The problem of pain and suffering, sometimes called the problem of evil, is the most persistent thorn in the side of those who believe in a loving and compassionate God. If God has so much love for the world, why is there so much evil? Even with all the advances in healthcare, most humans suffer from a variety of aliments and most die painfully. Only a few die, peacefully, in their sleep. The pain and suffering in other species is pervasive, with most animals being killed and eaten by some other animal.
How can an all-loving, compassionate God create a world with so much pain and suffer?
Believers counter this problem in three main ways.
First, they ignore it by saying that it is a mystery and we will not know the reason for evil until after we die. This is the “la, la, la, I can’t hear you,” response to a challenge.
Second, believers claim that evil is a result of humans’ exercise of free will in Eden when Adam choose to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Believers also claim that most of the human suffering in the world is a result of other humans choosing to do evil. Even if this is true, it does not account for the vast majority of animal suffering.
Believers say God could not have created a world where humans have free will that did not allow evil to exist. I have previously pointed out, as have others, that God, in fact, did create a place with free will and no evil. That place is called heaven. The angels have free will or Lucifer could not have rebelled, but heaven is place with no pain or suffering.
Third, believers set up a scapegoat to blame for evil. This was the response of Hebrew leaders about 200 years before Jesus. In order to explain why good people sometimes suffer and bad people sometimes prosper, the Hebrews adopted and adapted the Persian idea of a conflict between light and darkness. Yahweh played the role of light and Satan, previously a minor character in the Hebrew Testament, was promoted to arch-villain to play the role of darkness.
In the December 16, 2011, Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Billy Graham answers a question about the reality of Satan by invoking the third response to evil.
Billy’s reader says, “I think the idea of Satan is a myth, dreamed up by people who couldn’t think of any other way to explain why evil exists. We alone are responsible when we do bad things, and we can’t blame some imaginary devil.” You can read all of Billy’s answer here.
Billy responds with a challenge asking the reader to explain why evil exists. Billy says, “How do you explain the existence of evil, if there is no evil spiritual force working behind the scenes of this world?”
Billy then treats his question as rhetorical and proceeds to answer it based on his personal beliefs and biases.
Billy says, “… evil is real, … aggressive and destructive. Can you come up with a better explanation than the existence of Satan, as he is portrayed in the Bible? I doubt it.” Billy then quotes from the Christian Testament, because there is no reference in the Hebrew testament calling Satan the arch-villain and source of evil.
In his article, “The Absence of Satan in the Old Testament,” Dr. Michael Heiser says, “In biblical Hebrew, the definite article (the word “the”) is a single letter (heh). … In terms of statistics, the noun “satan” occurs 27 times in the Hebrew Bible, ten times without the article. Of these ten, seven refer to human beings and two refer to the Angel of Yahweh for sure. The lone outlier is 1 Chronicles 21:1. This is the famous passage where “Satan” provokes David to take a census, but in the parallel passage, 2 Samual 24:1-25, it’s Yahweh provoking David to take the census. Due to this parallel, and due to the fact that “satan” here has no article, this is viewed by some as the single instance of an evil, cosmic figure called “satan” in the OT. It actually isn’t, though.”
Billy professes his belief that Satan causing suffering is a better explanation of evil than any other. Billy is basically lying when he says this. I am sure he has heard of alternate explanations to the problem of evil and he considers Satan to be the best explanation simply because it supports his world-view. This is typical of apologists: choose your desired result and then state only those cases that support your position.
Consider an alternative explanation. Pain and suffering exist because there is no God. There is no hidden meaning in an earthquake, a tsunami or cancer. These things are a part of life and NEED NO SUPERNATURAL CAUSE. We don’t have to invoke invisible beings to explain them.
Consider a second alternative. God causes pain and suffering. In the KJV version of Isaiah 45:7, Yahweh says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” In Amos 3:6 the prophet says, “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?”
Neither of these explanations requires the invention of another, invisible, God-like character, endowed with supernatural powers, as does Billy’s explanation.
Billy then tells his biggest whopper. In the first part of his article Billy says Satan causes evil. He then says that the death and resurrection of Jesus defeated Satan. If Satan is the cause of evil, and Satan was defeated nearly 2000 years ago, there should have been no evil in the world since Jesus rolled the stone away in 33 CE. Clearly, there is much evil in the world. Either Satan was not defeated or the defeated Satan is not the source of evil. You can’t have it both ways – you can’t blame Satan for evil and still say that Satan has been defeated.
This is a classic case for the application of Ockham’s razor. Ockham said that, when offered competing explanations, the most likely explanation is the simplest explanation. We have three explanations for evil: no God, God did it, and Satan did it. Even believers would have to admit that having one, invisible, supernatural being is a simpler explanation than having two, invisible, supernatural beings, so Billy’s choice of Satan for the cause of evil is the most complicated and least likely. Evil being a natural part of life is a simpler explanation than any explanation requiring the existence an invisible, supernatural being.
As I said at the beginning of this article, the problem of evil is the thorniest problem for believers. It is also the most powerful argument against the existence of any God or gods. You may wish to read Bart D. Ehrman’s book, “God’s Problem,” for a more detailed discussion of this issue.
What I am reading: “Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole“ by Steven Law. (Published by Prometheus Books, ISBN-13: 978-1616144111)
From Publishers Weekly:
“A philosophy professor at the University of London, Law describes eight “intellectual black holes,” traps that seem to lend credence to scientifically or rationally incorrect propositions. Recognizing intellectual black holes … will help readers identify and critique illogical arguments. One particularly interesting concept is the “blunderbuss,” which cites real but irrelevant illogical elements of, say, certain New Age beliefs. Another concept is what philosopher Daniel Dennett once called a “deepity,” which Law defines as “saying something with two meanings” — one true but trivial, the other false but seemingly profound. Law shows how these and other verbal sleights of hand are used in a wide variety of belief systems, including the paranormal, homeopathy, Christian Science, and belief in UFOs.”
You can find “Believing Bullshit” at Amazon.
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