How Can a Loving God…?

The title of this post is the beginning of any line of questions which arise when one is faced with unbearable pain and suffering. While many such inquiries are sincere and truly seek to understand why a good God would allow this or that, many are merely fronts for a deeply held unbelief, which would not be shaken even if a tenable response to the “problem of pain” is given.

As mentioned before, I recently dusted off my copy of CS Lewis’ classic, The Problem of Pain, and am reading it once more. Typical of Lewis’ writings, this one also requires a second (and a third, etc) look.

In the second chapter, Divine Goodness (an oxymoron to many), Lewis states,

The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word, ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. ‘Thou has created all things and for thy pleasure they are and were created.'[Revelation 4:11]. We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased.’

It is not hard to see why the natural man rejects plausible explanations to the problem of pain, for man, in his natural state, seeks his own glory and tries desperately to be the center of everything.


15 Responses to How Can a Loving God…?

  1. Steve says:

    I see your point (and Lewis’s), but from a human perspective, it avoids the issue. I know God loves me – and all His creation. We also live in a fallen world. Okay, I get that, as well. Is it your position that God’s love is so overwhelming that we shouldn’t worry about minor stuff like disease, natural disasters, etc.?

  2. astudent says:

    We are told not to worry (Mat 6:25-34) and it makes sense. Worry changes nothing but the worrier. Actually if you think about it we all deserve pain and suffering. It is a blessing that we do not suffer all of the time. All of us have had long periods of time with no pain. We should concentrate on that and not bad things. We are told that all things work for the good of the believer. I believe pain and suffering are part of all things. Something like an operation where there is pain and suffering, but the outcome is healing. (Though I like my carving with some pain relief)

  3. Steve says:

    So what’s your response to “How can a loving God allow…?”

    I don’t disagree with anything that you or Laz have said. As Christians, we should know better than to ask questions that would show our focus to be on the here-and-now rather than on the eternal God. The problem is that we are presently occupying the here-and-now.

    And it really doesn’t answer the mail for a non-believer. Is a died in the wool atheist or a garden variety non-believer going to accept an “all things work together for good” theology lesson in the face of a catastrophic loss? This is a key issue; as believers, we must be able to give a reason for the hope that is within us. And not to other Christians, but to unbelievers!

  4. astudent says:

    As I see it there are two answers to “How can a loving God”. One answer for the believer and another for the unbeliever.
    The answer for the believer is “All things work for the good of the believer”.
    My answer for the unbeliever would be a question. “Why would God be good to you?”
    I would have to go on to say, “Everything that you enjoy belongs to God and you will not even acknowledge Him or His Son, or even thank Him for your good fortune. God could stop all natural disasters, but why would He? God is justified in allowing or even causing them.”
    Unfortunately believers must suffer natural disasters along with unbelievers, because we may live in the same area, but it is God’s world and I don’t think we have any right to bitch about it.
    Just along these lines, could the two witnesses spoken of in Revelation have begun their work? It seems as though all of the world’s weather is getting pretty strange.
    By the way, you have a nice site and I also believe as you do. (Except your emphasis on Catholic)
    That is not to short you Laz. Wisdom is where you find it.

  5. Steve says:

    My answer for the unbeliever would be a question. “Why would God be good to you?”
    I would have to go on to say, “Everything that you enjoy belongs to God and you will not even acknowledge Him or His Son, or even thank Him for your good fortune. God could stop all natural disasters, but why would He? God is justified in allowing or even causing them.”

    So, smack him on the head and all will be well? I’m kidding, a bit. I don’t have a ready answer, but I’d think we should be able to provide a sound witness to unbelievers in the face of turmoil. Obviously some will reject God outright, but there are still many that can be reached.

    As for the weather, I hope you’re kidding. We have weather patterns that have raised and lowered the temperatures as long as there has been an earth.

  6. Zeus Almighty says:

    The Problem of Evil:
    god is willing to prevent evil, but not able/ god is non-omnipotent
    is able, but not willing/ god is malevolent
    he is both able and willing/ whence came evil?
    he is neither able nor willing/ why call him god?

    Can anyone awnser that?

    astudent said ” Actually if you think about it, we all deserve pain and sufferring.” Ok I’ve thought about it and I’m wondering what kind of a maniac would actually believe this!

  7. Laz says:

    Thank you both for this discussion. I’m grateful anytime a peaceful and rational conversation can take place, and especially here.

    As I understand it, the same message of hope applies to the believer and unbeliever, that is the Resurrection of Christ. He defeated death, the great equalizer, and this, if believed, should be the greatest thing one has ever heard.

    Of course, not everyone believes it, and some (perhaps most) of the ones who do not will not believe it even if presented with good reasons. Why? Well, I’ll move aside and let the Apostle explain it,

    But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

  8. Laz says:

    Actually Lewis addresses this in The Problem of Pain and he also addresses it in Mere Christianity, which is where I would like to quote from,

    If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong? And for many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I ept on feeling “whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn’t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power? Aren’t all your arguments simply a complicated attempt to avoid the obvious?” But then that threw me back into another difficulty.

    My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet.

    Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too– for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless–I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense.

    Hope that helps, if it doesn’t let us know why. Thanks for commenting.

  9. astudent says:

    “So, smack him on the head and all will be well?”
    It may seem that way, but sometimes the truth should be blunt. Using Jesus as an example notice what he said to the Pharisees (Mat 3:7 NIV) But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
    The truth is I can not answer for God, nor can anyone. (Yes, I’m sure you know that) When someone says “How can a loving God” the first thing I want to do is defend God, but then I have to ask why. If God wanted defended He is quite capable of defending Himself. The truth is it isn’t necessary to defend Him. I would bet that 99.9% of the time the phrase is used it is to try to prove there is no God.
    I’ve tried to dance lightly around with unbelievers, but the number never ends and they only want to trip you anyway. They can not understand spiritual things. They do not have eyes to see or ears to hear; nor do they want them.

