One Reason Why a Compassionate God Permits Suffering

Why does God’s world contain pain and suffering? If there is a more challenging, painful question in Christian apologetics, I don’t know what it is. It is viscerally compelling for anyone who has ever suffered a loss, or watched another do so (which would be all of us). And it is logically compelling as well; why would an all-knowing, all-powerful, loving deity allow the sort of sadness and pain we see around us?

Ultimately, the best and most complete answer to the problem of pain comes at the cross, where our Father, as he so often does, answers us with a picture rather than a treatise. God may not fully explain why he permits evil to burn through his creation, but two thousand years ago he stepped into those flames with us and gathered the coals into his own arms. The mutilated hands and feet of the Son of God do not explain why suffering is permitted, but they do promise that there is a sufficient reason. And the empty tomb he left behind promises something else as well: an ultimate end for every sort of evil, whatever the reasons for its existence today. Like Job, the Bible’s other great picture-answer for suffering, the cross calls us to trust even when we cannot fully explain.

But our inability to comprehensively explain the problem of evil does not mean we are without any answers at all. In fact, the Bible offers many pieces of an explanation which may be too deep and multifaceted for us to grasp in its totality. Today I want to explore just one of those partial explanations.

Suffering and sin both begin in Genesis chapter 3, and that is not a coincidence. The wages of sin is death, Paul warns us (Rom 6:23), and “death” in the Bible is more than a description of the moment our soul leaves our body. Suffering is a part of death; the consequence of death’s cancerous introduction into ourselves and into the world. Therefore, understanding the existence of pain and suffering requires a careful look at sin.

Sin leads to death in two different ways. One is judicial. The King of kings is wiser, better, and more glorious than any human ruler. If we are disgusted by an arrogant teenager who ignores a lifeguard’s warning about a dangerous riptide, how much more disgusting is our own violation of the commands of a God whose wisdom, goodness, and authority infinitely exceed those of any human? Disobedience of God is sin, and God justly punishes sin.

But sin leads to death in another way as well. A plant cut off from the sun will die, simply as an inevitable consequence. Similarly, sin fatally cuts us off from our holy God and Creator, the “Father of lights” from whom comes every good gift (James 1:17). Sinful rebellion casts us out of the presence of God, and outside the presence of God is nothing—in the most absolute sense.

Which brings us back around to the question of why God permits suffering in the world. If a human life did not extend beyond the few decades between birth and death, compassion might find itself at odds with justice. While justice demanded death as punishment for sin, compassion would cry against the pain. But life is more than our time on Earth, so compassion and justice have no such quarrel.

If someone has a real and pressing problem, the most compassionate thing we can do is to make sure they know about it. What would we think of a doctor who threw away a cancer diagnosis, or a lighthouse which extinguished its beam to avoid worrying incoming sailors? Well, you and I and every human have a problem worse than any disease or shipwreck. Whether we realize it or not, our sin cuts us off from the only ultimate source of life and light and joy.

But even though every unsaved human is actually in mortal, eternal peril, we still inhabit remarkable, glorious bodies in a remarkable, glorious world. Who could look at a sunrise or dive into a mountain pool and feel that they were on the verge of eternal death? The beautiful gifts which testify of our Creator’s goodness can end up lulling us into a fatal complacency about the consequences of our rebellion against him.

In Proverbs 30:8-9, the writer asks God to keep him from either poverty or riches. He fears riches “lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?'” Even in a fallen world, the riches of creation unmixed with any suffering or pain would make it easy to live with similar disregard. It is hard to believe you are ill if you feel no pain; which means if you are ill, pain is a gift in disguise.

We need to remember that this is only a partial explanation. It cannot explain why God permitted sin in the first place, nor why particular people experience particular trials. Those are different questions for a different time. But living as sinful people in a fallen world, we should thank God that the painful consequences which justice demands are also a compassionate warning that all is not well—a warning which can point us to the One who entered fully into our world of sin and suffering in order to blaze a trail back out of it, forever.

