Saturday, April 3, 2010

Why does God allow bad things to happen?

One of the most common objections to Christianity is the question, "Why does God allow bad things to happen?".
So maybe it is worth us taking a look at it for a while.

Since I like to philosophize about things I guess I should first ask the question, what do we mean by "bad"?

Here are a some of the many definitions listed at

bad 1 [bad] adjective,worse, worst; (Slang) bad·der, bad·dest for 36; noun; adverb

1. not good in any manner or degree.
2. having a wicked or evil character; morally reprehensible: There is no such thing as a bad boy.
3. of poor or inferior quality; defective; deficient: a bad diamond; a bad spark plug.
4. inadequate or below standard; not satisfactory for use: bad heating; Living conditions in some areas are very bad.
5. inaccurate, incorrect, or faulty: a bad guess.
6. invalid, unsound, or false: a bad insurance claim; bad judgment.
7. causing or liable to cause sickness or ill health; injurious or harmful: Too much sugar is bad for your teeth.
8. suffering from sickness, ill health, pain, or injury; sick; ill: He felt bad from eating the green apples.
9. not healthy or in good physical condition; diseased, decayed, or physically weakened: A bad heart kept him out of the army.
10. tainted, spoiled, or rotten, esp. to the point of being inedible: The meat is bad because you left it out of the refrigerator too long.
11. having a disastrous or detrimental effect, result, or tendency; unfavorable: The drought is bad for the farmers. His sloppy appearance made a bad impression.
12. causing or characterized by discomfort, inconvenience, uneasiness, or annoyance; disagreeable; unpleasant: I had a bad flight to Chicago.
13. easily provoked to anger; irascible: a bad temper.
14. cross, irritable, or surly: If I don't have my morning coffee, I'm in a bad mood all day.
15. more uncomfortable, persistent, painful, or dangerous than usual; severe: a bad attack of asthma.
16. causing or resulting in disaster or severe damage or destruction: a bad flood.
17. regretful, contrite, dejected, or upset: He felt bad about having to leave the children all alone.
18. disobedient, naughty, or misbehaving: If you're bad at school, you'll go to bed without supper.
19. disreputable or dishonorable: He's getting a bad name from changing jobs so often.
20. displaying a lack of skill, talent, proficiency, or judgment: a bad painting; Bad drivers cause most of the accidents.
21. causing distress; unfortunate or unfavorable: I'm afraid I have bad news for you.
22. not suitable or appropriate; disadvantageous or dangerous: It was a bad day for fishing.
23. inclement; considered too stormy, hot, cold, etc.: We had a bad winter with a lot of snow.
24. disagreeable or offensive to the senses: a bad odor.
25. exhibiting a lack of artistic sensitivity: The room was decorated in bad taste.
26. not in keeping with a standard of behavior or conduct; coarse: bad manners.
27. (of a word, speech, or writing)

a. vulgar, obscene, or blasphemous: bad language.
b. not properly observing rules or customs of grammar, usage, spelling, etc.; incorrect: He speaks bad English.
28. unattractive, esp. because of a lack of pleasing proportions: She has a bad figure.
29. (of the complexion) marred by defects; pockmarked or pimply; blemished: bad skin.
30. not profitable or worth the price paid: The land was a bad buy.
31. Commerce. deemed uncollectible or irrecoverable and treated as a loss: a bad debt.
32. ill-spent; wasted: Don't throw good money after bad money.
33. counterfeit; not genuine: There was a bad ten-dollar bill in with the change.
34. having the character of a villain; villainous: In the movies the good guys always beat the bad guys.
35. Sports. failing to land within the in-bounds limits of a court or section of a court; missing the mark; not well aimed.
36. Slang. outstandingly excellent; first-rate: He's a bad man on drums, and the fans love him.

You will note that many of the definitions relate to the moral or qualitative value of something as a measure of its worth, but the more relevant definitions to the question "why do bad things happen?" are those definitions that focus on things which affect people, such as pain or suffering. I have highlighted in bold those definitions which I think are most relevant.

Lets examine (as an example) the following definition taken from above:
12. causing or characterized by discomfort, inconvenience, uneasiness, or annoyance; disagreeable; unpleasant: I had a bad flight to Chicago.

By this definition, a flight to Chicago might be considered "bad" because of maybe turbulence, or maybe the food did not taste nice, or maybe it the flight was delayed or diverted, or maybe the person got sick during the flight. Anything which causes "discomfort, inconvenience or uneasiness etc is a "bad" thing.

