Tag Archives: Suffering

Does the Bible teach that Christians should expect happiness or suffering?

Is God your cosmic butler? Do you just ring a bell to summon him so that he can give you whatever you want? Let’s see what the Bible teaches in the book of 1 Peter. Peter is writing to all the Christians who are spread out all over the place, trying to survive in a world that doesn’t care much about things that they think are meaningful.

Pay attention to these verses:

1 Peter 1: 3-7:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,

who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Suffering is normal and expected.

1 Peter 2:6-8:

 For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”

and,

“A stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

Rejection by “those who do not believe” is normal and expected.

1 Peter 2:18-24:

18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.

19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.

20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.

21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

When people attack you personally for being a Christian, you don’t retaliate against them.

1 Peter 3:14-18:

14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

Jesus sets the example for Christians of being willing to suffer for obedience to God.

1 Peter 4:1-5:

1Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.

As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.

They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.

But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

The normal Christian life involves some non-Christians heaping abuse on you, precisely because you don’t participate in their sins, or celebrate their sins. For example, attending or participating in a same-sex marriage ceremony.

1 Peter 4:12-19:

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.

16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Christians who experience shame and/or suffering at the hands of some non-Christians for obeying God, are imitating Christ. They should expect to be vindicated, just as Christ was vindicated through his resurrection.

1 Peter 5:5-6:

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

Authentic Christianity involves obeying God’s commandments, and defending God’s truth claims and moral values. It doesn’t mean virtue signaling to Christians, (or non-Christians, which seems very popular these days among pious Christian leaders). Humility means thinking of yourself less, and comparing yourself to others less. Just do your job as a Christian, and don’t think about what it says about you. To anyone. What people think of you doesn’t matter.

Look at 1 Corinthians 4:1-5:

1 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.

My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Christianity isn’t there for you to use to make yourself happier, or to make other people like you. You’re not supposed to agree with non-Christians so that they like you. That’s missing the entire point of Jesus’ example. Jesus obeys God. Some non-Christians get mad at him. Some non-Christians shame Jesus, and make him suffer, for obeying God. God vindicates Jesus. That’s the plan. You’re supposed to follow that plan, not make up some other compromise and virtue signal plan!

By the way, in no way am I telling Christians to be impractical. You should be as smart as you can, work as hard as you can, and save as much money as you can, in order to make your shame and suffering bearable, without compromising your principles. For example, you could try to make a network of like-minded friends who can support one another when you become a target. You can donate to organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal group that defends Christians from persecution by the secular left.

But just understand that being rejected, and being mistreated, is part of the normal, authentic Christian life. You’re not supposed to agree with non-Christians, or celebrate them, or affirm them, in order to escape feeling shame, and suffering persecution. I don’t know how people can read the Bible and not understand what the life of Jesus means. We’re supposed to follow Jesus.

William Lane Craig debates Walter Sinnott-Armstrong: evil, suffering and God

Two bears fight it out, and may the best bear win!
Two bears fight it out, and may the best bear win!

This is one of the top 4 best debates that William Lane Craig has ever done in my opinion. (The other three are Craig-Millican debate and the first and second Craig-Dacey debates). If you’ve never seen Dr. Craig in a debate with a non-Christian, this one is probably the best introductory one out there. Dr. Craig is the foremost defender of Christian theism on the planet, and probably of all time.

Sinnott-Armstrong is very courteous, respectful and intelligent scholar and he is very good at defending his side. This is a very cordial and engaging debate, and because it was held in front of a church audience, it was targeted to laymen and not academics. So if you are looking for a good first debate to watch, this is it! Normally, Dr. Craig debates at major universities in front of students and faculty.

There is also a book based on this debate, published by Oxford University Press. I was actually able to find a PDF of it online. I should also remind people that you can get the wonderful Craig-Hitchens debate DVD from Amazon.com if you are looking for a debate to watch, or show in your church, this is the one to start with.

