The hardest question for people of faith to answer is, if there is a all powerful, loving, and merciful God why does He allow evil and suffering to exist? How do we answer this legitimate question in a way that is acceptable to the atheist or the agnostic?
A common Christian response is that it is because God gives us free will. But this does not explain deaths caused by natural disasters. In addition many atheists are scientific materialists and claim that free will is an illusion:
“They cheerfully champion the most reductive sort of materialism, including the idea that free will does not exist because our minds are just neural networks that function according to physical laws.” (R.R. Reno The Gospel of Scientific Materialism)
So the free will argument just will not fly.
We can point out that atheists, such as Nietzsche, claimed that human beings only obtain strength and wisdom through suffering. But that still doesn’t adequately explain why God allows his creatures to suffer. Surely an all powerful God could figure out a way for us to gain strength and wisdom in a pain free way.
The problem is that the only way to really understand suffering is through the eyes of faith. By looking to Christ on the cross.
I still struggle to answer this question when it comes up in the RCIA usually from people who come out of curiosity or people who were raised without faith but are drawn to Christ. Of course I attempt to answer the question, but I also tell them that to understand suffering one has to learn about Christianity. It is hoped that if they persevere the meaning of suffering will, gradually unfold.
Those that are drawn to Christ usually stay and eventually have a better understanding, and most of them come into the Church. But the second group, doubters who are just curious, usually leave early on. The reality of evil and suffering is the deal breaker. Sigh.
I have to pray the Holy Spirit enlightens me with a more effective answer.
How do you answer the problem of evil and suffering?
One Garden, one tree, one act of disobedience.
This is not a trite answer. Too often unthinking people think only mankind suffers. They forget about the Suffering Servant. For those who will not accept Christ, this is a “deal breaker” because they want to worship a neat and clean God who exists to make their life happy and pain free. Jesus came to give us abundant life, yet He never claimed it would be easy. The truth of this will set many people free. However, it will also frustrate many who do not want to spend an eternity getting to know an ineffable, unknowable God. Besides, if God were completely knowable, He wouldn’t be God, would He?
Thank you for your comment. There is a lot of truth in what you write. But the people who come to the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) to learn about Catholic Christianity, come as honest seekers. We have to reach them where they are and hope to move them towards God. We are called to teach the truth in love.
I’m familiar with RICA. And we do have to teach any person who comes to any church in truth and love. Unfortunately, not even that approach will reach someone who wants a god created in their own image and who rejects the sovereignty of the One True God. The problem of suffering is an ancient one that is not easily answered. Even in the book of Job, God doesn’t address the issue. In fact, it seems the theme of Job seems to be God is telling us He’s more interested in our faithfulness than our comfort. Furthermore, I think the suffering issue is more prevalent in the wealthier countries than it is in the poorer ones. Americans refuse to be uncomfortable, and are uncomfortable with a God who seems to be comfortable with their discomfort!
Thanks for the dialogue.