The Problem with Pain and its Association with Giving Up on God

Death of an Atheist I Never Really Knew

I didn’t grow up with any atheists, as far as I knew. In fact, for the first few decades of my life, I personally knew of no self-proclaimed atheists at all. I was educated in Catholic schools and all of my friends were either Christian or Jewish. The norm was to worship within the faiths of Judeo-Christianity.

Shortly after my family and I moved to a new town in Florida, my husband’s uncle died. He had served many years in the United States Air Force and had earned much recognition before accepting a position with a military defense contractor. He died during a training exercise in Norway when he was unexpectedly thrown off a boat at high speed. Since his wife and two young sons lived near our new home and most of our relatives didn’t, we opened our home to quite a few relatives who came to stay with us for a week. Hotels are not convenient in my small town. It was then I heard that Kevin was an atheist. Everyone prayed for him and the subject of his atheism was brought up quite frequently that week. Shortly thereafter, one of his sons became very vocal about his Christian beliefs and his love for Jesus Christ. Kevin’s wife and other son were much less vocal, though I heard they were also believers. His death focused everyone on our own mortality and on our spirituality.

A few years passed and I felt inspired to write fiction books to share my spiritual experiences with others. I tossed the first book aside after determining it hadn’t met my own standards, and I give away the second and third books for free.

Initial Perceptions of Atheists

I opened a Twitter account to promote my first book and by the time I began my third book, I had an active account. My pastor had become active too and I recall when he sent me a message asking me if the atheists had been in touch with me too. They had – and most of my first encounters were unpleasant with people showing up in my notifications demanding evidence for my beliefs and then calling me names when I provided same. I was accused of being “deluded” and “dogmatic” and I could feel their anger in the tweets I received. My pastor chose not to debate them but I decided to continue. I wanted to learn more about them and discover what made them tick. I’ve always believed in God and honestly had no understanding of why atheists had chosen the path they had chosen.

I created an atheist character in my third book based off of my initial atheist interactions: he was proud and selfish, with an “ego the size of Cuba.” The book can be found here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/650139

My Discovery about Atheists

Then I got to know a handful of atheists and I made an important discovery: most aren’t proud and most do not fall within my characterization. Many have endured extreme difficulties. I’ve heard the stories of atheists who have suffered horrible family losses and who have endured unspeakable tragedies. I know one who has had PAN for the past thirty seven years, which is completely debilitating and sometimes requires chemotherapy. I know of another who lost quite a few friends to suicides while growing up in a very depressing rural area. Some have lost children to cancer. Others have lost parents and loved ones. Many were once Christians who called out to God in their greatest times of need, yet they determined that God did not answer. It is for these reasons that this group of atheists believes there is no God. Their remedy for what they perceive as a lack of response is to walk away.

And I understand that. But I also understand that misery breeds more misery and a life devoid of the joy which God provides is hopelessly sad.

The Problem of Pain

“If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form” –Lewis, 1940, p. 17).

The problem of pain makes the assumption that God wants to make His creatures perfectly happy and that making us happy should be God’s goal. But we are not always happy, so we know this is not God’s goal. Atheists who justify their atheism with the problem of pain protest this point. Their perfect vision of the world is a Garden of Eden in which everyone has free will to do what they want. Yet this conception of a Garden of Eden is impossible to achieve: Adam and Eve proved that. Free will is always accompanied by sin, and we all sin, and sin corrupts paradise. Enter the earth.

“The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that hell should be able to veto heaven” (Lewis, 1946).

But hell cannot veto heaven so such blackmail is futile. Furthermore, stating that God’s goal should be to keep us happy all of the time does not speak to our purpose. We are not here with a singular goal of being happy. We are here to grow spiritually, to overcome challenges, and to become more Christ-like. Our ultimate goal is to leave the world in a better place than it was prior to our entry.

Through the example of Jesus Christ, we see the way the Lord uses adversity and pain to grow our spirits. We all have examples of times in which we have been broken (or challenged) and how the adversity we faced made us stronger people. To become stronger, we overcame our fears, our self-pity, our anger, and our despair. By witnessing hatred, we developed a stronger appreciation for love. By witnessing hubris, we developed an appreciation for humility.  By witnessing tragedy, we grew empathy. By witnessing injustice and discrimination, we became more just and more tolerant of those unlike us. By witnessing immorality, we became more moral. We live by the example of Christ who overcame the enormous challenge of experiencing the hatred of His children as they beat and crucified Him without mercy. And He loved them and prayed for their redemption.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts  knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself” (Lewis, 1946).

Instead of directing our energies to battle God, we should direct our energies to understand God’s intentions for us. He wants us to emerge from the earth victorious. He is our biggest cheerleader.

“Stop quarreling with God! If you agree with Him, you will have peace at last, and things will go well for you” – Job 22:21

We need to surrender to God and to obey His calling by taking up our crosses and fulfilling our duties and missions. Through dutifulness, obedience, and surrender comes joy, the true joy that is impossible to attain if in battle against God.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” –Romans 12:1-2.

Thank you for investing the time.

References

Lewis, C.S. (1946). The Great Divorce.  C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. USA

Lewis, C.S. (1940). The Problem of Pain. C.S.  Lewis Pte. Ltd. USA.

8 Replies to “The Problem with Pain and its Association with Giving Up on God”

  1. Thank you Steph! Pain is hard so much so I cannot fathom enduring dark times without God. He revealed Himself in my worst days which has developed me far more than the easy times. It’s crazy but in some ways I feel sorry for anyone that hasn’t struggled to the point of surrendering to God.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A few observations.

    First, why do you rely more on Lewis than on the Bible you purportedly believe? I think the Bible has far more interesting things to say on pain and suffering than C.S. Lewis, don’t you?

    Second, you write that “Free will is always accompanied by sin, and we all sin, and sin corrupts paradise.” So, if that is the case, and God knew what horrors sin would cause, why bother with free will? The more ethical choice would be to eliminate it altogether, something God could have easily done.

    Third, if suffering exists so that we “grow spiritually,” “overcome challenges,” and “become more Christ-like,” in what way does the roughly 17,000 *daily* deaths of children under the age of five from preventable causes perform those actions?

    I think this post is lacking the punch that you intended.

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    1. Thanks for reading it. I try to vary my approaches and I’ve used the Bible more heavily in other blogs. In the book I linked, I spent much time explaining pain with the book of Job. I just had a small reference to it here.

      As for the suffering, you must consider the ripple effect. Sometimes witnessing the suffering of others leads people to do great things. And we know all of the children will be in heaven. This life is but a speck of sand on the beach of heaven.

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      1. You broke up your reply to my single comment into two. But I’ll just respond to both of yours in one.

        I will try to check out that book you are referring to. The book of Job is one of my favorite Hebrew texts.

        As for children, is it all that comforting that they will be in heaven after they undergo intense suffering? What purpose does that suffering serve for them? Furthermore, I do not think that the Bible teaches children who die go to heaven. But I suppose that’s a topic for another time.

        Regarding free will, do you believe that having “free” will is more valuable than a world without evil and suffering? Will free will exist in heaven?

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  3. One of my favorite passages explains how all children go to heaven: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

    Free will was God’s gift to us – and he knew very well of its implications, which necessitated the crucifixion and resurrection of His only son. I’ve written a blog on Jesus’ atonement, if you’re interested.

    Yes, free will exists in heaven. We’ll all be cleansed of our sins before entry.

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