Is the level of suffering in the world compatible with the existence of an all-powerful, all-merciful God?
The atheist case is simple to state.
There is a lot of suffering.
Much of it seems to be preventable.
An all-powerful, all-knowing God would know how to prevent suffering. An all-merciful God would want to prevent at least some of the suffering we see. Therefore, there is no all-powerful, all-knowing, all-merciful God.
Jesus also presents a strong case for the atheist. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, he lambasts people who pass by on the other side. When God sees suffering, does He help? Surely the level of suffering we see makes a strong case that God is passing by on the other side. Job 9:23-24 says 'When a scourge brings sudden death, He mocks the despair of the innocent. When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, He blindfolds its judges. If it is not He, then who is it?'. If there is an all-powerful Being, then how can any evil happen unless He permits it?
An explanation of how an all-merciful God allows suffering is called a 'theodicy'.
Let us look at some of the theodicies that have been used.
One theory has fallen into disfavour in the 20th century. There is suffering because God is punishing us for our sins. In the London Times of May 9, 1987, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Lord Immanuel Jakobovitz , said the Holocaust was a deserved punishment of the Jews for their departure from Orthodoxy. He wrote that 'Reform Judaism... was giving up everything that make Jews and Judaism distinctive.' It 'was an idol', which 'eventually melted down and incinerated in the crematoria of Auschwitz.'
He also wrote that the 'permissive society' gave 'free licence to every form of sexual perversion'. This 'new god of libertinism' was met by a 'plague' which 'kills its worshippers by scores of millions.' I assume he meant AIDS.
I will assume that you will not defend these views.
It is also often supposed that suffering makes us better people. However, there are many evils which do not make people better. Being struck by a bolt of lightning does not make you a better person - it makes you a dead person. If the purpose of suffering is to make us better people, then we should expect that the only suffering we see should be that which makes us better people. Often though, we see people who are broken by suffering.
Suffering often makes people selfish and totally consumed with their own misery. As the unknown genius who wrote the Book of Job puts it (Job 14:22),' He feels but the pain of his own body and mourns only for himself.' If an all-wise God created suffering, then he is not wise to create suffering which breaks people and drives them away from Him.
The most popular defence against suffering is the freewill defence. This attempts to distance God from evil, by supposing that all evil is created by the freewill of agents over which God has no control.
This defence has many problems.
The Bible clearly states 'I create peace and make evil. I the LORD God do all these things.' In Christian theology, God is the sole creative power. God creates all things. All things exist only because God sustains their existence at every moment. Evil would not exist (nothing would exist) without God sustaining its existence.
The Bible also clearly states that human nature is created by God. Romans 9:20-21 'But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' Does not the potter have the same right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?'
We are clay in God's hands. If we are evil, it is because God has made us evil. We have not made ourselves. We dare not talk back to God and say 'Why did you make me evil like this?'.
If somebody creates something which causes evil, he is held responsible for the evil his invention causes. Why is God not held to account for the evil his pottery has done?
The freewill defence states that a person's freewill has a higher moral value than any evil committed. It would be wrong to remove freewill just to stop somebody committing evil.
Even if evil is outweighed by the moral goodness of freewill, the evil is not eliminated. If a murderer freely kills a child, then a child is killed. All Christians should realise that their freewill has been bought with the blood of that child. They might say that their freewill is something good which outweighs the evil caused by the death of that child, but that does not get rid of the fact that children suffer.
I wonder if Christians really believe that freewill outweighs any evil that may be committed by people exercising their freewill.
Actions speak louder than words. There are few calls for criminals to be released because prison interferes with their free will to commit crime. If a Christian is attacked, he or she will try very hard to restrain the attacker, to ensure that the attacker is not free to commit evil upon them.
When Christians teach each other the freewill defence to evil, they say it would be wrong for God to make us stronger, or make us wiser, or make us this or make us that, as that would turn us into little more than robots, pre-programmed to do good. They then pray to their God 'O God, make us strong, make us wise, help us to resist temptation, make us this, make us that.....'.
Could God have created a world where everybody chooses good of their own free will?
Is such a world an impossible contradiction in terms?
According to Christian mythology, God has already created creatures who have always chosen good of their own free will. Angels Gabriel and Michael have never chosen evil. If they had chosen evil, they would have been thrown out of Heaven as Satan was. So it is not a contradiction in terms for God to create beings who choose good of their own freewill. According to Christians, God has done just that.
Many Christians dedicate their lives to trying to bring about a world where everybody chooses good of their own free will, so they clearly believe such a world is both desirable and possible.
Futhermore, there is nothing contradictory about all people freely choosing in one particular way.
We all freely choose to try to walk around on two legs. We are quite free to choose to get around by crawling backwards on our hands and knees. We have freewill in this choice, but every one of us chooses, if physically possible, to walk. Does this mean we are robots because it does not occur to us to choose to get around by crawling backwards on our hands and knees? Of course not! In the same way, we would find it ridiculous to think of ourselves as robots if God had given us the same instinct to choose good as he has given us to walk around on two legs.
The freewill defense has other holes in it. I'm sure Mr. Walmsley would be revolted by the idea that he should disembowel his father, eat his entrails, and then sodomize his dead body. Is Mr. Walmsley little better than a puppet in God's hands because he would never freely choose to do this sin? On the contrary, if somebody tried to force Mr. Walmsley to commit this sin, that person would receive a very practical demonstration of what 'against someone's will' meant'. Mr. Walmsley would commit this sin only under very great duress and against his freewill.
If God can create Mr. Walmsley to freely choose never to commit certain types of sin, without any loss of Mr. Walmsley's freewill, then why has God not given Mr. Walmsley the same sort of revulsion for every type of sin? Are certain sins acceptable in God's eyes while other sins are not?
The freewill defense does not explain why certain evils are committed while others are not. It does not explain why God has created some beings who always freely choose good, while creating others who do not always freely choose good. Therefore, the freewill defense is not adequate to absolve God of blame for creating beings who commit evil.
In short, the level of suffering we see in the world today is not compatible with an all-powerful, all-merciful God.
Mr. Walmsleys Opening Statement
Steven Carr's First Response
Mr. Walmsley's First Response
Steven Carr's Final Response
Mr. Walmsley's Final Response
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