “if God loves me, why won’t he protect me instead of letting this happen to me?”

I think the reason why God allows suffering like this is to create people who take his rules about sexual morality seriously. When I was growing up I had front-row seats to the divorces of many of my friends. I remember vividly talking to children who cried to me about how they felt when their mothers invited new men into the house after the divorce. Pain and suffering like this is a reminder to us that the moral law is real, that God expects us to follow it in order to prevent harm. One of the reasons why I am chaste is because I listen to the stories of men whose girlfriends aborted their babies, the stories of women who cohabitated and then were betrayed, the stories of the children of divorces. And from this I learn that morality is real and it matters.

In a variation of this theme, some deconverts lamented God’s inactivity amidst spiritual difficulties. A man in his forties, a former elder at a charismatic church, wrote: “In my own life, no matter how much I submitted to ‘God’ and prayed in faith, ‘sin’ never seemed to leave me. Well, what’s the point of being ‘saved’ if you aren’t delivered from ‘sin’?”

This is why accurate theology matters. No serious Christian thinks that you stop sinning after you become a Christian, and no serious Christian thinks that prayer alone is a solution to sin. To stop sinning, you need to engage more than the spirit, you need to engage the mind. Most people want to spiritualize things because prayer is easier than study. But if you want to stop sinning, the best way is a combination of prayer and study. If you want to stop premarital sex, study how premarital sex affects STD infection, risk of divorce, future marital stability, oxytocin, quality of marriage, and so on. Study the risks of divorce. That’s how you stop sinning. Some people want to dumb Christianity down to the level of superstition then they complain that it doesn’t work. But Christianity is better when you learn more and work harder.

A former Southern Baptist described the various good things that God failed to give him: “God promises me a lot in the bible and he’s not come through. Ask and it shall be given. Follow me and I will bless you. I promise you life and promise abundance. Man should not be alone. I have a plan for you. Give tithe and I will reward you. All broken promises. This god lacks clarification. This god lacks faith in me. He wants my faith. I want his too.”

Do you know what I expect from God after reading the Bible? I expect what Jesus got: pain and suffering during obedience. What kind of simpleton reads the Bible and thinks that it is about getting goodies from God? That is NOWHERE in the Bible. It’s projecting Santa Claus onto God and that isn’t going to work – God has other plans for us, and those plans involve work and pain. People become Christians because they want to be like Jesus, and they understand that Jesus was not having fun. He was doing a job, and he wasn’t happy or appreciated.

Other writers took a different approach to God’s failures. They too sought God’s help, but when they did not receive it, they simply concluded that God did not exist. A former member of an Assemblies of God church explicitly linked unanswered prayers and the existence of God: “How many humble and totally selfless prayers offered up to and ignored by the imaginary skydaddy does it take for the average person to finally throw in the towel and say [God doesn’t exist]!!!!” His answer: “Too damn many.”

It’s so strange to me that people think that the best way to see God interfere is to pray. The way I see God working in my life is when I go home and listen to some debate about the problem of evil, and then the next day some atheist asks me out to lunch to talk about why God allows evil. Maybe instead of doing easy things, we should actually invest in our relationship with God and then see if he responds by giving us work to do. Maybe a relationship with God is about serving him, and the joy is about seeing him reward those efforts by working with us and through us. Maybe God has more for us than just entertainment.

Still others sought a tangible sign of God’s presence. A former Pentecostal exclaimed: “There were many nights while in bed I would ask God to show me the truth, or give me some type of sign to show that he or she existed. These prayers would never be answered. So I would just go on with my life having doubts.” Likewise, a former Baptist missionary wrote: “I’ve begged God to show himself to me and put an end to my inner torture. So far it hasn’t happened and the only thing I know for sure is that I have unanswered questions.”

I think this paragraph is interesting, since I consider attending church, praying and singing hymns to be less practical when compared with practical and difficult things like chastity, apologetics, charity, studying hard things, getting a good job, committing to caring for others who have special needs, etc. If you want to feel the presence of God, then do the right thing and take the punishment for doing it. That’s what Christianity is really about. When William Dembski was drummed out of Baylor University for opposing the presupposition of naturalism in the sciences, he experienced God more than all snake-handling, tongue speaking Pentecostals in the history of the universe. Similarly for Michele Bachmann’s decision to take in 23 foster children into her home. Christianity is a serious religion, and it is not accessible to superstitious people who reduce it to singing and praying alone. Christianity is about serious people doing serious things. Even reading the Bible is not enough – you need to study the Bible.

The example of Dan Barker

I’ve actually written about this before in the context of Dan Barker, a charismatic fundamentalist praise hymn singer and writer who expected God to validate all of his irresponsible ministry decisions. Eventually, he fell away from the church because he had this ludicrous Santa Claus caricature of God that didn’t match reality. Dan Barker is the complete opposite of everything I consider a manly Christian to be. He is the polar opposite of what I recommend to men when I recommend that they study math, science, engineering and technology, avoid music, singing and dancing, and prefer apologetics and conservative politics over speaking in tongues and apocalyptic fiction. This man, when he was a “Christian”, was the complete opposite of the WK Christian man model. Men should be practical.

