The real problem of pain

In 1940, the well-known Christian scholar and apologist C. S. Lewis published one of his most popular books The Problem of Pain. The date of publication is ironic because World War II, one of the bloodiest and most painful events in the history of the world, had already begun. Before it ended with the utterly devastating bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, at least fifty million people died, most of them innocent civilians, including six million Jews in Hitler’s death camps. 


C.S. Lewis reasons that if God is good and all-powerful, then His creatures should not be allowed to suffer. But they do. Therefore, God is either not good or not all-powerful. Sadly, this type of reasoning has led legions of people to deny the existence of God. Because the problem of pain influences so many people, C.S. Lewis writes with great rhetorical urgency in support of the goodness of God in spite of the presence of pain. 


The neo-atheist Richard Dawkins, of our own time, gets a lot of mileage out of the problem of pain. He famously and vividly asserts, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (The God Delusion, 2006). 


Although pain poses a problem for humanity, people like Dawkins focus on their own creation of God as a monster and then make pain the monster’s fault. Dawkins and others are wrong when they do this and they’re missing the point. The real problem of pain is not our own suffering, but is rather, God’s suffering. In fact, philosophers ought to think about the pain God suffers, rather than to put blame where it does not belong. When people place God at the heart of the problem of pain, they are thinking only of themselves. They are really asking, “What did I do to deserve what I’m going through?” Therefore, we blame God and we actually imply that God has left something undone. In fact, we are actually saying that God could have stopped our suffering, but chose not to. Even Christians can be guilty of echoing Dawkins’s characterizations of God, not necessarily in his incredibly harsh way, but in a way that implies the same train of reasoning. 


Dawkins is a tricky thinker. He refrains from quoting portions of the Bible that go directly against his accusations. He makes no mention of God’s actual circumstances. Instead, he creates a cartoon god that he cleverly animates. But Dawkins’ conclusions are founded on a serious logical blunder. They are founded on the ignorance and prejudice that people voice about the so-called “God of the Old Testament.” Yes indeed, that mean, old man in the sky! 

Though Dawkins’ logic was in existence in the minds of many people, long before he wrote his book, he uses it anyway, and believe it or not, gets credit for being a wise man.  

The truth lies elsewhere. If God were like people, especially the good ones, not just the bad ones, He would have destroyed us all a long time ago. We’re like cats up a tree; there’s no way for us to get down by ourselves. And since we climbed the tree, we have only ourselves to blame. 

Sadly, few people consider suffering from God’s point of view. Few realize that God’s suffering began long before the existence of man. The Bible teaches that before the creation of the earth, there was war in heaven and that the devil and his angels lost that war. Since we can’t imagine a heavenly war, we have no way to envision its horrors. However, because we know God is eternal and loving, the experience must have been devastating. Though God won the war, there were no triumphant celebrations. Sadly, God mourned the loss of a third of His closest friends, those who once worshipped Him gladly. Now the joy of heaven was broken. 

The real problem of pain, therefore, is that God suffered first, even though He had done absolutely nothing wrong. If God is infinite, then His suffering must be beyond our understanding. Still, God did not ease His own suffering. He did not allow Himself to feel less pain about sin and its results. Though He had every right to ease His pain, He did not. 

Rather, God sought to end the suffering of His disobedient children. Let’s face it . . . God’s action on our behalf is irrational from our human perspective, and from our human standpoint, this raises important questions about God.

Yes, it is true that the innocent suffer in our world, but when humanity makes God the problem, instead of the solution, we only prolong our pain.