Why does God allow evil to happen to children?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: I have a friend who is agnostic/atheist. I’ve been having discussions with her about God and faith… but many of the answers I give seem to be insufficient. One of her big questions is, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to people who don’t deserve it… especially children?”

I usually say that since humans have free will, greedy people and flawed governments are at fault… allowing (or causing) bad living conditions. She usually responds, “Why did God create these people like that in the first place … especially since he knew that they would hurt people?”

I usually say that this world does live up to its potential… that God gave us everything… but that humans fail at execution. She doesn’t buy this, though. Can you help me here? What would you tell my friend?

Answer: Your friend has asked the “big question” … one that keeps many skeptics from adopting theism. They think (— and I don’t blame them, by the way —) who would want anything to do with a God who could relieve suffering — but doesn’t... especially the suffering of innocent children?

That’s serious business! I have asked that question myself. In fact, even after a half-century of praying, studying and walking with God, I still ask it... I mean... how could I not? What kind of God would either cause or allow this kind of suffering among innocents?

Now, the more theologically astute among us understand that there are no true “innocents” ... and for this reason alone, God is justified in creating, approving and being imminent in a world that is full of suffering. But our theological astuteness does nothing to assuage the emotional impact of the idea of children suffering... and I think this is where the skeptics stumble.

It is extraordinarily difficult — even for those of us who understand why God created such a world —  to deal with it emotionally. I can only imagine how difficult it is for a skeptic... a person who often remains skeptical because of personally perceived injustices on the part of God... to watch a child starve to death. But then to say it is justified based on God’s holiness or the free will of humankind would be impossible for them because the issue is emotionally unbalanced. As such, I never expect to “win” such an argument.

That being said, Got Questions Ministries has an overview article on this topic which you might find useful. I don’t think it is going to give you any new information. However, because their articles are brief and to the point, people will often read them through... and perhaps you can use this as a reference someday. (Click here to read that article.)

Now, back to that technical stuff. Let’s queue up the complaint again... because I need a head of steam to continue. What kind of God would create a world where children starve or where they are abused? A God who knows more than I do — that’s who.

Not only does our God know every actual thing, he knows every possible thing. So, he knows how to optimize the salvific outcome of volitional people through the millennia. Our omniscient God created this world as a habitat for us, and suffering is one of its drivers. God used starvation to drive Israel to Egypt (Genesis 50:20). But it is also a refining fire that draws the sweetest praise.

That’s little comfort to the skeptic, though... as you well know. Tackling this question head-on with a skeptical friend tells me that you are not afraid to teach the truth... and let the chips fall where they may. People love their free will! But it seems they would sacrifice it if they could save children from suffering. But they don’t... do they? Let’s go on the offensive then.

If your friend is worried enough about children to gamble with her eternal destiny, what is she doing personally to relieve the suffering of children… anything? Is she giving money to pro-children causes? Is she mentoring a child by becoming a Big Sister? Has she adopted an underprivileged child? Or is she merely complaining about a god she has created for those purposes... a straw God (strawman) ... who is proactively cruel to children?

I’m having a little (not so much fun) fun here, of course. I am praying for your friend right now. This is a roadblock to her salvation. But do you see what I’ve done via these challenges? They suggest that she is the one who is installing these roadblocks... not God... that she is complicit in the suffering of children... and that if God is involved in this too, he is not the sole cause. She can write a check right now — but she isn’t... is she? How dare she complain about God!

Your question shows me that you have already given all the “right” answers... the typical apologetics answers. Human free will is the cost of the world she is envisioning... and I suspect she doesn’t realize that having a suffering-free world occupied by truly volitional beings is a thing that even God cannot accomplish.

You see, there are countless things that God cannot do. He cannot do anything silly or illogical. For instance, he cannot make a square circle or a married bachelor. In like manner, he cannot make a world containing people with true free will... and not have suffering in that world. To do that, God would have to predetermine the outcomes of human beings — and pre-determining suffering-free outcomes is an illogical idea!

Remember, God cannot do anything illogical because he cannot do anything that is contrary to his nature. That is not unique to God. No entity can act contrary to its nature. That is what philosophers call a “properly basic” assumption about life. It’s so basic that we accept it and do not argue about it.

In my opinion, that’s your friend's basic problem. She doesn’t understand God’s nature... so she is postulating an illogical god. I can tell by the topics you are covering that this is implied in your reasoning. But why don’t you try telling her this directly... showing her how the God that she is postulating for the purposes of her argument cannot exist... and that, therefore, her argument is moot.

Another technical tack is to explain how the world operates under Molinism. Under Molinism, not only does God know every actual thing, he knows every possible thing. This includes every possible outcome of every possible life lived by every possible individual under every possible circumstance.

The idea here is that our transcendent and omniscient God watches us live every one of our possible lives. He then actuates the one that will advance his kingdom’s objectives. It is not logical that the combination of lives lived by free people could ever avoid suffering in the system they share. The results, however, are optimal... and “optimal” does not mean “maximal”... as in maximally free of suffering. It means that God actuates the “best” possible outcome that can be achieved while preserving the free will of human beings.

(Click here to learn more about Molinism.)

You can probably tell that I have a very high view of human free will. In my opinion, it is the most precious commodity in the universe. I cannot imagine why God would create anything in the absence of entities who could choose to praise him. But this necessitates that some live in a shadow — the shadow where evil lives. You see, it is God’s goodness that casts that shadow — and he makes no apologies for it! He understands better than anybody that the actions of truly free people will often be evil… and that actions have consequences.

I think God’s “no apologies” stand is what offends people. I also think that’s too bad. God is sovereign. This means that he does what he wants to whom he wants when he wants and how he wants... without explanation. The thing is, he does explain... a little bit anyway. I have identified 11 ways that God has revealed himself... so we are without excuse.

(Click here to read about God’s eleven revelations.)

I’m glad you asked this question. It had to be asked! But as you see, you already know the issues... and I’m a little disappointed that I could not give you a slam-dunk answer that would help you bring your friend to Christ. I will leave you with two more resources, however.

In addition to being a champion of Molinism, William Lane Craig is the President of Reasonable Faith Ministries. His specialty (he has Ph.D.’s in both philosophy and theology) is using reason to prove that the existence of God is the most plausible underpinning of any questions. He has two short and effective videos on the problem of evil. Find them and other useful resources at the following links. God bless you.

Click here to view Evil: the logical problem.

Click here to view Suffering and evil: the probability version.

Click here to see a list of videos by Reasonable Faith Ministries.

 

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20220221 Milestones and Millstones ).

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