First of all, let us admit that we all accept truth claims and believe in things that we cannot proof on an absolute ground to be absolutely true. Philosophers have told us that we either have to trust our intuition, feeling, and memory, or trust our reasoning. We call such things “properly basic beliefs”, for we presume them without questioning or asking for a more fundamental evidence or proof”. I think whether by intuition or by practical reasoning, we all know that human existence is a problem. We are finite. We are born into this world without knowing anything, and as we learn from this world our life is at the same time gravitated toward death and the ultimate significance of such an existence.
As you and I agree, Christian belief tells that we are created by God with a purpose, our sins and imperfections have prevented us from having the right relation to knowledge of Him, and that we all need the atoning sacrifice of his son Jesus in order to reconcile with Him. But the problem with all these is first: how do we know if this is the right answer to the problem of our world? Indeed, it would be a huge paradox if there is an all-powerful and all good God who creates everything and who loves us given the presence of such much evil and brokenness in this world. Over a long period of time, philosophers, Christian theologians, and apologists have no attempted to give answer to this paradox. I have to tell you first that there is no easy and simple answer. But neither the absence of a conclusive and perfect answer will be strong enough to eliminate the rationality of believing in the Christian God.
We know that the problem of evil has natural causes and spiritual causes. Earthquakes and the cyclones belong to natural causes; wars, murders, hatred, and violence belong to spiritual causes; starvation and diseases that you mentioned are somewhat the combination of the two. The Bible tells us that God did not create evil. Rather, evil is the absence of the all-good God. Traditionally we can say this is the contrast response to the problem of evil. Just like if the universe is totally black, we would not know what color and light are, so our awareness of the darkness of evil points us to a colorful world and to our need of God who is the source of all light: All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change (James 1:17).
This will be more evident if we continue to look at the Glorious Response to the problem of evil. As I mentioned, God created us with a purpose. This purpose may be different from one person to another. There are no two persons in this universe that were born with totally identical biological traits or were having the exact same course of life. So every Christian may also have a different vocation. But if we summarize it, our individual and collective existence is to glorify God. As a result, the summum bonum (highest good) is not measured by the fulfillment of our emotional pleasure in this world, but rather by the fulfillment of God’s will through our actions and thoughts. For this reason, there are pain and suffering in our lives, but they are not unjustified or not compensated. We as finite human beings just don’t have definitive answers to each case where there are pain and suffering involved. We Christians all have to wrestle with them in our prayers— and sometimes we may call it a spiritual warfare. That is what makes our faith real and tangibly dynamic: we may not know, but God knows; we cannot do it, but God can do it. In addition, we have the assurance because Jesus Christ, who is God Himself incarnated, also suffers with us and walks with us through the evil and brokenness of this world.
Certainly, we can point to some instances where suffering is absurd and seemingly uncompensated. A baby who was born with birth defects and rare diseases may suffer from the day one of his birth until two years later he dies. In this case, what aspect of this baby’s life glorified God? The baby thus died has not had a chance to develop his personhood and consciously give thanks to God and testify God. We may say, “the baby’s parents can honor and testify God by living through this!” But does the baby deserve this? To this question, Christians from the eschatological perspective give the Heavenly Response: Even if sinless babies suffer, an eternal life with immeasurable blessings with heaven awaits them.
Jane, we must know God gives lives and God takes lives. In this sense He is Almighty. He is the creator and judge; His name is justice. The atheists like to challenge the concept of omnipotence by proposing that the Almighty God could have done better in this case, such as directly sending the child to heaven. But by saying so they are really suggesting a better possible world in which human beings will be happier, God will get more glory, and the contrast among the world’s color will not be flattened. This is saying too much given our limited knowledge. We really don’t know if the increase or the elimination of a particular kind of suffering by God’s hand will necessarily give more glory to God. Plus, pushing the responsibility to an almighty God is to ignore that we as human beings are also responsible for managing the world (Gen 1:26-28). Don’t we try to reduce and eliminate birth defects, diseases, war, and famine through scientific methods, modern medicine, and other human endeavors? Furthermore, we could say that the Bible really does not depict a God in conformity to the philosophers’ concept of omnipotence. The question that “if an almighty God could create a stone that He Himself cannot lift up” is a false one for Bible-believing Christians. Jane, you might have thought about why God would create human beings that are prone to sin and are able to feel pain; why all the drama of sending His Son to suffer with us and die for us for our sins, and then to resurrect to be our Lord through conquering sin and death? I could only figure out one answer for these questions: in order that God will really be God and human will really be human. Now the good news is: God is with us.
Jane, let me tell you, that God is with us as is told in the Bible is not just wishful thinking. The Bible presents us with a redemptive drama based on real histories and facts. We can build up cumulative case arguments to demonstrate that things like biblical prophecies, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the textual transmission of the Bible throughout centuries, and the phenomenon of emergence of the historical Christian church are indeed miraculous yet real events! They are indeed not wishful thinking any more than, say, the belief that “we have talked more than five minutes”. I could go on and on showing you the details about these cumulative case arguments, but, hey, I see our flight has already come and seem to call for our boarding. Shall we first pause here and continue this discussion after we get seated?
- The Problem of Evil is Everyone’s Problem (str.typepad.com)
- A novel solution to the problem of evil [Stoat] (scienceblogs.com)
- Is god evil? (atheistdave.wordpress.com)
- Gordon Clark: Excerpts from « God and Evil: The Problem Solved » (thelightheartedcalvinist.com)