This issue, we’ve been focused on the question: where is God when people are suffering and in pain? Harvard’s very own Rev. Jonathan Page provides an interesting answer for a Christian: he argues that God is still totally loving but not truly all-powerful. At first, I was rather upset with him for this response. How can the God of the Bible not be omnipotent, for with Him, all things are possible? (Matthew 19:26) Then I realized that in many ways, I agree with him. I still believe that it is a mistake to say that “God is not the only force in creation.” But I do think that pressing on the problem of what omnipotence really means is a good way of resolving the question: why does God not prevent pain?
John Joseph Porter fleshed out some of his thoughts on omnipotence in this post last semester, and he made the important conclusion (based on 2 Timothy 2:13 and James 1:13) that God is bound by logic and the constraints of His own nature. God cannot sin and still be God. None of us are troubled by that statement. I would argue that in the same way, God is bound by a logical contradiction with the problem of pain.
God wanted to create a beautiful and good world.
A world without free will is a world that cannot be beautiful or good.
A world with free will is one in which God gives people the power to determine what happens.
Once people have the power to decide, they have the option of sinning and causing pain.
I would say that it is impossible for God to guarantee that there will be no suffering while giving us free will. Free will is a sufficient explanation for why humans cause each other pain: we simply choose to cause one another to suffer. It was necessary for us to be given the option of causing pain in order for the world to be beautiful and good. Yet once God gave us the reins to decide what sort of world this would be, He opened up the option for pain and suffering. He couldn’t take away that option without sacrificing our free will and the beauty and the goodness that comes with it.
Of course, God is also omniscient. He knew that we would likely sin and cause pain and many problems. So instead of limiting us to a form of unattainable beauty, instead of defining beauty as simply a world without sin, he gives us a way out. We find beauty not simply in the good, but in good’s conquest over evil.
We are each given a way to participate in good’s conquest over evil. We are slowly participating in our own deaths, killing the evil parts of ourselves and allowing the good parts to shine. We are soldiers in the war of good over evil, and we have been given the Word as our sword, Truth as our belt, Righteousness as our breastplate, Faith as our shield, and Salvation as our helmet (Ephesians 6:10-17). There is beauty in the battle. There is beauty in our triumph.
God knew that this beauty would be worth the pain.