Apologetics 5: The Problem of Pain

Borrowing from C.S. Lewis, Augustine and William Lane Craig, this class attempts to answer probably the biggest objection to theism.

This course was taught live at Wellspring School of Discipleship, at the Quebec House of Prayer (QHOP), October 20, 2016.

Click here to download the syllabus.

Click here to download the the illustrated notes for today’s lecture: scroll down to read them.

Click below to listen to today’s lecture.



As I mentioned several times in this lecture, this is on the intellectual problem of pain only!

On this subject, it is very important to separate out the emotional and intellectual problems: however, the emotional problem is so very important to address as well!

As I mention in the opening statements of this lecture, you may find it helpful to listen the the two following sermons, which address the emotional problem of pain. These sermons were preached towards the end of a very dark season in our lives.

10 Minute devotional: “What Africa Taught me About God”

10 Minute devotional: “Call Me Marah on grief in ministry”

Sermon, “Pain”

Sermon, “On Running & Suffering Well”

You may also watch the live-stream below. (A better quality video is coming soon!)

(I recorded a follow-up post to this one! Including discussions with students, and some additional thoughts. Listen here!)


******* THE PROBLEM OF PAIN *******



– Do you remember in the beginning, we talked about the Burden of Proof?

– We said that one can take a positive or a negative stance.

  • In a positive stance, one bears the burden of proof
  • In a positive stance, one’s goal is to “defeat” the opponent’s arguments
  • We have taken the positive stance in most of our classes so far
  • Today, we will be taking a defensive Since many atheists believe that evil disproves God, we will allow them to pose the question to us.
  • This means that in some ways, there is less work to do (we only need to prove that their arguments do not succeed)
  • Also, this discussion can seem weaker: we do not “defeat” the arguments, but simply prove that the “attacking” argument does not succeed

Please jot down your questions, as we will try to keep time at the end for questions!


– To understand, this is a defensive class: the Problem of Pain is perhaps the most difficult question for Christians, and one which often causes people to loose faith.

– WLC puts it later in the book, so that he can say, “There are already four strong evidences for God…” He has those in place before examining this subject. I see his wisdom now.



– Sometimes called “The Problem of Pain,” or “The Problem of Evil,” the technical term for this problem is “Theodicy” – “an answer to the question of why God permits evil.”

– We need to further divide the problem of pain into two categories:

  1. Natural evil
  • Pain caused by the natural world on humanity and animals, through predation, natural disasters, disease, old age, etc.
  1. Moral Evil
  • The pain that sentient beings cause on each other. Humans, who should know better, often cause even more pain on each other than natural disasters or predators or disease combined. And God lets them. Why?


It is helpful here to further divide between the emotional and the intellectual response to pain.



The existence of evil and pain in our world causes us strong, conflicting thoughts and emotions. Often, these are all jumbled together. But people who have studied this subject in depth have found that before proceeding, one needs to divide between these two.


The emotional and the intellectual problem of pain are quite different problems. And answers meant for the intellectual problem are often hurtful or even offensive to the emotional problem of pain, and vice versa. And so we need to divide between these two issues.




SECTION ONE: The Emotional Problem of Pain


It is normal to section off the emotional aspect of this problem, and then leave it aside with a few remarks. In his book, “The Problem of Pain,” for example, C.S. Lewis writes in his foreword,


“I must add, too, that the only purpose of the book is to solve the intellectual problem raised by suffering; for the far higher task of teaching fortitude and patience I was never fool enough to consider myself qualified, nor have I anything to offer my readers except my conviction that when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, iix.


There are a lot of very good reasons for dividing the subject thus: not least of which is that we will have plenty to speak about just with the intellectual problem!


However, I want to say at least a few things about the emotional problem of pain:

  1. My family and I recently went through a very difficult season. If you listen to my sermons podcast, many of the recent sermons come out of this time
  2. The two sermons, “Pain” and “On Running and Suffering Well” really deal with the emotional problem of pain. I would recommend them to you!


  • Now, I just finished reading Job, and I want to look at the question: why is it that in suffering, we so often become, “Job’s Comforters”?
    • Who knows what a “Job’s Comforter” is?


Some Biblical Principles

  1. God promised health and wealth to Israel in the Old Covenant if they obeyed Him. At times, these promises may apply, indirectly to our nations as well, when/if the nation follows God.
  2. The Bible lays out a number of Biblical principles (e.g. in the book of Proverbs) which will enable a healthier and wealthier life. One will normally be healthier, happier and wealthier, for example, if one works hard, loves their wife, and obeys the laws of the land than if one is lazy, adulterous and a thief!
  3. All sickness and poverty is a result – indirectly or directly – of the fallenness of creation, due to sin.
  4. The “Salvation of God” is not only to save our souls, but also to save our bodies and our families from the painful and evil situations we find ourselves in (aka the social justice class!)