I think that Christians should protect themselves from the Dan Barker outcome by being aware of how emotional experiences and praise hymns warp your view of God. God is a person, and he has a goal for you – to know him. To achieve that goal, it may not be effective to just give you everything you want. It may be the case that God has to allow you to experience some suffering, to increase your character and to bring your goals in line with his character. Children have to grow up, and shielding them from pain and responsibility doesn’t allow them to grow up.

In my own case, I have my own disappointment with God, revolving around my chastity while waiting for marriage. But does that cause me to reject God? Hell, no. I just assume that he has something else he wants me to do instead of being married, and I am OK with that. It’s part of this relationship that God’s goals are important to me. I have to participate and hold up my end of the relationship. When it comes to God’s purposes in the world, my happiness and comfort are expendable. That is an appropriate response, I think, to Jesus’ own self-sacrificial behavior on the cross. I was born obligated to him, and I am OK with that. It does not bother me.

By the way, I wrote about Part 1 in the series, which was about how the #1 cause of apostasy is lack of apologetics.

59 thoughts on “Why do Christians leave the faith? Dashed expectations of a “nice” God”

  1. I do not think theological training can substitute for being a warrior. The best kings, priests, and teachers always have been purified though the fire of battle. That is the instinct for the practical that is missing. You see, there really is a War going on, that is no metaphor.


  2. >I expect what Jesus got: pain and suffering during obedience.

    This sounds like you are in an abusive relationship. It would never be necessary for a being like Yahweh to subject you to suffering.

    > God is a person, and he has a goal for you – to know him.

    Peter van Inwagen agrees with you in his “The Problem of Evil”. van Inwagen’s answer to the presence of suffering in the world is that a suffering-free world is not in line with God’s purposes. God needs us to know our need for him, so he must include some suffering. He concludes that the spectacular amount we observe is a good as any, for God’s purpose.

    WLC concurs that happiness is not the point of life, it is to serve God. The problem here is that this makes God a sadist, some sort of controlling boyfriend who makes our lives miserable in the hope we’ll seek His relief.

    Another insult is that, in this life at least, he doesn’t treat those who love Him any better than those who reject Him.

    The final insult is Matt 7:21. Even some who love God won’t make the cut. Only those who do his will.

    The price of following Yahweh is authoritarianism. As Americans, we know what that means: that we are following mere power, and goodness loses all meaning.


  3. Excellent posting, Wintery! Once again, I must point out that the apparent issues that caused these “de-converts” to fall away are easily handled in an introductory apologetics study. Also, many of the de-converts sound just too (prior) atheist-y for me, based on the language used. You will notice that there is a lot of talk about God in their testimonies, but very little talk about Jesus. That is a tipoff to me that these folks may actually have been atheists who are posing as “de-converts.” Or, they just never believed (in the Biblical sense) in the first place.


  4. I am always amazed at the reasoning given for abandoning God: God didn’t answer my prayers or prove that He exists so I walked away. These people act like petulant children. The problem for these people (and probably for most people, since we live in fairly Godless times) is that they cannot conceive of an authority outside of themselves. In their minds, they are the only ones who know what is best for them, not some God, so He had better fall in line or else.

    It reminds me of when people talk about “God is love.” Of course God is love, but most people think that love is all feel-good emotions and no hard work. Love is also correcting someone when they are in danger of doing wrong, punishing disobedience, withholding things that will ultimately cause harm, and true sacrifice. These people probably are having their prayers answered, they just can’t see it because they think the answer should look different than it does.


    1. Love your last line, Claire! I will try to remember it, because that is am effective apologetic.


  5. >These people act like petulant children

    Some are, but many are loving parents of children in burn centers. They must face the fact that their kid’s suffering is optional for God. We know it is because most kids never go to burn centers. At minimum, God doesn’t spread His suffering around evenly.


    1. God doesn’t cause suffering. He may allow it for His good purposes, but He doesn’t cause it. Suffering, sickness, and death are all results of living in a fallen world.


      1. Well, He has something to do with it. He didn’t have to set things up so that a future infant suffered a heart defect because of an ancestor’s sin. He could have caused sin to accrue to each sinner.

        Moreover, Genesis says God set the consequences for The Fall. He multiplied pain in childbirth, but he didn’t cause new mothers to explode. He could have been harsher, and he could have been kinder.

        If we say His nature as a Just God required the consequences he set, then God is locked in. He is no longer a moral agent, just a force of nature doing the only things He can do. A God like that isn’t a choicemaker; He’s more like gravity. He’s just a bystander, even to His own actions, and can not be swayed one way or the other.

        You can’t have it both ways. If God had any choice in the matter, He didn’t have to include as much suffering as we observe.

        God either can’t reduce suffering further or doesn’t care to. There are no other options.


    2. This seems like an emotional argument to me, although I agree with you that God doesn’t appear to spread His suffering around evenly. Just because most don’t suffer the horrors of burns doesn’t mean that God views this suffering as optional. To presume as much based on the observation of others’ lack of burns is to presume to know the mind of God and to judge His decisions. Just because we don’t want the suffering doesn’t mean that it doesn’t serve some sort of purpose in God’s eyes. We cannot know it all and we cannot demand that the world conform to us. Only One is omniscient and omnipotent, and that certainly isn’t us.


  6. >He may allow it for His good purposes, but He doesn’t cause it.

