, Research Paper
For God So Loved the World?
Even though I was only a small child, I remember the cold, fall day that I accompanied my father to a nearby cemetery. As we stood above three tiny graves, I recall the tears streaming down my father?s face and the anguish in his eyes. My father was reluctant to explain why we were there for fear that I was just too young and innocent to understand the horrid circumstances involved. He didn?t have to explain. I knew exactly why we were there. Word had already spread at my elementary school that a woman in our community had murdered her three small children just days before. It was also rumored that the oldest of the three boys was found under a pile of clothes in a coat closet inside of their small suburban home. It was speculated that he had witnessed the horrific deaths of his two younger brothers so he retreated to the closet to escape. His mother found him there and he too fell victim to such a horrific fate. Why did this have to happen? I thought God loved all little children and he was supposed to protect them. How could he allow this among such innocent little creatures? All of these thoughts raced through my head and I finally got the courage to ask my father these questions. His only reply was that they must have been very special children and God needed them in Heaven. Not satisfied with his answer, this experience haunted me for much of my childhood. Would God allow this to happen to me? I spent many years searching for answers.
I recently read Richard Swinburne?s The Problem of Evil and realized that he confirmed the answers that I had found throughout the years. He argues that God created us as free agents in an imperfect world where we can learn right from wrong and build moral character from our experiences. Swinburne says, ?It is not logically possible for an agent to make another agent such that necessarily he freely does only good actions. Hence if God creates a free agent, he gives to the agent power of choice between alternate actions, and how he will exercise that power is something which God cannot control while the agent is free. It is a good thing that there exist free agents, but a logically necessary consequence of their existence is that their power to choose to do evil actions may sometimes be realized.?  Although God may allow for the suffering of his children, he uses evil to bring us both to moral perfection and to himself.
The bible states that Jesus Christ endured great suffering to learn obedience to the father. (Hebrews 5:8) Christians considered Jesus as a perfect being who had to overcome the horrendous evils that others bestowed upon him. Like Jesus Christ, though we are far from perfect, we too must suffer the evils of this world to develop more character and build a personal relationship with God.
An atheist view, such as J.L. Mackie?s Evil and Omnipotence, will argue that an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God would never allow evil and suffering among his children. People like Mackie claim that God cannot be an omnibenevolent God because he could have made good without evil and chose not to do so or either God just simply does not exist. Although I disagree with this view, I understand why horrendous evil and needless suffering may be incomprehensible to someone who may not have a personal relationship with God. For example, one might ask why there are such circumstances where children are kidnapped, tortured and killed. If there were an all knowing, all powerful and wholly good God, he would not allow for such circumstances. If God were allowed to permit such horrific suffering of children, one would like to know what morally sufficient reason he has for allowing them to suffer. I will admit that there is no single, simple answer to this question. Although I don?t have a specific answer for any specific case, I can only attempt generalized answers. I believe any sufficient theodicy will express that it is God?s intent for the overall spiritual and moral development of all of his children.
My first response is in compliance with Swinburne?s argument that God gave humans free will and evils exist because humans have abused that free will. Humans, not God, have chosen evil over good. Because we are free beings, we can do harm to each other by bad intent or through carelessness. God gave us the freedom of choice. The decisions we make, good or bad, will mold and reflect our characters.
What does any of this have to do with the evil and suffering inflicted upon helpless, defenseless and innocent children? After reading Swinburne?s argument, I will have to say that I do not believe that God directly causes evil among these children. It is the free will of other humans that causes the suffering of these children. Although God is ultimately responsible for what happens to us, he does not deliberately set out to harm us. He does however work through these traumatic experiences with us. In every event involving evil and suffering God is ever present. Because God loves and cares deeply for us, he agonizes with each of his children through torment and suffering. I believe that God weeps for and with us. He shares in our grief and he feels our pain. God seeks to use these events as opportunities to bring good out of bad situations. God strives to bring the best out of the worst. He uses our suffering and tragedies to strengthen our spiritual foundation.
I have often heard this question asked: ?Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?? I don?t believe that one person?s suffering is always in the best interest of that person. A tragedy that happens to one person might very well be used to benefit another. Take for instance the birth of Siamese twins. Given the option to lose one to save another, parents often choose to sacrifice one so the other might live a normal healthy life. I don?t mean to suggest that God favors any of us over others. I only mean that God knows each and every one of our strengths and weaknesses. He knows who can handle certain situations and who cannot. Take into consideration that Jesus Christ voluntarily gave the ultimate human sacrifice of himself so that all of mankind could prosper. God knew that Christ could overcome the challenges of evil so he sacrificed him for benefit of all his children.
My final response is that God has many purposes not known to us and we must trust in his wisdom. It is my belief that God takes advantage of every situation and works to bring good out of evil, life out of death and hope out of despair. I know this idea alone cannot remove heartache and pain, but I do hope it can give us the courage to keep living and the knowledge that God will not forsake us. We can triumph over evil in the midst of our suffering. We can live in the hope that there is a place for us that is just and perfect beyond this world. I can now find solace in the fact that there are three small boys from my past that are now in a place far better than this world. They have eternal happiness and joy. Perhaps my father was right after all: they are very special children.
1. Swinburne, Richard. ?The Problem of Evil.? The Canon and It?s Critics, a Multi- Perspective Introduction to Philosophy. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing, 2000. 575-86.