It’s one of the most common questions non-Christians ask us. People often say that suffering is the reason why they don’t believe in God. The argument goes ‘if God’s so great, why does he let bad things happen to good people’?
Even Christians sometimes struggle to understand the answer to this. So Alex recently asked Dan Paterson, from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, to unpack it for her. His explanation is absolutely jaw-dropping. It’s got evil insects, scary robots, and people jumping off buildings, so you can cancel your trip to the movies. But more importantly, it’s one of the simplest answers we’ve ever heard for this super tough question.
RZIM is an apologetics ministry, which doesn’t mean they go around saying sorry to everyone. The term ‘apologetics’ actually comes from the Greek word appologiea, which means ‘to give a defence’, or ‘give an answer.’ It’s helping people see that their objections to belief in God, and the Christian story, maybe either aren’t true or aren’t as big as they think.’
One of the most popular versions of the ‘why is there suffering’ argument against God was a video interview with Stephen Fry which went viral, so Dan jokes that he’s ‘jumping into the frying pan’ with this question. In the video, Fry is asked what he would say to God if he made it to Heaven. ‘Bone cancer in children!’ he replied. ‘What’s that about?’ He goes on to mention insects whose whole life cycle is to eat the eyes of children, saying that any God who would create something like that is a maniac. This argument was actually Dan’s biggest objection to Christianity, because he struggled to understand the tragedies his own family suffered.
But now, Dan argues that the reason there is suffering is actually because God is great! Confused? Just bear with us for a second. When asked what they would want God to be like, most people say they want him to be loving. So what does love involve?
Genesis describes how God created human beings in His own image, and how our purpose as humans is to have relationships. ‘Jesus summed up the entire purpose of humanity in two commands, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as our self. It’s relational, vertically and horizontally.’
‘But if you’re going to have a meaningful relationship, a key component of that is the fact that you have choice, either to be in that relationship or not to be.’
‘Imagine if I went and got some degrees in mechatronics, and engineering, and IT, and I was able to invent a phenomenal robot, and it was very humanlike. It looked like a woman, sounded like a woman, but all of her responses were pre-programmed, just to be able to do whatever I wanted.’
He came to suffer with us in the person of Jesus Christ. He knows what it is to suffer
‘Now imagine if I brought her into a Church, and asked the Pastor to marry us, and she says ‘I love you’ to me, ‘I do’ in response to the vows. Would anyone in that service, knowing that she’s a robot, pre-programmed to do whatever I want, get warm and fuzzy feelings by seeing her make those declarations?’
‘We wouldn’t, because we know, intuitively, for love or relationship to mean anything, it has to be freely given, freely chosen, by a free agent. Otherwise it’s just puppetry.’
‘When God created humans,’ Dan explained, ‘He could have created us as robots, or puppets on strings, that only do whatever He wants all the time. But because He wanted love to exist, because God is so great, and love is the supreme ethic, He created beings that are capable both of trusting Him, and loving Him in response, as earthly kids to a Heavenly father, or breaking faith with Him, and going our own way.’
The Bible tells us how Adam and Eve chose to eat from the tree of knowledge, because they didn’t trust the moral boundaries God set up for us. ‘It’s from this point, going against the moral grain of God’s universe, that humans get splintered.’
Basically then, it was man’s choice to defy God which ultimately caused the suffering we see in the world today. And the fact that there is suffering actually proves that God’s moral laws do exist.
‘In the same way,’ Dan explained, ‘if I jumped off a roof, and I said I don’t believe in gravity, I wouldn’t break the law of gravity. I would prove the law of gravity, and my broken body would confirm it.’
‘This is the same way that God’s moral law worked with the universe. When we tried to break God’s moral laws, in once sense we only proved their existence, but we were broken by them.’
Genesis Chapter 3, describes exactly that. ‘The fall’ causes sin, and evil, and suffering, to become part of the human experience. ‘And it’s because God is loving that He allowed that to happen,’ Dan said. ‘He didn’t remove our freedom. He didn’t stop us from being human.’
But the Bible also shows us how God responded to our pain, with compassion. ‘He came to suffer with us in the person of Jesus Christ. He knows what it is to suffer. He expressed His love for us in the midst of our suffering, and He promises one day to take that sting away completely, wiping away every tear from our eyes.’
In that famous video, Stephen Fry describes God with words like ‘capricious, stupid and mean-minded’. But in truth, God is the most loving Father of all time. He gave us the choice to disobey Him, and not only forgave us when we did, but also chose to suffer alongside us, and promised to end all our suffering as soon as He could.
When you think about that incredible, unconditional love, do those words seem right to you?
Listen to more of the interview below.