God and SufferingPETER KREEFT
All good people are appalled by the sufferings of the innocent.
First, let's examine what we mean when we say that God would not permit unjust suffering. There are two categories of suffering: suffering caused by human beings, which we call moral evils, and suffering caused by nature, for instance, earthquakes or cancer. Free will explains how God could be good and allow moral evil. Because God has given people free will, they are free to behave against God's will. The fact that they do evil does not prove that God is not good.
In addition, if there were no God, there would be no absolute standard of good. Every judgment presupposes a standard, and that's true of our moral judgments, too. What is our standard for judging evil to be evil? The most we could say about evil if there were no God was that we, in our subjective tastes, didn’t like it when people did certain things to other people. We wouldn't have a basis for saying an act was bad — only that we didn't like it. So the problem of human evil exists only if God exists.
But where does this sense come from? Certainly not from nature. There's nothing just about nature; nature is only about survival. What, in other words, does it mean for suffering to be unnecessary or wrong? How is that determined? Against what standard? Your private standard means nothing. My private standard means nothing. We can talk meaningfully about suffering being unnecessary or wrong only if we have an underlying belief that a standard of right and wrong objectively exists. And if that standard really exists, that means there is a God.
Moreover, the believer in God has an incomparably easier time than the atheist psychologically, as well as logically, in dealing with the problem of natural suffering. If you accept that a good God exists, it is possible to also believe that this God somehow sets things right — if not in this world, then in the next. For the atheist, on the other hand, no suffering is ever set right. There is no ultimate justice. The bad win, and the good suffer. Earthquakes and cancers kill — end of story, literally. If nature is all there is, how can a sensitive person remain sane in a world in which tsunamis wipe out whole towns, evil men torture and murder innocent victims, and disease attacks people indiscriminately? The answer is: it's not possible. Is that how you want to live?
I'm Peter Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, for Prager University.
See also, "What is God's Answer to Human Suffering?" by Peter Kreeft
God and Suffering by Peter Kreeft
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Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. He is an alumnus of Calvin College (AB 1959) and Fordham University (MA 1961, Ph.D., 1965). He taught at Villanova University from 1962-1965, and has been at Boston College since 1965.
He is the author of numerous books (over forty and counting) including: The Snakebite Letters, The Philosophy of Jesus, The Journey: A Spiritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims, Prayer: The Great Conversation: Straight Answers to Tough Questions About Prayer, How to Win the Culture War: A Christian Battle Plan for a Society in Crisis, Love Is Stronger Than Death, Philosophy 101 by Socrates: An Introduction to Philosophy Via Plato's Apology, A Pocket Guide to the Meaning of Life, and Before I Go: Letters to Our Children About What Really Matters. Peter Kreeft in on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
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