A recent commentator on my youtube vid of me responding to a question about the problem of pain declares “The analogy fails.” What I had said was that the problem of pain reflected a heart wrenching reaction to what we see in the world but we already have in hand the principle to unravel it: parents know that their children will suffer, yet they bring them into the world anyway; they know they will suffer but in order for children to become adults they must be permitted to endure the messy business of life. An over protective parent is a resented parent.
If a parent wants to have children grow to adulthood and still have relationships with them, they simply must allow that their children may experience pain and suffering.
We already have this principle and know that it is valid but as the commentator on Youtube illustrates it seems difficult to reconcile with the facts of the world.
Indeed, I will say that this question is the only, single, legitimate objection to theism and Christianity. That’s right- everything else reduces somehow to some irrationality or prideful stubborness or (even if innocent) ignorance. Here is the single point of ‘faith’ that really appears to be blind and contrary to the evidence. It is this: God is good, in spite of it all, God is good.
For clearly, it is possible that there is a God but he is wicked. And yet by saying that I am doing the same thing the youtube commentator did. By finding God guilty and responsible for all the terrible things in human history, by voicing our visceral disgust with humans in pain and agony, we are in fact testifying to the existence of an objective standard by which God can be measured. In other words, at the very same moment we condemn God as ‘responsible’ we admit that there is an absolute good. Only, God isn’t it. Or isn’t he? Fair minded individuals will want to account for and justify our invoking of a standard of good. If it is not a transcendent standard how can you apply it to a transcendent entity?
The problem of pain is a heart wrenching problem that is as much emotional and physical as it is intellectual, but the ‘solutions’ are abstractions. Abstractions, but nonetheless true.
I do not condemn anyone from running their ship aground on the problem of pain. The intellectual answers to it are correct and the problem itself creates a problem for non-Christians: where does this standard of ‘good’ come from? Even then, yes, even if one is convinced, even if one becomes a Christian! pain still hurts and suffering is still appalling. 100% of the time. The objection is valid 100% of the time. But Christianity offers a different sort of ‘solution’ too which sets it apart from all other options out there.
Namely, God goes beyond our unsatisfying yet true abstractions and enters into our pain and suffering personally in order to set things right. It would be one thing if the God under consideration stood aloof from our sufferings, heckling humanity for its stupidity, gloating at the mess we’ve made of ourselves, remaining distant like someone who watches it on TV. God doesn’t stoop to explain the intellectual side of the problem of suffering in minute detail because it wouldn’t matter, anyway. Suffering sucks. Instead he stoops to endure it with us and he promises to bring it to an end some day.
Now you may think that the price is too high. You may think that all this pain and suffering can’t justify whatever it is that God expects to get out of it. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to make that calculation. Thus, it is the sole ‘leap of faith’ in the Christian religion to believe that when God says its worth it, it really is. We are in a position to make similar calculations, however, and we make them every day. Let us therefore not tell God that he can’t do things that we ourselves do.
The commentator says, “You would be responsible (that is, guilty of gross negligence) if you failed to prevent your kids from running into the street and getting killed by a truck.”
Yes, but you would be responsible, too, if you locked your kids in a padded room so that no ‘harm’ could ever come to them.