How does one go about making the case for the existence of God in spite of the pain, evil & suffering that is ever-present in our world? I wrestle to write a response to this question– not because there is a lack of good philosophical and theological reasons that reconcile God’s existence in spite of the existence of evil - but because of the emotional wounds each of us carry from our own struggles with pain, evil and suffering. These wounds can take the form of intentional moral harm inflicted by others, in the harm brought about by anthropogenic disasters (human caused by accident, negligence or incompetence) or by the deadly events brought about by natural disasters.
It doesn’t take much to find heart-wrenching stories highlighting tragedies of every sort. A quick look at the history books shows that evil acts such as wars and genocides have been woven throughout human story. In addition, humanity’s struggles in co-existing with the natural world has resulted in the loss of millions of lives due to natural disasters. We don’t have to look far outside our own life for examples as we have all experienced pain, evil & suffering in some way. For me, these have materialized in seeing how injustice and violence has impacted my family in Colombia and disfigured my country as a result of its embroilment in a long civil war. I’ve experienced it in the loss of a best friend from high school – gone too soon because of a tragic accident. We all have personal stories that bear the emotional scars from what could be considered evil, wrong and painful events that leave us asking “why?” However, in the throes of our suffering, what we are seeking are not intellectual answers. Instead, I believe our ‘why’ questions are sparked by love, anchored in the heart as we seek understanding of a different sort, attempting to reconcile the tragedy with the way we feel reality ought to have been. Author Amy Orr-Ewing puts it this way:
“For me, love is the starting place for untangling questions of pain and suffering, and especially the question “Where is God in all the suffering?”…When we ask these kinds of questions, we are making an assumption: that people have inherent and sacred value by virtue of being human;...But can we take for granted that love is a foundational concept from which to ask questions about suffering and God?...Aren’t there other ways of looking at this question that are not grounded in a relational perspective and all that follows from the prospect of the existence of a loving God? Can we even meaningfully say that suffering is wrong, rather than simply unlucky?
I believe Orr-Ewing’s last question is key in fleshing out the answers to our heart’s ‘why’. If evil, pain and suffering are not objective or real as some religions claim, then not only is our suffering invalidated, but there is also no argument to make against the morality or existence of a supreme deity. As atheist Richard Dawkins puts it, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” When challenged about his view, an interviewer asked Dawkins: “Ultimately, your belief that rape is wrong is as arbitrary as the fact that we’ve evolved five fingers rather than six.” Dawkins responded, “You could say that, yeah.”
Even when philosophers make intellectual claims against the reality and objectivity of pain, evil and suffering, it just doesn’t fit our lived reality and experience. If pain, evil and suffering are to be objective, their reality is only possible if God exists. In Christianity, we find a God who is relational, humble and loving enough to have taken on our human form, enacting a rescue plan for humanity that entailed his own experience with evil, pain and suffering on the cross. If this God exists, then it is He who meaningfully validates our pain and calls us to join him in grieving the existence of evil and acknowledging our desire for justice in the face of these acts.