I Can’t Believe That … (2) God would allow children to suffer

How could a loving God allow an innocent child to suffer? Surely he cares enough to prevent the suffering (if he didn’t care, he wouldn’t be very loving). And surely is able to prevent to suffering (if he couldn’t, he wouldn’t be very powerful). And yet we know that in this imperfect world children suffer. So does that mean there is no God? Or could God have good reasons to allow such suffering?

The Suffering (video game)

The Suffering (video game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we talk about the reasons for suffering there is a real danger that anything we say will sound glib or even insensitive to those who have been bereaved. The mother who has lost a beloved child doesn’t want reasons, she wants her child back. Trying to intellectualise the problem will be cold comfort for such grief. Trying to explain away the suffering would be heartless. Because what possible reason could you give that would make the death of a child acceptable? What explanation would justify so great a loss? And that is the first thing to recognise. When we seek to understand the existence of suffering we are not seeking to give a reason for individual acts of suffering. Some acts of suffering, when considered in isolation, have no reason. They are not caused by God, they are not for some eventual gain, they are, essentially, meaningless. We do not live in a world where everything has a purpose, where everything happens for a reason. The Bible says God has subjected the world to “futility” (Rom 8:20), that is, God has purposefully made this world imperfect and subject to imperfection. God does not cause suffering, but has made the world where suffering occurs. The question is, why would he do that?

Step back and consider: what is the cause of so much of the evil in the world? Answer: human beings. Whether it is cold-blooded murder or just casual neglect, so much suffering and pain is caused by humans making bad choices. Sometimes people will choose to do something truly wicked, more often people just choose to do what is easy, but it is those choices that produces the suffering. God could have created a world without such suffering because he could have created a world without people or only with people whose minds he controls. That would have prevented a lot of suffering. There would be no murders, if God didn’t allow people the freedom to choose. But God has allowed people the freedom to choose. Because a world in which people have free will is better than a world without it. Imagine a world without free will. Sure, there would be no evil but there would also be no good. Without free will there could be no love and there could be no relationships. There could be no acts of kindness, no moments of generosity, and no real charity. The world would just be filled with choice-less robots, neither good nor bad, just behaving as instructed. A world with free will is better, and world where people freely choose to do good is best, but if people are truly free then that means they have the option to cause evil.

But this isn’t the whole answer. Murderers may choose to murder, but waves don’t choose to drown people, rocks don’t choose to crush people and viruses don’t choose to infect people. A lot of the suffering in the world is caused by natural processes, by the laws of nature operating as they always do, the victims just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Why does God allow such suffering? Well, imagine the alternative. Imagine that rocks would always fall down to the ground EXCEPT when a child was underneath. That might seem like a wonderful idea, but think of all the exceptions and kinks in the laws of nature that would be needed to make children invulnerable. Bullets would turn to jelly when fired at children, fire would become cool when a child was close by, man-eating tigers would become lovable kittens. Suddenly the ordered and regular world that we’re used to has become chaotic and difficult to predict. No longer could humans depend on things behaving like they always have and so could no longer make even reasonable guesses about the outcome of their actions. Without the laws of nature, without the regularity of nature, human free will cannot operate because without that regularity you cannot make informed choices.

Okay, you say, I understand that free will is a good thing and I understand that the laws of nature are necessary, but even so couldn’t have God made the world better? Couldn’t there be less dangers? Or couldn’t we be less vulnerable? Why not make humans impervious to harm so that we can carry on whatever the world throws at us? Of

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Preceding article: I Can’t Believe That (1) … God would send anyone to hell

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Additional reading:

