This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Dear Dr. Craig,
First of all, I wish to thank you for all the tremendous work you have done to defend the Christian faith. Many of my Christian friends have been blessed by your ministry, especially in apologetics. Also, your works have been what finally brought me, an ex-agnostic, to Christ three years ago. Second, I wish to apologize for any grammatical or spelling error as English is not my first language.
My question is regarding one of the latest news. I am an Indonesian living in Surabaya and the QZ8501 accident has had a huge impact on me. But most of all it was a great shock for a friend of mine. She is a Christian attending Mawar Sharon church with her parents. They were such wonderful persons, as well as a good Christian. But then they were traveling on QZ8501, while my friend stayed at home. You know the rest of the story.
She lost her faith, and more or less it had a destructing effect on my faith. She has been a Christian for years and one of those who brought me to Christ. It crushed my faith as well as my heart to see the empty seat in the church that she used to sit on. It has been more than a month and I don't know what to do to bring her back to God.
She started questioning every Christian, including me. Here is her question that I would like to ask you:
1. Is her parents' death already predetermined by God? Suppose she had a nightmare the day before the QZ8501 flight and told her parents about it. And thus, they decided not to fly at all and of course still alive by now. Could their free will somehow cancel God's predetermination?
(I've read your book 'The Only Wise God' and it gave me insight on how to answer. I, however, feel that I need to ask you in case I miss some points)
2. The second question I wish to ask you is less intellectual. In dealing with the problem of pain and suffering, I know the victim doesn't need any intellectual arguments. My friend needs Jesus as her source of comfort and peace. I know you are a philosopher and apologist, but I hope you can tell me what I should do in dealing with her, as well as my own failing faith: What can I say to a broken-hearted Christian who starts to turn away from God because He has taken her parents from her?
Dr. Craig, please help her. Or more precisely, please help me both in my own relatively new-born faith and in my rather desperate effort to bring her back to God. She was one of those who introduce Christ to me through her actions and words. It has been a month since she first clenched her fist toward God, and I am afraid it will continue.
Your help will be much appreciated. Thank you for your time.
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
Our hearts go out to you, Devina, as we think of your tragic loss.
It is at times like these that we need to keep firmly in mind the distinction between the intellectual problem of evil and the emotional problem of evil. You and your friend are obviously suffering emotionally from the severe losses that you have each experienced, she of her parents and you of your friend. Nothing has really changed to make the problem of innocent suffering more difficult intellectually. You and she were already aware of innocent persons who died in airline crashes, not to mention those who perished in the tsunami of recent years. Yet these deaths did not cause you or your friend to lose your faith. What has changed is that the problem of evil has now become intensely personal. There is an emotional component to these losses that was not present in the deaths of those other persons.
What this implies is that you need to be taking steps to deal with the emotional problem of evil. Now more than ever you need to maintain your devotional life, to be involved in daily prayer and Bible reading, to participate in meaningful corporate worship, and to fellowship with other Christians and share your burden with them. By ceasing to attend church your friend is cutting herself off from the very resources that will help provide her emotional healing.
Still, having responses to the intellectual problem of evil can help us to deal with those emotional problems when they arise. So in response to your questions:
1. While God’s plan for your friend’s parents included the fact that they would die in this airline crash, He did not causally predetermine it. His will for their lives was evidently, not that they should die years apart after lingering battles with illness or pain, but that they should be taken together quickly to His side. Their deaths fit into God’s providential plan for human history, which is to establish His Kingdom among men. God has good reasons for permitting them to die in this crash, otherwise He would not have allowed it. But as you know from reading The Only Wise God, God’s sovereign providence over human history does not imply His causally determining everything that happens. This event was the result of an incomprehensible multitude of free human choices which God did not determine. If her parents had decided not to travel on this flight because of a dream, then God’s plan would have taken a different course. His providential planning would have to have taken into account that free choice instead of the choices He did have to work with. God’s providential plan does not override human free choices but rather takes account of them.
2. Be there for her as a listening and sympathetic friend. Help her to see that Christian faith offers her hope and comfort in her suffering. What good does it do to turn away from God? Atheism has nothing to offer in place of God. Your friend’s best hope of there being some overriding good to come out of this tragedy is theism, and her best hope of immortality, both for her parents and for her, is Christianity. If she says this is pie-in-the-sky thinking, then share with her the arguments for God’s existence and the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, the basis of our hope.
Finally, if you haven’t read my discussion of the problem of evil in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian World View (Inter-Varsity Press, 2003), Devina, then I would encourage you to do so and to meditate on what it says there. I hope that it will be a source of strength for you, both intellectually and emotionally, as you go through this trial and seek to counsel your friend. We’re praying for you both.
This post and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website: www.reasonablefaith.org