>How Can This Be?

>It’s an age old philosophical debate;

If God is great, he must have the power to remove suffering. If God is good, he must want to remove suffering. Therefore; suffering must not exist. But it does, so rather God must not exist or at least one of the other statements about his greatness or goodness must be false.

This is at the heart of most people’s drift to atheism and agnosticism. When we first start to reason, at about the age of seven, the contradictions in the concept of an all powerful and wholly good entity functioning in this way become glaringly obvious. The church, indeed all churches, temples and mosques across the spectrum of faith traditions have done a poor job of arguing with this point. How can an infinitely powerful and infinitely loving deity allow any kind of suffering to enter the world without proving that he is neither?

Honesty… I don’t know. But what I suspect is that the whole debate is somewhat of a red herring.

First off the statement assumes that God and the forces of good are the lone spiritual agents in the universe. If this (and by this I mean our current, 3 dimensional, finite universe) is not all there is and if the forces of good are in a constant and ongoing battle with equally determined forces of evil then the whole question of what God wants to do get’s turned on its head. Indeed the fact that Jesus taught us to pray “your will be done,” [matthew 6:10] presupposes that it isn’t always that way. When you consider that this world is a battle field of competing wills, the idea of a good God wanting but somehow being prevented from removing suffering takes shape.

With this in mind God’s greatness is then called into question. If God can’t remove suffering then his power is somehow limited right?

Right; but not in the way you might think.

Omniscience is the capacity to know all that can be known. In most faith traditions God is considered omniscient but what most people miss here is the subtle limitation, did you catch it? I’ll show it to you again;

Omniscience is the capacity to know all that can be known.

A few weeks ago I talked about the difference between Arminianism and Calvinism; let’s take that one step further into a school of theology known as Open Theism. Open Theism is the assertion that the future, all of the choices that free will agents will make for the rest of eternity is open and therefore unknowable, even to God. God in his omniscience sees things more clearly because he sees all the individual actors at once but in giving us free will he removed his ability to know for certain the choices we would make.

People make bad choices; they ignore or misinterpret God’s will and are open to suggestion by the forces of evil. As a result bad things tend to happen. Does that make God any less good or any less great? I don’t think so. What it does is puts the responsibility back in us to make better choices, learn from our mistakes, fix our own mess and stay tuned in to Him. He helps us where he can but ultimately we need to take responsibility for the state of the world that our choice has created.

I don’t have children but that sounds like a pretty loving father to me.


  1. >Great points, but one more thing to consider: it may be a mistaken to begin with the assumption that suffering = bad. As humans, we cannot possibly comprehend the full magnificence of creation. Perhaps, like a runner suffering through miles of agonizing jogging to finally reach a "runners high", we too must suffer to reach our fullest potential… maybe…

  2. >Lauren, me again.All of this talk about proofs and disproofs of God seems off the mark to me. Whichever side one takes, the basic assumption is that God "has a job to do," and either he is doing it, or he isn't. Who assigns him these duties? Atheists and Christians alike assign attributes, responsibilities and limits upon God.What you are discussing is not God. Instead, you are discussing notions of God. Notions of God can be all over the chart, as well as "off the wall," of course. Someone says God must be "GOOD." So who determines what good is. Someone says people don't like suffering so God must not like it either. Evidence please?And so on and so forth. God as a concept is always propositional, and the many propositions (whichever set you choose) are often in conflict with our humnan experiences. I would propose that God is neither a concept nor a proposition, but that we utilize these in our attempts to explain our experiences. You don't "explain" God, you experience God. Or not, at the case may be. Again, it may be a matter of interpretation.We name names, we create our own universes in a sense. We choose to believe in these, those or some other notions of the ultimate mystery.Cheers … Frank

  3. >In my opinion, any attempt to explain the nature of the creator is futile because not much can be proven. Though, I must admit that it can be thoroughly entertaining at times.

  4. >James – to say to a new believer in the midst of suffering that they just need more faith is pretty condesending and often enough to push them in the opposite direction. Especially if there doesn't seem to be any reason for it other than an attack of the enemy.

  5. >Pika – does it? That proves my point that there are equally determined forces of evil in the world and that God cannot control our choices or see the future. It is the job of those who seek to live in His will to work to protect and help that child.

  6. >Ellsworth – I'm not trying to prove anything, I'm merely giving my best guess as to His nature based on my experiences and the experiences of others whom I trust. Until we meet God face to face all we have are notions based on the writings and experiences of ourselves and others. If you want to split hairs when you really get down to it all we have are pale notions of one another as well.

  7. >My perspective on suffering is that we are meant to create a social structure and society that cares for and protects crappy stuff from happening to children and disadvantaged people, including those who have no voice.This means we have to become a network of disciples and caring people who live a life of love and take responsibility for the suffering that we see within our sphere of influence. And if possible to increase said sphere so we can help more people… government, activism, etc.It seems banal sometimes for people to discuss the omniscience or omni-benevolence of God – according to early Christian writings and traditions, pure religion is something that can be practiced by theist and atheist alike. We need more secular Christians and Christian humanists: James 1:27Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

  8. >The problem here is that too many so-called "Christian" teachers are selling a "health and wealth program that has far more in common with Dr Phill than Jesus Christ. These teachers are pushing a belief system based on a notion that if you live right, all your problems will go away and you will be rich. Mr J. Osteen who is often seen on the "Jesus Channels" on cable/satellite is a leading teacher of this belief. Question: if Jesus, Paul, Peter andthe rest of the Apostles did not get rich by preaching Jesus, what makes the "health and wealth" teachers and followers think that simply leading a Christian life entitles them to be rich? They are putting their beliefs in earthly things which come and go, as will the "health and wealth" religious faith. Many of you will probably be angry because of this. Rather than showing your anger, let's crack open a bible and find teachings that support our respective points of view respectfully.

  9. >The age old debate!Life is not about wealth alone! Most of us equate wealth to good life. Most decisions are made around money. I am not preaching austerity here. All I am saying is if we do not go out and use our credit cards to spend money we don't have buying things we don't really need, 3/4 of the world's money problems aka sufferings would be solved. Why bring God into the equation. God created a thing called the human intellect to think for ourselves …Maybe that's where he made a mistake

  10. >I agree with you completely. We are responsible for our own choices. I normally don't like to plug my own writings, but my wife recently lost her mom and grandma on the same day, and she asked the question, "Why does God let bad things happen?" I humbly attempt to answer this question in this post.

  11. >The assumption that God isn't perfect is a slippery slope that can lead to justification of just about any action. The whole notion of God evolving along with human society leads to a moral relativist argument that could go like this; "I'm not perfect and neither is God – just look at the bible – I'm learning as I go just like he did." I'm not saying I have the answer, I'm just concerned that your argument of an evolving God doesn't quite work for me. "Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect." [Matthew 5:48]

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