Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Problem of Suffering

Post by Ian

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?" ~ Epicurus

It is a fundamental truth that there is suffering in the world. We see suffering wherever we look, to varying degrees. Quite rightly, atheists ask us: where is God in this? One view is that God allows suffering in order to punish sin. Another view is that it's Satan or the Devil who causes suffering, and God allows this. Predestination, that God sets the course of our lives, is a popular viewpoint - and becoming more so. Fatalism replaces a belief in human free will. A belief that says we deserve whatever befalls us.

Personally, I come down firmly on the side of free will. God has gifted humanity with the ability to choose our own course and allows us the freedom to follow it. Like a good parent, God allows us to make our own mistakes and to learn from them. Yet, God is there to help comfort us in the aftermath.

If Satan exists, then it is the tempting angel of the book of Job. The tempter has no power except that which we give or allow. We can choose to give in or not. Evil is done by humans who no longer listen to the quiet voice in their soul, the voice of God guiding them. They choose their actions and others suffer as a result. God does not interfere as the free choice is made. To interfere would overrule free will and that is something that God is either unwilling or, having given it, is unable to revoke.

In the Bible stories, God works through humans. God gets Noah to build the Ark in order to save life from the flood. He gets Moses to speak for him in Egypt and Aaron to raise his rod to perform the miracles. He gets Jesus to try and reform his people and acts through him in the miracles of healing. Perhaps God, as spirit, needs to work through the material in order to influence the material. God can do anything, as long as God has someone who listens. It is when we fail to listen to the voice in our soul, guiding us to do good, that things begin to go wrong.

What then of natural disaster? Well, the world is active and is needed to be so in order to support life. Our numbers are pushing where we live to places that are more at risk of disaster or unable to support the number of people that live there. Again, the choice is ours. We can choose to continue to grow in number. We can choose to continue to live in areas that are more at risk than others. We can choose to continue to live in places that can not support then numbers who live there. Or, we can choose otherwise. Free will.

"God created the law of free will, and God created the law of cause and effect. And he himself will not violate the law. We need to be thinking less in terms of what God did and more in terms of whether or not we are following those laws" ~ Marianne Williamson

"There's too much tendency to attribute to God the evils that man does of his own free will."   ~ Agatha Christie


  1. Your argument for free will, Ian, answers the question of evil very well,but I still worry about suffering. What has free will got to do with this? A child who is born deformed, an innocent child killed by a hit and run driver, etc. etc. Also, many of the casualties of natural disasters had no choice in deciding where they lived. Poverty probably decided that for them. They didn't ask to be born. Are they to be punished for their parents' mistakes? I am well aware of the biblical quotation, but it seems to me it is a harsh God that allows this. No, suffering, I believe, has no easy answers. Graham the Anonymous.

  2. Graham, your examples above:
    A child born deformed is just that. It is up to the parents and the child to choose how to deal with the deformity. They can choose to despair, or choose to make the most of the situation. A hit-and-run driver chooses to drive, after the accident they choose to drive off instead of trying to care for the child they hit. The people that poverty forces in to at risk areas. Other people chose to take up the safer areas with rich estates, leaving no room for the poorer people.

  3. All the supposed answers to the problem of evil (or suffering) as amply laid out by Epicurus do not actually answer the problem. This issue is further complicated by the concept of an 'omni' god which, being capable of anything, could of course bypass all this suffering etc rendering it unnecessary.

    That leaves the theist with either a cruel god or one of limited power. Not that there's any reason to believe in one in the first place.

  4. Athefist, you assume a theist model of a deity but what if a person believes in a deist, panentheist or a pantheist model of the divine. Unitarians may believe any of these models without it counteracting the belief in Jesus as our teacher and guide to God. The fundamentalist view of a God, strict interventionist theist, leads to a fatalistic view of the problem - that we deserve punishment as we are fundamentally flawed. I don't believe this. God is an undefinable mystery to us. We can attempt to know God, but will fall short most of the time. It is not nessesary to believe in God, but such belief can afford comfort, community and a method of philosophical expression.

  5. As a humanity, we have all been conditioned or indoctrinated, for all of history by 'theological' exegesis, particularly by those with their own 'religious' claims and agendas, to accept that a literal proof of God is not possible for faith. And thus all discussion and apologists 'theodicy' is contained within this self limiting intellectual paradigm and bubble of presumption, especially evident in the frictions between science and religion. It would now appear that all sides squabbling over the God question, religious, atheist and history itself have it wrong! That bubble could now burst at any time!

    The first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is published on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new teaching is predicated upon a precise and predefined experience, a direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power to confirm divine will, command and covenant, "correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries." So like it or no, a new religious claim testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation now exists. Nothing short of a religious revolution is getting under way. More info at

  6. There's a wonderful story about a group of Jews in a concentration camp who put God on trial. Should they continue to worship God when he had allowed this terrible suffering to happen to them? The trial took all day, and in the end, God was pronounced guilty, and they concluded that they should not continue to worship him. But then, an old man stood up and said it was time for evening service.

    My take on the point of this story is that worship is not for the benefit of God (whatever you mean by that word), it's for our benefit. We need to express our desire for connection, love, and reverence for all that is, no matter what the circumstances - and perhaps especially when we are suffering.

    in my view, the divine is not omnipotent, nor is it a person with intentionality or agency. It's an experience we can access - the Ground of All Being, as Tillich put it, or perhaps the Process of Becoming, to put a process theology slant on that.

    Suffering happens not because "God" wills it, but because we are finite beings with limited perspectives and physical bodies that can be caused pain. But when siffering happens, it is a compassionate response that brings "God" (Love) back into the picture.

  7. very simple.

    your "god" is either a super genious planning for something

    or he DOESNT EXIST

    you ask "why does god allow pain and suffering"
    listen, maybe you didint read your fabled bible. but in that book he is a very torturous and cruel person. murdering billions at a time.

    now in the most straight forward view i can possibly give to you.
    probably, the only religion i would be willing to stand for without solid proof (science is best but meh)

    if your talking in mythical terms.
    i believe in Death, think about this for a second
    what is the one true thing in this world? something that is NEVER avoidable that will always happen no matter what. Death.

    everything will die, thats just how it is. every last single cell will die because Death, is the one true thing in the universe. our lives are not set, weather another asteroid hits the moon is never set. its all based on random chance.

    Death is the only thing that will always happen, forever.
    even when science creates something to sustain our bodies forever, so we never die of natural causes. people will kill people, and they. in turn, will die.

    because death is un-avoidable. and to get to death you have to go through all these things because thats called experience. suffering is something you must go through because it makes you who you are. if not for suffering, i would never be as strong as i am.

    -Cyanide Minuette