  1. About suffering
  2. Foreword to suffering
  3. Choices to make in suffering
  4. Crucifixion for suffering
  5. God’s instruction about joy and suffering
  6. God’s promises to us in our suffering
  7. Importuning for suffering hearts
  8. Seems no future in suffering
  9. Suffering through the apparent silence of God
  10. Suffering continues
  11. Suffering leading to joy
  12. Surprised by joy
  13. Surprised by time in joys & sufferings
  14. Miracles in our time of suffering
  15. Offer in our suffering
  16. Temptation and its conquest
  17. Words from God about suffering
  18. Mission son of God perceived as failure
  19. Patient waiting
  20. Moving mountains
  21. Why Think There Is a God? (3): Why Is It Wrong?
  22. Attributes to God
  23. Disappointed with God
  24. God’s measure not our measure
  25. Full authority belongs to God
  26. God Helper and Deliverer
  27. God is Positive
  28. God’s design in the creation of the world
  29. God’s hope and our hope
  30. God His reward
  31. God’s promises
  32. God’s salvation
  33. Incomplete without the mind of God
  34. Is God hiding His Face when He is seemingly silent
  35. Jesus his answers about God’s silence
  36. Based confidence
  37. Chrystalised harmonious thinking
  38. Our way of life
  39. Life with God
  40. Nuturing a close relationship with God
  41. Concerning gospelfaith
  42. Epitome of the one faith
  43. My faith
  44. Hope
  45. Working of the hope
  46. Looking for blessed hope
  47. Hope for the future
  48. Expiatory sacrifice
  49. Content with the no answer
  50. Free will and predestination
  51. Meaning of life
  52. Death and after
  53. God’s Comfort
  54. A world in denial
  55. Fear and protection
  56. Because men choose to go their own way
  57. It is a free will choice
  58. Free will and predestination
  59. Let you not be defined by the effect of your wrong choice
  60. The Existence of Evil

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  • Why does God allow evil? (pastormikesays.wordpress.com)
    The Bible describes God as holy (Isaiah 6:3), righteous (Psalm 7:11), just (Deuteronomy 32:4), and sovereign (Daniel 4:17-25). These attributes tell us the following about God: (1) God is capable of preventing evil, and (2) God desires to rid the universe of evil. So, if both of these are true, why does God allow evil? If God has the power to prevent evil and desires to prevent evil, why does He still allow evil? Perhaps a practical way to look at this question would be to consider some alternative ways people might have God run the world:
  • God’s Gift & Our Response: Mercy & Worship (jamespaulgaard.wordpress.com)
    God gives us many good and wonderful gifts that we need. But a gift does not give its intended benefit if the one receiving the gift does not open the gift and use it. You could be given the greatest gift in the world, but if the gift sits in the corner unopened, that gift will have no benefit in your life. So through this series, we want to encourage you to reflect on the many gifts God has given you, and how you respond to those gifts. In today’s sermon we are thinking about God’s gift of mercy and our response of worship and the three points of the sermon
  • Why You Shouldn’t Teach Your Children That Hell is Real (patheos.com)
    If teaching heaven is bad, teaching hell is downright mental child abuse. There is no way around this one. You are telling a child that for bad deeds done, or not worshipping the right (or any god), you are going to burn in a lake of fire for eternity. Pure torture, unimaginable pain and it is forever.The myth of Hell needs to be destroyed faster than the myth of heaven by far. Children and countless adults fear any of their actions will result in them spending eternity in Hell. Why? It is such a childish and illogical idea. For starters, their almighty God created an evil angel, and instead of destroying him, gave him his own kingdom? And let’s not get started on the fact that if Satan is the one punishing the bad guys for their evil, doesn’t that make Satan the good guy? If Hell is for the most evil people in the world who listened to and or worshipped Satan, wouldn’t Satan be glad to have them? It simply doesn’t make sense and even Christians and other religious followers are deciding they don’t believe in Hell anymore. It seems that all the rest of their religion is true, but Hell sounds too mean, so that part is obviously just an allegory. So, just like the endless rape, murder, genocide and other atrocities of the Bible, let’s go ahead and cherry-pick Hell right out of it.
  • The Man or The Devil In The Mirror? [Part 1] (corbenstreet.wordpress.com)
    People must understand and know how to differentiate between the reason and the purpose of doing things. But because humans are always so good at taking things for granted, it is not surprising that whatever the reason and the purpose of using mirrors, it no longer means anything to everyone – anymore!
  • David Haines killing is ‘an act of absolute evil’, says Archbishop of Canterbury (christiantoday.com)
    The Archbishop of Canterbury is among the Christians expressing their sorrow over the killing of hostage David Haines at the hands of Islamic State militants.The 44-year-old aid worker’s beheading was shown in a video released on Saturday night.It has been strongly condemned by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has vowed that Britain will take “whatever steps are necessary” to keep the country safe and bring the killers to justice.Archbishop Justin Welby used his Twitter account to ask every church in the country to pray for Haines’s family, saying he had been “evilly killed in the place he was serving in love for its suffering people”.

    In comments to the BBC later on Sunday, the Archbishop described the aid worker’s murder as “an act of absolute evil, unqualified, without any light in it at all”.

    He said there was a sense that in places where militants have taken hold “the darkness is deepening”.

    “It’s being done in the name of faith, but we’ve heard already today faith leaders from Islam across the world condemning this,” he continued.

