Natural disasters, hunger, disease, and genocidal killing sprees like the Holocaust are central tenants to one of the most common objections raised against Christianity’s exclusive claim that God is love. With instances like the fore-mentioned, how could Christianity’s claim that God is loving and objectively good be true?
Firstly, one doesn’t need to learn of things like the Holocaust to understand that human suffering is very real, and very close. Chances are that your neighbors, classmates, and co-workers have or are suffering in one way or another. Parent’s who have lost a child for example. This may not seem like a Holocaust on the outside looking in, but it is the same kind of misery, and provokes the same kind of question titling this post. Why in the world would God allow suffering?
Tim Keller, in an interview with the Veritas Forum says, “The right response to someone who is actually suffering is silence, love, and speaking when spoken to.” Perhaps a helpful model for dealing practically with those around you in a way that would be well received.
Getting back to answering, briefly, the question. I should say that I actually don’t believe that not believing in God makes suffering any easier. How could it be that belief in an all loving being, once terminated, makes life’s difficulties any easier? It seems to me that succumbing to such a belief, or perhaps doubt, would in fact have the opposite result.
This criticism of Christianity has to stand on a foundation, which I do believe disbelief in God lacks here. Hunger, disease, and Holocaust cannot be found appalling without higher order objective value or duty declaring it as such. For the atheist, objective moral values and duties are based in nature, because there is nothing else. However, this claim looses most of its seriousness when it is realized that nature is just morally neutral. Apart from our creation in God’s image, we’re just another accidental byproduct right? Apes with disillusioned realities. We are mere animals.
In the animal kingdom, when a lion kills a zebra, there is death, but not murder. There is no moral dimension to such actions, because there is no moral value or duty for creatures outside of human beings. The same would follow, that apart from Theism’s claim that man is made in God’s image, we would be governed by those same principles that rule the animal kingdom.
Hunger, disease, and murder are all very natural parts of Darwinian evolution’s system of development. No real objection to these things can be claimed by one who disbelieves in God, because without Him, they loose any real foundation for their appalled response. If there is no God, then you and I came here by hunger, disease, and murder removing the weaker organisms around us. If natural selection, not God, has determined your life’s course, then these things should be accepted, respected, and assumed as natural.
“And yet,” says the clever unbeliever, “the strong prey on the weak everyday. Why doesn’t God stop it?” Well the first part of my response is simply showing that you have no moral basis for your outrage, but if strong eating the weak is natural, then so what? That only leaves a visceral reaction to human suffering, no real cogent reason for saying “this has to stop” except for, “I don’t like it”.
Christianity is not only the single religion that claims God is love, it is also the only religion claiming that God came down and experienced human suffering, of course, in the person of Jesus Christ. We recognize that human suffering is more severe than animal suffering. But can you imagine then, how one so close as to be united, as a member of the godhead, Christ, suffered, to be separated from his father, God, and all for the sake of humans who rejected him. The suffering Christ endured on the cross would have been far worse than any of our suffering.
That does not, even after you believe that God was willing to come down as he did in the person of Jesus, give us an answer to the question, “how could a God allow suffering?” What the reason is remains untold, but it does indeed tell us what the reason isn’t. It cannot be that He doesn’t love us, otherwise he wouldn’t have come down and dwelt among us, to voluntarily suffer. It cannot be that He isn’t involved, or doesn’t care.To be honest, I do not have an answer for why He hasn’t stopped it yet, but it can’t be remoteness, or indifference. This of course assumed you believe the Gospel.
“But why didn’t he come down and stop the Holocaust?” At this point, you must stop and ask yourself a question. If you can’t think of a reason does that mean there can’t be one? This is Alvin Plantinga’s “No see ums”, maybe worth a Google search. When you say, “because I can’t think of any good reasons for God to allow evil and suffering to continue happening, therefore, there can’t be one.” you’re assuming that any reasons there would be would be more like St. Bernards than no see ums-as it were in Alvin Plantinga’s words. But why should God’s reasons be so visible and explicit to you? The Bible and what God has revealed to us is on a need to know basis. We are far from an exhaustive complex on the things of nature or the supernatural.
I realize that this is cold comfort without the Gospel of Jesus Christ coming into the earth to suffer and come along side of us. The Gospel tells us that whatever the reason or reasons may be, it cannot be a lack of love, which is generally the complaint-being that human suffering is conflicted with the concept of a loving God.