A Thought Experiment: On The Problem of Unjustifiable Suffering
A Christian wrote in his web site:
The type of skepticism that I value is not simply disbelieving--that's the lazy way out of life. Rather, skepticism should lead to active questioning and hypothesis testing. Healthy skepticism should lead us to question long-held assumptions. For example, I know atheists who think they are models of healthy skepticism, but they refuse to examine their long-held assumption that God does not exist. Some of these so-called skeptics are unwilling to experiment with the possibility that a divine being may exist. In some cases, the conclusion that God does not exist was reached with terribly poor logic applied to unfairly selected ('cherry-picked') data. The most common argument is that there is too much suffering and misery in the world, so a loving God obviously does not exist. In other words, 'God doesn't run the universe the way I think he should, so he must not be there.' Hmm. Might there be other possible explanations? Have they been considered fairly? Is 30 seconds of thinking adequate to deal with the most important and profound issue of all? Inquire! Experiment! (In fact, the existence of God should be the topic of a genuine experimental investigation.)
Inspired by this quote, I will now try a thought experiment:
God is the supreme creator of all. He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and, above all else, omnibenevolent. Meanwhile, back in the park, a normally doting and attentive mother is temporarily distracted and her five year old daughter wanders off. She doesn't go far but a pedophile on parole for his previous crimes just happens to be there at this moment. He wasn't intending on molesting any children when he woke up this morning but his predatory instincts take over and he snatches the girl up and rushes her off to his nearby car. The mother soon realizes that she can't find her daughter and panic sets in. A frantic search begins which the police quickly join. The whole community is shocked and mobilizes in an effort to find the girl. Posters go up, America's Most Wanted broadcasts the girl's picture for an entire continent to see and the faithful pray earnestly.
They pray and pray for months but the girl is not found. Time passes and life goes on for all except the little girl's family. Every day they wake up and wonder what horrible things have happened to her. Every day they pray and hope that today is the day their little girl is finally brought home safe and sound. Every night they go to bed disappointed and devastated. Finally, one fall afternoon a hunter and his dog stumble upon some bones and a pair of little girl's rubber boots hidden under some brush by a creek in the woods. Meanwhile, the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent God looks on.
Now how can we reconcile the apparent indifference the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent God has shown to all this suffering? Could it be that, as a result of this tragedy, the little girl's family and several other people turned to God and renewed their faith? Not to mention the fact that the pain and fear the child felt while on Earth pales in comparison to the joy and bliss the child is now feeling while basking in presence of the Lord. These are all very good things are they not? Wait 30 seconds! God is all powerful so surely He could've found better means than the rape and murder of a small child in order to achieve these things. Could it be Satan was responsible for this? Nah. God is certainly more powerful than Satan and would have prevented the Evil One from doing this to such a defenceless child.
It must be because God has given us free will to follow Him or rebel against Him and this pedophile has decided to reject His ways. Therefore, God cannot be held responsible for this event. On second thought, this doesn't sound right either because God has given us wonderful and faith affirming miracles on occasion. If any time called for divine intervention this surely would've been one of those times.
How about - God was temporarily distracted by saving some other child at the moment of kidnap? That is unlikely considering He is present at all places and at all times.
Perhaps God thought the monster was cured of his perverted desires but then God wouldn't be all knowing if He did so that can't be it either.
It also can't be because the little girl's parents didn't tithe because God loves all and is just.
I know. God works in mysterious ways! What's that I hear? It's the sound of atheists groaning upon hearing the ultimate copout that's resorted to when a rational explanation can't be found. If mere mortals are not capable of understanding the ways and means of God, then it also becomes possible that our concept of this God and our pet holy books are all just a successful scam perpetrated by some renegade supernatural deity in an attempt to lead us away from the real Creator. If an internal logic in our concepts of God is not required or possible, all manner of ideas can be posed and we would be unable to tell the difference between the rational and the crazy. God couldn't love us and confound us with such confusion at the same time.
There. I've tried but I'm afraid I can't make sense of this event assuming the presence of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent supreme being.
Now let's imagine a world without a God or, at the very least, a God who is not all powerful and/or loving. What's to stop that monster from kidnapping the girl besides the conflict between his desires, his fear of getting caught and his sense of right and wrong. Nothing it would seem. The opportunity arose and he took advantage of it. It still makes no sense but no further explanation is required or necessary in order to explain how this could ever happen. Evil people sometimes do evil things.
Having said all that, I'm sure if the mother had noticed in time she would've fought with all her power, to her death even, in order to save her daughter. It's just too bad that she's not omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.
So dear Christian, please tell us in a forthright manner what logic is there that can reconcile the unjustifiable suffering in our world in the presence of an all-mighty, loving God who has an active interest in our affairs. What are the possible explanations for this that you have alluded to but have not provided?
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