P. 79 yields a statement on suffering that “…there is too much intense suffering in this world for there to be a good creator”. Loftus adds on p. 235 that many people state that suffering is pointless.
In general, there are two kinds of suffering; physical and emotional. Certainly, there are varying levels of suffering. On the physical side, a pin prick doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as getting burned. On the emotional side, getting passed over for a promotion isn’t nearly as painful as losing a loved one or being abandoned. Still, is the degree of suffering the most pertinent question? If the most intense suffering experiences were removed from our existence, there would still be suffering. The scale will have shifted and what was a moderately painful experience will then become the most painful experience and our sensitivities would adjust accordingly. We would still ask why the most intensely painful experiences are allowed by God. Therefore, the real question being asked by the non-theist isn’t really that there is intense suffering but, why there is suffering at all. Why are we allowed to suffer?
One of the most common approaches to this issue traditionally is that suffering came into the world as a result of sin, particularly that of Adam and Eve. However, non-Christians do not accept the authority or reliability of the Bible so, for them, the question still stands. Another typical response is that suffering is a result of our freewill. People suffer because of the immoral things people do to each other. On that statement, Loftus responds that “eliminating intense cases of suffering would still allow good and evil”. (p. 250)
An important distinction to make on the issue is that there is a difference between evil and suffering. The two often get conflated. The existence of evil will be discussed in later posts. On the subject of suffering, another important distinction is the difference between gratuitous suffering and inscrutable suffering. Bad things that people do to each other comprise gratuitous suffering. Gratuitous suffering is when one person causes another person pain. This kind of suffering is clearly a result of our own choices and isn’t difficult to understand. People make mistakes (including immoral actions) and pain to others is often the result. To ask for this kind of pain to be eliminated is to ask for people to be perfect which is not really a major issue with non-theists. Debate arises mostly in regards to inscrutable suffering. This kind of suffering is difficult to understand; hence, inscrutable. Natural disasters are the most common example. Why did God create a world that contained such great potential to cause so many people suffering?
God allows suffering for various reasons. Although, non-theists vehemently object to this. How can there be purpose in something like hurricane Katrina or an infant suffering from a painful disease? In Unshakable Foundations, Geisler and Bocchino list some purposes for suffering:
To develop character
To teach moral consequences
To warn of impending greater danger
To avoid greater suffering
To get our moral attention
One dynamic about suffering that is often overlooked is that it often has purpose. We experience this in our lives. For example, a doctor may intentionally inflict pain on a patient in order to instigate healing. Good can come from suffering. If you don’t think so, ask someone who is handicapped if any good has come from their life. Even if a handicapped person has been unable to be directly responsible for good, people who are caretakers can, at the very least, demonstrate unselfishness, love and compassion for others. In addition, suffering reminds us that we are mortal and not able to control our own circumstances which teaches us to look for greater purpose in life than just existing. A relationship with God can help us through painful experiences and suffering should cause us to strengthen that relationship. Ultimately, it’s an urgent and sobering realization that there are absolutes in this life, the greatest of which is God and His will. Concordantly, suffering can also help to remind us that this existence is not our permanent home.