    Since determined what is possible, he’s on the hook even for free actions of fallen beings. So, the big worry here is this: if we accept any treatment at all from God, it means nothing to say he is Good. He’s just God.


    1. Not sure which version of theism you are working with but Christians believe in human freedom and human responsibility. Are you projecting the determinism of your materialist view onto us? That’s your view. Our view is that humans have free will. You’re the one who can’t ground freedom on atheism, because we are just machines made out of meat, on your view.

      Also, why are you concerned about this topic? There is no such thing as morality on atheism, either. So why try to make moral judgments? It’s all nonsense on your view anyway.

      Finally, why do you think it’s God’s job to make us happy and healthy? That’s what you would like, but then again, you’re not God, are you? Where do you get this notion that God’s job is to entertain you and amuse you? Is it your opinion? If so, why should God care about your opinion?


      1. Yes, Wintery. And to add to your point, basic Christian theology says that God made us for HIM, not the other way around. It always seems weird to me that unbelievers expect God to serve them (show your Face, stop my suffering, be my vending machine), when it is clear that it is our responsibility to serve Him. But, there is free will on the part of humanity: unbelievers choose not to serve Him, believers do.


        1. I guess I am a bit annoyed with Don. It just seems so strange to me. I read the Bible, and the idea seems to me to be that God the Son suffered and died in order to save humans from their rebellion against God the Father. Where do you get the idea that God’s job is to fill you with happy feelings from that? Why would anyone think that God is some sort of cosmic Santa Claus? Certainly not from the Bible, that’s for sure.

          Also, by what standard can you judge God unless you first assume a standard of morality that exists objectively, outside of human subjectivity, such that it would be binding on God? And even if such a thing existed, how on Earth could an atheist ground it, given that their view is that the universe is accident, and the only thing that exists is matter. How do you get an objective standard of ought from atoms spinning in space?


          1. 1. I’m arguing on Christianity, not atheism. So, I’m judging God by Christian standards of love and forgiveness. He fails under his own system.

            2. If we hold God to no standard other than himself, then it means nothing to say he is good. If we judge God to be good for creating good things, then we have to hold him accountable for the bad things he made possible.

            3. The Free will argument is playing wack-a-mole. Even if free will was worth the epic suffering we see, there is much natural suffering to account fo, plus the suffering of animals.

            4. God determined how much damage humans can do via free will. A drunken boyfriend can beat a 4 year old to death, but he can’t kill a million people with only his thoughts. God set those limits. Even the free will defense does not exonerate God.

            5. If we say God is simply God and it is childish to expect him to cater to our wishes, we end up with authoritarianism. I am my kids’ parent, but that does not mean I can do whatever I want. If I am to be loving, I am constrained. If I’m not, then ‘loving’ means nothing. Even God must be bound by some standard other than himself, or it means nothing to say he is good or loving.

            It is not childish petulance that causes me to ask why God treats humanity the way he does. It is because I am trying to salvage for him the notion of Goodness. I’m an atheist, but I care about God. If he is to be worth following, we have to avoid authoritarianism.


          2. 1. But Don, you don’t understand Christianity at all. You are using an atheist standard “I want to be happy and it’s God’s job to make me happy” to judge God. That’s what we are trying to tell you. You think, because you are an atheist, that God’s main purpose is to try to entertain you and please you. That’s not in the Bible. What’s in the Bible is Jesus being obedient to God for the sake of others even though he was tortured and killed. That’s the Christian view of the purpose of life. Self-sacrificial love and obedience.

            2. You are a man. You did not make the universe. You don’t get to decide the standard of good and evil. The standard is decided by and rooted in the nature of the one who makes the world.

            3. You have no response to free will on materialism. There is none. And that means that there is no rationality on your view or moral choices or moral responsibility. Not even the words you say have meaning unless they are chosen freely.

            4. Again, you are back to judging God using an atheist standard of happiness rather than a Christian standard of knowledge of God. God’s goal is for us to know him and respond to him. You have to show that more happiness and amusement achieves that goal, and you can’t. And in fact it is in places of suffering where more people are turning to God most, as in Africa and China. Can’t you see that your goals are not God’s goals, and that you are not using God’s standards?

            5. Right, I think the real issue is that you resent God having the authority. But that’s your subjective objection, and it’s the dividing line between atheists and Christians don’t mind that they are not in charge, so long as the God is loving. We like the relationship with God, and we are prepared to give up autonomy to have a relationship with a God who sacrifices for us. Atheists don’t want to have to care about God’s character, goals etc. They want to be in charge. Their view of relationship is not self-sacrificial but master/slave. But God isn’t your slave. He has a different character than you, and he is in charge. When I am suffering as a Christian, perhaps for defending unborn children or defending a child’s right to a mother and father, there is a point where I realize very clearly that I am promoting GOD’s values against the values of selfishness and nihilism. I realize very clearly that my popularity is down and my happiness is down because I am publicly pushing for the things that God cares about, regardless of whether it’s good for me or not. You should try that sometime and see what it is like. See what it’s like to put yourself second and advocate for God in public, and feel what it is like to have people not like you. That’s the real surrender of authority that authentic Christians are performing every day when they say yes to God, and no to self. Knowing God personally and advocating for God’s interests and taking the consequences from non-Christians is the Christian life. If you don’t like that suffering for righteousness’ sake, then yes, Christianity is not for you.

