How can a good almighty God allow suffering?

Common Objections to the Bible

Hell, Heaven,
and Original Sin

If God is loving and good, how can he send people to hell?

Consider the following story:

The Good, Loving Policeman was walking down Main Street one day when he saw a little old lady with a walker trying to cross the street. As he watched the little old lady, he saw a fancy car pull up and come to a screeching halt next to the little old lady. Three young men hopped out of the car, laughing. One of them pushed the old lady to the ground, while another started kicking her in the stomach, legs, and face. Another of the men smashed his heel into the old woman’s face while she screamed in pain. Even from a distance, the Good Policeman could hear bones crack. Finally, one of the young men did the unthinkable. He pulled a knife out of his belt and slit the woman’s throat. But the Good, Loving Policeman witnessed these events. So as the men walked back toward their vehicle, he rushed up to them and thrust his hand out in front of them and said, “Hi. I’m the Good, Loving Policeman. And I want you to know that I LOVE you.”

What is the good, loving thing to do? Sometime the good, loving thing to do is punishment of the guilty to maintain justice. Justice is just as much a part of God’s essence as Love is, and since God cannot contradict himself he cannot water these down.

Now, it might be said, "Well most people don’t commit sins as extreme as that." Yet we need to remember that through living in a sinful world and being sinful ourselves, we gradually grow numb to sin. Yet God is infinite, 100% pure, without blemish, and no sin can be tolerated in his presence. We like to think to Hilter, Stalin and Pol Pot ought to go to hell, but not ourselves. The Injil says,

"Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed." (Romans 2:1-5)

In one sense, hell is also a culmination of our direction in life. Rejection of God’s good order and replacing it with our own fancied worldviews leads to gradually increasing chaos and pain, which we see evident in the world around is. Hell is simply the culmination of this trajectory away from God’s order and towards chaos, disorder and pain.

Similarly, would everybody really like heaven? The Bible says that heaven is not primarily a luxury resort, but it’s ‘being in the presence of God’, the God whose character is revealed through Jesus and the Bible. If people don’t like Jesus, they’re probably not going to like spending eternity in God’s presence, were the focus is enjoying and experiencing God forever.

God Can Judge, Not Us
It’s important to remember that in this matter of executing punishment, there’s a big difference between God and us. Since we all are tainted with sin, we have no right in ourselves to punish or condemn other people. That is why Jesus taught us "do not judge" and preached against violence. God instituted a justice system in human society to restrain sin, but as individuals we have no right to condemn others. In short, God’s just wrath against sin give us no right to go around condemning sin, because we have no right to be judge.

Original Sin: That Bad?

"The Bible dishonors humanity with a very low view of human nature; other worldviews are not so negative."

The Bible actually teaches that although we have all sinned against God, humans still have a tremendous amount of dignity and honor for we are made in the image of God, we bear his image. Our creativity, self-expression, love, and passion are part of this sacred image. That image remains in us even though we have sinned, and unlike the rest of the world mankind will live on for eternity after death. The implication of this are staggering; individual human beings become far more important than nation-states, culture, philosophies and ideas, for these things will all perish, but humans are eternal beings.

Original Sin: Are We Responsible?

"Our genes are flawed and the environment we exist in is full of flaws; so since our abilities are very limited, we cannot be liable to high standards."

Determinism vs. Free Will
Consider this question carefully: can we really say that humans are unable to be morally upright? If we deny this, all moral meaning crumbles to nothing. Overemphasizing the influence of environment and heredity over human will is dangerous to ethics, for it undermines all human responsibility and ultimately leads to determinism. If there is no free will, all moral meaning disappears. We people constantly expect one another to follow moral standards, and rebuke or praise them for doing or not doing so. If a rapist says, "it’s not my fault, I had a troubled childhood" while there may be some level of truth to the statement, he still is considered responsible for his actions by any sane justice system as a free agent with free will.

Adam’s choice
The Bible teaches that God made the world fully good, and yet gave Adam free will. He gave Adam a representative authority over the world, sort of like a vice-regent. When Adam freely chose to rebel against God, his federal role meant repercussions throughout our entire world, it was as though disorder had been brought into the world.

As the federal head or representative of the human race, Adam’s decision affects us. If you’re Indian, why aren’t you subject to the British Crown? Because a group of men a long time ago chose to protest the Raj. That’s the way representative government works, federal representation. It’s the moral responsibility of solidarity.

Sin’s Repercussions in the World
magnetThink of it like a magnet (God) holding three metal rings (the human soul, the body, and nature). When in Adam’s soul he chose to rebel or separate from God, the broken link between Adam and God caused the whole system to unravel. This is the way the world works; one person’s sin has repercussions on his children; it’s just a basic reality of existence, cause and effect. The disorder and contortion introduced through the world through Adam’s first sin has affected not just his descendants but the natural order itself.

Individual Responsibility
However the Bible makes it clear that, although Adam and Eve committed the first sin, we are guilty on the basis of our own sin:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned. (Romans 5:12)

"Because all sinned", not just Adam, we too have sinned. The Bible says that God has created people to be upright, but they have chosen to do evil.

"See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes." (Ecclesiastes 7:29)

We are not condemned on the basis of Adam and Eve’s original sin, but our own. However, God, in His love, has provided a way of escape for those who recognize their own inability to live up to God’s holy standards:

Death by Adam,
Life through Christ

If we feel that we have been dealt a bad hand through Adam’s sin, we must remember that God freely offers us an amazingly good hand hrough Christ. Romans 5 explains how since Jesus was the first human to live a fully sinless life connected to God, and through him we can be saved from our sins.

Recommended Reading

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
Unspeakable: Facing Up to Evil in an Age of Genocide and Terror by Os Guinness

Related Articles:

Does the Bible encourage violence?
How can a good God allow suffering?
Is God unjust and cruel in the Bible?

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