The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Why God Can’t Take Away Suffering


When the orthodox Reformer says that God ordains something He means: either God directly causes something or that He permits something (evil) to happen. This is a truth taught in scripture. God doesn’t directly cause evil. For this would make Him the author of evil. Rather He permits it (for morally sufficient reasons) to bring about His overall plans and purposes. His permitting evil it is a kind of indirect causing. That is, His permission is a kind of secondary causing not a direct causing. For example, Satan gets permission from God to torment Job. God allowed Satan to take Job’s family and make Job sick. Yet Job says, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away” and “Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil” - to which the writer responds: “In all this Job did not sin with his lips”. As Theodore Beza has stated:

Nothing happens anyhow or without God’s most righteous decree, although God is not the author or sharer in any sin at all. Both His power and goodness are so great and so incomprehensible, that at a time when He applies the devil or wicked men in achieving some work, whom He afterward justly punishes, He Himself none the less effects His Holy work well and justly.

When God permits evil He has morally sufficient reasons for doing so. That is, God’s intentions are good, Satan’s intentions are evil. One act - two intentions. What Satan means for evil God means for good. Nonetheless, God is in control. This is also the Catholic view. I hold to the Catholic view that God is indeed control. But I also hold to the paradox that man has free will. I don’t use the term libertarian free will though but human responsibility or free will as defined by R.C. Sproul and Jonathan Edwards. More specific, I hold to the view of Jonathan Edwards in that God PERMITS evil but doesn’t directly cause evil. For if God directly caused evil this would make Him the author of evil. Says Edwards:

If by ‘the author of sin,’ be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing…it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin.

Edwards says God is:

the permitter of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if permitted…will most certainly and infallibly follow.

See: Edwards, “Concerning the Divine Decrees,” 534. and Edwards, “Freedom of the Will” 399.

God has established a world in which evil comes to pass by His permission not His positive agency. Edwards uses an analogy of how the sun brings about light and warmth by it’s essential nature, but brings about cold and dark by dropping below the horizon. Evil is not the fruit of any positive agency or influence of God but arises from the withholding of His action and energy. Why does God allow evil? There are different views and many different reasons God could permit evil. But I go along with R.C. Sproul here:

I have to say that I have no idea why God allows evil to besmirch His universe. However, I know that when God ordains anything, His purpose is altogether good…In terms of His eternal purpose, God has esteemed it good that evil should be allowed to happen in this world. - Does God Control Everything, page 50

This is only reasonable. For God is infinite in wisdom and knowledge and sees all of reality while I am finite and limited. His justifiable reasons are infinite. When it comes to logical explanations they are infinite. Especially when we are dealing with infinite wisdom and knowledge. Moreover, relationships are based on trust. Being infinite in wisdom and knowledge, God’s ways are infinitely above mine. I don’t know His sovereign will until it comes to pass. His sovereign will is His business alone. My job is to trust Him and do mercy and justice. And because of the suffering death and resurrection of Christ I have good reason to trust Him. For He brings beauty out of ashes and works everything together for my good because I love Him. My faith is in Him. I therefore have hope. The past is gone and my future is secure. I’m free to live in the present moment.

I’m glad you liked the holy hatred thing. I go along with Robin Parry in “Four Views on Hell” when he quotes John A.T. Robinson:

“His is a love of cauterizing holiness and of a righteousness whose only response to evil is the purity of a perfect hatred. Wrath and justice are but ways in which such love must show itself to be love in the face of it’s denial, page 113”

As I already explained, if love is the disposition to seek the good of someone else and hate is opposition to the values and plans of someone then it is possible to both love and hate the same person. I can hate someone like Adolf Hitler for example in the sense of opposing his plans and being disgusted by his character and actions, while at the same time desiring his conversion or change of heart. Thus, I can both love and hate Hitler at the same time. I don’t think Jesus wants us to merely hate someone like Hitler. For He tells us to love everyone including our enemies. He speaks against mere hatred by telling us to love. Indeed, it tells us in Romans love is to be genuine, hate that which is evil, cling to that which is good. If God is love then He must hate evil. God’s holy hatred destroys the reprobate but after judgment comes resurrection or restoration. This is a holy hatred. God kills but makes alive. This is what happened at the cross. Given Christ’s substitutionary atonement this must be what happens to those in hell. After judgment comes resurrection or restoration. Just as the heavens and earth undergo a fiery judgment but there is a new heavens and earth.


Pardon me if I am wrong! But this (i.e.John’s take on things), sounds like Calvinism - in a nutshell!

ll About that Grace (the Calvinist song)

The Calvinist


[quote=“Holy-Fool-P-Zombie, post:22, topic:13924, full:true”]

“John’s take on things sounds like Calvinism - in a nutshell.”

Yes, he embraced what our prof, Dan Fuller, saw as the only coherent logic of Calvinism, the “double predestination” that if God chose who would be saved, he also chose who would be damned. Yet that God made sure they were motivated to choose damnation.