  • William Lane Craig vs Walter Sinnott-Armstrong: evil, suffering and God’s existence (winteryknight.wordpress.com)
    This is one the top 4 best debates that William Lane Craig has done in my opinion. (The other two are Craig-Millican debate and the first and second Craig-Dacey debates) This one doesn’t seem to get a lot of play on the Internet: there’s no video, transcript or anything. But it is a great debate, and on a problem we are all concerned about: the problem of evil and suffering. One other thing – Sinnott-Armstrong is also a very courteous, respectful and intelligent scholar and he is very good at defending his side. This is a very cordial and engaging debate, and because it was held in front of a church audience, it was targeted to laymen and not academics.

I Can’t Believe That (1) … God would send anyone to hell

Me neither. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to go to suffer everlasting torment, however bad they were in life, and I don’t like the idea of a god would want that either. The idea of unending pain is not only intolerably cruel but to pretend that in any sense someone could deserve that fate so unjust as to be positively wicked. Regardless of how bad someone behaved, regardless of how many crimes they committed, no-one could do enough evil to justify an infinite punishment. Even worse is the suggestion that anyone who misses out on salvation will end up with the same punishment; petty crook and genocidal dictator alike, they all must endure an eternity of pain and suffering. A god who behaved in this way could not be described as “merciful“, could not even be described as “just”. Such a god could only be described as wicked. But the God I believe in is both merciful and just, so I can’t believe that He would send anyone to hell.

There is another reason why I can’t believe it – the idea isn’t even biblical. Look at what Jesus says about hell:

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28)

Leave aside for a moment what Jesus meant by “soul” and “hell”, it is clear that Jesus did not think of hell as many Christians do. For Jesus, hell is not a place where the soul suffers eternal conscious torment. Instead hell is a place where the soul is killed, destroyed, finished, done.

Look at what Jesus promises to anyone who will accept it:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them (John 3:36)

Jesus promises eternal life. The opposite of eternal life is not eternal conscious torment but eternal death. Jesus makes this clear in the words considered above. Whoever rejects the offer will “not see life”. They don’t go on living in torment and agony for all eternity. They just stay dead. That’s the fate of the wicked, that’s the fate of those who reject Jesus’ offer of life, they stay dead.

The question then is why do so many Christians believe in hell, given that is a horrible idea and not what Jesus taught? For some people, though they call themselves “Christian”, just use the doctrine of hell as a stick to beat their neighbours. There also probably some truth in the claim that the historic church used the threat of hell as a way of controlling its followers. But there are also many sincere and well-intentioned Christians who still believe in hell. This is because they are used to reading the Bible a certain way and have never been shown that it was written differently.

Many Christians believe that the soul is immortal, that it not only survives death but can never die. This is not what Jesus or the early Christians taught, but if you believe that the soul cannot die then you must believe it goes somewhere after death. You wouldn’t want to belief that wicked people end up in a good place (a lot of Christians believe they go to heaven when they die), so there must be a bad place for the bad people to go to. Once you’ve got this idea in your mind then you read the Bible to fit that idea. For example, whilst Jesus never talks about eternal conscious torment, he does talk about “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46). If you already believe that bad souls go to a bad place when they die, it is convenient to read “eternal punishment” as though it said “eternal conscious torment”. That’s not what Jesus said, but that’s what many Christians think.

English: Ge-Hinnom, c. 1900.

Ge-Hinnom or Valley of Hinnom, c. 1900. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It also does not help that Christians today have forgotten what Jesus meant when he used the word “hell”. When Jesus talks about hell he is usually using the word gehenna, which literally means “Valley of Hinnom“. This was a place in ancient Israel where the worshippers of the pagan god Molech would perform human sacrifices, including burning children (e.g. 2 Kings 23:10). This practice is condemned by God through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:35). Jeremiah uses the imagery of being burnt in the Valley of Hinnom to portray the fitting punishment for those who practiced such evil (Jeremiah 7:31-32). This is the background to the word gehenna in the New Testament where it represents the fate of the wicked. When Jesus talks about the ‘fire of hell‘ (Matthew 5:22) he is using the word gehenna, using this imagery for the destruction of death. The other word used by Jesus for hell is hades. Though in greek mythology hades was both the abode of the dead and the god of the dead, in the New Testament hades simply refers to the grave. In either case Jesus was not referring to a place of eternal conscious torment for the wicked, as many people now think about hell.

As you can see from this overview I do not think that Christians should believe in hell and as such I do not think that hell provides any obstacle to believing in God. Jesus does not teach that the wicked go to hell and I do not know of any other part of the bible that teaches this idea. Wherever people got the notion of hell from it was not from God and not part of his message to mankind. I can understand that you would not want to believe in a god that condemned people to hell, though your personal dislike would not determine whether or not such a god existed. But the notion of hell is inconsistent with everything we know about the God who does exist; inconsistent with his goodness and inconsistent with his message to mankind.

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Additional reading:

  1. Another way looking at a language #3 Abraham
  2. Sheol, Sheool, Sjeool, Hades, Hell, Grave, Tomb, Sepulchre
  3. Grave, tomb, sepulchre – graf, begraafplaats, rustplaats, sepulcrum
  4. Darkness, light, burning fire, Truth and people in it
  5. Jesus three days in hell
  6. Hellfire
  7. A fact of History or just a fancy Story
  8. The soul
  9. Dying or not
  10. Is there an Immortal soul
  11. Immortality, eternality – onsterfelijkheid, eeuwigheid
  12. Set free from any form of mental torment or self-condemnation
  13. Creator and Blogger God 3 Lesson and solution
  14. Creator and Blogger God 7 A Blog of a Book 1 Believing the Blogger
  15. Fragments from the Book of Job #1: chapters 1-12
  16. Fragments from the Book of Job #4: chapters 27-31
  17. We are ourselves responsible
  18. Self inflicted misery #6 Paying by death
  19. Self inflicted misery #8 Pruning to strengthen us
  20. Bad things no punishment from God
  21. Being Religious and Spiritual 3 Philosophers, Avicennism and the spiritual
  22. Being Religious and Spiritual 6 Romantici, utopists and transcendentalists
  23. Being Religious and Spiritual 7 Transcendence to become one
  24. Atonement And Fellowship 4/8
  25. Edward Wightman
  26. Fear and protection
  27. Fear of God reason to return to Holy Scriptures
  28. Eternity depends upon this short time on earth
  29. A small company of Jesus’ footstep follower

