The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Two: How Could a Good God Allow Suffering)Posted: August 8, 2013
Chapter 2 – How Could a Good God Allow Suffering
The skeptic at the beginning of this chapter asserts: due to suffering in the world the god of Christianity (all-good, all-powerful) either doesn’t exist, or could exist but shouldn’t be trusted. (P. 22)
Pastor Keller opens with the point “Just because you can’t see to imagine a good reason God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one.” (P.23) I agree. The issue isn’t that we can’t understand God’s rationalization for the future, but rather, what it is in the past.
The short sightedness of YHWH is staggering, particularly since he is supposedly all knowing. He creates perfection in earth and life according to Genesis. He then creates the tree(s) of knowledge and life and says to his completely innocent, naïve, and sinless creations not to touch it or else they will die.
Let’s put this in perspective. Adam and Eve have the moral and ethical understanding equivalent of an infant. They have no knowledge of right vs. wrong, sin, or even death. They didn’t even know they were naked (Genesis 3:10). God creating the tree(s) telling them they will die is the same as a parent telling a toddler they will get burned by the stove and then turning on a burner and leaving the child within reach. You cannot blame the child for getting burned. It has no concept of “burn” even though you told them it was bad. Moreover the omniscient YHWH knew the serpent is hanging out in the tree and plans to contradict him. He knows this and does nothing to prohibit it by telling Adam and Eve to be wary of the snake, or changing the snake’s nature.
So in the metaphor, If another adult tells a toddler the burner is actually good the child will definitely check out which is true since there is no reason to believe one over the other. The suffering of all man kind begins at the very moment we have the ability to know right from wrong, the very information making us culpable for what we do.
Why not endow this information first and not punish the whole of a species for something all but two now have the ability to identify? This is also a good time to point out the punishment for sin was not eternal damnation in hell but painful child-birth and daily toil (Genesis 3:16-19). Hell is not in the picture for another few thousand years.
The point isn’t God may have a plan to use suffering to help us grow. That’s completely reasonable. How suffering came about in the first place smacks of a bad parent projecting their own short comings on their innocent kids rather than an omniscient omnipotent deity. Epicurus said it well:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?” Epicurus – Greek philosopher, BCE 341-270
Next Keller argues “Evil and Suffering may be (if anything) evidence for God” (P.25) He backs this
assertion by saying evolution works specifically because of suffering and death, survival of the fittest and so on. He says, “On what basis, then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horribly wrong, unfair, and unjust?” (P. 26) This isn’t what the chapter started out arguing against.
The atheists Keller quotes has an issue with the idea a perfect all loving being having all knowledge, past and future, created a world with so much seemingly pointless death and suffering, not with the laws of the universe which proclaims no special knowledge, love, or deity. Atheists don’t generally view the universe as unfair or unjust, but rather as “is”.
Pastor Keller goes on to say without belief in God the atheist has no good reason to be outraged at injustice because it is simply following evolutionary law. Again he is asserting that one cannot be moral without religion. People mourned death and loss before religion. People currently mourn it devoid of religion. Keller is again just making claims, and denigrating an entire group, with no evidence to back it up
One would have to attribute a consciousness to nature to say it acted with a sense of justice. Most atheists don’t. Moreover you would have to be a sociopath to be indifferent to the tsunami of Dec. 2004 (Keller’s example P.23). Just because an atheist understands when you fill a person’s lungs with water or crush their body they die doesn’t mean they wish the event hadn’t happened or need to find a reason it did. In fact under Keller’s logic the non-believer is the only one who has a right to be indignant since they see it only as a tragedy and the believer should not question God’s will and trust he has a grand plan for good.
Keller says, “It is therefore a mistake… to think that if you abandon belief in God it somehow makes the problem of evil easier to handle.” Again, this is not what the atheist is arguing. Having faith is typically the easier thing to do when there is no logical answer at the ready. The other options are search for an answer supported by evidence or admit you do not know. Once again, the opening skeptics aren’t arguing Keller’s assertion. They are arguing if the god of the Trinity is who he/they says he/they are, then why is there evil and suffering? The skeptic isn’t claiming answers, only that Keller’s and religion’s in general does not satisfy.
Despite evading the meat of the initial questions he moves onto the suffering of Christ. He says to understand the suffering of god we must understand him as tri-personal, that Jesus wasn’t created but always was even though YHWH is clearly monotheistic through the whole of Old Testament. Ask any Rabbi if the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were in the Garden of Eden or speaking to Moses on the side of Mt. Sinai. They will tell you no.
“There may be no greater inner agony than the loss of a relationship we desperately want.” (P.29) Again I agree, but the suffering and separation from the Father and Jesus pales grossly in comparison to cancer patient and their family. Let’s give Keller the benefit of the doubt and agree Jesus and the Father have been in Heaven together the entire time. Jesus suffered for about 16 hours and was separated from his “family” for three days, whereas the cancer patient may suffer horribly for years and the family may be separated from them for many years after. Imagine a father losing his son at 33. He lives without him for the rest of his life with no clear evidence he will see him again. The suffering of god is trite by comparison.
Even more, Jesus and the Father know the end of the story. They know they will be reunited very quickly. Even more importantly they, according to the Bible, made this suicide a part of the plan from the beginning. They made the rules. Nothing but them said they had to kill themselves to appease their own sense of justice. Why this is an argument for the benevolence of a deity is completely beyond reason. Setting up a system you know is going to fail first in the garden and then requiring a human sacrifice of yourself to appease yourself are not the merits of an all knowing and loving god. Frankly, if any person suggested anything akin to it, one would find them monstrous, not benevolent.
Keller at this point begins to argue the difference between Christianity, non-belief, and all other major faiths is resurrection. “Restoration of the life you always wanted.” (P. 32) Again, why wouldn’t a loving benevolent god simply start out with this standard? Why create the garden knowing it would become sullied, follow that failure with the blood sacrifice of Jesus making an easier way to paradise, but simultaneously introduce Hell, the worst of all possible realities, only to scrap the whole project according to Revelation and set up a perfect kingdom on earth. An all knowing loving creator’s book would have started at the end of Revelation. We know he can create free will and allow us in his presence/heaven (e.g. angels).
If Keller didn’t argue eventually God would get it right, the idea suffering may have an imperceptible reason stands, but if the end game is to fix a flawed system and set up Heaven on earth, why not start that way? Keller says it is “an infinitely more glorious world than if there had never been the need for bravery, endurance, sacrifice, or salvation.” (P.34) I agree. We appreciate something far more when we know what it is to be without it, but if we are talking about perfection, about Heaven, we won’t be able to recall, identify with, or manifest any kind of fear, struggle, loss, or sin. If the rebuilding of Christ’s kingdom on earth is as the Bible propones it will be, Keller’s argument the function of suffering is to make bliss all the more blissful falls flat on its face.
This chapter was frustrating to read. Keller seems to forget about the Old Testament and what he initially starts out arguing against. I personally wanted answers out of this chapter, but only people of Christian faith could find comfort in Keller’s line of reasoning.
Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.