The debaters:

The format:

  • WSA: 15 minutes
  • WLC: 15 minutes
  • Debaters discussion: 6 minutes
  • Moderated discussion: 10 minutes
  • Audience Q&A: 18 minutes
  • WSA: 5 minutes
  • WLC: 5 minutes

SUMMARY:

WSA opening speech:

Evil is incompatible with the concept of God (three features all-powerful, all-god, all-knowing)

God’s additional attributes: eternal, effective and personal (a person)

He will be debating against the Christian God in this debate, specifically

Contention: no being has all of the three features of the concept of God

His argument: is not a deductive argument, but an inductive/probabilistic argument

Examples of pointless, unjustified suffering: a sick child who dies, earthquakes, famines

The inductive argument from evil:

  1.  If there were an all-powerful and all-good God, then there would not be any evil in the world unless that evil is logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
  2.  There is evil in the world.
  3.  Some of that evil is not logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
  4. Therefore, there can’t be a God who is all-powerful and all-good.

Defining terms:

  • Evil: anything that all rational people avoid for themselves, unless they have some adequate reason to want that evil for themselves (e.g. – pain, disability, death)
  • Adequate reason: some evils do have an adequate reason, like going to the dentist – you avoid a worse evil by having a filling

God could prevent tooth decay with no pain

God can even change the laws of physics in order to make people not suffer

Responses by Christians:

  • Evil as a punishment for sin: but evil is not distributed in accordance with sin, like babies
  • Children who suffer will go straight to Heaven: but it would be better to go to Heaven and not suffer
  • Free will: this response doesn’t account for natural evil, like disease, earthquakes, lightning
  • Character formation theodicy: there are other ways for God to form character, by showing movies
  • Character formation theodicy: it’s not fair to let X suffer so that Y will know God
  • God allows evil to turn people towards him: God would be an egomaniac to do that
  • We are not in a position to know that any particular evil is pointless: if we don’t see a reason then there is no reason
  • Inductive evil is minor compared to the evidences for God: arguments for a Creator do not prove that God is good

WLC opening speech:

Summarizing Walter’s argument

  1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
  2. Gratuitous evil exists.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.

Gratuitous evil means evil that God has no morally sufficient reason to permit. WSA doesn’t think that all evil is incompatible with God’s existence, just gratuitous evil.

Everyone admits that there are instances of evil and suffering such that we cannot see the morally sufficient reason why God would allow it to occur.

The claim of the atheist is that if they cannot see that there is a moral justification for allowing some instance evil, then there is no moral justification for that instance of evil.

Here are three reasons why we should not expect to know the morally sufficient reasons why God permits apparently pointless evil.

  1. the ripple effect: the morally sufficient reason for allowing some instance of evil may only be seen in another place or another time
  2. Three Christian doctrines undermine the claim that specific evils really are gratuitous
  3. Walter’s own premise 1 allows us to argue for God’s existence, which means that evil is not gratuitous

Christian doctrines from 2.:

  • The purpose of life is not happiness, and it is not God’s job to make us happy – we are here to know God. Many evils are gratuitous if we are concerned about being happy, but they are not gratuitous for producing the knowledge of God. What WSA has to show is that God could reduce the amount of suffering in the world while still retaining the same amount of knowledge of God’s existence and character.
  • Man is in rebellion, and many of the evils we see are caused by humans misusing their free will to harm others and cause suffering
  • For those who accept Christ, suffering is redeemed by eternal life with God, which is a benefit that far outweighs any sufferings and evils we experience in our earthly lives

Arguing for God in 3.

  1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
  2. God exists
  3. Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist.

Four reasons to think that God exists (premise 2 from above):

  • the kalam cosmological argument
  • the fine-tuning argument
  • the moral argument
  • the argument from evil

Should we expect to know what God’s reason is for allowing evil and suffering?

Here is an article by Steven Cowan about the problems of evil and suffering.

Intro:

The problem of evil is no doubt the most serious challenge to belief in God. Even religious believers find it troubling that evil exists in the world—and so much evil! It is puzzling, to say the least, that an all-powerful, absolutely good being would allow evil to exist in his creation. And yet it does. Evil and suffering exist and they are often overwhelming in their magnitude.

