Why shouldn't I blame God for human suffering?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: I would like to know what you Christians think about the tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of humans slaughtered by God Himself or so ordered by God as it is clearly written in His book? I would like to know what you Christians think of God's orders to murder suckling babes? Does a God of love find it acceptable to slaughter infants? I wonder if Christians have ever wondered about the apparent easiness in which God ordered the wholesale slaughter of those who displeased Him? I wonder if they ask why God didn't just bump off Adam and Eve and start over with a new pair? Just think, God would not have needed to send His son to die a horrible death on the cross. Billions of people would not need to suffer horrendous deaths from disease, wars, plagues, exterminations, etc. And let's not forget those verses in Genesis 6 where God actually said He was sorry for creating us. In view of this incredible apology and admission of error, do we have a choice about who to blame for man's problems?

Answer: Thank you for such a probing question. I will be happy to respond — although I am a little unsure of your point of view. You speak about Christians in the third person, making me think that you are outside of the fold. On the other hand, you are biblically conversant — even (reverently) capitalize your godly pronouns! So, I see indications of some Christian history. But whatever your status, you do not sound very happy with God. If you are not a Christian, then you shouldn’t be happy with God, because your sin has doomed you and God will not get you off the hook until you find redemption in Christ. If you are a Christian, then you should give God the benefit of the doubt… because that is what friends do. My guess, however, is that you are not a Christian. If that is so, you might find some answers here… but little comfort. Because there is no comfort outside of Christ.

You have asked variations on, what do Christians think about… several times, which puts me in a bind. I simply do not know what other people think. What I can do is to tell you what I think as a Bible-believing Christian, and since I rarely wander too far afield of the faith’s central orthodoxies, you may extrapolate out to Christians-at-large — but please, always do this with caution. Let me begin with your last assertions about Genesis chapter six, since, although legitimately related to the rest of your question, have issues that require separate treatment. Then I shall offer a single answer to your multiple sentence-queries, since they are, in reality, one overarching question. Let us look at Genesis chapter six.

“And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”
(Genesis 6:6, ESV)

This is an expression of grief — not an admission of error. Am I sure? Certainly. God makes no errors; this by definition — and his admitting to one would make him both incompetent and a liar. You should always start such queries by examining God’s attributes. The results may not please you, but at least you wouldn’t be giving questionable diction more weight than God’s omnipotence. In your defense, this particular utterance is startling! A few chapters prior, God had pronounced his creation of humankind very good, and a few chapters later, we read of his regret. Fortunately, this is easily explained.

First, let us not put an unnecessary burden on the word regret, because regret does not always involve having made a mistake. Genesis 6:6 is not a picture of God wringing his hands over a bad decision; it is a picture of a God who is genuinely sorry over an outcome. Remember, God did not make robots. He made volitional beings, and part of being volitional is to be able to choose between doing right and doing wrong. Was God somehow wrong to create non-robot people? No! And I know few people who would prefer the other.

Our free will does put God at emotional risk, however, and he was speaking right into the heart of every parent who has ever watched a child’s bad decision grow into dreadful outcomes. No matter how the sentences are cast, few parents actually wish that their children were never born, because having those children was not a mistake. It was a God-appointed joy that came with risk. But risks come with regrets — especially when the outcomes are disappointing. But these regrets are actually sorrows, and as such, are not associated with errors one has performed.

Second, God is merciful to us when he describes himself in human terms. How else could we know the Supreme Being, having few other points of reference? But we must keep in mind that he does this by using the literary tool of anthropomorphism, which is giving human characteristics to a non-human entity. (God is Spirit and not human.) It is true that we are like him in many respects. Indeed, we were made in his image (Genesis 1:27), but the parallels between the Creator and the creature are just that — parallels — not equalities. Things that are revealed through comparative literary devices such as anthropomorphisms are under no obligation to be exact in every aspect. That is not how imaging works in literature. This anthropomorphism shows us an aspect of God, a personality snapshot if you will. It is fraudulent to grow such a snippet into a doctrine by exceeding the limits of the figure.

Third, one of God’s attributes is his immutability. He cannot change. This does not mean that he will not respond as people test those things which he had set up as contingent, but it does mean that his character will not change, and his creation must respond to his character! God is holy, and sin has outfall. That’s just how it is… and God offers no apologies. This, however, does not preclude grief on his part. Although humankind’s desperate state is not his fault, he is still sorry about it.

