Tag Archives: Suffering

If you accept Jesus and become a Christian, will God make you happy?

Navy SEAL Matthew "Axe" Axelson
Navy SEAL Matthew “Axe” Axelson

This is a wonderful, wonderful post from Amy Hall, who writes for the Stand to Reason blog.

She writes:

I had a brief interaction with an atheist on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that unexpectedly turned to the issue of suffering when she said:

You clearly never had a time you were hurt. I don’t mean sick. I don’t mean heart broken. I mean literally a near death experience or rape or abusive relationship…. You can keep floating on a [expletive] cloud thinking Jesus will do everything for you but it’s a lie. What makes you so special?

That surprised me at first because it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the tweet she was responding to, and I was confused as to why she would assume I’d never been through anything traumatic. But then in subsequent tweets, when she revealed she had been raped, it became clear that her trauma had played a central role in her becoming an outspoken, obviously angry “antitheist.” She’s a self-described antitheist now because she thinks Christianity teaches Jesus “will do everything for you” to give you a perfect life, and now she knows that’s a lie. The rape proved her understanding of Christianity false.

So it made sense for her to reason that since I believe Christianity is true, I must still be under the delusion that Jesus is making my life special, which means I obviously never encountered any evil or suffering to shake that delusion.

All right, readers. I don’t want any of you to be thinking that if you become a Christian that these things should be expected to happen:

  • you will feel happy all the time
  • you will be able to sense God’s secret plan for your life through your feelings
  • God’s secret plan for your life will automatically work, even though it’s crazy
  • God will give you a perfect spouse and lots of money without you having to do any work
  • you get permission to do things that that make you happy, even if they are expressly forbidden by the Bible
  • you don’t have to do anything that makes you feel bad (e.g. – go to work), because God wants you to be happy

No! Where do people get this idea that if they convert to Christianity, then God will become their cosmic butler?

Amy has the answer: (emphasis mine)

Hear me, everyone: This is a failure of the church.

A friend of mine who was deeply suffering once said to me that many Christians are in for “an epic letdown” when they realize their preconceived notions about what God is expected to do for us are false. Pastors who preach a life-improvement Jesus are leading people down this precarious path to disillusionment.

If suffering disproves your Christianity, you’ve missed Christianity. The Bible is filled with the suffering of those whom God loves. The central event of the Bible is one of suffering. Love involves suffering. “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” That means suffering.

It’s the church. It’s all the singing about happy things and having of happy feelings and happy preaching designed to make us feel good. I would say the comforting devotional reading doesn’t help to make us any tougher or more practical, either. People seem to use Bible study and devotion as a way to artificially create good feelings of happiness, peace and comfort, instead of just doing hard things to serve God. I don’t think it’s a “spiritual” Christian thing to read A. W. Tozer, etc. just so that you can feel comforted and spiritual. That stuff just gives you a false sense of safety about your precarious situation. God’s job is not to prevent you from suffering. In fact, even if you make really smart, practical decisions, you can expect to get creamed anyway.

Please take 15 minutes and read the book of 1 Peter in the New Testament.

Here’s a summary from GotQuestions.org:

Purpose of Writing: 1 Peter is a letter from Peter to the believers who had been dispersed throughout the ancient world and were under intense persecution. If anyone understood persecution, it was Peter. He was beaten, threatened, punished and jailed for preaching the Word of God. He knew what it took to endure without bitterness, without losing hope and in great faith living an obedient, victorious life. This knowledge of living hope in Jesus was the message and Christ’s example was the one to follow.

Brief Summary: Though this time of persecution was desperate, Peter reveals that it was actually a time to rejoice. He says to count it a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ, as their Savior suffered for them. This letter makes reference to Peter’s personal experiences with Jesus and his sermons from the book of Acts. Peter confirms Satan as the great enemy of every Christian but the assurance of Christ’s future return gives the incentive of hope.

Practical Application: The assurance of eternal life is given to all Christians. One way to identify with Christ is to share in His suffering. To us that would be to endure insults and slurs from those who call us “goodie two shoes” or “holier than thou.” This is so minor compared to what Christ suffered for us on the Cross. Stand up for what you know and believe is right and rejoice when the world and Satan aim to hurt you.

Recently, I blogged about how suffering is compatible with an all-powerful God, so you might want to read that too if you missed it.

What are some reasons why God might allow his creatures to suffer?

Lets take a closer look at a puzzle
Lets take a closer look at a puzzle

There’s an interesting article posted at Belief Map.