Did you enjoy this article? Add your email below to get new posts sent to your inbox! You can also help keep me writing with a small monthly contribution via Patreon.com.

13 thoughts on “One Reason Why a Compassionate God Permits Suffering”

  1. – When you say God “permits evil” – it implies that evil is outside of God. Did God not create evil? (Isa. 45:5-7) Isn’t everything part of his plan?
    – You mention that Job is a “great picture-answer for suffering” – but the Book of Job ultimately doesn’t give an answer – it suggests that only God knows the answer to suffering (Job 38:1-18) – as you say it asks us to trust – but that isn’t really an answer, it’s a deflection – as though God is closing the discussion.
    – “If we are disgusted by an arrogant teenager who ignores a lifeguard’s warning about a dangerous riptide, how much more disgusting is our own violation of the commands of a God” – that’s a strange analogy to use. Firstly “disgusted” seems a strange emotion to have in that situation. But in this analogy God isn’t the lifeguard, he’s the one that created the riptide, he put it in place, knowing how dangerous it was, and he even knew that the teenager would not listen to the lifeguard. You also seem to be implying that the teenager is being punished by drowning for his own ignorance.
    – The partial explanation you mention is that suffering is a “gift in disguise” – a warning that all is not well in the world. I don’t know your personal history, but I hope you don’t mind me saying – it does suggest you’ve lead a life without much suffering. There is a vast amount of suffering in the world. Is it really there as a warning to us? This is a similar argument to another I’ve heard from Christians – “People suffer so we can show our humanity, by helping them” – both arguments have a detatched, first world feel to them – which diminish the pain and poverty that are around us in the world and throughout history.

    Your arguments may be correct given that with God anything is possible. However I would suggest an alternative model – suffering is a consequence of the biological system we find ourselves in – where there are limited resources and thinking agents trying to survive. Add to that a dynamic globe with various natural disasters and you have a system where there is bound to be suffering.

    Reply
  2. Hi Dan,

    Good questions!

    1. The Bible says that God did not create evil. If you simply read the first chapters of Genesis, Adam and Eve freely chose to eat the fruit, and so it has gone since then. At the same time, God does have a plan which included their sin and every sin since then. How those two ideas can fit together is a tough question which I won’t address here, if you don’t mind, as it requires more explanation than a blog comment can conveniently accommodate. (Regarding Isa. 45, the Hebrew word used there is ra’, which has a variety of meanings. In context, I think it’s best understood as “trouble” or “calamity.” Christians certainly do believe that God judges sin in that way, which fits the context of that passage.)

    2. Yes, God doesn’t give a direct answer to why Job suffered, but that’s precisely the point of the book. I actually wrote a longer article which talked about Job, if you’re interested.

    3. The point of the lifeguard analogy wasn’t to hope that the teen was actually endangered by the riptide. Of course, in such a situation anyone would hope he was fine. But if I am warned by someone who knows better and has my best interests at heart, but I go ahead and endanger myself and others because I unreasonably think I know better, I do think that’s reprehensible. (Which is not to deny that I have done such things in the past, and will doubtless do so again—which is why I thank God for forgiveness.) Since the God of the Bible does know better and have our best interests at heart, I think the analogy fits my point well.

    4. I hear your point about my argument having a “first world” feel to it. I don’t think there’s any value in arguing over how much I may or may not have suffered in my own life, and anyway that’s irrelevant to the validity of the argument. I do think it’s interesting, though, that the whole “problem of evil” idea is mostly something comfortable first-world people worry about. Go to Nigeria, where Christians are literally being hacked to death with machetes, and they don’t seem to have much trouble squaring the idea of a loving God with the reality of temporary suffering in this life. It’s mostly people who are fairly comfortable who worry about how God could allow evil. I’m genuinely not sure how to explain this, and I don’t intend to make any particular point by it, other than to suggest that “suffering doesn’t make you doubt God because you haven’t suffered very much” doesn’t seem to fit the actual experience of real humans. But to actually address your central question, yes, I think that suffering in this world could be explained (at least in part) as a warning, provided that what it was warning against was worse than the suffering itself.