            I also think that the suffering of others provides an opportunity for us to imitate Christ and care for others, which testifies to the character of God in me in a tangible way. This is something that I do in my own personal life. Like it or not, knowing God and then testifying about God while we suffering and modeling his character for others when they suffer IS the point of life. You might not like it, but that’s what we were created to do. To be like him, to act like him and to not complain so much about how hard it is for us or others. Your notion of goodness might not be this, but this is the notion of goodness on display in the life of Jesus. Take it or leave it.


          3. >That which is in keeping with God’s nature and will is good by definition.

            This is DCT. The problem here is that ‘Good’ loses all meaning. If we say God is good no matter what he does, it means nothing to say he is good. Leibniz pointed out that, in this scenario, God could do opposite things and we’d have to say they were both good. Embracing contradiction renders a term meaningless.

            I care about the concept of God. I’m looking for a coherent concept that is worthy of my devotion. The authoritarian God you describe is at best amoral, and by human standards a sadist. Even the highly religious Leibniz recognized that God must comport with some standard other than himself in order to be judged at all, good or bad.


          4. There can be no standard higher than God. That which is in keeping with God’s nature and will is good by definition. So God is good by definition since everything He does is in keeping with His nature and will. All of creation is judged good or evil by how well it is in keeping with God’s standards.

            So, we don’t judge God as good because He made good things. The things He made are judged as good when they are in keeping with His design for them. The things He has made are judged as not good when they are not in keeping with His design for them. The standard of good and evil is made by God.

            You mention that parents have authority, but cannot simply do as they please with their children. That is because, unlike God, there is a standard outside of them. Parents, and all people, must live up to God’s standards. If you are to be loving to your children, you must live up to God’s standards of love.

            However, unlike us, God has no such standard outside Himself. Keep in mind that You cannot apply God’s rules for our behavior to Him as if He were a human being. He has the right to decide what our behavior should be because He made us. God’s rule against killing an innocent person, for example, is because that person is God’s creation and we do not have a right to destroy God’s property. Thus, it is inherently wrong for one human to murder another. God, on the other hand, has every right to destroy His own property. So it isn’t wrong for God to wipe out entire civilizations. He has that right, while we do not. The principle isn’t “No one has a right to kill people” but “No human has a right to kill another.”

            God does act according to His own standards, and thus He is good. He cannot and does not fail His own standards. For example, God does love us. But what that means isn’t necessarily what we usually think of when we think of love. It doesn’t mean that He has gooey feelings for us. It means that He wants what is best for us – which is for us to know and serve Him. He wants us to be in keeping with His plan for us. Only when we are in keeping with God’s design for us will we have what is best for us. And we are designed to be truly happy and fulfilled only when we are in keeping with God’s design for us. But those feelings we have of being happy or fulfilled are not God’s ultimate goal for us. His ultimate goal is for us to know Him and spend eternity with Him. Sometimes that means that we don’t have happiness in this life even when we are doing His will.

            In contrast to God, we humans only love imperfectly because we cannot always know what is truly best for the other person. We can only strive for wanting good things like happiness for others we love. Those things may be good, but they aren’t necesarily the ultimate good. God always wants our ultimate good and thus loves perfectly. But since people love imperfectly and God loves perfectly, it can sometimes appear to us that God’s love differs from what we think of as love (human love). But in such cases, it is the human love that is lacking, not God’s love. We usually would prefer that someone strive for our happiness rather than our holiness (which may include a good bit of unhappiness), and thus we often prefer human-type love to God’s love, but that is only because our perspective is flawed.


          5. Wow, Lindsay – that is a great connect-the-dots apologetic for why God’s Good is sometimes different from our definition of “good” and how that comes about. Thank you!


          6. Wintery, your answer to number 5 describes me B.C. perfectly! I wanted to be the “master of my fate,… the captain of my soul.” But then I realized that such a goal was going to be hard to achieve when I couldn’t even control my horrible language over spilt milk.


          7. I still have that problem for certain things. Theistic evolution, anti-intellectualism in the church, the religious left, and some other things. I just go ballistic.


    2. Don, your first problem is that you aren’t recognizing that free will is an inherent good. It is, apparently, so good that it is worth all the suffering and evil that goes on so that some can freely choose God. That was the reason that God made us, after all – to freely choose Him. But we can’t freely choose Him – we can’t truly love Him – unless the choice is truly free (which means a very real possibility of choosing evil). And thus, in order to obtain the ultimate good, God must allow free will. That in no way makes God responsible for the free choices of human beings to do evil. Sure, He could have set up the universe so that there was no possibility of evil or of any choice other than Him, but such a universe would have been less good than the one we have because it would lack love and true communion between God and man.

      Your second problem is that you aren’t looking at how God’s persepctive differs from ours. God can see all of history, not just one moment of it at a time. He can see how every action and inaction affects everything else down through time.

      Also, God is interested in eternity, not so much our time on earth. We tend to think of our life on earth as the main part of our existence. But to God, our time on earth is merely the beginning of an eternal existence. It’s a drop in the bucket, a speck, a mere second compared to the rest of our existence in eternity. And it’s eternity that really matters. God’s purpose is to have as many people as possible freely join Him in heaven for eternity.