He sets up the possible reasons with a very good explanation of the structure of the argument. His explanation allows him to balance the existence of suffering with “greater goods”.

Most Christians can name some of the ones that he talks about: free will, character formation, etc.

But what about this quote from a section entitled “Worldly people turning to seek God is good”:

Seeking fellowship with God is a great good (especially in the context of eternity). This is relevant because, with less suffering, fewer would seek God. Indeed,

• “Religiosity declines as worldly prosperity of individuals rises.”[2005 WIN-Gallup International poll]1

• Studies confirm that Christianity grows most rapidly during hardships.2

• It is intuitively clear that suffering would lead us to turn to God.3

Eleonore Stump (Philosophy professor at Saint Louis): “Natural evil—the pain of disease, the intermittent and unpredictable destruction of natural disasters, the decay of old age, the imminence of death—takes away a person’s satisfaction with himself. It tends to humble him, show him his frailty, make him reflect on the transience of temporal goods, and turn his affections towards other-worldly things, away from the things of this world.” [“The Problem of Evil” Faith and Philosophy, 2 (1985): 409.]

A bit later, it says this:

This is not to say God causes suffering, or even that that God permits suffering to bring this about. It only says the world is better to at least some degree for God’s not preventing it for a time, and God’s knowing that could factor into overriding his reasons to prevent suffering.

For example:

• Peter van Inwagen: “If God did what is proposed, we should all be satisfied with our existence–or at least a lot closer to being satisfied than most of us are now. And if we are satisfied with our existence, why should we even consider turning to God and asking for His help? An essential and important component of God’s plan of Atonement—this constitutes an addition to our theodicy—is to make us dissatisfied with our state of separation from Him; and not by miraculously altering our values or by subjecting us to illusion or by causing us suffering that has no natural connection with our separation, but simply by allowing us to ‘live with’ the natural consequences of this separation, and by making it as difficult as possible for us to delude ourselves about the kind of world we live in: a hideous world, much of whose hideousness is quite plainly traceable to the inability of human beings to govern themselves to or order their own lives. Let us expand our theodicy: An essential part of God’s plan of Atonement for separated humanity is for human beings to perceive that a natural consequence of human beings’ attempting to order their own lives is a hideous world—a world that is hideous not only by His standards, but by the very standards they themselves accept.” [“The Magnitude, Duration, and Distribution of Evil: A Theodicy” Philosophical Topics Vol XVI, No. 2 (1988): 174.]


• Paul Moser (Philosophy professor at Loyola University Chicago): “We can make some sense, in Paul’s wake, of why a perfectly loving God would allow certain kinds of pain and suffering. This God, as perfectly loving, would be after something more valuable than human sensory pleasure and the satisfaction of worldly human wants. God would hope that people be liberated from deadly idols in virtue of trusting God as the authoritative Lord who provides genuine human security and contentment, come what may in this world. This divine hope could thus make good use of allowing pain and suffering among us rather than protecting us from all pain and suffering. This would be part of God’s redemptive judgment of human idols, by bringing them to noticeable futility, for the sake of reconciliation of humans to God in volitional fellowship with God. It would be judgment intended, at least characteristically, to correct humans from their reliance on futile idols and to restore them to their creator and sustainer in volitional fellowship.” [The Elusive God (Cambridge, 2008), 42.]

And even mentioned in Scripture itself:

• Psalm 119:71 — It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.

• Philippians 4:12-14 — I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

If you want to check out some of the other reasons, then click through and read the article here. I think it’s worth it to read something if I learn something new, and I found some new competing goods to God’s permission of suffering in the article. I like the references to academic work and the Bible, too.

Is Christianity intended to provide you with health, wealth and happiness?

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

I don’t have any friends who believe that Christianity is supposed to give them health, wealth and happiness. I mentor one girl from Africa, and she is always telling me that it is only Western Christians who think that suffering and evil is unexpected for Christians. Anyway, Lindsay shared this post about the so-called “prosperity gospel”, and so I am linking to it and excerpting something for me to comment on.

Here’s the post on the Gospel Coalition.

It says:

I am a pastor in a small village about 500 kilometers west of Nairobi—in Kenya’s sugar belt region. For the better part of my adult life, I was a Pentecostal/charismatic/Word of Faith preacher. But the day came when my faith made no sense at all.

