Last week I posted my thoughts on the Question of Suffering or, as it’s also commonly referred to in philosophical/theological circles, the Problem of Evil. Prior to that I had left some comments in another post about my recent enjoyment of Bart Ehrman’s latest book, God’s Problem, a nice analysis of how the Bible, rather than address and resolve the issue, actually confuses it by contradicting itself all over the map.
In response to the former post, a reader sent me a private email that I thought was a nice illustration of the reasoning inherent in the problem. With his permission, I reproduce it here, in its entirety.
Your recent post about The Problem of Evil reminded me of a argument I recently had with a Christian. I thought I would share it with you.
Imagine the following scenario: Two of your children are hanging from the edge of a 20 story building. They are screaming and pleading for help. I happen to be on top of the building and hear them. I rush to the edge where they are and immediately pull the first child to safety. Then, I stand there and do nothing. The child who is still hanging is begging me for help. I stand there and do nothing. The child who I have already saved realizes that I am not going to help his/her sibling and tries to help them himself/herself. However, he/she is not strong enough to pull them up. The other child loses his/her grip and falls to his/her death; splattering all over the concrete below. Everyone on the street, not to mention you and your family, is horrified and traumatized, some of them having to seek professional counseling to cope with what they have seen happen. How would you feel about me? I saved one of your children. I also stood by and did nothing while your other child fell to his/her death. Well, I think it depends on who I am.
If I am God, you will go to church and praise me for saving your child. Your love for me will be reinforced. You will talk about how I have taken your deceased child to heaven and he or she is now eternally happy. If anyone questions you about why I did not save your other child, you will simply say that I work in mysterious ways.
If I am a human being, I will be arrested and forced to spend several years in prison. The fact that I saved one of your children will be grossly outweighed by the fact that I stood by and did nothing as your other child fell to his/her death, when I easily could have saved him/her. It is likely that I will be resented by you and your family. Most people will consider me evil and cruel.
Christians, why does your God get the benefit of this double-standard? Why is god not considered evil and cruel, even though he sits by and does nothing while children and many good people burn to death, starve to death, and suffer each day; while at the same time, you say that he has changed your life, giving you many blessings? You thank him for the food he gives you. You thank him for helping people survive car accidents, hurricanes, disease, etc.
The most common response that Christians have given me for scenarios like the one I have described above is that God needs these people or has another purpose for them and is calling them to be with him or to some other place. This argument is not compelling because 1) the total randomness of who is “saved” and who suffers or dies is much more consistent with chance and natural cause and effect than with a divine plan, and 2) the manner in which God supposedly “calls” or “takes” those who die is often by violent means in which the individual suffers. If God simply wanted to take someone, could he not simply “put them to sleep” and take them, or take them in some way that would not cause them to suffer. Do they really need to burn or starve?
Your God’s ways are quite mysterious indeed. So mysterious, in fact, that a rational person would have to question whether or not such a God exists.
I have nothing to add to that, but I’d love to hear the Christian take on it.