—– BUT ——


…this does not mean…


  1. The Godly are always, immediately, rewarded for their good deeds
  2. The wicked are always, immediately (or ever) punished for their evil deeds in this life
  3. Life is fair
  4. Suffering is always against the will of God: sometimes He allows it to develop character, display His glory (aka Job) or for reasons we cannot fully comprehend
  5. God always wants to heal, all the time
  6. If we ask God to heal in the right way (the right formula, emotion, enough faith, etc.) God must heal. God is free. It is wrong to think He cannot heal at all today. It is wrong to think God must always heal. He is free to do as He wills.


  1. If someone is sick/poor, it is because there is a problem: either of faith or of sin. (John 9:2)


(ok, there may be, but there is not necessarily such a problem. God can have a lot of other reasons for causing or allowing pain, as we will see.)


…so why do we so often become “Job’s Comforters” when we see people suffering?


My Theory:

When confronted with someone suffering:

  1. It causes all sorts of internal conflict
  2. We detach emotionally (out of self-preservation)
  3. We begin to verbally process the intellectual problem of pain
  4. The person ends up hearing pat, intellectual answers like:
  • You deserved it
  • God is testing you
  • It’ll all work out
  • God’s got a reason for it
  • Everything will work out
  • Hang in there!

…when this person just so does not need someone who is not even suffering to speak to them like their agony is a mental crossword puzzle to be solved over morning coffee!


(for more, see my blog post, “Dear Job – you deserved it. Sincerely, your friends.”)


…all this to caution you:


when someone is really suffering, they may not really be interested in hearing an intellectual argument for the Problem of Pain.

– Likely, what they need instead is a kind word, help, physical presence, prayers, etc.


Good things to say:

  1. I don’t know why this happened to you
  • Why God allows evil (because it is, ultimately, a mystery)
  • Why God allowed this evil (because I have no special, prophetic knowledge into your specific situation)
  1. I know that God cares for you!
  • It’s okay if you don’t feel it right now
  • It’s okay if you are angry at God right now
  1. I care for you
  • Let me sit with you, help you, hold you
  • Allow yourself to really feel the emotional conflict of their suffering


Segue: This will lead you to the intellectual question of how could a loving God allow suffering? Does suffering disprove God? It is to this question that we turn next.


SECTION TWO: The intellectual problem of Pain


“I’ll be honest with you. When I see these sorts of things go on, it makes it hard to believe in God.” – William Lane Craig, On Guard, 152


– this is a startling admission for a renowned Christian Apologist to make! However, it is honest, and we have all been there. He continues, however:


“…But…as a philosopher I’m called upon to say what I think about some question, not how I feel about it. And as difficult as the problem of suffering may be emotionally, that’s no reason in and of itself to think that God does not exist.” – William Lane Craig, On Guard, 152


  1. C.S. Lewis/Augustine

– Before moving to William Lane Craig, I want to share with you an older answer to this question: one which some of you are already familiar with.

– Many of you are familiar (directly or indirectly) with C.S. Lewis

– On this topic, C.S. Lewis follows in the footsteps of Augustine. To paraphrase:

Question: How could God create evil?

  1. Evil has no substance in itself. Like a shadow, like a hole cut out of fabric, like rotten food, evil only exists as a corruption of something which was originally good
  2. God did not create evil, but only good


(how then did evil come to be?)

  1. God created free will (a good thing!)
  2. The possibility of sin is inherent within the creation of free-will
  3. Thus, God created humanity (and angels) good, but they turned to sin
    Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.

(Ecclesiastes 7:29)



“When we have understood about free will, we shall see how silly it is to ask, as somebody once asked me: ‘Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?’ The better stuff a creature is made of – the cleverer and stronger and freer it is – then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spriit best – or worst – of all.”


This Augustinian/C.S. Lewis understanding of free-will and evil undergirds all of William Lane Craig’s argument. Are there any comments or questions on it before we go on?


Potential Objections:

First Objection: Why didn’t God create free beings who were free from sin?

  1. God is not able to create logically incoherent things, such as square circles, married bachelors, etc.
  2. According to this theory, it would be logically impossible for someone to have both free will and yet have no capacity to sin


Follow-up Question: But God is free, and unable to sin

  1. This seems to be an attribute of God alone


Follow-up Question: But in Heaven people are free, and yet do not sin!

  1. It seems that people are in Heaven because of free-will choices on Earth.
  2. This is equally true of Hell: people will go there because they have (in some way) rejected God, as well as His free gift of salvation. This leads C.S. Lewis to state famously, that, “Hell is locked from the inside.” And “Hell is God’s final ‘have your own way,’ to those who reject Him.”


Second Objection: This works for “moral evil” but what about “natural evil”?

  1. Natural evil is a result of moral evil, since death, and “futility” came into an otherwise perfect Creation due to human sin (Romans 8). And it continues, also due to human sin. (E.g. pollution, wars, etc.)


Third Objection: This view does not make sense within strict Calvinism

  1. No, it does not. (At least, not without some tweaking)
  2. William Lane Craig and I subscribe to “Middle Knowledge.” Feel free to ask about that in the Q n A at the end!


We will now move to William Lane Craig’s arguments. Remember, he is in the defensive mode, and he will attempt to defeat the arguments raised against Christianity on this point.


