The Instigator
Pro (for)
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The Contender
Con (against)
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the problem of suffering, and God - a loving God can still exist

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/31/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 964 times Debate No: 55829
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (5)
Votes (1)




it is often argued that God doesn't exist or doesnt care, due to the problem of suffering. here i am mostly looking at suffering of people who did nothing to cause it, and not at issues with evil acts. mostly natural suffering like being born in pain or dying in pain due to disease.

i admit this is a tough philosophical problem.

here are some ways i reconcile this with a loving God:

-first, it's important to note that i do not argue that we are being punished for being sinful, as some traditionally argue.
1. we are born in the condition where we belong. we are sinful, by our nature, so we only have so much of his nature to sustain us. without all of it, there are problems, including pain. we are imperfect pictures. we can will ourselves in God's light and move on into a better picture.
2. for the least innocent, it might be seen as maybe permissible to allow pain. but for the most innocent, how could God allow that? id argue that if they were so great, they would want to be put into an existence with the possiblity of pain, so they could spread the news of God's love and help bring the problems to an end.
this doesn't really address extreme situations, that's in the next point.
3. if you were to ask almost anyone, would they rather never live or live a somewhat pained life, almost everyone would say live anyway. there is an extremely small fraction that would say never live, especially for extreme situtations of suffering. but i could only chaulk that up to demonstrating that we are put here to conincide with the level of God's light in us. without it all, we have problems, and pain.
4. if you look into physics, there are theories that say our life is fleeting, and in reality could be seen to have occurred in the blink of an eye. i've looked into the theories and it makes sense, if the theories are true. this points out that it's almost a dream, that our life may be pained, but it's really of extremely little consequence in the bigger picture. this is my weakest argument, cause it is still of some consequence.

i concede my biggest weakness is that God even allows any of this stuff to begin with. which is why i still struggle with the point. but, God can only allow for what coincides with our inherent nature and free will decisions.


Hello, and thank you for the opportunity to debate. This is my first attempt on this website, so I hope that you'll be patient with me.

You've chosen to defend a very difficult problem, and I have to commend you for that first of all.

I will present my argument, and then respond to your points.

1. There exists a moral law or obligation to help or protect people who are suffering if they are able.
2. Moral laws are universal - no one is exempt from them.
3. God is able.
4. Therefore, god is morally obliged to prevent natural suffering.

In defense of my first 2 premises, I say that whether you think the moral law is given by god, or is natural, does not matter greatly. Regarding the first premise, since you seem to be arguing from a Christian perspective, Christian morality is quite explicit in that we should help and protect those who suffer or are in need, such as the parable of the good Samaritan, and Jesus' keenness to heal the sick. On the other hand, most secular moral systems oblige us in some way to prevent suffering when possible.

In defense of premise 2, if we take the Christian view, I assume that you would say that god cannot commit evil and therefore cannot break his own moral law.

Now I will respond to your points.

1. Appealing to pain and suffering being a natural part of being separated from god doesn't address why god does not fulfill his moral obligation to help those who are suffering.

2 and 3. You are correct in that point 2 doesn't address extreme suffering. I don't think point 3 does either, however. Even if you could argue that, on balance, god could be justified in not prevent every minor misfortune that occurs to everyone, you cannot brush extreme pain and suffering under the rug. Extreme pain and suffering do exist, and there are many existences where you could reasonably say that it would be better not to have been born at all. There are children who are born, live lives of extreme pain for perhaps a week or, and then die. They are not able to spread god's love, and if you could ask them, they'd probably say their lives weren't worth it. I think you would accept that humans are morally obligated to help these kinds of suffering children, so why is not god?

Perhaps god could allow small amounts of suffering, within the context of a full and varied life. But surely there is no way to defend allowing a child to be born into a brief lifetime of misery and pain? God could step in at that point, but he does not.

4. I'm afraid the briefness of a human life compared with the age of the universe. It is true. The human life is 0.0000007% the total age of the universe. But it is 100% of the life of that individual. And if human lives and problems are really so small and insignificant, does that mean that we should not help those who suffer from natural evils?

At the end of your post, you appeal to our inherent nature and free will. But this is about natural evils, so free will does not come into it.

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to your reply.
Debate Round No. 1


1. it does say why he doesn't help those suffereing. it's because he can't. as we both agree God can't do evil, God can't cause everything to be light. free will dictates that there can be dark. notice, i didn't say "God can't cause light to shine in the darkness". that is mostly a play on words, cause intitutively we can always cause light to shien in the darkness. but he can't cause light to shine where it's shielded. he has from a chistian perspective, come to spread the good news, thus doing what is possible to reduce the darkness. if we of our nature have diminished light, we have more problems, and pain.

in a certain sense it's true "it deosn't have to be that way, especially if God is all powerful". but, if we assume free will and our sinful nature, our situation reflects the light we have based on our nature. God must follow his own rules and be inherently consistent iwthin himself, as i touched on.