I love your spirit, and your effort to have it both ways is noble. But you should recognize that to most who want language to have meaning, declaring that God is sovereignly in control of all that happens, such that nothing happens without God decreeing it, thus insuring that His “sovereign will” is always done, but at the same time insisting that God does not have any “share” in the evil things that happen, will sound to most reasonable folk like incomprehensible doubletalk that demands one believe that two contradictory things are true at the same time. I.e. you are correct to imply that it violates any sense of meaningful “logic.”


God is trans-rational. Like humans He is filled with a clash of contradictions or paradoxes. It’s a holding together of extreme opposites. It’s a fused together beauty that holds opposites together like we should do in ourselves. Christ is human and divine, God is both 3 and 1. Majestic yet meek. Masculine yet feminine. Merciful yet just. Loves good hates evil. Christ is equal to God yet submitted to God. Transcendent yet imminent. We are predestined and free. It’s a unity in diversity and this indeed reflects Reality in the universe in which we live. This should be expected for one of the signs of a true revelation from God is that it transcends the finite and selfish nature of man and His reasoning abilities. It’s a true miracle attesting to the truth of Christianity. The natural tendency of human reason is to reject Divine Revelation because of his finite and limited understanding. But once the duality of man’s thinking is broken opposites come together and he is ushered into the circle of love. The understanding and the paradoxes come together in a happy relationship called faith. In a happy love affair self-love transcends itself. A person who has this passionate desire of faith finds his reason fulfilled as he believes that which surpasses human understanding. Far from disproving Christianity, the paradoxes of the God confirm His supernatural accuracy. As Thomas Aquinas says, the fact that humans can come to believe is the greatest of miracles. The natural tendency of man to disbelieve is a confirmation of the truth of the revelation. We should expect a miraculous revelation of God to be impossible to understand, and difficult to believe.


Yep, that’s why I stated that the ‘sovereignty’ card cuts no mustard in this particular discussion, for the reasons you so ably put forth!


I think you just don’t like it because your wrong Dave. And have been for quite some time.


You realize that accusation cuts both ways, right?
You have a number of good insights and I appreciate them; your allegiance to Piper’s overblown Calvinism is something I don’t agree with, on many grounds, but that’s all it is - a disagreement - not a ‘Wall’ between us.


A little humor, helps to take down any wall!

Let me share an example:

So Bill dies and goes to heaven and St. Peter is giving him the tour.

They walk by this group of people hanging out with the Virgin Mary and a couple of saints. “Who’s that?” asks Bill.

“Oh, that’s the Catholics.” St. Peter tells him.

The continue walking and pass another group of people who are rolling on the ground and speaking in tongues. “Who’s that?” asks Bill.

“Oh, that’s the Pentecostals.” St. Peter tells him.

Then they come across to a huge mansion and St. Peter makes Bill duck down and sneak very quietly beneath the windows and then they continue walking. “Who’s in there??” Bill asks.

“Oh,” says St. Peter. “That’s the Calvinists, they think they’re the only ones here.”

A Baptist Man, a Pentecostal Woman, and a Calvinist all die and get to the gates of Heaven.

Peter tells them, “You’ve all done well, but to get into Heaven I am going to need to interview each of you in private to make sure your qualified.”

At this point the Baptist and Pentecostal are sweating bullets. Peter chooses the Baptist to go first. So, they go into a small room and are in there for 6 hours. The Pentecostal lady knows that if the Baptist man is having this hard of a time she really must be in trouble. Finally, after the six hours, the Baptist comes out and goes “Whew, I made it.”

Still, nervous the Pentecostal Lady takes her turn and goes in. After 12 hours the Baptist Guy was starting to wonder if she would pass, but sure enough she comes out and says “Whew, I made it.”

The Calvinist confidently walks into the room and shuts the door behind him. He’s in there for over 24 hours and the Pentecostal and Baptist are really starting to wonder what the heck is going on.

Finally, St. Peter comes out and says, “Whew, I made it!”


This is mumbo jumbo. You’re basically saying God is contradictory. Which is impossible. Contradictions are impossible. You’re basically saying certain things that are possible are impossible. It’s an abuse of language.