I first heard the gospel as a young man, though the message contained false advertising about a Jesus who would meet all my needs and fulfill all my dreams. Remaining unsaved would lead to a life of misery, sickness, and poverty, I was told. It appeared logical, then, to embrace Christ and step into a world of limitless blessing.

I wanted all God had for me, and I zealously rose to become a herald of the message I had received—which I later learned is Word of Faith teaching some call the “prosperity gospel.” I knew of no other gospel. I believed God was good, and this meant nothing uncomfortable came from him.

I learned to deal with Satan for causing anything negative in my life. Spiritual warfare was ingrained in me. As part of the “God class,” as Word of Faith teachers say, I had absolute authority to create my own world through positive thinking and faith-based confessions.

I believed God’s will included health and wealth, which I could call into existence by faith. Anything less should be repudiated. If all else failed, I could engage the heavenly language of angels—praying in tongues—to bypass Satan and the hosts of darkness.

Do you believe any of that?

Well, the pastor goes on to explain all the terrible things that happened to him – and these are the most difficult experiences that can happen to anyone. How did he respond to God allowing all these bad things happening to him?

Well, pretty badly at first:

Without answers, we were dismayed with God, whose ways no longer made sense to us. Though faith became a mirage, we kept up appearances, trying to pretend we didn’t despair. Yet inwardly we felt doubtful, hopeless, even cursed.

How could we reconcile these bad things with a good God? Our Word of Faith teaching instructed us to dismiss Job’s suffering as a consequence of his negative confession: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21). But how could we make sense of Paul himself falling sick (Gal. 4:13) and yet rejoicing in his afflictions (2 Cor. 12:10)? How could we continue to reconcile this portrait with modern “super-apostles” who market health and wealth in their books, DVDs, and mega-meetings?

In my faith crisis and anger at God, I vowed to quit the ministry. I felt like a fraud for preaching a “gospel” that did not work. God had become an enigma, and faith a labyrinth. Yet the passage of time and the routine activities of Churchianity soothed our restless minds—for a while.

But then this happened:

My friend asked me to translate in Swahili as Billy delivered a message in English. The topic, “justification by faith alone through the imputed righteousness of Christ,” sounded ridiculous to me. Onstage for one awkward hour, I forced myself to deliver words I believed were unbiblical and heretical. But the sovereign Lord worked in my heart, calling forth reason through an inner witness to the truths proclaimed. The Holy Spirit planted sufficient doubt about the system I’d defended.

Over the next three weeks I felt tortured by God for my errors, which became apparent with every Bible text I once thought supported my beliefs. The same verses now looked different, affirming Billy’s message.

[…]Though I didn’t understand the fine points of theology, my conversion was decisive. Enthralled by Christ, who bids his own to “take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), I now felt that “the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).

I guess I should say the obvious – I have no idea how you would get the idea that you can coerce God into giving you health, wealth and prosperity. This is such an immature view of God. Anyone who has ever been involved in any kind of serious enterprise knows that the best people are the ones who stick to the mission through thick and thin, and just keep on fighting through the hunger, suffering, sickness and other setbacks. And that’s everywhere in the Bible. For goodness sake: Jesus was obedient to God to the point of suffering torture and giving his life as a sacrifice to save others from their rebellion against God. How do you get health, wealth and happiness from that?

But more than that, this makes me think of when I was young and first exposed to the Christian message. Far from being something that pushed me away from Christianity, the Bible’s message of suffering with honor, and doing the moral thing regardless of happy outcomes, really resonated with me. It is very real world. In this world, it is rare that doing the right thing works out for you. In fact, there should be some area of your life where you are missing something that you really want and need. Consider that a joy, because when you are poor and hungry sad and meek, that’s when you are most like the people in the Bible who had to experience these things while remaining faithful and obedient. For me, not being married and not being a father is my empty hole that will never be filled. I get asked about it a lot by my co-workers, and they know I am not happy about it, but they also know I am still faithful even if my needs are not met.

These are my two favorite passages in the Bible:

1 Corinthians 4:2:

1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.

4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

Matthew 5:13:

10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.

12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;

15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from suffering and evil. That’s part of the normal Christian life. And how you respond to lack and suffering and evil is a powerful signal to the watching world about what Christianity is all about. It’s not about feelings. It’s not about community. It’s not about impressing people with how much you know, or how accomplished you are, or how much stuff you have. It’s about putting truth above all, and learning obedience to God in Christ, no matter what happens to you.

