Maybe for you the questions are less philosophical and more personal: Why am I suffering? Why won’t God fix my parents’ marriage?
The inability to understand the “why” of God’s ways has been the greatest challenge to faith since the beginning of time. It certainly has been mine.
Bart Ehrman, the notorious agnostic professor of New Testament studies at the University of North Carolina, surprises students every semester when he tells them that what made him lose his faith in seminary was not his problems with the supposed “contradictions in the New Testament” for which he has become famous. Rather, he couldn’t understand how a loving God could leave the world in such a broken condition. I once was in the audience when a student asked him, “Is there anything that would cause you to regain your faith?” In response, he quoted a passage from his book, God’s Problem:
I think that if, in fact, God Almighty appeared to me and gave me an explanation that could make sense even of the torture, dismemberment, and slaughter of innocent children, and the explanation was so overpowering that I actually could understand, then I’d be the first to fall on my knees in humble submission and admiration.2
For Ehrman, the problem is not suffering itself; it’s suffering for which he can discern no justifiable purpose.
Like I said, this problem is certainly not a new one. A good portion of the Bible recounts the confused cries of committed believers struggling with God’s apparent lack of involvement in their suffering. Men like Moses, Job, David, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Paul wrestled with this question with the same bewilderment as Justin and Bart Ehrman.
The basic problem that suffering presents to faith in a good God goes like this, stated first by Epicurus in the fourth century BC:
If God is all-powerful, he could stop suffering. If he is all-loving, he would want to stop suffering. That purposeless suffering exists shows that God does not exist.
Or the short version of it: If he’s good, he would. If he could, he should. That he doesn’t means he can’t or he won’t, which really means that he isn’t.
The logic insists that suffering’s presence in our world not only brings into question God’s wisdom and power, but his very existence.
Slam dunk? No.
Is it a difficult question? Yes. But concluding “God does not exist” is not the only—or even most compelling—answer.
Epicurus’s challenge misses a couple crucial and obvious premises: If God is all-powerful and all-loving, then he is also all-wise. And if his wisdom is as far beyond ours as his power is above ours, it shouldn’t surprise us that much of his “why” is beyond our immediate ability to understand.
J. D. Greear and David Jeremiah, Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).
We have just released a new Bible Study based on J.D. Greear’s newest book, Not God Enough. These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.