    Reply
  3. Hi David,

    1. “The Bible says that God did not create evil.” – where does the bible say that?

    Are you saying evil was created at the Fall? Wasn’t Satan evil before the Fall?

    Regarding the meaning of “ra” – as you mention it has a variety of meanings – however it generally means evil – the men of Sodom were “ra”, in Eden it was the tree of good and “ra” and the biblical flood was because of the “ra” of mankind. It’s true that context is important – but if he creates “peace” or “prosperity” – then the opposite of those, if not evil, is certainly not good.

    2. My point was that Job isn’t a “great picture-answer for suffering” as you said. It’s not an answer at all. God is saying don’t question me, you won’t understand.

    3. My point here was that the lifeguard analogy implies that God is a selfless passive lifeguard simply giving warning. I’m just pointing out that God has also created the “riptide” – atleast if you believe God creates everything. If the lifeguard had the ability to remove the riptide, rather than just warn – then they would remove the danger. God has that ability.

    4. I wasn’t suggesting that you haven’t suffered. You and I will have had our problems; however I’m sure you will agree those problems pale in significance to the problems of most of the world.

    I agree that comfortable people tend to have more time for philosophy and theology. And people who suffer tend to be more focused on their immediate problems. When you are low and have few options – religion can be a comfort.

    >that “suffering doesn’t make you doubt God because you haven’t suffered very
    >much” doesn’t seem to fit the actual experience of real humans
    I’m not sure I understand your thought here – I didn’t make the point you quoted. My point is that the idea that suffering is a warning just sounds a bit grotesque to me. The idea that thousands of people died in the Boxing day Tsunami or that children are dying of crippling diseases or that people are held in basements for years – is in anyway a warning to remind us that we are fallen, just sounds empty and doesn’t seem to square with the Christian view of a omnibenevolent God.

    Enjoying the discussion

    Reply
  4. Suffering helps Christians stay focused on glorifying the Lord. When I suffer I seek and endeavour to rely on the Lord with great earnestness.

    Reply
  5. @Dan,

    1. The Bible doesn’t say “God did not create evil” in so many words, but, among other things, you have the description of creation as “very good” in Genesis 1, as well as verses like James 1:13-15, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

    I don’t believe evil was created at the Fall. The Fall is significant for being the first and defining human sin, but, as you pointed out, evil was present before then. The thing about evil is that it’s not the sort of thing which is created. Evil is a lack of something which ought to be there. As Jesus himself said (Matt 22:34-40), if we simply loved God and loved your neighbor the way you should, we’d never do evil. Like darkness is lack of light, moral evil is a lack of some good which ought to be there. Therefore, by creating creatures which could love, but could also choose not to (i.e. free will), God necessarily created the possibility of evil. But creating the possibility of evil is not the same as creating evil.

    As for the meaning of ra’, yes, definitely, it indicates the opposite of peace/prosperity. The verse is speaking of God bringing judgment on particular wrongdoers, which would mean trouble, calamity, etc. for them. However, punishing wrongdoers is different from “creating evil.”

    2. I guess my objection is something of a question of semantics. I think Job offers the only possible ultimate answer to evil, which is to trust God. Job himself seemed to find that satisfactory at the end of the book. However, I agree with you that God doesn’t answer in the sense of saying “Your suffering was because of X.”

    3. Fair enough.

    4. Sorry, didn’t mean to put words in your mouth there. I meant to paraphrase what I thought your point (or at least part of it) was. Anyway, I think “a warning to remind us that we are fallen” is far more important than you’re recognizing. If there really are just two categories of people—those who accept the free offer of the gospel and those who don’t—and if being in the right group is a matter of eternal consequences, then anything which moves people from one group to the next is the most important thing imaginable.

