The Problem of Evil and Suffering Revisited

As of now, I believe that the problem of evil and suffering is one of the chief arguments against Christianity in addition to arguments from biblical errancy, atheological arguments, and the problem of supernatural claims needing supernatural evidence. In my opinion wasn't always this. The problem of evil and suffering wasn't always the biggest problem I have had for being a Christian. I think that the reason why this is so is because most Christians seem to paint this argument as a sheer emotional argument, not an intellectual argument. That is, they like to point to human conceptions of fairness, dignity, or perceptions of what ought to be and not what is. I think that this is the reason that the argument from pain and suffering never led me to ask whether Christianity was true, intellectually, but did kill any faith I had in any god of love. Christians believe that the existence of God is more or less factually-based, and so any argument from pain and suffering can only be, at root, an emotional argument based on selfish and limited human ideals of the way that the world ought to work. I guess this is the reason I never struggled with the argument of how Christianity could be true. Yet, my deep clinical depression never led me to consider that pain and suffering could be a logical or evidential argument against God because I was convinced that Christianity was true intellectually. Instead of seeing the evidence of pain and suffering as evidence for the nonexistence of God, I took pain and suffering, particularly my own, as evidence that God had something personally against me.

The Problem of Evil and Suffering

What led me to finally start questioning a lot of the arguments in favor of Christianity was biblical errancy. This is because the Christian perception of pain and suffering as purely an emotional argument controlled my thinking, even for a few years after I left the faith. It wasn't until I read the chapter on pain and suffering by Loftus that I finally began to see that the argument from evil and suffering could and did have a logical structure to it. If I became convinced that pain and suffering had a logical structure to it, I might have left the faith sooner. Another thing that I noticed is that some Christians don't even seem really bothered by suffering and evil in this world. When people bring up suffering and evil, these Christians, never really having experienced much of the pain and suffering in this world firsthand, tend to get self-righteous and judgmental regarding nonbelievers or skeptics and even accuse them of selfishness. When we offer suffering and evil as a reason to disbelieve that any god exists, we are often greeted with an arrogant judgmentalism, ironically accusing us of arrogance in thinking we could selfishly design a world much better than any god could. Other Christians are, in fact, acutely aware of evil and suffering and when they go to explain it, it almost seems like they're apologizing on behalf of God and trying to rationalize away his behavior. They seem aware of the problem of pain evil and suffering and actually concede that it has strong force and try to give a very gentle explanation, probably aware that the problem is a genuine one.

Indeed, it is genuine and powerful. I was foolish enough to not consider that it had a strong logical basis to it for a number of years and I am glad that I finally saw through my shortsightedness and embraced the argument as powerful as it is. I recall reading about the famed agnostic Charles Templeton, a former minister and good buddy of Billy Graham, finally had his faith destroyed by the problem of suffering. He saw a mother cradling her dead child, looking up to heaven, as if expecting an answer from the Almighty, when all that was needed was rain for the child to survive. I still am not entirely sure why this problem never impacted me as much as it has numerous other people. I am not entirely sure why I never really delved into it deeply enough prior to reading Loftus' chapter on the subject. But I now consider it to be a very devastating argument, one, like the starlight problem, that has never been solved by Christian theologians successfully. I look forward to reading Michael Martin's treatment of it in greater detail whereas, beforehand, I was never really impressed by it, my thinking still held hostage by prior fundamentalist assumptions.

Indeed, I noticed something interesting. It seems to me that the more conservative and fundamentalist one is in terms of theology, the less impact the argument has on them. I think I have been noticing that the more extremist of fundamentalists are the Christians who accuse people really bothered or affected by the argument as being selfish to complain about it, arrogant enough to demand an answer from God, and thinking that they can design a better universe where the problem doesn't exist. Worst of all, they are usually the ones who usually accuse people of bringing up evil and suffering as having ulterior motives of selfishly wanting to live a life of sin. In contrast to these classical fundamentalists, the more moderate Evangelicals actually seem acutely aware of the problem and seem almost to apologize for the problem in their explanations. They realize that it is a very serious problem, that people have been very affected and hurt by the problem, and that it poses a tremendous threat to the Christian faith. What is more is that they feel the need to cobble an explanation together which seems to be a tactic admission on their part that there is no real answer because God hasn't explicitly revealed it and the best they can do is take educated guesses at the motives for God's decisions.

My answer to the problem of pain and suffering when I was a fundamentalist was quite simplistic in nature. I would say that mankind hurt God when man sinned and so God allows the problem of pain and suffering to let mankind know just how hurt he feels. I used to liken it to a teenager who went out partying and stayed out very late, worrying her poor mother. So finally the mother decided to teach her teenager a lesson by staying out late one time, worrying the teenager. I once told this to a college instructor. "When the mother comes home late at night, the teenager protests, complaining about how worried she was about her mother, to which her mother replies 'Now you know how I feel'," I told him something like this (I am paraphrasing for a lack of exact wording). To which he responded "Oh! So you think God does this to teach us a lesson?" to which I affirmed my opinion. I simply left it at that although I came to believe that some evil and suffering is actually a necessary evil, a means to bring about good sometimes. If God didn't allow a woman to be sexually assaulted, I reasoned, we wouldn't be inspired to create laws to punish it. If God didn't allow pain in our lives, we wouldn't be grateful for the blessings. When pain and discomfort came growth and healing. I now realize that these explanations are silly and simplistic, not to mention cruel and inconsiderate but such is the nature of Christian apologetics.

Christians waste much time and ink on trying to solve and answer this problem but it is a problem that has gone on unsuccessfully answered. The problem seems unsolvable and I am pleased that a few Christians are intellectually honest enough to admit it. Some Christians will continue to try and solve the problem with the best of intentions while the arrogant of classical fundamentalists will keep acting as though there is no real problem and that it's all in the heathen's depraved imagination. Fine, call me a heathen, but the problem is real and it's the chief reason I could never be a Christian, whether again or for the first time! My other arguments follow from the argument from evil and suffering.