2, 3. you didn't specifically address why those extreme cases don't just illustrate the prior point, that we have diminished light, and problems and pain tehreby. perhaps you did intend to respond to it, in asking why God doesn't do anything. but, to that, i respond with my lsast paragraph.

i will just concede point 4, cause it is weak. it doesn't mean the lives are fleeting and like dreams, in the bigger picture, of even themselves, but i concede it's true.

as to the free will point. it does come into play. i admit it doesn't come into play in the way it does with evil acts etc, which i chose not to discuss. but it comes into play in that we are born sinners. that is our nature. and it's our nature because of free will. as such as our nature, only so much light is shone. the lack of full light causes problems, and pain.

i thank con for commending me for taking such a difficult debate. and trying to defend it. i concede it is a difficult subject.


I'm afraid that to have a more serious and productive debate, we're going to need to avoid using metaphors and be very clear about the definitions of the words we use. Presumably by 'light' you don't mean the electromagnetic phenomena, so things like 'shining in the darkness', and 'light can't shine where it is shielded' are very vague without proper definitions.

From what I can understand though, somehow you feel that we are inherently deserving of or doomed to suffering. The Christian doctrine of original sin, and therefore god cannot or should not intervene. I'll try to untangle and respond to these ideas.

First of all, you are correct, if god is all powerful, then it doesn't have to be that way. You then implore me to assume we have a sinful nature, and that explains why it has to be so. But this only pushes the problem back and raises a new question: if god is all powerful, why did god give us a sinful nature, if it will necessarily lead to natural evil and suffering?

The idea that we have a sinful nature and therefore must suffer flies in the face of our moral intuition and even what Christians would consider moral obligation. This ties back to my original argument that you have no addressed fully yet.

My argument was that god, or another source of moral law, dictates that we should help those who suffer, but that since god does not help those who suffer, he is immoral/inconsistent/incoherent/non-existent/not loving.

So if we have a sinful nature and even from birth we are deserving of or doomed to suffering, if I saw a baby suffering due to a natural evil such as starvation, I am not obligated to feed the baby, because they have a sinful nature and that is their fate. Clearly this is in conflict with our moral intuition and the moral teaching of Christianity. So if it is not okay for me to do it, why is okay for god to do it?

The very idea of being born into sin is also incompatible with moral intuition. If I am hurt by a pregnant woman, and therefore choose to make her child's life miserable when it is born, that would not make any sense, and you would call me immoral. Why is it immoral for me, but okay for god?

So the challenge I give you is the same as my original argument. What coherent picture of a loving god can we paint if we are morally obliged to help those who suffer when we can, but god himself, who is infinitely able, chooses not to?
Debate Round No. 2


you ask why God chose to create sinful nature, or the possiblity thereof, if it would lead to suffering. to that, i answer that we are co creators with God. and the truest expression of God is love. love is an act of free will. he cannot create the ultimate expression of love, without creating creatures with teh capacity to not love, sin. and, for us to achieve maximum autonomy and possibilities, we cannot be mere machines that God created as non sinful.
on a side note, some speculate that angels are like those nonsinful machines. humans have free will. hence, our condition as opposed to theirs. but there are disadvantages to having no choice in the matter, nonoptimality as discussed.

you say i didnt respond to your point about why God doesn't intervene. i did respond to it. i said that he cannot intervene cause the lack of light is inherent given our nature. in fact, i would argue you didn't respond to me. perhaps you did, but to that, i reiterate the above points about why God didn't just make us robots.

as to the example of making a child's life miserable cause the mom wronged me. i would argue this isnt analogous enough, cause we arent talking about things our parents did. not oriinal sin as catholics teach, but the 'propensity to sin' and sinful nature, as eastern christians teach.

as to the example of a baby starving and not reacting cause the baby has a sinful nature. that is a great counter point, i admit. i almost have to concede the debate. in fact, for now, i cannot think of a decent rebuttal, so i will concede the debate and maybe restart it later.

note: if we chose to take the traditional western understanding of sin and suffering, we would conclude that we are being punished for our sin. (i argued suffering was a natural consequence ot our sinful nature) this would better explain it, cause then God could just claim to be 'hands off' while we sort out our mess ourselves. it doesn't solve the problem, but it in a way does answer it better given the dificulties involved.
i really don't like this perspective, so don't really argue it, personally, though.


whatisthemind forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by whatisthemind 7 years ago
Hi, sorry, I didn't intend to be rude by not submitting a round 3, I just have exams and have been having a really hectic month. Thank you for an interesting first debate on this website, I hope you enjoyed it too
Posted by voxprojectus 7 years ago
Dairygirl: For what it's worth, my comfort with the problem of pain rests on two factors:

1: God is Omniscient and we are not. It is entirely possible that our suffering in some grander scale we cannot appreciate is not suffering at all, but rather some necessary component to whatever it is that comes next or already exists. Our limited ability to really see reality as it is makes us think we know what we do not about the nature of pain and evil.