    Incidentally, on the point of why God allows evil and suffering to continue, I find Jesus’ parable of the good and bad seed to be very helpful (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43). Basically, the parable says God permits sin and evil to continue for now because ending it means ending sinners, and we’re all sinners. Because he loves us and wants us to have time to repent, he holds off the final day of judgment—for now. (Because that’s what ending evil means: judgment.)

    Reply
  6. @David,

    1. I find the comparison of evil to darkness or cold unconvincing. Darkness and cold are the default in the universe – you seem to be suggesting that evil is the default – without good we would automatically have evil. This doesn’t seem true – if we don’t give to charity we aren’t being evil. Doing evil is an active choice – to kill, rape, torture are acts – they aren’t the lack of good. I can’t see a connection between the amount of good and the amount of evil in the world. I can conceive of a world with the same amount of good, but different levels of evil – a world with no natural disasters and extreme low crime rates vs a world with more natural disasters and a serial killer around each corner.

    Do you believe that God has carried out any evil act? Has any calamity or trouble he has created always been good? Are all the acts of God in the old testament good?

    2. OK

    4. OK, I understand your argument, but can you step back from it a little. You are saying that all humans are doomed and the “most important thing imaginable” is for God to warn them about this impending doom. You then suggest that God is using human suffering to implement this warning. That children dying in sub saharan africa is a method to let you and I know we are fallen creatures. I assume you also believe that God has the power to come up with a better method and not have to use that one?

    Can I pick you up on “free offer” – do you really see the offer as free? I often hear Christians talk about the price of their Christianity – their heavy burden, cross to bear. There are conditions to the “offer” – so it can’t really be described as free.

    Reply
  7. 1. I don’t believe that evil is the default, but I do believe that it’s accurate to describe evil as a “privation” of good, to use the classical philosophical language. (Privation meaning the absence of something which ought to be there. It’s not a privation that I lack wings. If I was born without legs, though, that would be privation, as I’m using the term here.)

    You wrote, “Doing evil is an active choice – to kill, rape, torture are acts – they aren’t the lack of good,” but I actually disagree with that. Evil can be something we actively do, but it also can be evil not to act. For example, if I see someone being harmed and do nothing even though it’s in my power to act, that is evil as well. Ultimately, “love your neighbor” doesn’t just mean to avoid actively harming him, but to actively seek his good. I would say that in any given interaction with another human, if I fail to love him to the best of my ability, I’m sinning / doing evil. See Matthew 5:21-48 or Luke 10:25-37 for examples of this ethic.

    Regarding, “I can conceive of a world with the same amount of good, but different levels of evil – a world with no natural disasters and extreme low crime rates vs a world with more natural disasters and a serial killer around each corner,” I agree. My argument in the article above is that such a world would not remind us that we live in a fallen world and need a Savior—and since we do live in a fallen world and need a Savior, a world which undermines that message would ultimately be a false mercy.

    Do you believe that God has carried out any evil act? Has any calamity or trouble he has created always been good? Are all the acts of God in the old testament good?

    Short version: no, yes, and yes. It’s hard to answer at greater length without answering at much greater length, but I’ll just say briefly that something which would be evil in isolation may be good if it is a just punishment. So, for example, if I kidnap someone and lock him away that would be evil, but if the government does it to a convicted rapist, that’s justice. And God’s punishments always include not just justice, but also mercy, because there is always the chance to repent.

