08 April 2010

The suffering dodge (NEXT! #22)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: You're a Christian? Aren't you troubled by the suffering in the world?

Response: Well, it does seem strange that there is so relatively little of it.

(Proverbs 21:22)

Dan Phillips's signature


James Scott Bell said...

Yes, and so relatively little because of Christianity. We need to point out that the overwhelming amount of actual "good" done in the world for the past 2000 years is traceable directly to Christianity and its ethic. Atheists love to point to the Crusades and the Inquistion, as if these are indicative of something. But they never point to,. e.g., the abolition of slavery, or charitable giving (how many atheist relief organizations went to Haiti? For that matter, how many relief organizations of any other world religion)?

So yes, let's stack up the record of Christianity and Atheism when it comes to suffering. We can start in the 20th Century and work our way back.

DJP said...

Johnny, I think you're right, but this doesn't go there. Loudmouth atheists (a category of their own) have cut-n-paste retorts to that. I'm aiming at the root issue. I don't care about their issues with Christianity per se in the first place; it's their (faux) root issue with God — our race's (faux) root issue with God — that I'm targeting.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...


Is the root you're targeting how the atheist calls into question God's righteousness? I'm just making sure that I'm understanding this right.

Mr. Fosi said...

I think the root of the issue is the evil of man, which is so obvious to all. What is not so obvious is why, knowing that man is so evil, there is so very little suffering in the world. It is because of God's goodness and provision, even for those who despise and reject him. "Good" works of Christians cannot hope to approach the goodness of God and so that is the wrong place to begin a discussion of suffering in the world.

The fact is, if there was no God, there would be a great deal more suffering simply due to the nature of man, but God retrains the greater part of man's evil while simultaneously provisioning good.

Phil said...

Right on. Either God is good and man is evil or man is good and God is evil. The way out of their cavil is to attack them for being the good judge and putting the evil God on trial.

Death or Glory Toad said...

Would be a good hand-out for the greenpeace ruffians outside Wal-Mart.

archshrk said...

"the evil of man, which is so obvious to all"

The problem Isaac is that most non-believers that I'v encountered think that man is inherently and naturally good.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

One more OT reference to your second link: Jonah 4:2.

(Just studied it last night at church.)

Mr. Fosi said...

[i]"The problem Isaac is that most non-believers that I'v encountered think that man is inherently and naturally good."[/i]

Yes, I re-read my post after posting it and don't like my use of "obvious" either. I'd like to hear the case for the natural goodness of man. I am sure it would be a hoot.

However, the person who made the objection has no choice but to agree with what I said since the major assumptions behind their cavil (my word for the day! :D) are 1) that there is "suffering" in the world and 2) that there is no God. They also make the tacit assumption that "suffering" is "bad" and the Christian could just as easily exchange "bad" for "evil" since that is what the questioner is implying.

Conclusion: Suffering must be caused by man so man is therefore bad or evil. That is, unless they want to try and make the weak case that they were [i]really[/i] referring to earthquakes and other such disasters. Such an attempt would serve to further expose their disingenuousness (is that a word?).

DJP said...

They can accomplish that, Isaac, by redefining good and evil according to their own canons. It's still Operation Ye Shall Be As Gods, now in its ____th year and going... well, going just as pathetically as it has since the start.

Call to Die said...

Under the Christian worldview suffering in the world is troubling because it is symptomatic of mankind's rebellion against God.

The secular humanist, embracing a Darwinian account of history, is also troubled by suffering in the world, but this demonstrates an inconsistency between his philosophy and his experience. In other words, there is no reason why one who accepts Darwinism should be troubled by suffering happening to others- "survival of the fittest" requires a great deal of suffering, and if this is the "natural" way things occur, then with an increase of understanding, we should be able to evolve past useless empathy (or, at least, to sublimate it unless it is deemed useful for survival in a given situation).

But the Christian account gives a cogent reason why suffering in the world troubles us so: it is because suffering is unnatural. In the all-good world that God created there would have been no suffering. Suffering was introduced from the creatures' side, as we committed rebellion against God. It is this rebellion that Christ comes to end, having come the first time to take the punishment for our rebellion upon Himself on the Cross, and coming again at the end of history to set all things right.

In the new heavens and new earth, which Christ will bring about, there will be no more suffering. Only by rejecting Him and continuing in sin against God will unbelievers continue to suffer eternally in Hell.

Mr. Fosi said...

Yes Dan, but even if they redefine the terms, their assumptions still stand against them.

That is, unless they juxtapose the terms such that good is evil and vice versa. At that point though, I think we'll have left the domain of this "NEXT!" and moved into another.

