Making sense of evil and suffering within a Christian worldview

One thing I’ve noticed in talking to atheists who grew up in Christian homes is that they often leave their Christian worldview behind because of a disappointment with God. For some reason, they get this idea that God is our cosmic butler. We can do whatever we want in order to be happy, and if we want any help in this, then we just ring for him. When we encounter disappointment, our tendency is to just leave God behind.

Paul Copan explains the high points of the problems of evil and suffering in 17 minutes. (H/T Apologetics 315)

The MP3 file is here.

The video is here:

Topics:

  • the question itself reveals that we are moral beings
  • the problem of evil is the great interrupter of human well-being
  • every philosophy of life has to address this question
  • is God required to give us a life that is easy and comfortable?
  • evil is a departure from good, i.e. – the way things ought to be
  • a way things ought to be implies a plan for what ought to be
  • human evil implies a plan for the way we ought to be
  • free creatures have the ability to deviate from the plan
  • where does this plan for the universe and us come from?
  • how can there be a way we ought to be come from?
  • evil is the flip side of good so where does good come from?
  • God’s own moral nature is the standard of good and evil
  • where does evil from natural disasters come from?
  • how dangerous natural phenomena preserve Earth’s habitability
  • there is a benefit from tectonic activity
  • similarly, God lets humans freely choose knowing harm may result
  • people are free to try to find meaning in something other than God
  • God is able to use negative things to bring about positive results
  • e.g. – when good people suffer, they can comfort and care for others
  • can people be good enough on their own without God?

I do think it’s worth thinking about whether the New Testament portrays God as our cosmic butler, just waiting on us hand and foot so that we can be happy. Personally, I think you’d have to be crazy to get that impression of God from the Bible. Especially from the life of Jesus, who suffers in order to do the will of his Father. Wouldn’t it be funny if atheists were disbelieving in a God of their own making? Suffering in the pursuit of goodness has always been the center of the Christian life. I’m not sure where people get this idea that God’s job is to make us happy, according to our own desires. Seems kind of shallow. Certainly not Biblical. Do people even read the Bible any more to find out what God is really like? Maybe that’s the problem.

If you want to read two good books for beginners on Christian Apologetics that cover a range of intermediate issues, then pick up “Passion Conviction” and the companion “Contending With Christianity’s Critics”. Awesome, awesome resources. The Kindle editions can often be had for $3 each on Amazon.

5 thoughts on “Making sense of evil and suffering within a Christian worldview”

  1. The issue with discussing “evil” (and morality) with theists is that “evil” is a religious concept; outside of religion evil is just another word for bad person or bad intentions. They think morality and “evil” only exist in theistic reality because they only know reality from a theistic point of view, when actually, people are just bad and immoral sometimes, which is not a supernatural thing.

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    1. Right on a non theistic view of the universe, morality is reduced to opinions that vary across by individual preferences. So atheists have no way of declaring anything to be moral or immoral in any objective sense. Instead they just say that they personally prefer abortion or they personally prefer divorce or they personally prefer adultery. There no design for how humans ought to be in an accidental universe. Atheists make up how they ought to be without any objective standard.

      Atheist William Provine says atheists have no free will, no moral accountability and no moral significance:

      Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.

      Source: http://www.arn.org/docs/orpages/or161/161main.htm

      Atheists Michael Ruse says atheists have no objective moral standards:

      The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.(Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

      Atheist Richard Dawkins says atheists have no objective moral standards:

      In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995))

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  2. I’ve never thought of it the way you put it, that people expect God to be their “cosmic butler”, and feel entitled to a strife free existence. It does seem kind of shallow and entitled to feel that you should demand a life free of any hardship, or a world for that matter. I feel as to natural disasters and unfortunate events that cause great suffering outside human control to really be amoral. Morality is a human construct adhered to by humans who have free will to enact such a moral code. Nature is not “out to get you” or enjoys the suffering of people when natural disasters strike us. Many natural disasters and bad luck are random processes, a sequence of events unfolding like the weather, or plate tectonics for example that simply happen, but have no real “purpose”. Saying God is evil for allowing nature to do its own thing seems unfair, as nature is amoral, it has no consciousness in which to inflict malice and have malicious intent upon anyone. Natural disasters are only “bad” because they inconvenience us humans, who think we’re entitled to dominate the world and everything is inclined to help or hurt us in this bout of teleological thinking better suited for a five year old! We put a value judgement on completely neutral amoral natural processes and decided it was a manifestation of “evil”, as if evil is some sort of phenomenon outside human invention. Evil can only exist in a moral code which humans adhere to within human society, it’s not a “thing” all by itself. Things like cancer, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, etc… are not “evil”, they’re just inconvenient to humanity. Evil is not simply things that can cause suffering, there has to be malicious intent behind what happened. I assume the question why God put suffering in the world is a different question…
    Now, if God intentionally put those things in our world to inflict suffering, then I will say that that is an act of malice, but if it was simply nature, then it isn’t any more “evil” than accidentally stubbing your toe! I think the bigger question is why did God allow humans to be evil to each other? or if God directly controls every disaster, tragedy and misfortune in the world, why would He do that if he is omnibenevolent? I think it is a matter of one, can one control what happened? and two, what was the intention behind it? If God inflicts pain and suffering Himself on people, then I’d easily say it’s wrong regardless of him being some all-powerful being. If that is the case, He is not omnibenevolent, especially if he is also all-powerful. Another way to look at it, is God morally responsible for the evil humans inflict on each other since he created them, or does the blame for evil on God only apply to acts He does Himself? God could have created humans to be morally good 24/7 and incapable of evil, but he didn’t. Was that immoral in of itself?, or since God cannot control an agent with free will of its own, one could argue he is not responsible for evil committed by humans. but still, why did he create humanity to be capable of evil if he is omnibenevolent?
    If God genuinely cannot fully control the problem of evil, then I don’t hold him to blame for evil existing, but that would mean he is not all-powerful, which apparently is a big deal to Christians. So, I see it, God is either omnibenevolent, but does not have the power to stop all evil, or is omnipotent but not omnibenevolent, as evil does exist. I don’t judge God for the problem of evil if He genuinely could not control all forms of evil from being in the world, but I do think it is morally wrong for an all-powerful God to allow evil but claim to also be omni-benevolent or not accountable Himself for making the moral decision to let evil into the world.
    https://aladyofreason.wordpress.com/

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  3. > Do people even read the Bible any more to find out what God is really like? Maybe that’s the problem.

    Nailed it.

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  4. There was a perfect creation once of the angelic realm and we find it recorded how Lucifer a high angel took a third of the angels to follow him on another path. So perfection doesn’t always mean you will make perfect choices just because no evil is around.

    When God made humans he created perfection with an ability to fall to some level and know a separation from God. With that choice made by man we entered into our current world with the fall.

    My view is after seeing the evil of this world and we enter into eternal perfection. The worst pain of this world will seem as nothing in perspective. Compared to life apart from God.

    At the same time I can talk see any chance of people choosing to rebel against God after having even a slight taste of what being hidden or separated from God even means.

    That last bit is only my view so it may be discarded because I have no doctrine to prove the why God did this but it seems logical to me

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