From a practical point of view, I do recommend making good decisions so that you don’t experience unnecessary suffering, though. Be wise, but resolute. If you are careful to make yourself defensible to unexpected setbacks, not only will you be able to endure them, but you will be strong to help others endure them, too. The goal is to not let go of God because unmet desires and dashed expectations.

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

This is one of the top 4 best debates that William Lane Craig has done in my opinion. (The other three are Craig-Millican debate and the first and second Craig-Dacey debates).

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!

The MP3 file is here.

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


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

William Lane Craig debates Austin Dacey: Does God Exist?

Two tough rams butt heads, and may the best ram win!
Two tough rams butt heads, and may the best ram win!

Here is the video and summary of a debate between Christian theist William Lane Craig and Austin Dacey at Purdue University in 2004 about the existence of God.

The debaters:

The video: (2 hours)

The video shows the speakers and powerpoint slides of their arguments. Austin Dacey is one of the top atheist debaters, and I would put him second to Peter Millican alone, with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong in third place. This is the debate to show people who are new to apologetics. The debate with Peter Millican is better for advanced students, and that’s no surprise since he teaches at Oxford University and is familiar with all of Dr. Craig’s work. The Craig-Dacey debate is the one that I give to my co-workers.

By the way, you can get the DVDs and CDs for the first Craig-Dacey debate and the second Craig-Dacey debate and the second Craig-Sinnott-Armstrong debate. The Peter Millican debate is not available on DVD, but the link above (Peter Millican) has the video and my summary.

Dr. Dacey’s 5 arguments below are all good arguments that you find in the academic literature. He is also an effective and engaging speaker, This is a great debate to watch!

SUMMARY of the opening speeches:

Dr. Craig’s opening statement:

Dr. Craig will present six reasons why God exists:

  1. (Contingency argument) God is the best explanation of why something exists rather than nothing
  2. (Cosmological argument)  God’s existence is implied by the origin of the universe
  3. (Fine-tuning argument) The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life points to a designer of the cosmos
  4. (Moral argument) God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and objective moral duties
  5. (Miracles argument) The historical facts surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
  6. (Religious experience) God’s existence is directly knowable even apart from arguments

Dr. Dacey’s opening argument:

There are two ways to disprove God’s existence, by showing that the concept of God is self-contradictory, or by showing that certain facts about ourselves and the world are incompatible with what we would expect to be true if God did exist. Dr. Dacey will focus on the second kind of argument.

  1. The hiddenness of God
  2. The success of science in explaining nature without needing a supernatural agency
  3. The dependence of mind on physical processes in the brain
  4. Naturalistic evolution
  5. The existence of gratuitous / pointless evil and suffering

One final point:

One thing that I have to point out is that Dr. Dacey quotes Brian Greene during the debate to counter Dr. Craig’s cosmological argument. Dr. Craig could not respond because he can’t see the context of the quote. However, Dr. Craig had a rematch with Dr. Dacey where was able to read the context of the quote and defuse Dr. Dacey’s objection. This is what he wrote in his August 2005 newsletter after the re-match:

The following week, I was off an another three-day trip, this time to California State University at Fresno. As part of a week of campus outreach the Veritas Forum scheduled a debate on the existence of God between me and Austin Dacey, whom I had debated last spring at Purdue University. In preparation for the rematch I adopted two strategies: (1) Since Dacey had come to the Purdue debate with prepared speeches, I decided to throw him for a loop by offering a different set of arguments for God, so that his canned objections wouldn’t apply. I chose to focus on the cosmological argument, giving four separate arguments for the beginning of the universe, and on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. (2) I reviewed our previous debate carefully, preparing critiques of his five atheistic arguments. In the process I found that he had seriously misunderstood or misrepresented a statement by a scientist on the Big Bang; so I brought along the book itself in case Dacey quoted this source again. I figured he might change his arguments just as I was doing; but I wanted to be ready in case he used his old arguments again.

[…]The auditorium was packed that night for the debate, and I later learned that there were overflow rooms, too. To my surprise Dr. Dacey gave the very same case he had presented at Purdue; so he really got clobbered on those arguments. Because he wasn’t prepared for my new arguments, he didn’t even respond to two of my arguments for the beginning of the universe, though he did a credible job responding to the others. I was pleased when he attacked the Big Bang by quoting the same scientist as before, because I then held up the book, specified the page number, and proceeded to quote the context to show what the scientist really meant.

Dr. Craig is always prepared!