The assumptions of the questioner are:

- suffering is bad
- suffering exists
- man exists
- man is...?
- God does not exist or God exists but is indifferent or God exists and is bad.

No matter which assumption about God they make, it stands against their case since all their assumptions about God fail to account for both suffering and alleviation.

Can the assumption that man is inherently good account for both the suffering and alleviation? I'd like to see that case presented.

As I see it, the assumptions that man is evil but that God is good explain both the suffering and the alleviation of it.

I'm not married to the argument as present and welcome critique. I operate in tdhe academic world and these sorts of objections are precisely the ones that I encounter regularly. As such, I am interested in having my iron sharpened (Pv 27:17).

donsands said...

It does seem little, when we compare God's blessing His creation, and then cursing it.

Evene though He cursed it, because of Adam, the serpent, and Eve, the Earth is still quite a marvelous place.

" You're a Christian? Aren't you troubled by the suffering in the world?"

"Absolutely. I hate to see Chimpanzees ripping smaller monkey's arm out from their sockets, and legs from their sockets alive. Or a Komodo dragon chewing on the hindquarter of a deer for hours while the deer is still alive.

However, the Lord will make all things right. There will be the blessedness of the Earth once again, as it was when God first created it; and even more marvelous."

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

You know, the assumption that man is inherently good goes against the grain of common sense, though, doesn't it? Because if man was inherently good, then we wouldn't have to train our kids to do right, there wouldn't be prisons, correction centers, etc. etc. So is it that people try to justify themselves rather than the fact that they are ignorant, or that unregenerate folks just don't think about these things? I'm asking this because I thought that scripture says that we are aware of the fact that our deeds are evil, but that we suppress it. Am I misunderstanding that?

DJP said...

The objector is always sure that he is good.

Sir Brass said...


Yes there is so relatively little of it compared to what there ought to be coming from the Lord due to our rebellion and iniquities.

Mark B. Hanson said...

To build on what ajlin said, if we are the product of "nature red in tooth and claw", whence comes any expectation that we will (let alone "ought to") transcend that dynamic? Why should the athiest consider it "evil" that one man shoots another over a girlfriend - it's all about the genes, baby!

The only question is why we even notice it. Do fish notice the water they swim in?

But if there is a God, a righteous one, and we have denied him or disobeyed him, then the lack of suffering in the world is a good indicator that we are upheld by the hand of a gracious God, who does not immediately punish all our sin and rebellion.

Janice said...

Great discussion! I'm really enjoying it!

Atheists have said the same thing to me, like: "Well, if God is so good why didn't He just make a perfect world?" I used to stumble over that one. But now I can say: "He DID make a perfect world. We sinned against Him and brought all the death, anguish, and suffering you now see."

The problem is they think God is just a really powerful man, not God. That sinning against Him is no big deal. But God doesn't just act good, He is the embodiment, the definition, the source, the total essense of good (that's why Jesus said, "Why call me 'good'? Only the Father is good").

So rebelling against God means we bring on all that is bad, evil, poisonous, deadly, and painful. Which brings you to Dan's NEXT! question: "Why do we have it so good then?"

Because our God is merciful beyond measure! Bow the knee and praise Him!

Larry Geiger said...

"The problem Isaac is that most non-believers that I'v encountered think that man is inherently and naturally good."

The problem is that most people that I've encountered (even in short fits of objectivity when I've encountered myself) think that the other guy is bad. The man that is inherently good is ourselves. The evil is "out there" somewhere in someone else "over there".

"There is no one righteous, not even one". Even me.

David Rudd said...

if the objector is an atheist, he certainly isn't blaming God or condemning God for evil. He doesn't think God exists.

Therefore, Dan's NEXT forces him to synergize the fact that man must be the source of evil, and if that is true then man must have evil within him.

as such, it IS strange that there is relatively little.

this is a good one, Dan.

lawrence said...

Best NEXT yet. By far. Love it.

CR said...

Hmmm...I'm not sure if I understand your Christian's response to the atheists challenge. Here's how I would respond.

Atheist: Aren't you troubled by the suffering in the world?

Christian: Why do you think there is suffering in the world?

Atheist: Well, that's why I'm asking you.

Christian: Oh, I thought you asked me why I was troubled, like am I surprised?

Atheist: Well, if there is a God, why is there so much suffering?

Christian: well, God made us and the world and he made us as stewards of the world under his rule. But we rejected his rule and we wanted to do things our way. And the result is we can't rule the world or ourselves our own way. By rebelling against God, we've caused an enormous amount of suffering.

That suffering manifests itself in different ways. Most of the suffering is manifested by the rule of wicked and powerful and prideful people with absolute power. A few examples are Mao Zedung, Stalin, Hitler, Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il. And you know what happens in every single case without exception with people who rise up and say I will set my throne on high? All of them die and their bodies are being eaten by maggots and worms.