    4. Yes, I believe one reason why God allows children to die in Sub-Saharan Africa is to remind every human being that we are fallen creatures in a fallen world. Believe me—I know how callous that sounds. However, I think we have to remember four things: (a) God also sent his son to die to fix sin for those African children and everyone else, (b) we don’t know what special grace God extends to ease that child’s passing, (c) we must remember that death is not the end, (d) suffering like that is why God hates sin. You asked if God “had the power” to come up with a better method than this one, and I’d actually say no. Believing in omnipotence doesn’t mean that every sentence starting with “God can…” is automatically true. Nonsense doesn’t become sense just because we prepend “God can” to it. That’s why the answer to “Can God create a square circle” is no. Similarly, if I believe that God’s current plan is the best one, then God “cannot” create a better one because the idea of something better than the best is incoherent.

    Can I pick you up on “free offer” – do you really see the offer as free? I often hear Christians talk about the price of their Christianity – their heavy burden, cross to bear. There are conditions to the “offer” – so it can’t really be described as free.

    No, there are no conditions whatsoever! However, free isn’t the same as easy. We have to remember what it is an offer of. It’s an offer to remake us. Being remade is hard and sometimes painful, especially in a fallen world. Being a Christian in this world is hard for the same reason being Christ in this world was hard. The struggle is a consequence, not a condition, of being saved.

    Reply
  8. 1. I see “evil” as an active negative moral choice. If you see someone being harmed and you do nothing, then you are making an active choice not to do something. That’s what I meant by active.

    My overall point was that I don’t always see good and evil as tied to each other. You can make a positive moral choice, but not making that choice doesn’t mean you are making negative one. At this moment I could give up all my worldly possessions and give them to charity, that would be a positive choice, but not doing it isn’t a negative choice.

    This part of the discussion was in response to you saying that “evil is that it’s not the sort of thing which is created. Evil is a lack of something which ought to be there.”. I don’t see evil as created or the lack of something. I would tend towards a model where human suffering/evil is the result of biology – with creatures fighting to survive with limited resources with evolved animal instincts. That model appears to comport to reality much more than a model where evil is a “thing” brought into the world or a necessary sign to humankind that they live in a fallen world.

    “My argument in the article above is that such a world would not remind us that we live in a fallen world and need a Savior” – so again we get back on to god’s plan being optimal – given he is perfect – then the amount of evil in the world is the perfect amount to remind us that we live in a fallen world. It’s a Goldilocks world – not too much evil, not too much good. But then we come back to sovereignty and free will – it suggests that the world is micro managed to adhere to God’s plan. It also suggests that by micromanaging the amount evil, then God must in some respects be creating it – as part of his plans for a purpose.

    “Short version: no, yes, and yes.” – so a pregnant woman being killed by an Israelite soldier under God’s instructions – is not evil? It’s justice? Personally killed a pregnant woman could never really be called good.

    4. “Believe me—I know how callous that sounds.” – it does sound callous. It feels as though you have to say these things are good and part of God’s plan – because otherwise the theology starts to break down. You seem to be suggesting that every child that dies has some sort of positive effect in the greater scheme of things – whereas what we actually see is profoundly negative – suffering, pain and sorrow.

    “You asked if God “had the power” to come up with a better method than this one, and I’d actually say no.” – so it’s the perfect number of children dying? You seem to be comparing reducing child deaths with squaring a circle – they don’t seem at all equivalent to me.

    Reply
  9. Ah, okay, I see what you were getting at regarding “active” evil. I agree that there may be an array of morally acceptable options. It’s not like every decision has one right option and everything else is evil.

    I think it might help if we distinguish between kinds of evil. Christian philosophy tends to see two kinds of evil: moral and natural. Moral evil would be something like murder that is the result of human choice. Natural evil would be something like cancer or an earthquake. Both get classed under “evil” because neither were in the original creation, neither should exist, and both are the result of human sin.

    As an atheist, I would agree that your only option is to see evil as a byproduct of biology, but I don’t think that model comports better with reality. I don’t think it explains our sense that evil is morally EVIL, rather than just inconvenient or unpleasant. If you are wounded in an industrial accident, you’re going to feel differently about it than if you were wounded by a random assailant. The latter will make you feel wronged, even though the effect on you is the same either way. That seems to point to moral principles which I believe are impossible to explain through natural processes. Actually, this might be an interesting topic for a future discussion video…

    so a pregnant woman being killed by an Israelite soldier under God’s instructions – is not evil? It’s justice?