Now let’s find out what a noseeum is, and how it relates to the existence of evil and suffering:

However, perhaps God’s existence is incompatible with a certain kind of evil that exists. For example, the atheist William Rowe has argued that God’s existence is inconsistent with pointless or gratuitous evil. By “pointless evil,” Rowe means evil that does not and cannot serve a greater good. And Rowe believes that there is such pointless evil in the world. He thus concludes that God does not exist. Rowe’s argument may be simply stated as follows:

  1. If God exists, there would be no pointless evil.
  2. There is pointless evil.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.

[…]But, is there pointless evil in the world? Rowe thinks there is. To show that there is pointless evil, Rowe introduces what he calls the “noseeum inference.” Like the pesty little bugs that some readers may be familiar with, a “noseeum” is something that you cannot see—it is a “no-see-um.” And a noseeum inference is a conclusion drawn on the basis of what one does not see. The basic structure of all noseeum inferences looks like this:

  1. I cannot see an x.
  2. Therefore, there probably is no x.

We all make noseeum inferences everyday of our lives. Every time I go to cross a street, I look both ways and I step out into the street only after I “no-see-um” a car coming.

[…]Rowe applies this kind of noseeum reasoning to God and evil. Rowe suggests that if we cannot see a reason for a particular instance of evil, then there is probably not a reason. Suppose we hear about a very young child who is tortured to death to amuse some psychotic person. We think about this event and we examine all the circumstances surrounding it. No matter how hard we try, we cannot see any good reason why this child had to suffer the way she did. Since we cannot see a reason why God would allow this child to suffer, there probably is not a good reason—the child’s suffering was pointless. Of course, Rowe would be quick to point out that he is not speaking merely hypothetically. There are cases like this in the news every day—real-life cases in which we shake our heads in frustration, wondering why God would allow such a thing.

Is Rowe correct in his conclusion? Do such examples prove that there is pointless evil in the world? I don’t think so. To see why, we must recognize that noseeum inferences are not all created equal. Some noseeum inferences, as we have seen, are reasonable and appropriate. But, many are not. Suppose I look up at the night sky at the star Deneb and I do not see a planet orbiting that star. Would it be reasonable for me to conclude that there is no planet orbiting Deneb? Of course not. Suppose that using the best telescopes and other imaging equipment presently available, I still cannot see a planet around Deneb. I would still be unjustified in concluding that there was no such planet.

In that example, the planet is the noseeum. Just because you look really hard, you can’t be confident that the planet is not there. And similarly with the problem of evil and suffering, looking really hard and finding no reason does not mean that there is no reason. It just means that you are not in a good position to see the reason. You don’t know enough to to be sure that there is no reason, because of your limitations as a human being.

To know that any given instance of evil or suffering is gratuitous/pointless requires a high level of knowledge. How much knowledge? Well, consider this paper by the late William Alston of Syracuse University, who lists six problems with the idea that humans can know that any particular instance of evil and suffering is gratuitous. (You can get the PDF here)

According to the paper, human beings just do not have the capability to know for certain that God has NO morally sufficient reason for allowing any particular instance of evil and/or suffering. God’s morally sufficient reason is a noseeum. To know for sure that there is no reason, we would need to have more knowledge than we do.

Also, remember that on the Christian view, the good aim that God has is NOT to make humans have happy feelings in this life, regardless of their knowledge, wisdom and character. That’s what atheists think, though. They think that God, if he exists, is obligated to make them feel happy all the time. They don’t think that God’s goal is being actively involved in forming their knowledge, wisdom and character. God has a purpose – to work in the world so that everyone who can freely respond to him will respond to him. The Bible says that allowing pain and suffering is one of the ways that he gets that group of people who are willing to respond to respond to him – FREELY. To be able to claim that evil is gratuitous, the atheist has to show that God can achieve his goal of saving all the people he wants to save while permitting less suffering in the world. And that is a very difficult thing for an atheist to show, given our human cognitive limitations.