That won't just happen to people with absolute power, but it will happen to everyone who rejects God even those who say there is no God. You see, atheism is a form of pride, because atheists, well, man in general, can't stand having anyone above them. So, one way of acting out that pride is to say, there is no God, that way, you don't have to admit there is anyone above you that you owe total allegiance to.

Atheist: Forget you, man.

Stefan Ewing said...

Dan, this may be the best of the bunch! I love it!

Aaron said...

Debating an Athiest is like debating a three year old. You can use logic only up until they start making things up or throwing a temper tantrum. A good example, in response to CRs post is that the athiests start saying Mao and Stalin weren't as bad as everyone says. I like Dan's post because it ends debate and just sends the athiest directly into a snit fit.

DJP said...

I'm all about cutting out the blahblahblah. You get that.


Mr. Fosi said...

"Debating an Athiest is like debating a three year old. You can use logic only up until they start making things up or throwing a temper tantrum."

Point taken; that is usually where it ends up.

I guess I still haven't really caught onto the disentangling nature of the "NEXT!" posts. -_-

DJP said...

If you haven't already, click on the word NEXT in the post. Takes you back to the first post, which explains their purpose.

Aaron said...

Yeah, if only I could stop typing atheist wrong. It's one word the iPhone doesn't autocorrect.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Sir Aaron beat me to it...

you can only use logic with people who... use logic.

I can just picture the momentarily baffled look your response would provoke... before the whining commences.

Good one, Dan!

Everybody thinks they want justice, but we don't really. I want grace. Praise the Lord!

Aaron said...

I before e, except in neighborhood and weigh. And atheist.

CR said...

and also after "c."

Rick Potter said...

Man! I love this particular "Next".

Keep'em coming Big Dan!

Pierre Saikaley said...

I recall an atheist said to me, "I'm so thankful for X good things in my life"

I said "Thankful to WHOM?"

Startled by the implications of that, the dodges began.

Romans 1;18-21

Further to this...so, for example, the earthquake in Haiti could have been so much worse, God was being merciful by limiting the destruction to the thousands that died, given our common sinfulness, so that compared to the full wrath of God that will be poured out upon the wicked, that was very little.

Now I could see how that could strike some fear into people, when they consider how much worse things could be.

David Kyle said...

"I'm all about cutting out the blahblahblah."

That's what you do Dan and not many do it better. That must be what that sword you are holding is for.

Herding Grasshoppers said...


i before e
except after c
or when sounded as "a"
as in neighbor or weigh

or when you're being weird

Stefan Ewing said...

Or in "either" or "neither."

Moon said...

it took me like 10 seconds and clicking the second link to get it :P

DJP said...

Ay, Ritacita, tan abstraída estas! De que estas pensando?


Aaron said...

herding grasshoppers, do you see how little I remember from my homeschooling days?

DJP said...

Interesting that the star-ratings don't reflect the comments. Anyone else suspect ballot-stuffing?

Moon said...

I'm kinda slow sometimes...actually most of the times :P

DJP said...

No lo creo.

SLW said...

Kudos Dan. That one made me snicker and giggle despite myself. Definitely a touche that I'll remember and put to use. Thanks.

philness said...

Since when did an Atheist have a moral concern about suffering?

Stefan Ewing said...

Without suffering, there could be no Cross. Without the Cross, there could be no grace.

...To paraphrase John Piper, in a sermon he gave at our church tonight.

Bobby Grow said...

I guess it depends on who you are. As far as suffering, and so little of it. There are plenty of folks who are suffering terribly right now --- I know, personally --- could there be more (or should)? Yes, but that's only if our God was not a God of mercy.

Bobby Grow said...


Shouldn't it be the other way around; without grace there would be no cross? In other words, suffering/sin doesn't predicate grace; but God's grace shapes suffering and sin through the cross-work. I.e. suffering isn't necessary for God's grace to be displayed.

Stefan Ewing said...


I would urge you to reconsider the last sentence in your last comment:

"Suffering isn't necessary for God's grace to be displayed."

God's grace is made most manifest in the death of Christ for our sins, which necessitated the temporary suffering of the Son for the eternal glory of the Father and the Son.

And grace is by definition the gift of something undeserved, unmerited, unearned. We would not know what grace is if we were not living in a world of suffering, enslaved to our own sin, under the wrath of God, and groaning for our deliverance.

Jacob said...

Dan - I was cleaning out old bookmarks and clicked one I'd created sometime last year for the NEXT! series. I was thrilled to see the series continues! Thank you for continuing to post these!

DJP said...

Thanks, Jacob. They come as inspiration comes.