      So, considering God’s perspective, if someone dies early or dies a painful death and more people end up in heaven because of it, it is good. If a baby dies and goes to heaven rather than growing up to defy God and go to hell, that is good. If one person goes to hell and two end up in heaven because of that, it is good. We can’t see all of the effects of the things that happen here on earth, but God can. So until you can see with God’s perspective, you have no call to judge any of His actions.

      As for whether or not God is good, God must be good. For it is God who sets the standard. He is the Creator of all, and thus He makes the rules. So that which is in keeping with God’s nature and His will is inherently good while that which defies it is evil.

      We usually recognize evil instinctively because of the imprint of the image of God in our souls. Thus we know, for example, that suffering and pain are not good in themselves. These things are due to the fact that sinful humans choose evil and that this world is no longer perfect, and thus bad things happen – even to good people. But we can also recognize, when we pause to reflect, that even evil things may serve a higher purpose, an ultimate good.

      However, we are also capable of trying to make our own code of morality in contrast to the standard of God. And thus you sometimes get people who create try to measure God by their own standards. But any standard that finds God lacking is an erroneous standard because God IS the standard. He must be, by virtue of being Creator. The creation is supremely arrogant to think that he may find His Creator lacking. It is the Creator who determines if His creation is fulfilling the purpose for which He created it.


      1. Hi, Lindsay:

        >you aren’t recognizing that free will is an inherent good. It is, apparently, so good that it is worth all the suffering and evil that goes on so that some can freely choose God.

        But not at any cost. If we say something is valuable, but set no limit to its price, then it means nothing to say it is ‘valuable’. It is simply fixed. If there is no amount of suffering that can override the value of free will, then it is simply a feature that God put into creation. It means nothing to say it’s there because of its value if there is no way it can be unseated.

        Second, loving humans simply don’t value free will this much. When a person tries to commit suicide or murder, we stop them. God doesn’t. Why should we hold God to our definition of ‘loving’? If we say God isn’t bound by any definition of ‘loving’ other than himself, then it means nothing to say he is loving. So, choose a definition, but it has to be something other than God himself, or it means nothing.

        >you aren’t looking at how God’s persepctive differs from ours.

        But suffering just is the subjective experience of conscious creatures. To be a loving father, I have to consider how my actions and words affect my kid. Being perfect, God always could take our limited perspective into account. He could achieve his ends AND reduce our suffering. Give God some credit.

        >God is interested in eternity, not so much our time on earth.

        But a good life on earth followed by heaven is better than a miserable life on earth followed by heaven. We know God can give us both because millions of people have fulfilling lives.

        >If a baby dies and goes to heaven rather than growing up to defy God and go to hell, that is good.

        This is a form of suffering-denial. Happy endings don’t erase evil. If someone tortures me, but promises to take me out to dinner when it’s over, it’s still evil.



        1. I’ve already responded to most of these issues in a post above.

          I will point out that your analogy of someone torturing you and then taking you to dinner is not the same as what I am talking about. It is not necessary for someone to torture you in order to make it possible for them to take you to dinner. The two things are not related. What I’m talking about is when the suffering is necessary to bring a greater good.

          For example, if you have been shot and a bullet is in your chest, a doctor may have to cause you some pain while extracting the bullet in order to achieve the greater good of saving your life. The doctor could save you all that pain and suffering of having the bullet removed, but then you would die, which is worse. In a similar way, there are times when suffering is necessary to bring a greater good. The suffering of Jesus was necessary to allow people to be reconciled to God. The suffering of a child, even if we cannot see it, may be necessary to cause more people to go to heaven. My sorrow may well be necessary to bring me closer to God or to provide a witness to others and ultimately bring more people to God. We cannot see how events trigger others throughout history the way God can. So we can’t say for sure that any suffering is unnecessary. We simply don’t have the information to determine that.


          1. You know I was having a talk with a co-worker yesterday about the Dennis Prager male-female hour where he urged young people to marry before they were completely ready. He said you don’t have to have everything squared away before you can marry, and that your character will form better going through trials and sufferings TOGETHER. He said the relationship is going to be different by going through these things together than by going through them separately. Suffering together creates a bond.

            I think that this is a good analogy for the Christian life, too. The natural law theodicy says that a system of natural laws is necessary in order to make moral choices significant – because you can see cause and effect. God cannot intervene, or it will undermine this ability to make REAL moral choices, for good or for ill. What he can do is send his Son to undergo the same trials and temptations and sufferings, and then be present with us as we go through it. Just like marriage, the shared suffering makes the relationship more meaningful. And it also helps when you can show others that you are not a “fair-weather” Christian.

            I had a fun experience recently where I had to travel for some IT training. The instructor and I hit it off at the end of the course and then we went to lunch. It turned out that we were both in our 30s and both chaste. We talked about the experience of being chaste and how difficult it is to be a faithful Christian in these areas in a world like this one. We are not HAPPY about how hard it is to be Christian when no one likes that we are, and finding a mate is harder now. But neither of us thought that it was God’s job to DO ANYTHING about it, because we have our relationship with him in the midst of suffering. Here we are both of us respecting God’s character when we make our choices regardless of whether we are happy about the outcome. We do this out of respect for God, because we are in a relationship with him. The suffering and the continuous obedience and faithfulness in that suffering is what makes the relationship with God meaningful. I’m not a quitter, and neither was she. And I think that both of us were an encouragement to the other because we had both suffered and yet we had both kept God involved in our relationship decisions.

