This week we are looking at objections from atheists and skeptics regarding the existence of suffering. Let’s dig in.
Some atheists object that if God is truly all-powerful, He would create a world without suffering. But this assumes it is logically possible to do so without creating a world with nothing but robots.
In fact, some Christian philosophers have argued (1) A world with suffering may be preferable to a world without suffering; (2) William Lane Craig has written, “Possibly God could not create a world with this much good but less suffering, and God has good reasons to permit the suffering” (as we saw in yesterday’s post).
Does this mean God cannot be all-powerful? Not at all.
Alvin Plantinga has offered the most thorough and nuanced version of the Christian response in a number of journal articles culminating in God, Freedom and Evil (Eerdmans 1978). He argues that it is logically possible that the world we have is the best possible world given humankind’s freedom to do evil. Thus, it would be logically impossible for God to create another “better” world called for by the skeptics.
God’s inability to do the logically impossible does not diminish His greatness. It is simply silly to say God is not all-powerful if He cannot create a square circle or a married bachelor! This in fact what some philosophers call a “pseudo question” or “pseudo task,” which means it is utter nonsense.
But there is an assumption underlying the atheist’s objections that we have been looking at this week, which is that the primary purpose of life is happiness but is that true?
The Bible teaches that the chief purpose of life is not happiness but the knowledge of God. Again, Dr. William Lane Craig writes, “Much of the suffering in life may be utterly pointless with respect to the goal of producing human happiness; but it may NOT be pointless with respect to producing a deeper knowledge of God.”
Let’s put this in real life perspective. Dr. Craig shares the following story in his book Hard Questions, Real Answers (Crossway, 2003):
“A former colleague of mine used to make it his habit to visit shut-ins in nursing homes in an attempt to bring a bit of cheer and love into their lives. One day he met a woman whom he could never forget [the following is a quote from his colleague]:
‘On this particular day I was walking in a hallway that I had not visited before, looking in vain for a few who were alive enough to receive a flower and a few words of encouragement. This hallway seemed to contain some of the worst cases, strapped onto carts or into wheelchairs and looking completely helpless.
As I neared the end of this hallway, I saw an old woman strapped up in a wheelchair. Her face was an absolute horror. The empty stare and white pupils of her eyes told me that she was blind. The large hearing aid over one ear told me that she was almost deaf. One side of her face was being eaten by cancer. There was a discolored and running sore covering part of one cheek, and it had pushed her nose to one side, dropped one eye, and distorted her jaw so that what should have been the corner of her mouth was the bottom of her mouth. As a consequence, she drooled constantly….I also learned later that this woman was eighty-nine years old and that she had been bedridden, blind, nearly deaf, and alone, for twenty-five years. This was Mabel.
I don’t know why I spoke to her – she looked less likely to respond than most of the people I saw in that hallway. But I put a flower in her hand and said, “Here is a flower for you. Happy Mother’s Day.” She held the flower up to her face and tried to smell it, and then she spoke. And much to my surprise, her words, although somewhat garbled because of her deformity, were obviously produced by a clear mind. She said, “Thank you. It’s lovely. But can I give it to someone else? I can’t see it, you know, I’m blind.”
I said, “Of course,” and I pushed her in her chair back down the hallway to a place where I thought I could find some alert patients. I found one, and I stopped the chair. Mabel held out the flower and said, “Here, this is from Jesus.”
That was when it began to dawn on me that this was not an ordinary human being….Mabel and I became friends over the next few weeks, and I went to see her once or twice a week for the next three years….It was not many weeks before I turned from a sense that I was being helpful to a sense of wonder, and I would go to her with a pen and paper to write down the things she would say….
During one hectic week of final exams I was frustrated because my mind seemed to be pulled in ten directions at once with all of the things that I had to think about. The questions occurred to me, “What does Mabel have to think about – hour after hour, day after day, week after week, not even able to know if it’s day or night?” So I went to her and asked, “Mabel, what do you think about when you lie here?”
And she said, “I think about my Jesus.”
I sat there and thought for a moment about the difficulty, for me, of thinking about Jesus for even five minutes, and I asked, “What do you think about Jesus?” She replied slowly and deliberately as I wrote. And this is what she said:
And then Mabel began to sing an old hymn: