Questions On Human Suffering With Bible Answers (Vol 1 No 2)
Thomas B. Warren (1920–2000)
1. Why is the problem of human suffering so important in establishing and defending the case for Christianity?
The problem of human suffering is so important because of what atheists try to do with the problem of human suffering.
2. What is an Atheist?
An atheist is a person who claims to know that God does not exist. The atheist claims that evidence which is available to man actually backs up the claim of atheists that they know that God does not exist. They claim that the existence (or occurrence) of evil—especially that of human suffering constitutes such evidence as to warrant the conclusion that God does not exist.
3. What is an Agnostic?
It is important to know the distinction between an atheist and an agnostic. An agnostic is a person who claims that the evidence which is available to men is not sufficient to enable any man to actually know whether God does or does not exist. Agnostics’ view of human suffering does not prove that God does not exist.
4. How do Atheists view Theists?
Atheists claim that in order for one to be a theist (that is, to be a person who claims to know that God does exist), he must proceed in an irrational way. By this, the atheist implies that, to be a theist, one must draw from the evidence a conclusion which is not warranted by the evidence; that is, atheists claim, the evidence does not prove the existence of God.
5. Do Atheists use human suffering as a part of their argument to prove that God does not exist?
Yes, they do use the fact that human beings do suffer—sometimes very intensely—while they live on Earth. As a matter of fact, what has been termed “the problem of evil” (of which human suffering is a crucial element) is the one argument which atheists have in their fight against belief in God.
6. What, exactly, do Atheists claim in regard to the existence of God?
It is very important, especially for Christians, to understand that atheists sharply differ from agnostics. While agnostics claim that no one can really know whether God does or does not exist, atheists claim to be able to prove that they know that God does not exist.
7. But what is the argument which Atheists use—in regard to human suffering—in claiming that they have proved that God does not exist?
Simplified, the argument which atheists use, in claiming to prove that God does not exist, is:
a. If God exists, then no human would suffer.
b. But, human beings do suffer.
c. Therefore, it is false that God exists.
What shall we say in response to this argument? When an argument is presented, there are two questions which are to be asked about it: (a) Is the argument valid (that is, if all of the premises are true), is the truthfulness of the conclusion thereby demanded? and (b) Are all of the premises true? If one must answer both that the argument is valid and that all of the premises are true, then he must also admit that the conclusion is true. What shall we say about the argument before us? Is the argument itself valid? Yes, we must admit that it is. (It is in the Modus Tollens form.) Are all of the premises true? No, they are not. The second premise is true, but the first premise is false. The affirmation, “If God exists, then no human being would ever suffer,” is simply not true. God created human beings with the ability to examine the evidence, to draw conclusions, and to act (as free moral agents) to choose—from the available possibilities—the course of action which they desire. If human beings were not thus free, they would have no moral responsibility more than would a rock or a tree.
8. What can we, as Christians, do in response to the Atheist’s basic argument?
The atheist’s basic argument has been refuted in public debate (with both sides having ample opportunity to present their respective cases). Atheism has also been refuted in articles, books, video tapes, et al. (See works listed at the end of this article.) As noted in the questions just above, theists must admit: (1) that the argument set out by atheists is valid as to its form and (2) that the second premise (of two) is true. However, the “fly in the ointment” for the atheist is the fact that the first premise is false! No argument which either (a) is invalid in its form or (b) has even one false premise proves anything at all. (See the extended refutation of the atheistic argument in The Warren-Flew Debate on the Existence of God.)
Atheists claim that there is a logical incompatibility (that is, it is not the case that the two propositions involved cannot both be true—if one is true the other must be false). So, the atheist argues, if there exists a Being who is both infinitely good and infinitely powerful, then it would be impossible for evil to exist. But, atheists go on, since evil does exist, then God does not exist. (See this argument refuted in Have Atheists Proved There Is No God? by Thomas B. Warren.) I repeat: the atheist is simply wrong in his first premise (“If God exists, then evil does not exist”). I also repeat: God created men in such fashion as to enable them to be able to decide either to do what God has instructed them to do or to do what is contradictory of the will of God (cf. Joshua 24:14-15; Deuteronomy 10:12-16; Matthew 7:13-14).
May it be burned into the heart of every human being (a) that God neither causes nor desires any human being to be guilty of evil (sin) and (b) that human suffering is not intrinsically (as over against instrumentally) evil. (Specific instances may be instrumentally evil. See Have Atheists Proved There Is No God for full discussion of this matter.)
9. What is the evil which is “sin”?
Sin is intrinsically (by its very nature) evil because it is the revolt of a rational, created being against the sovereignty of God Almighty! Thus, those who live and die in sin will be punished severely throughout eternity (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:10-15; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; et al.).
10. But is it not evil for God to inflict eternal punishment on even one human being?
No, it is not evil for God to punish eternally those who die with the guilt of intrinsic evil (violations of His will). By sin (if it is unforgiven), men earn (“wages”) eternal death (separation from God and everything that is good) once and forever more (Romans 6:23). Rather than it being evil, it is clear (from Bible teachings) that, when God punishes men in Hell, He is simply bringing upon them the wages which they have earned (Romans 6:23)! God acts in harmony with His own infinity (including infinite knowledge, infinite goodness, infinite power, infinite holiness and righteousness, etc.).
11. But why is it the case that, at times at least, good men suffer more intensely that do evil men?
This is the case because, at times, good men find themselves in situations in which it is inevitable that they suffer intensely. It is surely clear that not all of the suffering which comes to men, comes as a result of their own individual sins. For example, one may suffer simply because of genetic defects in one or both of his parents, or because of some drug which was taken by one of his parents. Intense suffering may be inflicted on one simply because of the evil hearts of other human beings, because of a lack of knowledge, or because of some unique set of circumstances. When Christians suffer because of what other people have been or done, they should lean on Almighty God—our loving Father—and upon Jesus Christ, the Lamb who is a Lion (who loved each and every one of us enough to suffer and die that each and every human being might at least have an opportunity for eternal life, John 17:3).
12. What are the most important propositions in regard to the problem of evil in general and the problem of human suffering in general? (Below are some of them.)
(a) God is infinite in all of His attributes. He is omnipresent, omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnijust, and so on.
(b) Evil exists. Sin (that which violates the will of God, that which contradicts man’s sonship to God and his brotherhood to man) is the only intrinsic evil.
(c) This world is as good as any possible world for the purpose which God had in creating it (that is, to be the ideal environment for “soul-making”).
(d) Man’s earthly life is a probationary period (that is, during which his fate in eternity is settled), and it is his one and only probationary period.
(e) The soul is immortal (Matthew 10:28); that is, man will live on after physical death in a non-ending, non- probationary period.
For other crucial propositions, see Have Atheists Proved There Is No God? pages 20-22.
The foregoing material appeared in Power Magazine, Vol. 1 No. 3 (Oct. 1990), pages 53-56. See the following books for a more detailed discussion of the matters which have been considered in the preceding material, all by Thomas B. Warren: Have Atheists Proved There Is No God? 1972. Ramer: National Christian, 2004. Sin, Suffering, and God. 1970. Glasgow: National Christian, 2010. The Warren-Flew Debate on the Existence of God. 1977. Ramer: National Christian, 2004.