So the problem goes like this. If there is a tri- omni God. That means a God who is omnipotent (All-powerful, able to do literally everything), omniscient (All- knowing, knows everything, all thoughts, all knowledge, and most importantly exactly what is going to happen) and Omnibenevolent (All – loving, loves and cares for everything in the fullest sense of the word possible). So, if there is this God, How can there be pain and suffering in the world? The argument (made popular by Hume) goes, that one of the omni’s would have to drop:
- He is not Omnipotent – God loves everyone and knows that pain would happen, but is powerless to stop it
- He is not omniscient – God loves everyone but when he created things, didn’t know how they would turn out and things have turned out badly (So really he isn’t omnipotent)
- He is not omnibenevolent – God knows that pain and suffering will, have and do happen. He has the power to end all suffering on the earth but chooses not to because he doesn’t love us.
Hume’s Problem of Suffering
If God were truly all powerful and all loving, he would end suffering, but he doesn’t so either he is evil, or he is powerless to stop it. Now this was a philosophy that was put forward to disprove God a while ago. However since then philosophers have apparently move on. It doesn’t really disprove God. This is because it assume we know what it would be like to be all knowing, all loving and all powerful. It says, Why would this God allow suffering to happen? Then assumes that because we humans can’t think up an answer that there must not be an answer and if there is no answer then there cannot be a God like this. But this is a massive assumption, it could easily be possible that God knows exactly what he is doing, he has the full power to end suffering and he is simply doing it the best possible manner that anyone could do. We’re simply human so there is no way we’d be able to fully understand that. So it doesn’t disprove God. So why do people still ask the question again and again when talking to us Christians? In fact, why do Christians still have a massive problem with this? I know full well that there are many times Christians get angry at God for allowing certain things to happen. Even C.S Lewis who wrote a book dealing with this question in, A problem of Pain, started to doubt that God was a nice God after his wife died of cancer in the book, A Grief Observed. I’d like to make two points about this question.
Old Testament solutions
Firstly there is someone who definitely knows the answer. That is God. God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. He is the tri-omni God and therefore, as he knows everything, he should know the answer. Fortunately for us he is a communicative God. It is actually possible to ask God this question and he will answer. In fact, this is something I recommend anyone who takes this question seriously does for themselves. However, there is another place we can go. The scriptures. This question is not a new question and is in fact raised twice in the old testament. Twice, a person encounters a problem similar to this question and twice God answers in such a way that is satisfactory to them. Firstly there is Job, He is a Godly man who has done nothing wrong, he has a lot of land, a wife and many children, he is happy. God allows Satan to totally destroy Job’s life, destroying Job’s fields, killing all his children and then covering him in boils. Job is suffering and cries out to God multiple times, What have I done wrong God? Who are you to Judge me? Come down here and tell me what I have done to deserve this God because I have done nothing! (Job 31:28). Indeed, Job’s friend’s get annoyed at Job. Who are you to Judge God? they say, You’ve clearly done something wrong because God always judges correctly and you, a mere mortal are in no position to tell God otherwise (Job 21:22). However, at the end of the book God himself comes down and answers the question. He directly answers the problem of Job’s suffering himself! And what is his answer? Well its kind of “Look at me, I’m God and I’m pretty amazing”. He simply explains how great he is for a couple of chapters and the confusing thing is. Job buys it. Job never cursed God, he merely questioned him and desired an answer. God answers Job so Job gets well happy and worships God. It is interesting that God rebukes Job’s friends. God prefers it when people put the question to him instead of make up answers to make people feel better (or worse)(Job 42).
So God likes it when people ask him the question and there is a second person in the bible who asks it of God. The book of Habakkuk. In this book the prophet Habakkuk asks God the question, How can God allow the injustice that his people (the Jews) are committing to continue when God loves the Law so much? Well God replies, don’t worry about it, I’m going to punish the Jews by sending a big army of evil people to wipe them out. Then Habakkuk says, What!? If you love the Law so much, how can you send evil people to do your will? So God says, yeah don’t worry about that either, I’m going to send some more evil people in an army to wipe out the first evil army I sent and punish them for being evil to my people (the Jews). Now this is heavily paraphrased and you can read it yourself (its very short) by clicking the link but the surprising thing is, Job is actually satisfied by that answer! He gets really happy and praises God.
Now we have two answers to the problem of suffering: 1) I’m really great and 2) I’m going to punish a huge bunch of evil people using evil people who will then be punished. I very much doubt any readers dealing with this question will be convinced! But it is important because it shows that God knows this question, he likes it when people ask him (instead of just assuming what he is like) and when he has answered people in the past, they have been satisfied with the response. Now, the introduction is sort it leads me into what I wanted to talk about in this blog.