    About the weather I was referring to droughts and floods. Most will say that we are near the end and if we are the two witnesses must begin their work soon.
    (Rev 11:6 NIV) These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.

    You left out the answer, God is able: He is just giving you enough rope to hang yourself.
    ” Ok I’ve thought about it and I’m wondering what kind of a maniac would actually believe this!”
    The one that said it and the one that understands it.
    Sorry Laz I didn’t notice you had already answered Zeus.

  10. Steve says:

    The only times Jesus responded in that way was to the Pharisees, those folks who had the semblance of religion without the heart. That’s a very different thing from an unbeliever. Why are we spring-loaded to drive unbeleivers away, rather than embracing them and leading them to the Lord? What do you do when the doped up, cross-dressing crackhead comes into your church looking for answers?

    “Sorry, pal. It’s tough love time. Hit the road.”

    Still, there are definitely times to be blunt. “No one comes to the Father but through me.” Nuff said.

  11. Steve says:

    And the reason we have words for natural disasters like flood and hurricanes and drought … is because it’s happened before. Not every hurricane is a sign of the End Times.

    Instead of trying to pick a date when the two witnesses will show up, take it back to 2 Peter 3:11-14:

    Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.
    And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.

    The point being that the fields are white with the harvest, but many of us are standing there with a torch, ready to burn up the field.

  12. Steve says:

    One more time (the highlighting didn’t show up in that passage). Yes, these future events are going to happen, the question is, how then shall we live? Live and share the Word, in Spirit (i.e., in grace) and in truth.

  13. astudent says:

    Chill out man, you’re driving me away! Well, I thought it was funny.
    Seriously though you are reading much into my comments that I did not say. I didn’t mean to imply that every disaster is a sign of the end and I did not pick a date for the end. We both know that is not given and the day can not be known. However the season can be known. My question was just that “Do you think the two witnesses have begun?” a simple yes or no would have been sufficient. It has nothing to do with how I or anyone else should treat the lost.
    About how I would handle the question of “How could a loving God”, it would depend on how it was asked. If asked in truth I would try to answer from how I understand the Bible. The doped up guy that goes to a Church may be there to learn about God and he may be there for other reasons. If he is there to learn about God of course I would be civil.
    It is wrong to think that an atheist has no religion just because he doesn’t believe in God. He believes in himself and if he is a strong atheist he will say things about God that no Pharisee would ever dare to even think. If it was right for Jesus to get mad at the Pharisees then why is it wrong for me to get mad at atheist? Don’t think, or read into, that I would not honestly try to convert someone, or immediately discount their sincerity.
    As I understand trying to help the lost is like fishing. You throw out the bait and if the fish bites you try to reel him in. The fish that starts out with “How could” is really not biting yet. I wouldn’t yank the bait away, but some times a little movement away will cause the fish to really want to bite. However if the fish doesn’t want to bite it is time to move on and fish somewhere else. There may be a different time and a different place for that fish to bite.
    I use to think that it was my responsibility to save people, but it is not possible for me to save anyone. I believe that I am charged with the duties of a watchman. It is my responsibility to warn the lost. It is their responsibility to heed the warning. Sometimes it is necessary to shout in their ear.
    You know, I have had many discussions with brothers that seemed like disagreements until we realize that we are both saying the same thing, just putting our emphases on a different part of our understanding. In your last statement you seem to be saying “Spirit” is only grace, but Spirit is God and He will not show grace to the unbeliever. I am saying that showing grace is not the only way to get someone’s attention.
    I don’t know your background, but I grew up in a poolroom and have been aged in a motorcycle shop and I understand how being blunt can work. At the same time I understand it is not the only way and not always the best way.
    I guess I still feel the need to defend my answer. If I ask “Why would God be good to you” with anger in my voice I would be at fault, but that is not how I would ask. The words would be the same, but asked as a logical question without anger. It seems to me that you have read the anger into the question. I didn’t mean it with any anger. That said if the unbeliever continued to accuse God of wrong there would come a time when I would move on. If someone approached you and started to accuse your earthly father of gross crimes, wouldn’t you become rightly angry? How much more so if it is our Heavenly Father? “O” and just before I moved on I would probably ask the same question again, only this time with anger.

  14. Emma says:

    I do not believe that God is the reason for suffering, the world is not without sin, we are the ones who sin. God gave each man a choice, it is up to each and every man to make the right choice. Unfortunately some people make the wrong choice. Satan is the cause for our suffering, he is constantly testing our faith to see if we will falter and renounce our love for God. Yes God is all powerful and he can take away pain and suffering, but he is a God who wants his people to love him, not have a society of robots that will do whatever the master commands. God is just and all loving, suffering is due to our own decisions. The point is you will never stop suffering until you get to heaven. You must make sure that the devil knows your name, for is he doesn’t and you live a carefree life oblivious to what’s around you, there is something wrong with the connection you have God. There is an easy way to fix that though, just pray to God, ask him to come into your heart, and read your Bible so you can better understand his word. God is loving, Satan is the cause of our suffering, remember that!

  15. Steve says:

    I would disagree, Emma, at least in part. I don’t think that Satan is responsible for our suffering. We suffer because we live in a fallen world. We are paying the cost of Adam’s sin, and of own rejection of God.

    I try not to give Satan more credit or blame than he deserves. Go back to the book of Job. He only has the power that God gives him. We’re told that we struggle with the devil, the flesh and the world. Let’s not give him three times as much credit as he deserves.

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