Atheists and skeptics often ask, if God is all powerful and all loving, why doesn’t He stop the suffering in the world? This is a great question. How can God be all-powerful if He cannot prevent evil? If He can prevent evil but allows it to occur, how can he remain perfectly loving?
These questions although well-intended, misrepresent the God of Christianity. God’s omnipotence does not mean that he can do the logically impossible. So, there are some things God cannot do because they are not logically coherent (i.e. they aren’t anything!).
Christian philosophers have given many examples of the logically impossible. God cannot for example, make a one-ended stick. He cannot make a square circle. Why? Because these are not things at all. They are complete nonsense.
So… back to the problem of evil and suffering. Could God create ANY world? More specifically could he create a world in which we have free-will and suffering or evil don‘t exist?
To create that world would be logically impossible. You might ask, how so?
Because first of all, God gives us free-will. Meaning, you and I can make our own decisions. We are not robots. If he wanted to rid the world of suffering, He would have to start by stripping away our free will to do evil.
God gave us free-will because he loves us. Because He loves us, He gives us the choice to love Him.
You cannot force someone to love you… that is not love. To try and force someone to love you might even lead to a restraining order or worse, arrest. So if God robbed us of our free will and forced us to love him he would not be all-loving.
Therefore it is logically coherent, that if God loves us we have the free will to choose him. If we have free-will, we have the choice to do evil and thus bring suffering into the world.
Therefore, it would be logically impossible for God to create a world in which we have free-will but evil and suffering do not also exist. And if he robbed us of our free will he would not be a loving God.
That idealistic world is akin to the example of the one-ended stick! It is a complete nonentity.
Here’s how C.S. Lewis described the dilemma in his book, The Problem of Pain:
His [God’s] omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power. If you choose to say ‘God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it’, you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words ‘God can.’ It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but non entities.
Now we have touched on evil and suffering caused by mankind. What about natural disasters, illness, and other forms of suffering in which we are not the direct cause?
Stay tuned this month as we explore the problem further!
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers) 561.