God vs suffering

Over at the other blog, we’re wrapping up William Lane Craig’s attempt to look like he’s solving the problem of evil without actually confronting the real issues. Interestingly, one of his arguments suggests that the problem may be unsolvable by evangelical Christians.

Craig’s argument is that God might have a good reason for allowing human suffering, if it allows us to attain a better knowledge of Himself. According to Christian teaching, the Ultimate Good for mankind is to know God, and therefore it’s possible that a good God might co-exist with human suffering (which Craig has substituted for the more difficult problem of evil). But even if we assume that knowing God is a good thing, there’s nothing about this assumption that makes God any more likely to co-exist with suffering, and in fact makes it a whole lot less likely. See below the fold for the reason why.

God does not show up in real life. Nobody has any photographs of His face, or any audio recordings of His voice. You can’t overhear God speaking to someone else, or catch Him on a security camera as He walks down the street. God, in short, does absolutely nothing to show up for that intimate, personal, one-on-one relationship that He allegedly wanted so bad He was willing to literally die for it.

Christians don’t like to admit that He is absent. They claim to have a direct experience of God, spiritually; that God comes into their hearts in some mystical way and works in them and through them to inspire their hearts with love and their minds with a deeper understanding of Himself. And that totally demolishes Craig’s argument, because it involves God imparting both knowledge and experience of Himself directly to the believer.

What that means is that even if the knowledge of God were the ultimate good, God would not be restricted to imparting that knowledge through suffering alone. He would have other channels available to Him—better channels, in fact, since people are prone to misinterpret the significance of worldly and materialistic happenstances. Consequently, if Christians are not lying to us about God coming into their hearts and communing with them, the desirability of knowing God only decreases the probability that He would resort to sin and suffering to cruelly and imperfectly communicate it.

You can’t explain this away by appealing to the doctrine of sin nature. If God could achieve ultimate goodness by directly imparting knowledge of Himself, then that whole Garden of Eden story is unnecessary: all God needs to do is intervene before Eve bites. Just impart knowledge of the truth to her directly, and cut straight to the good results without the pointless meanderings through sin, evil, and suffering.

Nor can you evade this problem by arguing that God is mysteriously unable to impart vital knowledge of Himself directly. We’re supposed to be His creatures, made in His own image, so if we lack the capacity to receive this essential knowledge of God, it’s because He chose not to give it to us. You have to argue that there is some fundamental necessity which prevents even God from direct communication with us, which is going to be tricky to do without also making liars out of all the Christians who claim to have any kind of spiritual experience of God. And then you’re going to have to explain why sin, suffering, and evil, are better at communicating this vital information about God than God Himself is.

Yeah, good luck with that.


  1. sailor1031 says

    I still fail to understand why people can’t accept that good things happen and bad things happen and it depends on luck or planning not some deity.

    “…..without also making liars out of all the Christians who claim to have any kind of spiritual experience of God….”
    What evidence is there, pray tell, that any spiritual experience christians have is with “god” rather than Thor, Zeus, Wotan, Glooskap, Ahura Mazda, Ganesh, Jizo, satan or any other totally non-present entity? My belief is it’s just endorphin rush!

    • davidcortesi says

      The people to whom you refer are committed, a priori, to the idea that they have a personal relationship to (their idea of) god, and that the events of their lives are directed by a plan of god’s.

      In order to continue enjoying the emotional comfort — I believe that is the benefit — of those two axioms, they have to find some way to interpret every event as according with god’s will.

      I have never forgotten how a female relative wrote an effusive, almost giddily happy email to everyone she knew, expressing her joy and gratitude to God that her husband’s cancer had turned out to be non-mestastisized and operable. She was obliviously and un-selfconsciously saying, “Thank you Jesus for giving him only a little cancer.”

  2. Coragyps says

    The only folks I’m admitting to the interior of my heart are going to be cardiologists or their minions. And I expect I’ll be a little hesitant about letting them in.

  3. DagoRed says

    …and yet another convoluted case of special pleading for WLC’s ever diminishing view of a far-less-than-all-powerful God. The more I hear from Bill about his concept of God, the more I am convinced that Bill simply worships George Burns.

  4. jakc says

    The problem of evil pre-dates Christianity, but the Christians have upper the odds by making God omniscient/omnipotent/omnibenevolent. As a result, as noted in your blog and elsewhere, evil can really only be explained by limiting some omni quality of God, despite 1500+ years of serious effort. The real solution is the big hole solution (what do you do when you find yourself in a big hole? Stop digging). It’s not a solution theists can accept though (sadly). Compare that to science. Scientists working on the speed of light problem in the 19th Century. They assumed aether was needed for light to travel as a wave in a vacuum, but kept needing more complicated explanations as to why they couldn’t detect it. Einstein finally just discarded the aether – didn’t refute, just realized he could explain everything without it. If only our Christian brethern could do the same, and realize that the problem is not why is there evil but what to do about it.

    • DagoRed says

      “The problem of evil pre-dates Christianity,…”

      Agreed, but ‘The problem of Evil’ does really trace a hard beginning to the start of modern Judaism (i.e. near 516BCE/second temple era/post-Babylonian captivity) when the true Abraham-monotheistic God first began being worshiped. Polytheistic religions really don’t have any Problem-of-Evil issues at all.

      “but the Christians have upped the odds by making God omniscient/omnipotent/omnibenevolent….evil can really only be explained by limiting some omni quality of God,”

      Exactly. Eventually, Monotheism philosophically demands a perfect God (the “3xomni-” definition of Christians, I think, was merely intended as a poetic way of defining God as perfect). Without God being perfect, monotheism regularly degrades back to polytheism again (which is exactly what the early Jewish people during the centuries of the First Temple era experienced — insistence of monotheism without perfection merely established henotheistic forms of polytheism). Without the insistence that the “one true” god is also perfect, people are free to disagree with God, and invent other Gods who “correct” the perceived imperfections and you are back to polytheism again.

      But, then, if a monotheistic god is successful with insisting in perfection of God, the question of how can evil exist arises. It really is a classic catch-22 for believers of monotheistic religions — their whole basis of faith in a one-God faith philosophically fails no matter which way they choose to define their god.

  5. says

    We bring on much of our own suffering by not listening to what our body and mind is telling us and paying close attention to the environment we live in. Most all of it is stress related and living a unbalanced life style. Each person must find their own level of understanding to make choices for themselves. What works for others may not work for you. Take on some responsibility to make your own choice to see what best suits your life style. Its what you were given a brain for. Don’t bug God with it. He/she wrote the law and it applies that same to all. Grow up and take responsibility for your own thoughts and action. We all suffer from something because some things in life are not good for us. We could avoid a lot of suffering with proper education instead of relying on faith alone. If faith alone would heal then why do we have healing herbs and plants? Craig we’re just gonna write you off as a willful ignorant scared little man and move on with life. If you ever change your mind and realize that science and atheists are part of a packaged deal we will be around.

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