I wrote a few days ago about the need for at least a basic apologetic knowledge for all Christians, so that we can give a reason, as Peter says, for the hope that we have that Christ will grant us eternal life. One thing that I failed to mention is that we Christians have an argument which, I believe, is a trump card. Most everyone I have ever met, if they are truly intellectually honest, will eventually be able to see the point of view here.
That trump card is the unfair suffering of people on Earth.
Now that may seem strange. How could innocent suffering be a defense of Christianity, when so many atheists use it as an argument against us?
The key is not trying to answer the question, “Why is there suffering?” If you are going to try to convince someone that, somehow, a miscarriage or a war or a sadistic serial killer or a rape or children starving in Africa is somehow a good thing, you won’t get very far. Such arguments are patently unconvincing to the unbeliever.
But when you are discussing the issue of suffering, it is interesting to look below the question itself. The interesting question is not, “Why is there innocent suffering?”; the interesting question is, “Why am I bothered by the fact that there is innocent suffering?”
I would imagine that most of you have the same reaction. But instead of asking, “How could a good God allow this?”, ask yourself this—“Why does this upset me? Why do I see it as a cause to be angry with, or disbelieve in, God?”
The answer to this question is, simply this: it does not seem fair. That is, no matter what we say on the surface, deep down we all feel that it is not okay for someone to suffer who did not seemingly deserve it. Sure, we can be okay with a person's suffering if their actions brought it about. “They bought their ticket: I say, ‘Let them crash’!”, as the great movie Airplane! says. “They made their bed, now they must lie in it,” we say. But when the person is innocent, we cry that it is not fair.
I could come up with a hundred examples. We feel that when a person with unsafe sexual habits gets AIDS, they have only themselves to blame; when a child contracts AIDS because of her mother’s decisions, we are furious. It isn’t fair. We feel a vastly different compassion level to someone who is homeless because he has PTSD from fighting in Vietnam than toward someone who is homeless because he bet everything he owned on the horse races. If a person is lazy and does not come to work and gets fired, we feel little compassion; if a person is laid off from his job despite being a good worker, our hearts break for him.
Atheists think about these examples of unfair suffering and say, “How can God allow _____, when the person did nothing to deserve it? How can He be a good God, if He exists?”
To which I answer, “What do you mean when you say it is unfair?”
Think about it for a moment. If you are an atheistic evolutionist, then there is nothing at all unfair about suffering. Suffering is simply a cold, random byproduct of natural selection. Some creatures will suffer. Others will thrive, either by chance or by better genes. There is nothing to be upset about or consider life unfair—for there is no such thing as “fair”. Life simply is. Some are born into suffering, some into comfort. That’s just evolution, the natural selection of random genes and the impact of other uncontrolled processes.
If a good man slips on the edge of a mountain and falls off, we may think it tragic, but not unfair. We all know that the law of gravity is simply “the way things are”, so we don’t say it is unfair that gravity applied to him.
Yet we often see situations in which we say, “Such and such person did not deserve this suffering. It isn’t fair.” To say that something isn’t fair or shouldn’t be a certain way inherently implies that there is a standard of righteousness or fairness, and you think that this particular suffering was not in accordance with that rule.
You cannot have it another way.
If you say that you believe in moral relativism, and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ absolute standard, then your philosophy finds nothing at all wrong with unfairness in suffering—because there is no such thing as “unfair”. Without a moral right or wrong, there can be no wrong treatment. Therefore you cannot use the argument of “wrongful suffering” against Christians—for your own philosophy denies that their suffering is wrong at all! You cannot say out of one side of your mouth that there is no such thing as wrong or unfair, yet say out of the other side that unfair treatment is somehow an argument against Christ.
So if you accept that there is something inherently wrong with rape or serial killing or children starving or Hitler exterminating the Jews, then you must admit that there is a concept of “right” and “wrong”.
And if there is a concept of right and wrong, then you must ask yourself—where did this concept come from?
Perhaps in another post I will address that question. But this is the trump card: the fact that we all find innocent suffering unfair and guilty suffering acceptable indicates that deep down we all accept a concept of universal justice. This point, once considered carefully, completely destroys the concept of a pure evolutionary morality or moral relativism. And once you get to the point that the unbeliever accepts the reality of a universal Law, it is a short step to understanding the Lawgiver; and once the Lawgiver is understood and our failure under the Law realized, then the Gospel can take center stage in their lives.