Board index The Problem of Evil and Suffering

Why do bad things happen? Why is there so much suffering in the world? How can we make sense of it all. Is God not good? Is he too weak?

How do we know God is good? Can we believe him?

Postby Timjohnston2001 » Sun Dec 16, 2018 9:41 pm

I've been a Christian my whole life, and I've studied apologetics a lot. One thing that's been bothering me a lot lately is that while the evidence of God's existence is absolutely convincing to me, it seems that there is no reason to believe he is good.

I firmly believe that God (or at least, a supernatural force similar to a god) was responsible for the resurrection of Jesus. The historical evidence shows that he was rasied. I also firmly believe that the Bible must have had inspiration from God, as it is historically accurate and shows other signs of being made by more than humans.

But how do we know that he is telling the truth? It certainly doesn't seem that he is good, given the problem of Hell and the problem of evil. While I do think that it is possible there are good reasons fot all the evil he allows and good reasons for him to send people to Hell, I believe that evil and Hell would be much better explained by an evil god (or at least, an imperfect god).

Furthermore, it seems to me that if god was evil, he would easily be able to deceive us. Assuming he is omniscient as he claims, he should have no problem authoring a book with the sole purpose of deceiving us.

The only reason I can think of to believe him is that I don't know why he would lie. But the fact that I don't know doesn't mean that there is no reason. In the end, I find it more likely that he has some reason to lie to us than that God is good.

Are there good reasons for thinking that God is good? If not, don't the problems of evil and Hell--while possible under the belief in a good God--seem to give more probability to the existence of a malicious or imperfect god?
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Re: How do we know God is good? Can we believe him?

Postby jimwalton » Tue Dec 18, 2018 9:44 am

Sorry it took me so long to answer. The website has been going through a migration the last four days, and I was told that if I posted it would be lost. So I waited. My apologies. :oops:

Thanks for writing. I’ll be glad to discuss all of this with you. I’ll assume that since you’ve been a Christian your whole life you have some background. And since you’ve studied apologetics a lot, you may have more background than others. I’m glad to talk with you.

First, you’re convinced of God’s existence. That’s good, because other issues often trace back to that. As long as you’re absolutely convinced, we can move on. And you are also convinced of the resurrection. And you believe the Bible is inspired. These will help us as we dialogue.

Your questions are about God’s goodness and truthfulness. I’ll start with this. If God isn’t good and we can’t rely on him to tell the truth, we have logical incongruence, meaning that God is a contradiction, and therefore He’s not God. If God isn’t good, then he’s not God. If God can’t be counted on to reliably tell the truth, then he’s not God. So if we’re convinced there is a God, that Jesus was raised from the dead, and that the Bible is inspired, then we have to admit that God is good and He is truthful.

So on to your questions about hell and evil.

As far as hell, there are three things we have to admit to get off the ground:

1. The nature of justice requires that bad people not get away with it, but are not only called to account but also punished for their wrong. There have to be consequences.
2. God is good, by definition and necessity, as we have both admitted and is logically required.
3. Therefore, whatever hell is has to be an expression of God being fair with everybody, and therefore he is doing what is right.

You should know that not all Christians believe in the traditional concept of hell. There are theories about reconcilationism, semi-restorationism, modified eternalism, and annihilationism, all with some kind of scriptural backing. In other words, hell isn't necessarily eternal for all who enter it. It may only be eternal for those who absolutely, stubbornly, and persistently refuse to be reconciled. We can trust God to be fair.

I also don't believe that hell is fire. Hell cannot possibly be "One Fire Tortures All." Fire is just the image of untold suffering, which is what one will experience when separated from God. We have strong hints that there are different degrees of punishment in hell (totally unlike the different levels of hell as in Dante's Divine Comedy, which is not Scripture).

- Matthew 11.22-24 & Luke 10.12: Jesus says it will be “more tolerable” for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah than for the people of Capernaum. That would indicate to me a more harsh punishment and a less harsh punishment.
- Matthew 23.14: Jesus tells the Pharisees they will be punished more severely for the way they are deceiving the people and living as hypocrites.
- Revelation 20.13: Each is going to be judged according to what he has done. Since that is the case, then the punishments and rewards can’t be the same for everybody.
- and finally, Luke 12.47-48 (workers are punished with more or fewer blows). There are degrees of punishment, and even sins of ignorance are treated differently than sins of intention.

Why I bother to point this out is because often those who consider hell to be messed up are picturing the same punishment for all, which is most likely not the case, and infinite punishment for finite crimes, which may also not be the case. People will be punished according to the works they have done (2 Corinthians 5.10). We can trust God to be fair.

C.S. Lewis makes some interesting observations about hell. I'll reword them and summarize some of them here: You object to the doctrine of hell. What are you asking God to do? To wipe out past sins at all costs and to give anyone who wants it a fresh start, smoothing difficulties and offering help? But He has DONE that. That's what his death and resurrection were all about. OK, then, are you asking God to forgive you? It's a RELATIONSHIP. He will forgive anyone who wants it, and cannot forgive those who choose not to be forgiven. To leave you alone then? Well, I'm afraid that's what hell is.

If a game is played, it must be possible to lose it. If there is a way that must be found by the will, and by love, then it must be possible to refuse it. If the happiness of a person is honestly the result of self-surrender, then no one can make that decision except himself, and he may refuse. I would love to say everyone will be saved. But then I'd have to ask, "Will they be saved against their will, or with it?" If I say "against their will," I'm in the middle of a contradiction; how can self-surrender and love be involuntary? But if the answer is "With their will," it begs the question: "What if they will not give in?"

So, with all that has been said, and with all the disagreements, even from Christians, about hell, I can conclude with confidence with this statement: Those who turn away from God will be separated from the life of God. Though we can’t be sure about the form or duration of that separation, this we can be sure of: it will be a horrible experience, and God will be perfectly fair about the form and duration of it. If you reject God, you take your chances.

The existence of evil is hard to explain in just a short space, but essentially evil is necessary in this world. Frankly, if God were to stop all suffering and evil he would have to completely control our bodies, so that we never had accidents or got sick. There would be no such thing as cause and effect, because if we fell we wouldn’t get hurt, if someone slipped off a cliff they wouldn’t fall, and if someone was in the water they would never drown. Science would be no more. Therefore our thinking processes wouldn’t make sense.

But to stop evil God would also have to control our thoughts. No thinking evil, no doing evil, not even interpreting anything as hurtful. We would be mindless robots and not even human. No science, no thinking, no love, no kindness, no nothing.

Instead, since God can’t stop evil, he does everything possible to redeem it: to make it work for positive things. People show kindness, courage, love, we learn strength and character. The lack of evil takes away our humanity; engaging with evil actually makes us more human.

We’d have to talk about this more because there is SO much more to write. Good and evil can actually exist together as a good state of affairs as long as good outweighs evil in the grand scheme of things, and in the end good will win out, which is exactly the biblical picture. There’s much more to say, but this will get us started.

You wonder if God is deceiving us in the Bible. It’s a fair question. It seems to me that your mind goes there because you just can’t see clear to the idea that God is good, that hell is fair, and that He doesn’t stop evil in the world. But if I have spoken to those at all, then it’s a little easier to walk a path through the forest to get to “the Bible is telling the truth.”

We’d also have to consider what God’s motive might be for writing a book just to deceive. What are your thoughts on this? Why would He do that?

Let’s talk more.
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