God, Suffering, and Freewill
I just wanted to put my two cents in on the question of why God allows suffering and doesn’t stop us from harming ourselves and others. Some have questioned and said that they couldn’t understand why God would allow a child to get raped, or why He would allow innocent people to suffer in various ways when He could do something to intervene.
I believe the answer lies in our freewill. God has created us as free creatures so that we as humans can come to a knowledge of Himself, and have a Loving relationship with Him that is centered around the sacrifice of Jesus Christ which attones for our sins and allows us as broken, fallen persons to have said relationship with our righteous, holy, and perfect Creator.
It is important to note that in order to have a loving relationship with God, we must have the freedom to choose. If we did not have freewill, we could not come into a loving relationship with God because to love another is to freely give of oneself to that other. If we did not have libertarian freewill, we could not freely choose to love God, and could not therefore have any sort of loving relationship with Him.
It is also important to note that contrary to a view popular among both theists and atheists alike, God’s purpose is not our happiness in this life.
As stated before, God’s purpose is to allow us to freely come into a loving relationship with Him. If His goal or purpose for human existence was our happiness, then we would be right in challenging God for allowing such atrocities to befall persons. If happiness is the purpose for human existence, then the problem of evil and God’s lack of intervention to prevent such atrocities from befalling humans would seem to hold sway. If however, God’s purpose is to draw the most person’s into a knowledge of and loving relationship (which we noted earlier requires freewill) with Himself, then it makes sense why He doesn’t step in and prevent humans from experiencing a tragedy.
Part of having freewill is the ability to choose. If I have freewill, I can choose to do a good thing; a loving thing. On the flipside, I can also choose to do a hateful thing; an evil thing. If God steps in and negates a freely chosen action, even if to prevent harm or ill from happening to another (or even the person performing the act), He violates our freewill. If we have no freewill, we cannot freely choose to have a loving relationship with God, nor could we choose to do any good (key word being choose, since God could force someone to do good, but that action would not be the result of a choice, and thus, not a freewill action).
For any person to have the freewill choice to do the right thing, they must also have the freewill choice to do the wrong thing. If God steps in & violates a person’s freewill choice to harm another he violates all human freewill & destroys our ability to come into a loving relationship with Himself. How, you may ask, does God preventing a child from being raped destroy our freewill? If we ask this it is because we think that God could simply step in and prevent a select few acts that we want Him to prevent (because we think them atrocities) without completely destroying the rest of our freewill. We think that God, being omnipotent should step in and prevent only those things that are atrocities, and allow us to freely choose all other things. The logic goes that I still have a choice in some areas, and therefore have some freewill, and can at least partially still participate in a loving relationship with God.
The problem is the question of where is that line between what evil acts count as atrocities, and which do not? What evil acts should God allow us to commit, and which should he intervene to prevent? Why should God intervene in the rape or torture of a person, but not intervene in the beating of a child by the school bully. Why should God intervene to stop a deranged mother from drowning her infant child in the bath, but not stop the abortion that is done merely because the mother didn’t want to have a child as the result of a one-night stand? (Note that here I am assuming the position that abortion is the ending of an unborn person’s life. We could argue the merits of this position, & whether or not abortion is wrong, but that would simply be a red herring and is irrelevant to the point I am making about what should be intervened in and what should not).
Why are only certain wrongs, certain atrocities, certain immoral acts warranting of God’s intervention, and not others? You are on shaky ground when you say God should intervene and stop this evil in this circumstance, but shouldn’t intervene and stop that one. To say this is to forget that all evil, no matter the severity of it, is wrong and evil in God’s eyes (i simply wish to note here that just because all sin is evil in God’s eyes does not mean that all sin is warranting of the same punishment or to the same severity of punishment. This is another red herring and not the point of this post, though it may warrant a separate post at another time).
The person who harms (and in some instances kills) themselves with drugs or alcohol is committing evil, so why shouldn’t God prevent that evil? The child who relentlessly teases another child, calling them hurtful names that may affect that other child well into their adult lives is commiting evil, why shoudn’t God prevent that evil? When you violate God’s commandments about sexual purity by looking at pornography and lusting, you may think it is not harming anyone else and would only be harming yourself (if at all), but it is still evil in God’s sight, so why shouldn’t he step in and prevent that evil? It is narrow-minded to say that only certain evils should be stopped and not others. If God were obligated to prevent one evil, He would be obligated to prevent all evil, and if God must intervene and prevent all evil, no one truly has the freedom to choose; we would simply lack freewill, which would prevent us from having or entering into a loving relationship with God.
As much as we wish he would, for God to prevent the freewill action of some of us to make certain decisions is to destroy the ability of any of us to freely come into a relationship with Him.
On the other hand, if as Christianity claims, God is omnipotent, and omniscient, and benevolent, then in the end all wrongs will ultimately be righted and all persons will ultimately receive justice. If that is the case, we do not have to fret over the injustices of this life, because God will bring ultimate justice to all persons.
I hope this is helpful to your understanding of this topic, and I hope it answers the question of why God doesn’t prevent certain atrocities. Even though it may be hard to grasp emotionally, when we think about it logically it only make sense why God does not violate our freewill to stop persons from harming themselves and others.
As always, please feel free to comment below and let me know what you think.
Dedicated to my friend David.