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The Problem of Pain

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

By Luke Lancaster

Many people are disturbed at the fact that evil exists in the world. If God is all-good and all-loving, why would there be evil? There are gangsters, diseases, starvations, cancers, and all sorts of terrible things taking place on this earth. Even little children suffer! What does Christianity have to say about these things? Three points need to be grasped to understand this issue.

The first thing that needs to be considered is the fact that freedom of choice is a good thing. If God is all-good, then his creation of man would involve giving him the freedom to choose good or evil. Otherwise, God's creation would be a puppet forced to do good. God wants mankind to love him and all other created things, however, mankind has been endowed with the gift of freedom to choose. Ultimately, the cause for evil is man. God does not actively desire evil, but only allows it, because he gave the gift of choice.

A second point to understand is that God might have a good reason for allowing evil and suffering in the world. What if God brings a greater good from the suffering of this world? God can see all of the inner workings of the world and all of the ripple-effects from each action in a far more profound way than a single person can. Oftentimes when humans experience sufferings it wakes them up to the temporality of this life. They often start to pray to God and reform their lives. If God has the ultimate goal of bringing people to conversion, repentance, and eternal life, then suffering and evil might aid in bringing about that goal. God might even allow a person to die at an early age if he saw that later in life that man would lose his soul through evil. So, when suffering confronts us, Christians need not wonder if God exists. Rather, they need to ask themselves four questions. In the words of John Eldredge, "What are you (God) trying to teach me here? What issues in my heart are you trying to raise through this? What is it you want me to see? What are you asking me to let go of?" (Wild at Heart, p. 105). God brings greater goods out of sufferings and evils. As St. Paul says, "All things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28).

A great example of this point about suffering is in the biblical story of Joseph in Genesis. Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, and as a young man, he had dreams at night that implied that his older brothers would serve him one day. His brothers immediately took this as pride on Joseph's part, and were insulted by it. They also were jealous of their father's preference for Joseph. So, the brothers, led by Judah, sold Joseph into slavery. Joseph found himself in Egypt and slowly over time rose to the highest rank, literally second in command to Pharaoh. Joseph then gathered large counts of food together to ensure that the people would not starve when a famine would occur. A famine then came and thousands of people survived it because of Joseph. What had appeared to have been a great suffering for Joseph turned out to have become one of the greatest blessings for him (and for thousands of others).

The third aspect that needs to be reckoned with is that the very notion of evil presupposes the existence of God. Humans recognize a moral code within their consciences. They see that some things are good, and some things are evil. If God did not exist, then there would be no good or evil. Everything would be relative and subjective. Every person would be only concerned about his or her own evolutionary survival, and immaterial notions of good and evil would have no basis. God is goodness itself and is the authoritative reference point for deciding whether anything is good or evil. To claim that evil exists presupposes that God exists.

Free will exists and is the reason for evil. God allows evil for some good to come out of it, which only a God outside of time can fully understand. To make a moral judgment about evil presupposes the existence of goodness. God's nature is goodness. Without God, then every person would be just a clump of cells concerned for its own survival and would care less about the evils happening thousands of miles away. Yet that is not the case. God exists and is even proved to exist when humans get upset about evil. For without God, then there would be no logical reason to get upset about evil.

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