It is probably the most devastating argument against belief in God. If there is a good and powerful God, why would he allow so much suffering and evil in the world. Surely he would stop it?
Doesn’t this prove beyond doubt that there is no God?
Are there any answers?
A number of thoughts take some of the sting out of the argument:
- Much suffering comes because humans have free will – and sometimes choose what causes suffering to others. Perhaps God could have made us differently, but who would be willing to give up their freedom of choice to see an end to human evil?
- Living in a physical world is another source of evil. The physical world provides great pleasure and beauty, but also hurts and disasters. Does the good outweigh the bad? Could God have given us the good without the bad?
- Surveys show about 75% of people in the world are happy, and very few feel so unhappy they’d rather not be alive. This suggests that for most of us, the world is a basically good place.
- Why do we care about other people’s suffering? Surely it is only because we see such suffering as evil. But without God, it is hard to see how we can say anything is evil. So perhaps the fact that we can say with confidence that suffering is evil points to God.
So there are good reasons to think that the world isn’t as bad a place as we might sometimes be tempted to think. Nevertheless, I am still left wondering why God allowed as much evil as he does.
Does this mean one cannot logically believe in God?
Balancing the ledger
I cannot avoid the conclusion that something is deeply wrong with the world. Suffering is evidence that certainly makes it harder to believe in a good God. But it isn’t the only evidence we have.
Elsewhere on this site (Why believe?), I have examined the evidence and found that our universe is strong evidence of a creator God, that our sense of right and wrong is evidence of an ethical God, that people’s experiences of God and the historical evidence for Jesus both point to a God who cares.
We are left to balance these two apparently contradictory sets of evidence. I can understand those who find the evidence of human suffering compelling, but I think the evidence for a loving, good creative God to be even more compelling.
The only way to account for the evidence seems to be to conclude that (1) a good God exists, and (2) we cannot understand why he allows so much evil.
To consider this question in more detail, see God and evil.