Pain and the Big Picture

Anthony Weber —  April 2, 2012 — Leave a comment
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(Read Part 1: “The Problem of Pain”;  Part 2: “Possible, Painful Worlds”; and Part 3: ” Six Responses To Possible Worlds.”)

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One does not have to agree with every point of Augustine’s or Swineburne’s principles to argue that, given the value of Free Will, this world is perhaps the best world presently achievable. This is the best way to the best possible world.

The root of this argument is that Free Will is of such a great good that the possible misuse of it by free creatures does not require God not to create it. Any world without free will would not be a better world; thus, granting free will is the best manner in which to make possible the best possible world.

 The core of the free will defense is that, despite His omnipotence, there are many possible worlds God could not have actualized; no matter what God had done, free creatures with the ability to do actions of moral significance may have always done at least some wrong.

This world that he actualized is a world of Free Will.  God, being good, made all things good.  One of these good things is free will exercised by rational creatures.  Free will is of such an intrinsically good nature that its very existence in a world containing it is better than either a world without it or no world at all.

Though free will does allow for the potential misuse, God is not sitting idly by watching a fallen world destroy itself.  God in His mercy is nullifying evils that we don’t see (II Thessalonians 2:6 mentions God exercising restraint upon certain forces in the world).  God does occasionally intervene; we may not understand why He intervenes in some situations and not in others, but that is not necessarily for us to know.

Is it possible that God has actually mitigated the circumstances surrounding the evil resulting from free choice far more than we realize?  Alvin Plantinga’s idea of transworld depravity suggests that in every possible world, free creatures choose to do evil at least once.  Perhaps God has actualized a world in which the greatest amount of people choose the least amount of evil.  If one accepts the idea of middle knowledge, this would seem to be possible.  (The ideal of middle knowledge is certainly not decided, but a God without it is not omniscient, which is one component of the God being argued against).

William Lane Craig goes one step further and suggests that it is possible that people on earth who never accept Christ are people who would not have accepted Him in any possible world.  God has actualized the best world feasible within the framework of the “best way,” and has chosen the best balance between saved and unsaved.

Of course, the task of understanding evil remains.  Sometimes we know a good purpose behind a bad situation; sometimes we know God’s purpose. But sometimes apparently purposeless evil exists which we cannot explain.  Perhaps God has reasons we do not understand.  These reasons would justify the presence of evil if we knew them; unfortunately, we cannot know them.  For some, this puts God on the dock because we see nothing that will justify this particular evil.

However, we should expect that we would not have the ability to know and understand all. Our inability to know this does not make our belief in God irrational..  The possibility that there are reasons we don’t know of is as probable as the possibility there are no reasons at all, so the argument must turn to the background evidence.

Even if one does not understand why evil occurs in the manner and the extent to which it does, theists believe that evil will one day be stopped.  It has been argued that an all-good, all-powerful God would want to and could destroy evil; evil is not destroyed; therefore, this God does not exist.  The theist responds that there is a distinction between evil not being defeated and  evil not yet being defeated.   One day, it will be. A God who is wholly good  can and one day will redeem evil.  As the Apostle Paul noted, creation “groans and suffers” as it waits to be “set free from its corruption.” (Romans 8:21,22)

Part of that redemption, to the theist, is the belief in adequate compensation for suffering after death.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).  Revelations 21 speaks of a day when God will wipe away tears, and do away with death, pain, and mourning.  Are those who argue that nothing in this world can compensate for suffering truly in the position to know?  Have they experienced this, or spoken to someone who has?  Perhaps the testimony of one who has died and come back would suffice – which, of course, the Christian believes has happened in the person of Jesus Christ.

Having looked at the various arguments for possible worlds, one scenario seems not only possible but also probable from a theistic perspective.  God chose to create a world in which Free Will could be exercised: a comparison to No World is incoherent, and the existence of a world of Free Will is a good greater than its absence or any misuse that may result from it.  Through His middle knowledge, God actualized a world in which the greatest number of people would choose the greatest amount of good and the least amount of evil.  Possible worlds with less pain and suffering are certainly theoretically imaginable, but not practically achievable.

The presence of Free Will has made this world the best way to achieve the best possible world – a world in which Free Will has been obtained because it is of such great intrinsic good that its absence or its actualization in any other form would have been a far lesser good; a world in which the effects of evil have been mitigated to the greatest extent an all-loving, all-powerful, all-good God could do; a world where evil will ultimately be defeated.

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, by David Hume.

Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics,The Problem of Evil,” by Norman Geisler.

The Roots of Evil, by Norman Geisler.

The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis.

Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis.

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley.

Evidence for God, edited by William Dembski and Michael Licona.

“No Other Name: A Middle Knowledge Perspective on the Exclusivity of Salvation Through Christ,” by William Lane Craig.

“Do Evil and Suffering Disprove the Existence of God?” by Michael Horner.

“In Defense of Pain,” by Phillip Yancey.

“Are There Possible Worlds?” by Michael Huemer.

“Augustine on Evil,”  by Greg Koukl

The Problem of Evil, edited by Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams.

“God, Evil, and the Metaphysics of Freedom,” by Alvin Plantinga.

“Hume on Evil,” by Nelson Pike

“The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” by William L. Rowe.

“Middle Knowledge and the Problem of Evil,” by Robert Merrihew Adams.

“Soul Making and Suffering,’ by John Hick.

“The Defeat of Good and Evil,” by Roderick M. Chisholm.

“Divine Goodness and the Problem of Evil,” by Terence Penelhum.

“Middle Knowledge and the Problem of Evil,” by Robert Merrihew Adams.

“Soul Making and Suffering,” by John Hick.

Anthony Weber

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Anthony graduated from Cedarville University in 1995 with a degree in English Education, and from Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana in 2004 with a Master's Degree in Theology and Philosophy. Anthony is a husband and father of three, an author ("Learning to Jump Again"), high school and college teacher, pastor, blogger (tcapologetics.org, empiresandmangers.blogspot.com), and co-founder of etcetera, a "street-level philosophy group" in Traverse City, Michigan.