            If the idea of holding onto God when things don’t go our way seems awful to you, then you probably don’t have what it takes inside to be a Christian. Not everyone can do it.


          2. >What I’m talking about is when the suffering is necessary to bring a greater good.

            God is omnipotent and can do any logically possible thing. There is nothing logically necessary about Batten disease.

            In order to get God off the hook, believers have to limit his power in exactly the right way so that, in each instance of human and animal suffering in the whole history of the world, he could not have done any better. This obviates intercessory prayer. And it means God is a bystander, along for the ride. He weeps with us because he is locked in by his nature.

            But this is not the God of the Bible. Yahweh makes choices, so he is a moral agent. He’s not like gravity or the weather. He could do worse, and he could do better.


            >The suffering of Jesus was necessary to allow people to be reconciled to God

            Why? There is nothing logically impossible about God simply forgiving us. Jesus told us to forgive 70 times 7 times, without a blood sacrifice. If we can do it, God could do it.

            >So we can’t say for sure that any suffering is unnecessary. We simply don’t have the information to determine that.

            Right, so the question becomes: what is the right thing to do when we don’t have enough information? If I don’t know much about an airline or its pilot, by my values it’s wrong to go ahead and put my kids on board. I hold back. Likewise with surgeons and accountants and gods. When it matters, we certify. Likewise, CORNEA is not a reason to trust God. It is a reason to be agnostic.


          3. It’s YOUR burden of proof to show that God could achieve his purpose (greater knowledge of God and closer relationships with him) by allowing less suffering. You are making the claim he can, and I want to see your evidence for that claim.

            God isn’t limited by what he can and can’t do, he restrains from intervening in order to get the outcome he wants – just as parents hold back when they see their child struggling to skate or bicycle. We could stop them from falling, but we don’t, because we want them to do it themselves and learn how to do it and then praise them afterwards.

            If you think that any instance of evil X is pointless / gratuitous, then you have to show us the evidence for that. It’s not enough to say that I don’t see why God allowed it. You have to show that God could have achieved his goals the same or better while not allowing it. You’re making the claim, you have the burden of proof.

            Here are some reasons why we are NOT in a position to make those judgments by the late, great William Alston:

            Click to access The-Inductive-Argument-From-Evil-and-the-Human-Cognitive-Condition.pdf

            If we don’t have enough information to assess whether some evil is gratuitous or not, then we fall back on the arguments and evidence for Christian theism:

            – cosmological argument
            – contingency argument
            – ontological argument
            – cosmic fine-tuning
            – origin of life
            – molecular machines, e.g. – the ribosome
            – Cambrian explosion
            – galactic habitability
            – stellar habitality
            – planetary habitability
            – consciousness and intentionality
            – rationality
            – objective morality
            – minimal facts case for the resurrection
            – corroborated near-death experiences
            – specific instances of fulfilled prophecy
            – archaeological confirmation of the Bible
            and so on.

            And we also rest our hopes on the work of Jesus, because if Jesus can learn obedience through suffering, as the Bible says, then so can we. There is a point to it.


          4. Great point, WK: if God can allow His Son to suffer for a Greater Good, then really the other cases, i.e., human suffering, are moot. Super apologetic right there! As is your “burden of proof” argument.

            I’m still trying to find the Leibnitz argument that Don cites about him saying God has to live by a separate standard from Himself. It would be interesting to read, Don, if you can supply that for me. I did see where he addressed the problem of evil in a couple of ways, but I could not see where he had set up a necessary separate standard for God.

            Regardless, even if Leibnitz did conclude this, I see nothing in the Bible or in apologetic reasoning that would support such a statement, and much to contradict it.


          5. Yeah most Christians would say the standard of morality is rooted in God’s unchanging moral nature. That nature does not change, but it is internal to him.


          6. “In saying, therefore, that things are not good according to any standard of goodness, but simply by the will of God, it seems to me that one destroys, without realizing it, all the love of God and all his glory; for why praise him for what he has done, if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing the contrary?” DISCOURSE ON METAPHYSICS, G W Leibniz


          7. Don, that quote by Leibnitz is really out there. Leibnitz was clearly in need of some basic apologetics. But, again, the fact that Leibnitz was in error, does not mean that you have to be.

            I will appeal to a Higher Authority.

            Here’s one reason to praise God: He created you and you didn’t! If not, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. You can’t even trust your own Creator to know what is right and what is wrong?!?


    3. Don, (somewhere in this comment section) your second to last sentence states: “I’m an atheist, but I care about God.” This is the ultimate in self-refutation. I say this lovingly, not sarcastically: please look up the definition of the word “atheist,” and stop giving us former militant atheists a bad name. :-)


      1. >Here’s one reason to praise God: He created you and you didn’t!

        This is a non sequitur. Whether someone is worthy of praise depends on what I value. ‘Being a creator’ does not necessarily entail Goodness. Evil beings can create things. Hitler founded the Nazi party. That doesn’t mean he is worthy of praise.

        I fell for Yahweh because he was the first god I met. But when I got to know him, there were so many strangled kittens in his apartment things just didn’t look right.

        So, I dumped him, but I’m still open to God. I’m just spiritually celibate right now because I can’t even find a possible concept of god that is worthy of my devotion.


