The Necessity of Suffering in a Physical World
1. Atheists argument:
God either wishes to take away evil, and is
unable; or He is both willing and able. If
He is willing but unable, He is feeble, which is
not in accordance with the character of God. If
He is able and unwilling, He is envious, which is
equally at variance with God. If He is both
envious and feeble, and therefore not God. If He
is both willing and able, which alone is suitable
for God, from what source then are evils? Or why
does He not remove them? (Epicurus)
2. Basically, how can an all-loving and all-powerful God allow evil/suffering to exist?
3. Some have accused Christians of believing in God by means of irrational thought (e.g., Mackie 46).
I. Purpose of the world and man.
A. God wanted fellowship with man (Eph. 1.4-6, 12).
1. Fellowship is not forced.
2. God only desires true worshippers (John 4.23).
3. Thus, man had to be in an environment where he could choose freely whether he would come into fellowship with God.
B. This world, thus, had to be a “vale of soul-making.” (Hick 289)
1. Man had to be a free moral agent.
a. He would not then be overwhelmed by God (317-18).
b. He still would have adequate evidence that God exists (cf. Ps. 19.1-2; 7-11).
2. The world would have to be law-abiding and teleological.
a. Man could depend upon it for regularity.
b. This would entail suffering.
3. It had to be a place where men were challenged to obey God (Warren, Have Atheists 45).
4. It had to fulfill man’s basic needs.
C. Most people want “heaven upon earth.”
D. If God were to change this, then He would have to change His purposes for God and man (Wiersbe 35).
II. Problem of sin
A. Sin is the intrinsic evil.
B. Free moral agency had to include possibility of sinning.
1. God did not make man as a robot.
a. Some suggest that when God choose to have offspring, then He had to make them as free-moral agents (e.g., Cates).
b. Regardless, God’s purpose for man necessitated man’s being a free-moral agent.
2. God’s justice demanded that sin be punished.
a. Gen. 3 – labor with hands
b. Rom. 5 – death entered into the world
C. The problem of sin was cured by God but not in such a way as to interfere with man’s free moral agency.
1. Jesus was sent to be the lamb of God (John 1.29; 3.16).
2. This shows that God truly is all-loving and does care.
D. Bert Thompson suggests three cases of suffering that are directly related to sin:
1. The first case is that one may suffer because of personal wrong choices made by him/her.
2. The second case is that one may suffer because of the wrong choices made by others.
3. The third case is that one may suffer because of the wrong choices made by former generations (“Does Human Suffering” 282).
III. Permitted for God’s purposes for God and man.
A. To imagine a world without suffering is to imagine absence of all virtues, lack of any compassion, courage, unselfishness, and determination (Liderbach 32). Life would basically be intolerable and the world would be one of chaos (Hall 22).
B. Some cases of suffering are, in actuality, needed for man in order for him/her to become what God would have him/her be.
1. Heb. 12.4f – God disciplines his people
2. Also, suffering makes man appreciate what is to come and aids in his/her understanding of the ugliness of sin and the beauty of Heaven (Jackson 26).
(a) Rom. 8.18 – not worthy to be compared to coming glory
(b) Understand why sin must be punished
3. “Suffering has a value in the thought of God that is known only to him; it is not necessarily to be understood as a means of discipline or as a punishment (cf. Psa. 23.4). It is enough for the sufferer to know that even the dark and obscure ways are watched over by God.” (Gerstenberger and Schrage 115)
C. What about natural calamity?
1. “Laws that make it possible to have things constructive to human life also introduce the possibility of things destructive to humankind” (Thompson, “Divine Benevolence” 30).
2. “In a physical world where there is water for boating and swimming, some will drown. If there are mountains to climb, there must also be
valleys into which one may fall. If there are cars to drive, collisions can
also occur. It may be said that tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes, and
other natural disasters are likewise by-products of a good physical
world. For instance, the purpose of rain is not to flood or drown, but
the result of rain may include these disasters. Likewise, hot and cold air
are an essential and purposeful part of the physical world, but under
certain conditions they may combine to form tornadoes.” (Geisler 72,
emp. in orig.)
D. One should ask, “What is to be accomplished by this world?”
a. Power to heal, but not all healed
b. Why? John 20.30-31 – Healing everyone was not the purpose of miracles.
2. God has accomplished His purposes
E. God’s justice would be called into question if suffering were not present.
F. Rom. 8.28 – God works things out for His eternal purposes
1. Eyes need to be opened as was Job’s who came to see that God was in control and knew what He was doing even though man, at times, may fail to see that (Hartley 49-50).
2. Christ suffered for God’s eternal purpose, are we any better than He?
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