Saturday, October 27, 2012

Why does God allow bad things to happen?

Q.  If God is all good and all powerful, why does he let bad things happen to good people?

A.  I think it would be naive to suppose that anyone could give an answer that is completely satisfying to this question.  You can never do so in a sensitive way to people's personal suffering, or in a way that adequately explains the intensity of suffering in the world!  Usually people say something about God's insistence on free will, and that suffering came into the world as a result of sin, but still I think people would object to a sinless person suffering, like an infant.  Another platitude is that "Everything happens for a reason", and so we may not see the plan of God, but it will all make sense some day, and if he allows suffering it is that some greater good may come of it.  This idea does have some scriptural basis "God works all things to the good for those who love Him", but I think there is a difference between God taking something bad and turning it into something good, and God sitting back and allowing bad things so that He can.  So maybe God allowed World War II so that humans would stop being so racist... but then why allow racism in the first place?

My sister put it like this.  What kind of loving father would sit back and watch as his daughter was raped and not intervene?  Again, if God did intervene it would take away our free will. And to be frank with you, I would not only intervene when a man was raping my daughter... I would even intervene when he was thinking lustful thoughts about her!  There are all kinds of ways that people hurt those we love, and if we could interfere, most of the time we would!  But this means that if I were God, I would not allow suffering-  but in preventing it, I would also take away free will. 

I have a suspicion that the answer to this question, and to many others, lies in a false assumption about God.  And that is that what God ultimately wants for us in this world, is happiness.  I do think God wants us to be Happy-  and I do think that we will be happy, when we get to Heaven.  I think God's original plan for us was to be happy-  in the garden, without suffering.  But when we chose to sin, we chose to live in a world where suffering was possible... and now what God really wants is for us to be holy.  To be restored to the righteousness and dignity that he originally intended.  I can almost imagine the conversation in the garden going something like this.

God "Adam, don't eat that apple"

Adam "But I want to"

God "But I gave you everything else.  The one condition of getting everything and being perfectly happy is that you have to receive what is given, and not take.  You can't be selfish."

Adam "yeah, but, I want to."

God. "I gave you free will, and you can choose what you want.  The question is, do you wanna call the shots, or do you wanna let me call the shots?  If I call the shots, I'll make sure that there is no suffering..."

Adam "I want to call the shots"

God "You would be choosing a world in which suffering is possible..."

Adam "Then I choose that."

Once suffering was possible, God stayed his hand.  Tectonic plates shift, earthquakes happen, tsunamis happen, famines happen.  Worse, Humans continued to choose to do things other than what God dictates.  Wars happen, rapes happen, structural injustice.

So how do we get back to the point where bad things don't happen?

"Thy will be done"

We adopt and attitude that says that whatever God wants is what I want.  Truth is, we are constantly making selfish choices.  God's mission for us is not that we would become happy, but that we would learn to love.  Remarkably when people suffer, this is an opportunity to love.  Even Jesus' obedience was made perfect through suffering.

I think the assumption that the ultimate goal of life is the "pursuit of happiness" is underlying many of the things we struggle with in Christianity-  like sexual morality and social justice and mass is boring and why do people suffer.  If on the other hand we ask the questions with the assumption that God's plan for us is to restore us to His likeness-  unite our will to His, all these things make more sense. 

That said-  I still think that if I was God, I would interfere a whole lot more in the world.  But I bet that if I spend my life uniting my will to His, instead of expecting Him to unite His to mine, I bet wisdom is to be found there.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Peter! It's Julian again. The Christian concept of free will is something that consistently befuddles me and increases my disbelief in God. You claim that by preventing a rape God is taking away free will. This confuses me.

    Is free will the act itself or the will to act?

    Because if it is the will to act then I see no reason why placing a wall between the would-be rapist and the victim would diminish free will. He still has the desire and would rape her if he were physically able, he just physically can't. His will is not compromised. So it follows that God would have a different reason for allowing suffering.

    And if it is the acting in and of itself then enormous amounts of confusion ensues. A physically handicapped person would have less free will than a typical person and a man given a button that would cause a genocide would have more free will than a typical person. People would be given unequal free will and thus an unfair shot at heaven. Why would God make it more difficult for one than another to enter heaven?

    Either outcome makes God seem like an irrational figure and raises many more questions. It seems that God should just prevent suffering. Perhaps even have created the universe in an entirely different way that required no suffering but is still replete with the will to act. Unless he HAD to create the universe the way it is now. But then he would not be omnipotent. He would in fact be merely a slave to some other laws and thus not the greatest power.