        1. ‘Whether someone is worthy of praise depends on what I value.’

          So, here you are clearly saying that you do not value yourself, because your Creator created you, yet He is not worthy of your praise.

          Don, I need to share a remarkable discovery with you: you are valuable, because God created you; otherwise He would not have. Furthermore, every blessing in your life – the blessings of your wife, your family, indeed, every breathe you take – would not exist had God not created you. It is the height of arrogance and ungratefulness to not acknowledge and be thankful to your Creator. (Indeed, in the Bible, it is the only unforgiveable sin.)

          Finally, the statement “God is unknowable” is self-refuting. So the position of “spiritual celibacy” is untenable.


  7. I have noticed in my atheist family that they constantly remind me of how much they are suffering – it’s all they seem to talk about – victimhood. It’s funny to me how atheists think that they are the only ones who suffer in this world. (I guess they missed all of the reports of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists persecuting Christians for their faith in this world. :-))

    On the other hand, when I was an anti-Christian, I was definitely “suffering in my worldview,” so maybe there is some truth to their argument – but for the wrong reasons. Perhaps, deep down, the atheist recognizes the hole in his soul and the resultant suffering. I guess I did: but I was always trying to fill it in the wrong places.


  8. WK, I’ve been reading your site for a while now, and I appreciate what you do. I especially appreciate your apologetic posts.

    However, I think you go a little far in this article when referring to Dan Brown. Not that you’re wrong about him at all, he did have a warped opinion of what being a Christian meant. However, I think you are going way to far on the other side when you say “avoid music, singing, and dancing…”. While we certainly agree that certain types of dancing are wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the other 3 things you mentioned. In fact, Paul commanded Christians to sing in several different places. Jesus himself and his apostles “sang a hymn” shortly before he was crucified. To tell people to avoid these things, in my opinion is wrong. The other these you mentioned (getting an education, apologetics, etc.) are VERY important, and I am not diminishing that. On the other hand, God created us with emotions for a reason, and they should not be avoided as long as we project then properly. It is not wrong (it might even be fitting) if we get caught up in the moment and shed a tear when singing a song about what Jesus did for us.


      1. Let’s do both – heart and mind. [Luke 10:27] Being passionate about apologetics is a heart thing too, but yes, we need tons of grace also. I do think that both our hearts and minds will be completely in awe in Eternity. Let’s start practicing on both now. (But, let’s PLEASE stop trying to re-create God in our own image by throwing away our brains and ignoring Truth.)


  9. Modern tests have shown that the only way a person can improve their long-term happiness is through adopting an attitude of thankfulness. I find it interesting that the Bible clearly promotes this idea and that science is only just starting to catch up. Just do a search of the word “thanks” in the KJV to see how important it is. For the studies, see http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

    God is the ultimate psychologist. As our creator, he knows what makes us tick. He knows what makes us happy. The world equates material comfort with happiness, but this is a lie. If you want to see proof of this, just watch an episode of “My Super Sweet 16”.


  10. It’s a disanalogy to compare God to human parents. If I could impart bike-riding knowledge to my kid without risk, I would do it. God’s omnipotence gives him all the logically possible options, most of which are closed to human parents.

    Such arguments make God too small, as if he can’t think of another way to teach us than for kids to suffer in burn centers.

    The other arguments for God WK mentioned don’t say God is Good. I don’t need godlike knowledge to be agnostic about his goodness. By my values, since I don’t know if God is good, I’m withholding my allegiance.

    Believers must believe, with Leibniz, that this world is the best God can do. If you can believe that, then you can believe Yahweh is Good. I find it deeply implausible that God, with his great powers, could not achieve his aims without pediatric brainstem gliomas.


    1. In fact, it seems we know he can do without childhood cancer: most kids don’t get it. Are they deprived of some wondrous lesson?

      At minimum, God doesn’t allocate His suffering equally. Should he? Not if he’s just a tyrant. But if he is to be called ‘loving’ or ‘fair’, he must meet some sort of standard.

      There are some traits that logically require suffering, like heroism. But heroism is not something we normally seek. It is something we are forced into. When an awful event occurs, we make the best of it. But to put people in a bind intentionally where they need to become a hero is abuse.


  11. Greater Good arguments all suffer from being abusive. At the very least, to be loving, God should ask us a kid if they want to die from their burns in exchange for early entrance into heaven. If God forces this deal on a kid, he’s an abuser.

    If we accept any treatment at all from God and say it is good, then ‘good’ means nothing. This is a logical issue, not simply a point of view offered by Leibniz or myself. If a condition is to have meaning, there must be a way to fail to meet it. If I say my checkbook balances no matter what, then it means nothing to say it is balanced.


  12. >I think the real issue is that you resent God having the authority.

    My attitudes are irrelevant to God’s character.

    But for the record, I accept many authorities. I accept gravity, for instance. But I wouldn’t accept it if it were a conscious being. It is heartless and pulls everything, rocks and infants alike, toward the earth at the same rate. If it were conscious, it would be evil. Since it’s not, I accept its authority.

    I don’t reject God because he is in authority. I reject him because he apparently abuses his authority. In America, we know this in our bones: that if a leader is not held accountable, he is merely powerful, not good. We want our leaders to have power so that they can lead, but only if they are also good. If they define ‘good’ to be ‘whatever the Leader does’, then they are abusing their power and anything goes.

