In this essay I will try to continue responding to our atheistic brothers and sisters in explaining why we believe in God and why their position is open to question. I would like to look at the problem of pain in our world.
Atheists and those struggling with their belief in God often declare, “Why should I believe in a loving God when there is so much suffering in the world that He created?”
The classic literary case for this position was penned by the great Russian Novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky in his magisterial work “The Brothers Karamazov”. In a fervent and powerful scene from this masterpiece, the atheist Ivan Karamazov confronts his brother the monk Alyosha with why he, Ivan, chooses not to believe in a god who allows innocent children to suffer. It is one of the most searing and explosive scenes in all of world literature. Ivan catalogues horrible accounts of cruelty done to children culled from the Russian newspapers of the day—real life situations.
Dostoyevsky was a deeply Christian writer, but he also was an honest man who refused to take pat answers to important questions. Ivan, therefore, comes off as someone who is very compassionate and objects to a god who seems not to be caring to the most defenseless of innocents.
While there are many atheists that are not such caring and conscientious individuals, the voice of a great intellectual like Ivan makes us search for true answers to these emotionally turbulent questions.
The evils usually sited can be placed under two general headings: Cosmic Evil and Human Evil.
Under Cosmic Evil, we place all the natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes, pandemics etc. These lack a human agent. They just happen to us. We rather blithely call them ‘acts of God’. Of course, all of the talk regarding these difficult questions must begin with the fact that no one explanation can be satisfactory and that there is a danger in coming to very pat answers.
The thinking around a response to this issue moves in this way: God has placed us in an unfinished world that is constantly evolving. Because we are made in the image and likeness of God and God is a creator, we also must be creators, firstly through procreation and then using the talents and intelligence that God has given us to help make this a better world. So, the study of earthquakes and their forecast and detection is part of the work of God that He has given to man. Of course, humankind can choose to devote themselves to blowing each other up rather than making earthquakes less lethal for the human community. But such is God’s respect for our use of freedom that He will allow it and not constantly overprotect humanity, so that it learns how important it is to study and work on the things that matter rather than frittering away our intelligence on less productive and sometimes destructive things. Think of the genius in coming up with Atomic Weapons! Just think if all that effort would go into protecting humanity from natural disasters. Even sickness would be close to being eradicated with everyone sharing their genius and coming up with cures to the most common diseases and conditions.
Then of course comes the evil that we commit against each other: Human Evil. This we cannot blame on God. Human beings freely choose to kill each other and hurt each other. If a miracle were to happen and everyone on earth became a saint by doing the right thing always, this world would be a little paradise. There would be no hunger since everyone would share. There would be no war since everyone would love peace and work for justice. There would be no hatred since everyone would make a point of being peace makers and loving one another. Pride would be eradicated by humility. Envy by generosity. Parents would bring up their children to do everything as God would have it done; and with a proper use of sexuality there would be universal respect and fidelity in marriage. No pornography. No rape. No abuse of children.
Sounds a little far-fetched, I know. We are not even close to this kind of world. But the instructions are there (in the Bible) and the building blocks are available. If only we had not turned to sin! Instead of a habit of vice we would have developed a habit of virtue!
God is just as distressed with evil as we are. Even more: He made us in His own image so that we could heal the world and bring it to its immortal beauty.
But the way to this new world is not to blame God but to work one day at a time and one person at a time to build the Kingdom of God. We have the tools, but we need the will. Hence, conversion and repentance must begin with me. Who knows? It may catch on!