This objection is typically raised against the Christian faith. The Bible describes God as a god of love (1 John 4:16) and an all powerful god (Jeremiah 32:17). The rationale behind this objection is, quite simply, if God is a loving god then he wouldn’t want mankind to suffer and if he is an all powerful god then he would have the means to stop suffering. Therefore, the rationale follows, God cannot be both loving and all powerful and so the Christian premise must be wrong.
However, this is, in fact, an oversimplification of Christian theology. The Bible itself acknowledges the existence of suffering and even suggests that suffering brings benefits:
“We are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
Is there a greater good at stake?
So, can the existence of suffering be reconciled with a belief in an all powerful and loving God or is Christian theology fundamentally flawed?
I personally believe that it is perfectly reasonable to believe that God could permit suffering to happen for the purpose of a greater good. To describe this with an analogy, imagine a parent with a young child that is about to start school. That parent will willingly send their child even though they are fully aware that the child will no doubt endure some suffering. They do this because they anticipate that the benefits of an education will out way the short term consequences of the suffering that their child will endure.
The Bible describes the human lifetime and its sufferings as momentary (2 Corinthians 4:18) and compares the suffering that humans may endure in this lifetime to the labour pains of childbirth (Romans 8:22). Although suffering may be intense it is described as being outweighed by its future benefits.
Suffering permits human kindness
In my topic, Human kindness would never exist if our world was perfect, I argue that living in a world where there is suffering permits humans kindness in two ways. Firstly, limited resources give us a reason to compromise our own desires for the sake of others and, secondly, other people’s suffering can lead us to act compassionately. Of course, suffering doesn’t always lead to acts of human kindness. Sometimes, for example, the fear of suffering can lead us to become selfishly self-protective. However, in a world where there is no suffering there would probably be no kindness and, possibly even, no evil. Maybe the suffering in our world is the foundation upon which our moral character is tested: do we show kindness to those in need or do we become self-protective? The choice reflects our inner most characteristics.
Whose to blame for the suffering: God or mankind?
This doesn’t necessarily mean that God is therefore inflicting suffering on mankind, rather than merely permitting it. I believe that the majority of suffering is the result of two very obvious facts. We are living in a world of limited resources and we have free will to share or hoard those resources as we choose. Everything from the nutrition that sustains life to life itself is limited. Even the suffering caused by natural disasters or, so called, ‘acts of God,’ is aggravated when populations are forced to live, through their poverty or otherwise, in countries or buildings that are vulnerable to flooding or earthquakes.
It seems to me that if God existed he would not be the one to blame for the suffering in our world, but the blame would instead lie with the daily choices that we make as individuals and, if God were to relieve suffering he would have to first remove our ability to make choices, that is, our free will; something that we would all object to.