Author Randy Alcorn asks in his most recent book If God is Good, why it is that many atheists claim to reject God because others suffer — while so many people who do the actual suffering are drawn even closer to that same God.
While Western atheists turn from belief in God because a tsunami in another part of the world caused great suffering, many brokenhearted survivors of that same tsunami found faith in God. This is one of the great paradoxes of suffering. Those who don’t suffer much think suffering should keep people from God, while many who suffer a great deal turn to God, not from him.
Imagine eavesdropping on a conversation between [atheist and supposed "former Christian" author/activist Bart] Ehrman and the very people whose suffering he uses as an argument for disbelieving in God. After hearing Ehrman’s case, someone says, “You’ve lost your faith because of my suffering? But my faith in God has grown deeper than ever. Why would I turn away from the only one who can comfort me, the only one who has planned eternal life for me, the only one who suffered immeasurably, beyond any of us, so that one day I need suffer no longer?”
You won’t find the strongest Christian churches in the world in affluent America or Europe, where the problem of evil [as a debate issue] has the most traction. In Sudan, Christians are severely persecuted, raped, tortured, and sold into slavery. Yet many have a vibrant faith in Christ. People living in Garbage Valley in Cairo make up one of the largest churches in Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of India’s poor are turning to Christ. Why? Because the caste system and fatalism of Hinduism give them no answers. So they turn to a personal God who loves them and understands suffering. I have interviewed numbers of people who take comfort in knowing that this life is the closest they will ever come to Hell.
Later, Alcorn quotes the final “nihilism”-laced paragraphs of Ehrman’s book (which is rather cheekily titled God’s Problem). First he presents Ehrman’s encouragement to seek money, material goods, nice cars and homes and families and the good life. Then Alcorn continues with the quote:
What we have in the here and now is all that there is. We need to live life to its fullest and help others as well to enjoy the fruits of the land. … But just because we don’t have an answer to suffering does not mean that we cannot have a response to it. Our response should be to work to alleviate suffering wherever possible and to live life as well as we can.
Do you see the inconsistency here? If we follow Ehrman’s advice to “drive nice cars and have nice homes” and consume expensive meals and drinks and spend as much as we can—in fact, “the more the better”—then we will not be working to alleviate suffering whenever possible.
What percentage of the royalties from Ehrman’s best-selling book has he ear-marked for easing world suffering? If it seems unfair to ask, remember that I am merely applying the standard he expects God to live up to: using all of one’s resources to relieve suffering. Does Ehrman place himself under the same condemnation he places God? Based on the lifestyle he seems to advocate, the answer appears to be no.
These questions seemed appropriate in my response this morning to a young man who claims to embrance “nihilism.” However, he admits his life has been an easy one and he has not really suffered like others do.
And this, as Alcorn and many others note, is the problem with such religious faith in life’s supposed meaninglessness: they cannot deal with the “problem of good” any more than some Christians struggle to address the “problem of evil.” Furthermore, without belief in a God who is good, there is no “problem of evil” anyway — for no belief or action can truly be called “evil.”