    Yes, that would be justice. But that Midianite woman isn’t any different from everyone else who has ever died or ever will die. Men and women weren’t supposed to die, and every person who dies is killed as judgment against sin. Pregnant women die every day, and it’s one awful consequence of living in the world that sin produced. (“For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” Gen 2:17). But God isn’t just a God of justice, but also mercy, which is why He died so everyone who accepts His offer can live.

    You seem to be suggesting that every child that dies has some sort of positive effect in the greater scheme of things – whereas what we actually see is profoundly negative – suffering, pain and sorrow.

    “You asked if God “had the power” to come up with a better method than this one, and I’d actually say no.” – so it’s the perfect number of children dying? You seem to be comparing reducing child deaths with squaring a circle – they don’t seem at all equivalent to me.

    Something can be profoundly negative while also being the best option under the circumstances. (God being tortured to death on a cross would be a good example!) Once sin came into the world, the options were either to destroy sin and sinners entirely or to let sinners continue living in the world they created, while God acted to redeem them. Given the premise of sin wrapped up in human nature, either you destroy human nature or you allow sin and its consequences to persist for a time. (That’s the point of the parable of the wheat and tares: Matt 13:24-30, 36-43). Because God chose the better option—letting sinful humans survive and have a chance at redemption—it necessarily entailed terrible consequences like children dying.

    May I ask a counter-question? Stipulate, as a thought experiment, that sin is real and its consequence is eternal death unless we turn to God for salvation. If that’s the case, do you think that living in a world without suffering would make us more or less likely to feel like we need a Savior?

    Reply
  10. I wouldn’t really class natural events as evil – but I suppose that’s just semantics.

    >As an atheist, I would agree that your only option is to see evil as a by-product of biology
    I haven’t said it’s the only option. I’m just saying that a biological model explains the data and doesn’t require a supernatural element to explain what we see. I assume you agree that there is a biological element to evil? In which case you are then adding an extra supernatural component which needs to be evidenced and explained.

    Certainly getting on to morality is a big area – but just in the context of this discussion. I have an innate sense of right and wrong – it certainly doesn’t feel transcendent to me, it varies amongst humans and we see proto-moral behaviour in animals. There appears to be biological explanations for these instincts and i would need to see evidence that there is a supernatural component.

    >Yes, that would be justice…
    I’m not sure what you’re saying here. How is it justice? Was every pregnant Midianite in those passages damned in some way? Were they judged and deemed guilty? Or were they a small, unwilling part of some cosmic sign that we are fallen creatures? Perhaps there were 1000 pregnant women killed – was that the correct number to properly put in place the sign? Is each woman now in heaven, I assume each would be in Hell being Midianites?

    My questions here aren’t really about the specifics of the individual cases. I’m trying to point out the problems with the idea that God/Jesus can be a god of total, unremitting love and knowledge – but at the same time there can be some sort justice in the death of pregnant Midianites or some sort of reminder about our fallen nature in dead sub-Saharan children. This seems a contradiction that Christians accept – caught in a net of theology – seeing something immoral that can’t be immoral because it comes from a good god. If God was 100% good and 100% powerful – then by definition he should be able to find better methods of justice and of giving people a reminder of their fallen nature.

    >Stipulate, as a thought experiment, that sin is real and its consequence is eternal death unless we turn to God for salvation. If that’s the case, do you think that living in a world without suffering would make us
    >more or less likely to feel like we need a Savior?
    If making us feel like we need a saviour is incredibly important, then it feels as though God could come up with some better options. If God is maximal in all his attributes then yes the amount of suffering in the world must necessarily be the perfect amount. But then we hit the problem of freewill. If God is micromanaging the number of pregnant Midianite women that died and the number of sub-Saharan children that starve to best make us feel like we need a saviour or show justice, then how can both us or them have any freewill?

