17 Feb 2020

“Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen?”

Religious 14 Comments

When I was about 17, I was watching my 11-year-old brother talk smack in our front yard to a kid who was about 13. They were trash talking back and forth, and my brother ran up to the kid to attack him. The kid had clearly had some martial arts training, because he did a backwards kick into my oncoming brother’s chest, knocking my brother flat on his back on the grass.

At this point I came out of the house and said, “OK guys, let’s break it up” and dispersed the crowd of kids (all several years younger than me), who were all going “Ohhhhh” after seeing what happened.

I had done this out of love for my brother. He was clearly responsible for what happened (he was being a punk and braggart, trying to impress the older kids), and I wanted him to have some experience with physical combat to help him in the future know how to assess a situation. But, when I thought he might actually get hurt, I intervened.

For whatever reason, that event recently popped back into my head, and I thought it might be somewhat analogous to why God lets (some) bad things happen to us.

P.S. I understand that people in life sometimes die. So please don’t point that out to me.

14 Responses to ““Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen?””

  1. Harold says:

    Hey Bob, you do realize that people die sometimes?

  2. Paul says:

    What about all that infanticide that was going on for much of human history?

  3. Steve Maughan says:

    If we think of the long-term (i.e. eternity), can the inhabitants of heaven appreciate it’s purity if they have no experience of evil? Or put another way, can heaven really be heaven if evil had never existed?


    • Harold says:

      Interesting point. Some speculations. If one started to exist and experienced nothing but pleasure I contend that you would still be experiencing pleasure even if you did not know about the alternative.

      The things that might give you the experience of pleasure may be different. For example, some people say that taking off their ill-fitting shoes is a pleasurable moment. They would not experience that pleasure without the pain of the bad shoes, so the absence of pain is not the same as pleasure. Only the ending of pain is experienced as pleasure.

      The person who has never had bad shoes will not experience that particular pleasure. Nevertheless they can experience an “equal amount” of pleasure by something else, maybe a head massage.

      It should not be beyond God to provide the good in the absence of the bad.

    • Tel says:

      Could anyone appreciate how nice the Earth really is, until they have done a tour of the Moon, Mars and Venus?

      Can anyone properly enjoy life … unless they have at least tried being dead a few times?

      I could keep going but it might start getting weird. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of things that simply come down to imagination, and that’s not particularly scientific, but we use it anyway.

  4. khodge says:

    Some of the worst homilies I’ve heard were on this subject.

    The name of the book and author fail me right now, but there is a book that paints suffering as a positive human good. If I can find it I’ll put the name here.

    Aside from the unnamed book, the Bible and tradition are quite clear about two things: (1)we cannot know the mind of God and (2)suffering is part of it.

    Even an atheist can get behind both of these proposition: (1) will all the questions ever be answered? Much like the smallest particle has not been discovered, (as I.understand it, we keep getting smaller until everything is energy), the real number of dimensions is only speculation, as is the origination of our universe. And (2) will suffering ever go away? For example, ending poverty only serves to change an old form of suffering – hunger, with teenage angst.

    • Harold says:

      “For example, ending poverty only serves to change an old form of suffering – hunger, with teenage angst.” I like that.

      Could this be the best of all possible worlds? Maybe this one produces the least possible amount of suffering.

      • Khodge says:

        Voltaire’s Dr.Pangloss.
        I have always thought that Voltaire gave short shift to the possibility that this is, in fact, the best of all possible world’s. Dr. Pangloss’s hard life was a reductio ad absurdum and, much like an editorial cartoon, only had room for 1/2 of the argument.

        • Khodge says:

          Except, in the best of all possible worlds, auto-correct would not randomly add apostrophes to simple plural words.

          • Harold says:

            The Grocer’s have taken over autocorrect.

      • Tel says:

        If God was truly omnipotent then the limitation “best possible” would not apply. Only regular finite organisms need worry about the problem of trade offs.

        That said, “best” implies a value judgement and further implies a purpose. Best for what exactly? Maybe this is the best world for God’s purpose and no trade off was involved … except we are stuck with not knowing what the purpose is. Many people presume that God’s purpose automatically aligns with their own preferences which seems a rather outrageous leap of faith … even more difficult to believe than the idea of a God in the first place.

        If you go the other way and attempt to align your personal preferences with whatever appears that God is requiring then you might do better … but then you have an information problem. If you presume this world represents God’s best effort to communicate with you and getting along through life is what he wanted you to do, that’s kind of tautological IMHO because you could just as easily throw the whole theory out the window and go back to whatever you were doing before that.

        • Harold says:

          I think God’s omnipotence is considered by believers to apply only to things that are possible. He cannot make a married bachelor or a square circle, nor a rock too heavy for him to lift. These arguments have been had, I think, and resolved to the satisfaction of believers.

          We know this is not God’s best effort to communicate with us, because he does single out some people for individual communication and he could do that with me as well. Rather we must suppose that God’s purpose is best served by him not communicating with us directly.

          • Tel says:

            Many believers (in a range of Gods and non-Gods) will hold up a book and tell you this is the word. Anyone, at any time, can communicate with God (or Gods, or Prophet, or Enlightened One or what have you) simply the reading the relevant book.

            The book says, God does not want anyone to get a tattoo. OK, sure, I don’t have any tattoos … so I’m good right?

            Actually, by Steve Maughan’s argument above I don’t really appreciate the purity of not having a tattoo until I have experienced going out and getting a tattoo … but hey God told me not to do that. Actually I didn’t want to get one, which presumably might be God messing with my head.

            I have a few small scars, hopefully that’s acceptable as a half/half kind of option. God’s opinion on sharpie marker is a touch unclear.

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