Probably the single most common argument against the existence of the Christian God – one that has been outlined in nearly every apologetics book I have ever read – is the argument that if God exists either A) he is not good enough to want to eliminate suffering or B) he is not powerful enough to keep suffering from happening. Since suffering and pain are present in the world then the good and powerful God of the Bible simply does not exist… so the argument goes.
This supposition is far more eloquently put in C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, but like Lewis, Dr. John Frame, and others, I don’t see this as a compelling argument at all because it relies on fallacious logic… and frankly demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the Biblical God. Those that hold to this argument assume that if a good and all-powerful God exists then pain can’t or shouldn’t… since pain does exist then the good and all-powerful God can’t… From a purely logical standpoint this is called the false dilemma where only two options are given when more are actually possible. And to be honest it demonstrates a pretty arrogant misunderstanding about God and naive understanding of pain.
The God the Bible shows us is the neglected third option… He is a good and all-powerful God, He does exist, and suffering exists too. The presence of suffering doesn’t by its nature eliminate the possibility of a totally sovereign and gracious God… it only serves to confound our understanding… but then again who are we that we should understand all the ways of God?
But let’s think about this one a little more deeply… or actually on a more relatable level. I’m a dad. I haven’t been one very long, less than 6 months actually, but in that short time I have learned a great deal about some of the difficulties of parenthood. Late night feedings, spit-up, poopy diapers (yes, poopy)… they are all part of the package. I have also learned about the joys – the tiny clothes, the baby laughs, and the look Caleb gives me when he sees me after a long day’s work.
And the amazing thing is he continues to look at me that way even after I have done something that may have caused him pain. For example, when Caleb was sick a few weeks ago, I had the unfortunate task of “suctioning” his sinuses… which is terribly unpleasant and even more so for him. He would scream and cry and look at me with such shock on his face that I was almost moved to tears, because I had done that to him. Now, it was for his own good. He needed it. It was part of his sickness… but I know it hurt him.
And yet, when I picked him up he didn’t push me away, but held on tightly. What’s better is that the next day, he still looked at me and smiled and laughed with excitement when I came home from work.
God is a Father, and as such he allows us to feel the consequences of our sickness – sin… But he never puts us through something that is not for some greater purpose. My life verse has always been Romans 8:28-30.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Suffering and pain exist. There is no doubting that. But only a good and all-powerful God could turn that suffering into anything worth enduring. And it was through suffering that God brought about the salvation of humanity through his son Jesus Christ. Out of the garbage God can make something good. Out of the darkness God can bring about the Light.
We may not always get to see, or even understand what God is doing. But our hope is still in him.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16