    Reply
  11. There appears to be biological explanations for these instincts and i would need to see evidence that there is a supernatural component.

    I don’t agree that biology/evolution can explain our moral instincts, but making that case is beyond the scope of a blog comment, so I’ll agree to disagree, if that’s okay… (Though I did talk about related questions in this podcast and this article.)

    I’m not sure what you’re saying here. How is it justice?

    Sorry, I should have explained myself further. I was referencing the idea in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.” Rather than getting into a big discussion of that idea, though, I’ll make a simpler point: If God truly gave each of us our life, then it is just for him to take it back when he sees fit. If I let you drive my car, it is perfectly just for me to take it back at the end of the day. Similarly, if my life is “on loan” from God, then it’s not unjust for him to take it back when he sees fit. That’s the case for the Midianite women, for me, and for every other human. It’s unjust for me to take someone’s life because their life isn’t mine, but if the Bible is true, then everyone’s life is God’s.

    If God was 100% good and 100% powerful – then by definition he should be able to find better methods of justice and of giving people a reminder of their fallen nature.

    Why? As I said above, omnipotence doesn’t include the logically nonsensical, and it would seem that allowing human free will while preventing evil is a nonsensical idea. Stipulate the following, for the sake of argument:

    1. God allows people to sin because being sin is a necessary part of the free will/love which he knows is best for us.
    2. Our sin creates a fatal opposition between us and God.

    Given those two conditions, what better solution would you propose?

    But then we hit the problem of freewill. If God is micromanaging the number of pregnant Midianite women that died and the number of sub-Saharan children that starve to best make us feel like we need a saviour or show justice, then how can both us or them have any freewill?

    This gets back to that question of how God can be sovereign and man can be free which we discussed in our last video. :-) If I recall correctly, you did agree that if God exists then it is possible that puzzling things like this might be real since divine existence would exceed our own understanding. (If we can’t conceive what true omnipotence would be like, how can we say what could coexist with it and what couldn’t?)

    If I could suggest, I think you’re starting at the wrong end of your analysis, both spiritually and rationally. If an infinite, supernatural God exists, there are going to be things about reality which don’t make complete sense to us. If we just sit and stare at those things, we won’t make much progress. But the Bible says God didn’t just sit in heaven making things confusing, complicated, and sometimes painful. Instead, he came down to earth to live our life and die our death. Jesus said, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him… Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me…? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:7-9). In Jesus, the infinite put on finitude, and part of the reason for that was so that we could better know and understand God. That being the case, it would seem to make sense to start our inquiry at the most knowable end of things—with Jesus in the Gospels, as recorded by eyewitnesses—and then work from there to the more difficult parts.

    Reply
  12. Seems a strange concept that our lives are “on loan” – it implies that God owns us. Which seems at odds with the idea that we are autonomous and have freewill.

    Furthermore what gives God ownership of us? I don’t see how creation automatically gives ownership. If we were to create conscious life (which might be possible in the future) – would we automatically have rights over it? Would we have the right to kill it?

    “As I said above, omnipotence doesn’t include the logically nonsensical, and it would seem that allowing human free will while preventing evil is a nonsensical idea.”

    Why is the idea of human freewill while preventing evil nonsensical? I assume you believe in a future state where there will be both, so it’s no illogical. So why couldn’t God provide that state to everyone now?

    “being sin(ful) is a necessary part of the free will/love”

    Was the fall necessary then? What would the world be like if we hadn’t fallen?

    “If I recall correctly, you did agree that if God exists then it is possible that puzzling things like this might be real since divine existence would exceed our own understanding.”