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  • Biblical Hell (focusedandfree.com)
    Because of the symbolic nature of the language, some people question whether hell consists of actual fire. Such reasoning should bring no comfort to the lost. The reality is greater than the symbol. The Bible exhausts human language in describing heaven and hell. The former is more glorious, and the latter more terrible, than language can express.
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    In Christian tradition it is usually associated with the notion of eternal punishment, especially by fire. This idea appears in Isaiah. 66:24, but it is not clearly associated with a place. Jewish writings from the third century B.C. onward, speak of places of punishment by fire for evil spirits and the wicked dead (1 Enoch 18:11-16108:3-7152 Esdras 7:36-38). The book of Revelation describes a lake that burns with fire and brimstone in which the wicked will be eternally punished (Revelation 19:2020:14-1521:8).
  • Gehenna in the ‘Love Wins’ controversy (creationconcept.wordpress.com)
    One aspect of the great controversy about hell, and about Bell’s thesis, is the meaning of the word Gehenna in the New Testament. Most English translations contribute to the confusion by replacing the word Gehenna with hell, instead of leaving it untranslated, as it should be, since it is the name of a specific geographical place on earth.
  • Is Gehenna the same as the lake of fire? (creationconcept.wordpress.com)
    Arthur W. Pink compared Gehenna with the lake of fire in Revelation 20 in his article on Eternal Punishment. He thought these two things were identical. But Pink may have been mistaken about this, as he was about the doctrine of dispensationalism. He eventually realized dispensationalism was false, and wrote a series of articles against that theory, which he previously supported.In his discussion of Gehenna, Pink compared things said of it with the information that is provided about the lake of fire. His comparison is summarized
  • Is Literal Hellfire Torment A Bible Teaching? (debatepolitics.com)
    The teaching of literal hellfire torment is commonplace in Christendom and non-Christian religions. This teaching defames the Creator and portrays him as a sadist who tortures people in flames of fire for all eternity—as punishment for wrongdoing committed during the relatively brief human lifespan. The hellfire dogma was brought into Christianity by the Roman Catholics who copied it from pagan religions. (Pagans are those who do not worship the God of the Judeo-Christian Bible.)
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    The scriptures indicate that hell is nothing more than mankind’s common grave. Proof of this is provided by a verse of scripture in the Bible, which no hellfire-believing Christian can explain away. I’m referring to the scripture that says Jesus Christ–the epitome of a perfect, sinless, and obedient man–died and went to hell.
  • What and Where is Hell Anyway? (robertjrgraham.com)
    When most people think of hell, they think of Satan in that red suit with two horns and a pitchfork somewhere in the depths of the Earth where souls are tormented day and night on some kind of giant char broiler. Do something wrong in life and you’re condemned to an eternal damnation of flames. None of this could be further from the truth, and we should know better, “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (II Corinthians 2:11).The English word hell comes from the Anglo-Saxon hel, or in the genitive case helle, which means a “hidden place”, from the Anglo-Saxon word helan, meaning “to hide”.
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    Whether it’s the word sheol in the Old Testament, or gehenna or hades in the New Testament, they all mean either the grave or the state of death.
  • Is Hell eternal or do those who do not choose Christ just cease to exist? (askthepastors.wordpress.com)
    There are four words used in the Bible for the place of the dead, Sheol, the Hebrew term for the grave and also for the place of departed spirits, Hades, the Greek version of Sheol, the Abyss (used for the place of the dead in Romans 10:7, but usually reserved for place of judgment for demons, Luke 8:31; Rev. 9:1,2, 20:1) and Gehenna, the term taken from the Valley of Hinnom just south of Jerusalem where trash was perpetually burned. This last word refers specifically to the final place of torment, most properly translated “hell” (Matthew 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9, etc.)
  • Comments on Walter Balfour’s interpretation of Gehenna (creationconcept.wordpress.com)
    In their disputes about the meaning of Gehenna, both men overlooked the significance of Gehenna as a topographical feature in the land of promise, and one of the valleys which Isaiah said will be filled, as John the Baptist proclaimed. [Luke 3:5]From Gehenna, one views Jerusalem as an outsider; the teachings of Jesus encourage us to get into the kingdom of God, and obtain life.
    +The sayings of Jesus about Gehenna also apply to the present age. Gehenna is a judgment. [Mat. 5:22, 23:33] Jesus referred to it as something we should avoid at any cost, even if it means loss of our right eye, or our right hand, or our right foot. [Mat. 5:29, 30] Jesus said God is able to destroy “both soul and body” in Gehenna, and that we should fear him. [Mat. 10:28, Luke 12:5] This suggests that the warnings about Gehenna apply to our present lives; being cast into it represents the spiritual condition, of being outside the holy city.Being cast into Gehenna contrasts with entering into life. [Mat. 18:9] Scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites are called “children of Gehenna.” [Mat. 23:15] Balfour correctly pointed out “no Gentile is ever threatened with Gehenna punishment,” as that threat applies especially to those in Jerusalem. One must be in the holy city, in order to be cast out of it. While the threat of “the damnation of Gehenna” applies only to Jews, the heirs of salvation, who are “in Christ,” are called Jews, and “the circumcision,” in a spiritual sense; Jesus used the threat of Gehenna figuratively and metaphorically to warn the saints who dwell in the heavenly Jerusalem.
  • Is Punishment Eternal? (pilgrimpassing.com)
    Thus, sheol and hades were the same place and must have been occupied by the redeemed since the Messiah was there while His body lay in the grave. That the lost were also there, but in a separate area, is clear from Christ’s statement that when the rich man died, “in hades he lift up his eyes, being in torment….” That in his torment he could see Lazarus and Abraham in comfort (Luke 16:19-31) further indicates that the redeemed were also in hades yet distinct from the damned. That part of hades, which Christ referred to as “Abraham’s bosom,” must have been the “paradise” in which Jesus promised to meet the believing thief on the cross that very day (Luke 23:43).
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    If God is so loving why doesn’t He universally forgive everyone? Love is only part of God’s character. He is also infinitely and perfectly just. How can God forgive someone who admits no guilt? How can He forgive those who insist that there is nothing for which He needs to forgive them? And would it not be the utmost folly to do so? If in His mercy and grace God simply passed over human rebellion, would that not be condoning evil and even encouraging it? Would that not in itself undermine God’s control of His universe?
  • Walter Balfour’s discussion of Gehenna
  • Hope in Gehenna?
  • John Calvin on Gehenna
  • Gehenna applies to the church, not the world
  • Gehenna in the ‘Love Wins’ controversy
  • To Hell with Hell
  • Philosophy – What Is Hell?
  • Jason Erb critically analyzes biblical doctrines on Truth Hertz with Charles Giuliani, January 1, 2013
  • Lost Soul in Hell
  • The Amazing Race of God
  • God versus Satan
  • A Full Documentary About the Signs of Apocalypse
  • Reality of Hell…
  • To Hell with HellIs Punishment Eternal?
  • There Is No Hell, Look It Up