  1. The Logical Impossiblity


  1. God is supposed to be all powerful, and loving
  2. Evil exist.

Therefore, God cannot exist

William Lane Craig justly points out that this argument is actually “question begging.” That is, it is missing some premises. These William Lane Craig supplies:

  1. If God is all-powerful, He is able to create any world He wants
  2. If God is good, He prefers a world with no suffering

…however, he objects to these premises saying:


3: It is possible that God could not have created free will without sin

4: It is not necessarily the case that God would have preferred a world without suffering. Because such a world might not have had as many redeeming qualities. For example, love, character development, human acheivment, worship.


Because we cannot ultimately know what options were open to God, we cannot validly comment on whether He should or should not have created this world.


One may see a version of this argument floating around the internet either from Epicurus (341-270 BC) or David Hume (1711-1776)






Both of these could be summarized by:

  1. An omnipotent and good God would remove all suffering
  2. Yet suffering exists
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.


As you can see, both of them are defeated in saying: “God may have had morally sufficient reasons to allow suffering.”


– Read C.S. Lewis, the schoolroom.


Christians, then, believe that an evil power has made himself for the present the Prince of this World. And, of course, that raises problems. Is this state of affairs in accordance with God’s will, or not? If it is, He is a strange God, you will say: and if it is not, how can anything happen contrary to the will of a benign with absolute power?
But anyone who has been in authority knows how a thing can be in accordance with your will in one way and not in another. It may be quite sensible for a mother to say to the children, ‘I’m not going to go and make you tidy the schoolroom every night. You’ve got to learn to keep it tidy on your own.’ Then she goes up one night and finds the Teddy bear and the ink and the French Grammar all lying the the grate. That is against he will. She would prefer the children to be tidy. But on the other hand, it is her will which ahs left the children free to be untidy. The same thing arises in any regiment, or trade union, or school. You make a thing voluntary, ad then half the people do not do it. That is not what you willed, but your will has made it possible.


Thus, WLC mentions that philosophers have abandoned this argument.


III. Logical Improbability

“Given the large amounts of pointless suffering, it is improbable that God exists.”


  1. We are incapable of adequately gauging probabilities

– This is not a heavy-handed appeal to “faith” versus the facts!

– But rather, a recognition that we do not have all of the information to make a judgment about what a loving, omnipotent God would do

– E.g. The Butterfly Effect

– E.g. Movie, Sliding Doors

– E.g. Question, “Could you prove that God could not have had morally sufficient reasons for allowing the Holocaust? Consider the incredible power of the memory of Natzism. Think about what role it has played in combating racial, dictatorships, eugenics, and other evils. Who knows what effect this story will have in the future? Do you really think you would be able to “bear the burden of proof,” to say conclusively, “God could not have had morally sufficient reasons for allowing this to continue”?


  1. We must consider the “background information”

– Whenever someone says something is “likely” or “unlikely,” we need to ask, “Likely compared to what?” It is incredibly unlikely that one of the 140,000 people in sherbrooke will walk into this room. However, if we ask the question, “how likely is it that a student of Wellspring will walk in?” the odds change dramatically!

– Considering that we already have good evidences that it is likely that God exists, we need to factor that into the “background information”

– (Note: I now realize this is why WLC put this argument later in the book. I will take that into consideration next time!)


  1. The Problem of Evil actually helps prove the Moral Argument



If you remember the Moral Argument was:

  1. If God does not exist, moral values and duties do not exist
  2. Moral values and duties do exist
  3. Therefore God exists


When people complain that there is too much evil and suffering in the world (and that it would be wrong for a good God to allow this) they are in essence affirming the second premise of the argument.

Because, we have seen, this argument is a convincing argument for the existence of God, even in the act of trying to disprove God people are tacitly proving His existence.





  1. The Christian Version of God makes it more likely there are morally justifiable reasons for God to allow suffering

Note: how we view God makes a great deal of difference not just on this issue, but on a great number more issues. Pretend, for a moment, that you are a soldier. You have been ordered to embark in active duty in a war in which you know the odds are stacked against you. Does it make a difference whether your commander in chief is…Abraham Lincoln…Hitler…Ben Carson…Hillary…Trump…?! How we see God very much influences whether or not we see His actions as logical, and trustworthy.

  • The chief purpose of life is not pleasure, but knowledge of God
  • Mankind is in a state of rebellion against God

o   thus moral evil is to be expected (from fallen/sinful humanity)

o   thus natural evil is to be expected (as a result of moral evil)

  • The Christian worldview includes eternity

o   there will be justice, beyond the grave, for the righteous and the wicked

o   There will be time, after the grave, to enjoy and benefit from the lessons learned, and the character built in this life

  • Knowledge of God is immeasurably good



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Does My Life Have Meaning?

Comparing the Atheistic vs. the Christian view of life.

This is a sermon I preached at Turkey Run* Mennonite Church in Bremen, Ohio, on October 9, 2016.





* A “run” is an older name for a creek. Just FYI.

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