    I agree that’s it’s possible – in the sense that anything is possible with a tri-omni God. But I think we also agree that as it stands it’s an unknown, a cul-de-sac. We don’t have a theological explanation. We have an apparent contradiction, that could just be a contradiction. A reasonable explanation is that you simply can’t have sovereignty and freewill, which is given further weight by there being no explanation on the theistic side.

    “If I could suggest, I think you’re starting at the wrong end of your analysis, both spiritually and rationally. If an infinite, supernatural God exists, there are going to be things about reality which don’t make complete sense to us. ”

    I would in turn suggest that if you start at a God then you will end with a God. It’s circular reasoning. I was a Christian so have already been through that process. If the Christian God exists then I would hope the creator of the universe would be reachable through rational examination of the evidence.

    “If an infinite, supernatural God exists, there are going to be things about reality which don’t make complete sense to us. ”

    Are you saying there are aspects of reality that we simply can’t understand? I assume in a future state we will understand everything? Why wouldn’t we be able to comprehend them now? It seems a fatalistic point of view – if you believe there are areas that won’t make sense to us, then you are never going to explore those areas. If you believe that the contradiction between sovereignty and freewill is something that we can’t understand – then you’ll never understand it.

    Reply
  13. Seems a strange concept that our lives are “on loan” – it implies that God owns us. Which seems at odds with the idea that we are autonomous and have freewill.

    How so? Ownership isn’t the same thing as controlling someone’s will.

    Furthermore what gives God ownership of us? I don’t see how creation automatically gives ownership. If we were to create conscious life (which might be possible in the future) – would we automatically have rights over it? Would we have the right to kill it?

    No, I don’t think it would be analogous if we created intelligent life. It’s not just creation, but all God’s attributes which together make him, well, God. I suppose it just seems intuitively obvious that if the Creator God of the Bible exists, he would have the right to rule the world he created, including giving and taking life.

    Why is the idea of human freewill while preventing evil nonsensical? I assume you believe in a future state where there will be both, so it’s no illogical. So why couldn’t God provide that state to everyone now?

    How could it not be nonsensical? If free will is the ability to choose, and evil is choosing something wrong, then doesn’t the one entail the possibility of the other? I get your point about my belief in a heaven where there will be no sin, but we don’t know enough about heaven to be able to conceive what it would be like. I think you’re stretching so far into areas we can’t fully grasp (e.g. free will, omnipotence, heaven) that we can’t speak with confidence about what would or wouldn’t be possible. (Which actually undermines my argument too. I’m not saying I’m 100% certain that free will requires the ability to sin. I just don’t see any possible alternatives.)

    Was the fall necessary then? What would the world be like if we hadn’t fallen?

    Bad typo there in the comment you were responding to. Sorry. You thought I meant “being sinful,” but I meant “being able to sin.” Being able to sin wouldn’t necessarily entail the fall, though it would entail its possibility.

    On some of these questions, I’m fine with saying I’m not sure but I believe I have rational justification to trust God and his plans even at or beyond the limits of my reason.

    I would in turn suggest that if you start at a God then you will end with a God. It’s circular reasoning. I was a Christian so have already been through that process. If the Christian God exists then I would hope the creator of the universe would be reachable through rational examination of the evidence.

    What I’m suggesting is that you start with the Bible’s accounts of Jesus—God in the flesh—rather than starting with difficult metaphysical questions that are harder for human minds to work through. I’m not saying you should just assume the existence of God. Rather, consider the testimony of eyewitnesses about the man who claimed to be God and who rose again to prove it (if those eyewitnesses were in fact trustworthy). Eyewitness testimony can be rational evidence.

    Are you saying there are aspects of reality that we simply can’t understand? I assume in a future state we will understand everything? Why wouldn’t we be able to comprehend them now?

    Oh, no, I don’t imagine we’ll ever be able to understand absolutely everything. I do think we’ll learn more, just as a child does, but the finite could never fully wrap its mind around infinitude.

    Reply

Leave a Comment