    This is a logical constraint that applies even to God. If we love God, we will hold him to some standard.


    1. Uh, yes, Don, you have a SERIOUS problem with authority. If gravity were a human being, it would be evil, huh? Even if it keeps us from floating off into airless space? Maybe that is your problem: you can see the down side to authority, but not the up? (Pun intended.)

      At least be honest about it: you don’t want to be held accountable by anyone, even your Creator, if they don’t meet your “standards.” But, you are incapable of creating even a tiny speck of dirt out of nothing, so that makes you a better “judge” of what’s right and wrong?

      Plus, as Wintery already proved, you can’t ground morality, or anything else, on the atheistic worldview.


      1. > you can’t ground morality, or anything else, on the atheistic worldview.

        I’m arguing on Christianity, as if Yahweh is real, not on atheism. It is a fallacy to say “You can’t judge Yahweh on Christianity because, on atheism, there’s no way to ground morality.” That’s changing horses midstream.

        Whether I have a problem with authority says nothing about God’s character, which is the topic at hand. But for the record, I accept being held accountable to my wife, kids and employer.

        I’m simply withholding my allegiance to God until I have more assurance he is as good as he can be. If he could do better and does not, he plays favorites, and is probably at least partly evil. I can’t just go ahead and trust a God who allocates horrific suffering to some children and not others. I can’t love my neighbor and go along with that scheme, if it is optional for God.


      2. > Maybe that is your problem: you can see the down side to authority, but not the up?

        I can see the upside, but God’s positive traits are not at issue. A billion good deeds don’t justify one bad one. If Gandhi were to kill his wife, he’d go to jail.


        1. No Don, the down side to being held accountable by God and to being under His Authority is that you don’t get to make up the rules but you do have to follow them. He makes the rules, because He created you – something you could not even imagine yourself doing. The down side isn’t “I don’t like the rules He establishes.” It’s “I have to be held accountable and obedient to Someone Who is greater than me and Who created me.” Doesn’t it tick you off that you are so low that Someone else had to create you? Look how powerless you are, Don! If you can’t create yourself, why should I trust you to create “morality.”

          And again, Don, this is the third time it has been pointed out to you: you are saying that God is not moral. So the burden of proof is on you to prove it based on your position of atheism, not on my position of Christianity. Christians don’t have a hang up with God’s morality. (Who cares if Leibnitz can’t see it, I can? It seems you are more accountable to Leibnitz than to God.)

          Christians know that greater good can come from suffering. Look at the first responders on 9-11 who got so many people out of the towers yet perished, the Marine falling on a grenade to save his buddies, etc. What is so hard about this? I know the reason: it’s because you don’t get a front row seat to the decision-making on establishing the greater good, nor do you get to even KNOW the greater good sometimes. That REALLY ticks you off, doesn’t it?

          Haven’t you ever had anything happen in your life that you just “knew” was bad that later turned out to be a blessing in disguise? You missed the light, but that allowed you to miss the tornado too, or the accident up ahead? When you “knew,” you really didn’t “know,” did you? Maybe you aren’t quite as smart as your Creator. Can you accept that?

          I am still waiting on your reply to the self-refutation of your being an atheist who cares about God. Most atheists have the following position: “God doesn’t exist and I hate Him.” Or, as in my case, “God doesn’t exist, but I hate Christians anyway.” :-)

          You have refuted yourself. So, which one is it: atheist or theist? You can’t play both sides forever. At some point, you have to drive a stake into the ground and believe in something in this life. Are you an agnostic about your agnosticism, a skeptic about your skepticism? Do you really have enough faith to be an atheist? (I found out I didn’t, once I replaced Carl Sagan with God.)


  13. ” I recommend to men when I recommend that they study math, science, engineering and technology, avoid music, singing and dancing, and prefer apologetics and conservative politics over speaking in tongues and apocalyptic fiction.”

    So men are not allowed to be artists? What a bunch of non-sense.


      1. Amen, Wintery. Most male music majors I know are now “majoring” in video games in their parents’ basements. (The female ones wisely got married.) How about double majoring in engineering AND music, so if the glitzy guitar career doesn’t pan out, you can still not be a burden to society? Oh, but I forgot: we live in the age of food stamps, food stamp fraud, welfare fraud, and federal disability fraud. Never mind. :-)


    1. I interpreted that admonition in the context of pursuing a degree. The arts should be supplementary, not something to plan a vocation around. The quasi-lottery nature of success in the arts does not recommend them well for being relied upon as a vocation. And that’s speaking as one who did just that in college — I studied film, music, and spent most of my “working-time” as an actor in the theater.

      I love the example of “The Five” Russian composers, who mostly had traditional jobs, and were amateur composers, but they produced some really fine music. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Five_(composers)#Formation)

      My dad kept encouraging me to, instead, go into math or science, but that’s not where my “passion” was. If I had it to do again, I would NOT abandon the arts side, I’d just make it supplementary to a primary focus on math, science, or similar degree. Essentially, be a *true* Renaissance man!


    1. Jeff, what about this verse?

      1 Timothy 5:8:
      “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

      Ooop! Maybe instead of just stating your feelings as if they were facts, you could read the Bible, and do what it says instead.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s