2: God's Omniscience, Omnibenevolence, and Omnipotence are absolute, but do not include paradox's. Just as there is no answer to God being able to make a rock so big He cannot move it, likewise, God's perspective of EVERYTHING does not include the human perspective of one pair of eyes. One thing I like about Christianity (though I am not a devout Christian) is the implication that God chose to limit himself to one human existence that lived and died. Only through that narrow a focus could he see the world through the eyes of his creation, and only then do ideas like eternal reward enter into the picture. Prior to that, an all-seeing all-feeling being has no frame of reference with which to have the barest sympathy with humankind, hence the crazier old-testament god.

of course this is all just speculative fun, neither philosophy nor theology on my part.
Posted by whatisthemind 7 years ago
This idea that God's obligations to us are no different from a human's to a playdoh man doesn't hold much water, because the human does not make moral commandments to the playdoh man. God supposedly does make moral commandments, including the commandment that we should care for those who suffer and prevent evil. For god to be able to disregard his own moral commandment makes him inconsistent. Is it really a moral commandment if he can tell humans to do one thing and yet do another thing himself? Or is it just arbitrary rules? It would be a total moral sham for me to create a (sentient, autonomous) playdoh man, and for me to command him to prevent evil, and then not prevent evil myself.

> The standard for good can only come from God, or it doesn't make sense. How can you, another human just like me, tell me how to live my life by good or evil?

You are not in good company among philosophers when you assert that a standard for good can only come from god, but that is by the way. I know that a Christian would never accept the premise that there exists a standard of good and evil outside of god (even though I strongly disagree). That is why my whole argument does not appeal to a standard of good and evil outside of god, or my own standard of good and evil: it shows that god fails to live up to his OWN standards of good and evil.
Posted by AstridDragonSlayer 7 years ago
At the Pro speaker: I am a little concerned that your position does not portray God as sovereign. He is sovereign over everything. This is one of the paradoxes of Christianity: God is COMPLETELY sovereign, and people have free choice. Like the paradox of the Trinity, this paradox will never be fully understood by a human mind. But the truth according to the Bible is that God exists, He is good, He is all-powerful, and He is completely sovereign. At the same time, man is inherently sinful, man has free will, and man experiences pain in his life. Trials come for several reasons: punishment for sin, testing of faith, glorification of God (think Job and the man born blind [John 9]). You may never know why you experience pain on this earth. I'm pretty sure Job never knew. But know that in the end, God does away with it all and makes everything new and perfect.
Posted by AstridDragonSlayer 7 years ago
God has no moral obligation except to Himself. The phrase moral obligation implies a system of ethics behind it; in other words, a standard of good and evil. The standard for good can only come from God, or it doesn't make sense. How can you, another human just like me, tell me how to live my life by good or evil? But God as Creator can make the rules. What is good and what is evil? God is good, and anything opposite his character is evil. That is the standard. Thus God's only moral obligations are to Himself and His name and character. He has no moral obligation to us, just as I have no moral obligations to the little man I cut out of playdoh. The only obligation he has in relation to us is to keep his promises, but this is really another form of his obligation to himself. Thus the conclusion of the Con speaker is wrong because fundamentally flawed. You cannot relate the moral standards between humans to those between God and human, because God's nature is fundamentally different than ours, and we have a different relationship with God than we have with fellow human beings. God has no obligation to prevent pain in our lives.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by voxprojectus 7 years ago
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
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Total points awarded:11 
Reasons for voting decision: The problem of pain (or evil) is old and interesting. Dairygirl takes the tact that limits God to make her argument. If he can't do things about evil, then he is not truly omnipotent. That being said, I think she steps up admirably and presents her case in a mostly logical format. While I can understand Con's frustration at her occasional use of metaphor, I feel that her statements are easily and reasonably interpretable so it's a small waste of time to call her out on them. For that and dropping out the last round, I cannot give Con conduct. Con definitely had better spelling. The arguments I am calling a tie, balancing what I think somewhat less reasoned-through from PRO against their originality.

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