Fourth, maybe God wants us to take his measure — to give us something to think about the next time we are tempted to brush him aside through sin. Are there stronger terms than, “Your sin is so bad that I regret even creating you!” He is certainly disappointed, but he is not in error. And we should take note of his feelings.

Let us set up my answer to the first parts of your question by agreeing on terms. First, I agree that an all-knowing and all-powerful God (as Christians put forward) could have known and prevented any disasters. Second, concerning all of the horrors that you itemized, I assent to either their biblical inclusion or that they are being carried out somewhere on the globe. Third, I agree that they are all an affront to rational people. Fourth, I also agree that this looks like a plan that went all horribly wrong. Finally, I agree that an Adam & Eve “do-over” is an option that we should examine more closely. Now, with all that in place, there is only one question that matters: Why did God go ahead with a plan that would go so terribly wrong?

God went through with the plan because the plan was not flawed. The Bible is clear that it is we humans (and many angels) that continually spoil God’s creation with sin.

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22–23, ESV)

But, if God decided, on the basis of sin and its requisite punishment, that he would not go through with his creative plan, then sin (and the perpetrators thereof) would have beaten God! The only other alternative for him would have been to create beings who could not sin — robot-people compared to us. Either way, his primary objective would have been thwarted by the enemy, for only volitional beings may love God and give him glory.

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11, ESV)

Only God possesses intrinsic worthiness… but without a creation who would know besides him? Revelation 4:11 connects God’s creation to his glory. Having other sentient beings see his glory and proclaim the same, pleases God. It completes his plan and justifies the risk… and remember, the plan was perfect.

“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love” (Ephesians 1:4, ESV)

“[Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you” (1 Peter 1:20, ESV)

Ephesians 1:4 shows the purity of God’s plan. Since he chose us before the foundations of the world, his redemptive plan was also already in place. Peter shows us that even Jesus’ sacrifice was a pre-foundational part of God’s plan — and that his plan was for salvation, and not for damnation.

And here is some real insight into the purity of God’s plan. Hell wasn’t even created for humans! It was created for Satan and his minions.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:41, ESV)

God’s foreknowing the result of sin is quite different from any (supposed) proactive sending of people to hell. Nowhere will you find God choosing hell for his creatures. This they choose for themselves. God planned for volitional humans to find salvation in a volitional Savior, Jesus Christ — who chose to die so that we might choose to live. The answer to your overarching question hinges on choice. Life must contain risk or else it is non-life. A world without risk could only be populated by automata — human-like beings, which were not human at all.

Why, then, does God make us go through all this? I am not sure. The Bible is absolutely filled with clearly articulated reasons as to why God performed certain acts along the way, but it does not give us an answer as to why he created us. All we can do is look at the desired results (like giving him glory) and speculate as to the “why” of it. But we must always exercise caution when our “why” question becomes, what moves God to do… because nothing can move a being who is, by definition, the Prime Mover. He moves everything. Nothing moves him.

So, why does God do anything at all? Because he is  — and God’s being is never separated from his actions. We humans have little reference for this mode of operation, where pure being emits pure actions, but we are given examples. The Bible tells us that God is love (1 John 4:16), and at this point, we might say, well… good for him. That is a nice doctrinal statement. But much more frequently we read where God does love (John 3:16), and at that point, we should say, “Thank you.”

Concerning all the apparent horrors of the world, God’s essence is still love — always will be. But the resultant action of love is redemption. Redemption is (again, by definition), painful. It is painful for the unredeemed as they suffer in a fallen world, but without hope. It is painful for the redeemed, who also suffer because of the fall, but enjoy the guarantee of heaven. But most of all, it was painful for the Redeemer. He suffered the most, which deserved it least—and whom the world hates in spite.

Until Jesus returns and sets the world aright, the tenor of the world will be, predominately, pain (Revelation 21:4). This is the biblical declaration and should be our reasonable expectation. But all this pain is the result of love — and God would have it no other way. You see, if God were to give creation a do-over using volition beings, both earthly and celestial, the result would be the same. Therefore, the only way out is through — through God’s love, which cannot (at this time) be separated from the pain — both his and ours.

In closing, let me invite you to visit my personal webpage about salvation. It focusses on redemption, which is a different emphasis than most. It is, therefore a tad more technical than the usual pages, and for that reason, I think that you might find a passage or two to give you some comfort in, what has become for you, a difficult place.


I wish you blessing through the pain.

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