So lets ask ourselves, should God have prevented all those potential things from happening, and if he did not then does he not care?

Well then, should God prevent planes from being delayed? Well there must be a reason that the plane was delayed, maybe it was because of a late arrival at check-in. So to prevent that now God has to control the person who was running late so that they will be on time. Why were they late? Maybe they slept in. Is God responsible for controlling that? Well lets assume He is, so now God can be everybody's personal alarm clock in the morning to make sure that nobody is ever late again.

Okay well what about the air turbulence, should God have prevented that? Well the air turbulence is caused by weather patterns, which are governed by the seasons, the day and night, by ocean currents, and by land forestation, by solar activity levels, by cloud cover patterns, by geothermal activity and more, so what we are asking is for God to change all those things, which the survival of the planet depends upon, so that we can have a clear flight path without turbulence. Lets assume for a moment that God does that for us. Won't we then complain about how He has wrecked the rest of the world and only left us with clear skies?

So what about getting sick, should God be responsible for that?
All those bacteria everywhere, and we go and do something as simple as use a public amenity without properly washing our hands afterwards and then we get sick from some terrible bacteria. Should God be responsible for that? Well lets assume so. Maybe God should be responsible for cleaning public amenities, or maybe he should be responsible for washing our hands. Why should we in our supreme status be humbled to the level of doing these things ourselves? Maybe a better solution would be if God would just get rid of all the bacteria in the world. Then there would be no more problems would there? Well maybe, except the fact that we actually need bacteria to digest food in our stomachs, and we need bacteria to break down and decompose all the waste and dead things in the world. So I guess if we want all life in earth to die and fill up the earth with an undecomposable heap of garbage its a good idea.

Well you may be thinking now that those arguments make sense but what about the really nasty stuff?
What about if the plane crashed and everybody on board died. Shouldn't God have prevented that?

Well again we need to look at the fact that the plane crashed for a reason. There could be many possible reasons for a plane crash, but lets take for example one actual event that I recall happening where the tail of a plane fell off because the plane had been services and during the service, the bolts that hold the tail on had been replaced with non-genuine "equivalent parts" which turned out to actually be inferior to the genuine product. Was God responsible for checking those bolts? Was God responsible for installing those bolts? Was God responsible for choosing to install those bolts instead of the genuine bolts? Was God responsible for those bolts being represented as equivalent to the genuine bolts? Was God responsible for manufacturing those bolts? Was God responsible for designing those bolts?
At which point along the long chain of responsibility does God take control of people and say to them, "Hey you stay at home today and I will do your job for you and send you the pay-cheque as if you had actually done the work yourself". Maybe God should just put everyone out of work and do it all himself.
We can just send Him a list of all the things we want done and they will magically and perfectly be done.
Sure everyone in the world will be unemployed, but at least no disastrous mistakes will every happen again.

Well those things might be easily explainable, but what about the things which come from inside, like when you love someone and they reject you. That sort of suffering is probably as painful as anything else isn't it?
Should God step in and stop people for treating each other in hurtful ways, stop them from saying and doing things that hurt each other?

Well lets look at what it is about love that is so great, and why it hurts so much when we are rejected or treated hurtfully.

Would you enjoy being loved by someone who had been given a frontal lobotomy?
Would you enjoy being loved by someone who you knew actually hated you, but had undergone hypnosis therapy to brain-wash them into loving you involuntarily?
Would you pay an actor to pretend to love you?
Would you enjoy being loved by a robot that looked and sounded exactly like a human, but which loved you only because it had been programmed to and had no other choice?
They would each be passive and easily manipulated to tell you whatever you wanted to hear from them.

The reason that love is so rewarding is because the other person has chosen to love us voluntarily, not by compulsion, and this gives us a sense of self worth, a true sense of being loved.
God has created humans in His own image, and as much as we want to be loved by others by choice, so God wants to be loved by us by choice, not by compulsion. This is why God has given all people free-will to choose to do either right or wrong, to either love or to hate, to be kind or to be mean.

Yes it hurts when people choose to be unkind, but without that choice, we would be living in a world without love, and that would be the worst thing imaginable.
The Bible states, in 1 John 4:7-10.
"Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven."

God himself endured the trials of this unkind, unloving world, through the life of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Lets us accept the trials of this life, for we know that without free-will, there is no love, but God has come and revealed his love to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

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