This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Hello dr. Craig!
I would like to thank you for your work,you really helped me a lot! I write you in time of great doubt and spiritual struggle. For years, my faith is going up and down and it is really exhausting. I do find your arguments very persuasive but this is where I hit the wall- the problem of evil.
I was contemplating about the horror of suffering in lives of some of my family members and I just don't understand it. One of them even rejected God! I know about Alvin Plantinga's free will defense but I can't tell people beaten down by life: "Well, that is simply an emotional problem, you don't and cannot know Gods reasons for permitting it." I actually said that I get this response: "I don't care what kind of problem it is, when I see my dying child I cannot believe that. You don't know what is life, you are to young and naive!" I have nothing to say to them, nor I can blame them for rejecting God. Really,how can I? That is not my question, I understand free will defense.
My question is: do you think that people who reject God on emotional basis (because of their suffering) will go to hell? I think many people who reject their faith, reject it just because of that. That is a lot of people! How can I blame them if the burden is too heavy? Why did God permitted that much suffering that goes beyond ones reason and lefts Him with emotional rejection?
Also, is free will worthy of that? It seems to me that 90% of all people have to go to hell for eternity. So how is God all-good and all-loving if he created world permeated by evil and most of people that he created have to go to hell. You can say we all deserve hell which is true- but He created us susceptible to sin! He also knew that we would reject Him. Couldn't he create the world of free creatures but also do something like ordaining the stars in the sky to have cross shape and that due to some reactions once a year, in Easter they shine with differed colors or something similar. Isn't that worthy of salvation even just one more person than without it? Much more people would be saved I think. That is why I struggle. Majority of true Christians also have doubts from time to time. There are very few people who don't weaver- because it is hard to believe when you see al that!
Dr. Craig, this sometimes keeps me awake at night. Sometimes I forget it for months- but I have to face those questions and I need answer. I have really great respect towards you and hope that you can provide an answer or advice how to deal with this.
(Country not specified)
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
Anon., you’ve raised a tangle of different questions that require some teasing apart in order to answer. Let’s start at the beginning.
You say that you “know about Alvin Plantinga's free will defense,” but I’m not sure you’ve really absorbed Plantinga’s response to the problem of evil. At a minimum, you need some lessons in pastoral counseling! You’re right that Plantinga differentiates between the intellectual and emotional problems of evil, the first lying in the province of the philosopher and the second in the province of the pastor. The reason he makes this differentiation, however, is so that you can reply more appropriately and sensitively to the person you’re conversing with. Once you discern that someone is really struggling with the emotional problem of evil, you don’t say to him, “Well, that is simply an emotional problem, you don't and cannot know Gods reasons for permitting it!” Is that how Plantinga responds to the emotional problem of evil? Of course not! He responds by talking about how God as our Heavenly Father suffers with us and shares and understands our hurts. He directs people’s attention to the cross and to the sufferings of Christ on our behalf as a source of comfort. If instead you find at that point that “I have nothing to say to them,” that only shows that you have not understood Plantinga’s response. The Free Will Defense is meant as a response to the intellectual, not the emotional, problem of evil. You responded to the emotional problem as though it were the intellectual problem and so came across as dismissive and uncaring. It was to avoid such a misstep that Plantinga differentiated between the two problems in the first place!
This leads in turn to your real question: how can people who reject God for emotional reasons be held morally accountable for their unbelief? You’re raising the same question about the culpability of unbelief that was raised by last week’s question (#443). There the question concerned someone who rejects God for rational reasons; here it concerns someone who rejects God for emotional reasons. In both cases, I think, the answer is the same: one is culpable for unbelief because ultimately unbelief is not due to intellectual or emotional factors, but to resisting the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which is God’s own self-authenticating witness to Himself. Don’t ever forget: God loves every person He has created and wants that person to come to know Him. By His Holy Spirit the omnipotent God is able to overcome any rational or emotional obstacle to faith in Him. Unbelief is therefore ultimately inexcusable. What God will not do is overpower a person’s freedom to make an inexcusable choice.
You ask, “Why did God permitted that much suffering that goes beyond ones reason and lefts Him with emotional rejection?” As I said in the previous paragraph, no one ultimately rejects God just for emotional reasons. Why does God allow people to go through such horrendous pain? That just is the problem of evil. See what I’ve written about divine providence and God’s permitting horrendous suffering in chapter 27 of Philosophical Foundations for Christian Worldview (IVP, 2003). God’s providential purposes for this world are achieved through what we suffer.
You then move on to the problem of Christian particularism and the challenge of universalism: “how is God all-good and all-loving if he created world permeated by evil and most of people that he created have to go to hell.” There’s a whole section of this website devoted to wrestling with this problem: Scholarly Articles: Christian Particularism (also the popular article “How Can Christ Be the Only Way to God?”). I defend the claim that it is neither impossible nor improbable that God has created a world with an optimal balance between saved and lost and that the eternal joy and blessedness of those who freely choose to embrace God's love should not be prevented by those who would freely reject it. Moreover, as I explain in my answer to question #439, I don’t think we’re in any position to say with confidence what percentage of the world’s population will finally be saved, so you should not be unduly pessimistic.
You then ask, “Couldn't he create the world of free creatures but also do something like ordaining the stars in the sky to have cross shape and that due to some reactions once a year, in Easter they shine with differed colors or something similar. . . . Much more people would be saved I think.” Here you’re raising the question of the hiddenness of God. Why doesn’t God make His existence more obvious? See what I’ve written about this question in Philosophical Foundations for Christian Worldview, pp. 157-8. There’s no reason to think that if God were to make His existence more manifest, more people would come into a saving relationship with Him. Mere showmanship will not bring about a change of heart (Luke 16.30-31). It’s interesting that in the Old Testament God is described as revealing Himself to His people in manifest wonders: the plagues upon Egypt, the pillar of fire and smoke, the parting of the Red Sea. But did such wonders produce lasting heart-change in the people? No, Israel fell into apostasy with tiresome repetitiveness. If God were place a neon cross in the stars, more people might believe that He exists, all right; but what confidence could we have that after time they would not begin to chafe under the brazen advertisements of their Creator and even come to resent such effrontery? I can well imagine people saying things like, "He puts His flashy cross in the sky, but He didn't lift a finger to save my daughter!" In fact, we have no way of knowing that in a world of free creatures in which God’s existence is as obvious as the nose on your face that more people would come to love Him and know His salvation than in the actual world. God knows what revelation of Himself will be most effective in bringing people freely to a saving knowledge of Himself.
Sure, it’s hard to believe sometimes, and most Christians, if they’re honest with you, will admit that they have doubts from time to time. But that’s O.K. We can still pray with the father who came to Jesus seeking relief of the terrible suffering of his child and cried, “I believe; help thou my unbelief!” (Mark 9.24)
This post and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website: www.reasonablefaith.org