The Emotional Problem
The reason I think people still ask the question, despite what the philosophers say is something like this. People hate suffering, they hate immorality and they hate injustice. It makes people angry. When they see it happen they want it to stop and think if I had the power to end this, I would! Why isn’t God? I realise that this doesn’t prove his non-existence but it is still a problem. I realise it is possible he has a master plan behind this suffering. But why should I trust him? If someone was beating you up every day for 10 years, but told you that they knew best. You’d still want to tell them to clear off as soon as you knew you could! This is what many (not all) atheists are doing now. Many people don’t care whether he exists or not. They simply don’t like him. This is not a theological problem. It is an emotional problem. And an important one. I think that instead of answering the question in the title of this blog people should answer the question, “If God made us in his image, with his heart and a view of injustice similar to his, How comes we all hate how things are going and all want something done by it? Why is humankind so pro-change and anti-injustice? If its because we reflect God’s attitude then why isn’t he doing anything about it?” Some answer this question with, “well humans are so depraved that we hate things that are good”. I don’t like that really, if I really hate things that are good because I’m so messed up then God is pretty much evil to me. So lets try something else.
The problem with Hume’s problem is the nature of “Omniscience”. The image conjured up by Hume’s depiction of an omniscient God is a God more similar to the “God games”. Its like someone playing The Sims. Its like a child feeding her toy doll fake milk, its like a man with his train set. We have this idea of a God who knows everything but is totally separate from everything. He can oversee it, but he is not involved. Even Christians sometimes fall into this trap. They see that God is loving because he can give them things. God loves us because he gives me money. Its like the person playing The Sims. They give their little computer animated characters some food and see happy points go up. This is the point raised in the quote at the top of this blog post. This view of God is horrible. This “God game” like God is a horrible dictator who is giving us pleasure and sufferings for his own purpose that has nothing to do with us. He is overseeing our lifes for his own selfish master plan but has no stake in it.
But this is not the biblical view of Love, and this is not the biblical view of God. In 1 John 4:10, John says “This is Love: not that we love God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” There are lots of things people think of when they think of God loving them. They think God comforts them when they are sad, that God gives them Job security, that he gives them money or great kids. All of these things are things you can do for you “Sims” in a computer game. But, whilst these things are nice, none of these are the main reason why we know God loves us. He did something more significant that we can’t even do in God games. He became fully human and then he died.
This is such an important point in Christianity that it is sometimes taken for granted. The utter insanity of the idea that God, the creator of all things, the most powerful, the rule on high. Became human. My guess is that its difficult to image Jesus as fully human because our literature has so many pictures of God like humans. We see Arnie in the terminator, we see Christian Bale as batman, we see mel Gibson in Braveheart. We constantly see pictures of men triumphing over struggles, people being shot and continuing on. We’re (or at least I) are desensitised to real suffering. The fact is that suffering is BAD. Men and women both cry, both hurt and it is always horrible. Sometimes humans can become almost Godlike briefly, sometimes people are able to triumph against ridiculous odds. But it almost always comes back to them, it almost always hurts and many Vietnam vets have needed counselling and gone crazy. One problem is that people see Jesus in this way. They know he is a man, but see him as a Superman, that he was simply able to deal with his family doubting him, his friends abandoning him, his people despising him and the physical torment of flogging and then a cross. Its possible to belittle Jesus’ suffering like we might belittle a tortue scene of James Bond in a movie. But it was real suffering. When you’re sad, when you’re angry when you feel like you can’t go on. Those were Jesus’ genuine feelings. He wept, he felt hurt when his friends left him, he experienced an anxiety that pushed blog through his sweat glands, he hurt and he even felt spiritually seperated from the father.
The thing about Hume’s omniscient’s is that he assumes God knows all objective knowledge. But he makes this knowledge emotionless and impersonal. The fact is Jesus knows suffering because he felt it. God is not a “God game” God, or a child with a doll who allows us to suffer for his master plan. God felt that the way things are going to be are so worth it that he’d suffer for it himself. He Joined in with human suffering, he joined in with human’s feelings of injustice and feels that it is worth it. We can’t know exactly why it is worth it, we have a vague idea, Jesus talks about his kingdom, he talks about heaven but we don’t really know what that is like and why its so important. But we do know that he felt it so important that he would die for it, and that is why we can know he loves us and why we can trust him. This is the basis of a christina’s faith. Faith in God is not a blind belief in his existence (though that might be part of it), faith is much more this question. Faith is believing based on the evidence of his love for us, that when he says it will be worth it, it will be. Its like a mother with a new born baby. I’ll bet most babies hate being born. Taken from that warm safe womb and being traumatically forced into a cold horrible world where they have to do things like breath. But the mother is not simply a dictator, pushing the baby through harsh times to a possibly better future. No, when a parent loves a child, they join in with their suffering to pull through to the goal the child can’t always see. And that is what God is doing with us.