Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The cruelty of God?

I can see the point of religion as a way of dealing with the difficulties of life and for finding comfort, but the basic problem of how a good God could let people suffer seems to be a pretty good argument against the existence of God. I'm happy to be spiritual, but I don't see how I can take all those doctrines seriously when we look at the world around us...

Our world with its uniquely universal media, is more exposed to the problem of evil and suffering than at any other time, at least in terms of the extent and range of suffering and pain.

By evil we mean many things: malicious actions by human beings; illness; accidents; the devastation sometimes caused by nature. Although these are really very different things, they all raise the question of the existence of a good and loving God.

At the most basic level, Christianity has never seen good and evil as being the same sort of things. The goodness of things existing is fundamental. Without a real world, there would be nothing and no-one to experience anything in the first place. This is why many Christians talk of evil as being a lack of being, rather than a thing in itself.

This doesn't mean that the experience of suffering isn't real - an absence of floor may be a nothing, but my falling through it will be a pretty real experience to me.

So good and evil are not two contraries eternally wrestling with each other. In fact in some ways, evil can be an inevitable consequence of the good. A lot of what we call evil, is really part and parcel of having a physical world. A world of fast cars and lazy cats, such as our cat Jordan, can lead to a world with flattened fur and whiskers in tire tracks. God did not just make a spiritual world but a real material one where there is always balance, struggle, birth and death, and all of this is a necessary consequence of there being a created physical world.

The evil caused by human beings is on a different level, and raises a problem with no easy answer. Why does God let the wicked go on being wicked, and why do terrible things seem to happen to such good people?

How we are to understand our own struggles with suffering which seem to make God so distant, so distant in fact that he can become a question mark simply hanging over an uncertain world? The best answer we have is the cross of Jesus, where we see that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, and where we see in the flesh God's power to bring good out of evil, as out of the greatest evil, the crucifixion of the innocent Jesus, he brings our greatest good, the life of the kingdom where evil is conquered.

Evil is not a logical problem, but a human one and deserves a human answer. The best beginning to finding this is also the way to salvation from evil - the cross of Jesus, God and human.

This has been a short answer for a massive question, but it might get the ball rolling....


Catherine Lucia said...

The question that I always think of when faced with why God lets people be bad is this: is forced goodness good? Is forced love really love at all?

Frugal Dougal said...

I like the way it's put in a rather speculative life of Christ by TimeLife films called simply Jesus, made in the 1990s. In the temptation scene, Satan takes Jesus from the desert to a bombed house full of starving people in the former Yugoslavia, and asks why He doesn't turn the stones into bread to feed them. Jesus replies that the problem is that the people responsible for their condition have hearts made of stone. It's a very good pair of films.

Allistair Graham said...

I recently read an interesting article on the BBC website with the title "Will religion ever disappear?"

It makes the point that the most atheistic countries in the world are those with a relatively high level of wealth and with strong social security systems. On the other hand, belief in God tends to flourish in countries with high levels of personal insecurity and suffering.

Now one would think that if the reality of suffering is such a strong argument against the existence of God, why is it that the greater the suffering the more likelihood belief in God will prevail? And conversely, one would assume that people who are ostensibly so concerned about suffering would acknowledge that the existence of high levels of personal comfort and pleasure is evidence of the existence of God (after all, the argument works the other way).

It really just goes to show that the atheists have no argument. They are simply exploiting the sufferings of others in order to promote their own ideology.