Paradoxes are both/and. They go beyond either/or logic. A paradox is an apparent contradiction, something that seems contradictory but has the possibility of resolution when examined in all possibly existing time, space, and contextual frames of reference. An example would be a man aging only 30 years as he makes a round trip to the Andromeda Galaxy at relativistic velocity while back home his friends on earth would experience the passing of 4 million years. It depends on the frame of reference or context you are in. You can experience paradoxes from different frames of reference. Here’s an example from Proverbs:

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit. - Proverbs 26:4

On the one hand it says answer NOT a fool according to his folly. Yet in the next sentence it tells us TO answer a fool according to his folly. It depends on the context and frame of reference you are in. What is logically contradictory can be seen to be true within different frames of reference. It depends on the perspective. Take the contradiction:

Triangles cannot be circles and triangles can be circles

In a 2 dimensional reality triangles cannot be circles. But if we add an extra dimension of space a triangle can be rotated on it’s axis. In a different frame of reference we get:

Triangles and circles become one. What seems impossible in a 2 dimensional context or frame of reference becomes possible in 3 dimensional context or frame of reference. Given the likelihood of extra dimensions God is not confined to our dimensional frame of reference. What seems absurd (3 and 1 trinity, human and divine) becomes possible when extradimensional reference is taken into account. To read more about the paradoxes of God I recommend “Beyond The Cosmos: The Trans Dimensionality of God” by Christian Astrophysicist Hugh Ross:

Beyond the Cosmos brings the reality of God more fully before our minds and helps us love him with our whole being. We cannot love or believe a blank, but many parts of God s revelation of himself and his world remain little more than a blank until qualified and gifted teachers lead us to a greater clarity. Hugh Ross does that, giving the most difficult ideas in Christian teachings gripping new relevance to the realities of time and eternity. --Dallas Willard, professor of philosophy, University of Southern California


How can my choices be totally free if God is in control of all things at all times and knows the end from the beginning?

How can God hear my prayers while listening to billions of others around the world at the exact same time moment?

How can God be all-powerful and all-loving yet allow so much suffering and evil?

These complex paradoxes hold far-reaching implications that have troubled people for centuries. Drawing on biblical teaching and scientific evidence that supports it, Hugh Ross invites us to know and experience God in a way we may never have considered before. As a result, our love and appreciation for God will be dramatically deepened, and the way we relate to him and to others both believers and nonbelievers will be changed forever, for good.


Cole, that is complete non-sense. To clarify - I am referring to your shifting of the goal posts. Unless you can provide the solution to “God only picks some people” as not meaning “God does not pick all people”… Then, I’ll just assume you are just like all Calvinists I have met, and that is, utterly and demonstratably nonsensical.


I was going to quote this same exact part and say the same thing. Calvinists have a great way of using strange concepts and words to mean essentially nothing. Butchers of language and logic. Most people, however, are scared to engage due to the strange and butchered vocabulary. Reminds of my HS friends who would purposely string together big words really fast and while you are trying to make sense, they say something petty like “you don’t get that?” No one likes to be caught off guard, so most people disengage saving face. Rest assured, I don’t fall for that crap anymore.


Here’s the way I see it. God CAN take away suffering. But He doesn’t prevent suffering caused by evil people because in order to do so, He would have to override the free will of those who cause the suffering. He won’t do that because He wants ALL people to choose Him of their own free will.

I trust you’ll find that explanation more than “mumbo jumbo,” qaz and Gabe.

But how about suffering that is caused, not by other people but by accidents or disease? Sometimes, though rarely, He does remove the suffering in such cases,. But why doesn’t He in more than 90% of cases? I don’t have an answer, but would be happy to learn from anyone who believes he can explain it.

However, don’t try to do so by saying God has a “deeper purpose” in allowing the suffering to continue without relief. I think that is simply a human effort to get God off the hook. If God did have a deeper purpose, why does He not reveal that deeper purpose to the sufferer? It doesn’t help the sufferer a bit unless he this “deeper purpose becomes known to him.”


We also, as a matter of fact, don’t know what evils God HAS prevented.


I appreciate your honest acknowledgment that the clash of the two propositions you advocate amounts to demanding that everyone embrace two beliefs that contradict each other. You can insist on that, but when someone says that he affirms proposition A, and also the contrary opposite of A, it is far from clear to others what is the meaning of your belief about A.

If the law of contradiction is held to be irrelevant in trying to discern an intelligible truth, there’s not much left in debating such propositions, except insisting that our own interpretation of revelation is superior to those of others, while avoiding any logical appeals to support that.


The old appeal to verbosity fallacy.


In TILOG Talbott speculated that there would ultimately be less love and therefore greater suffering if there weren’t the horrible illnesses that plague life on earth. And as an apeirophobe, that resonated with me. I speculate that knowing the pain of loss is essential in making immortality bearable.


Eph 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.

1Cor 4:16; 11:1 Therefore I urge you, imitate me. — Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.

Well here is a conundrum as I see it… IF God doesn’t THEN WHY should we proactively try to prevent any given harm upon another on the basis of… to do so would override someone else’s free will? Who says God doesn’t?

Certainly in the redemptive story God in his greater purpose did not always prevented certain harm from befalling given ones, BUT always with that greater redemptive purpose in view, e.g., Gen 50:20 et al.

So… does that mean He wilfully withholds given mercies based on one’s needed free will response first? IF that be the case THEN what does that do to the likes of verses such as you often like to quote…

Lk 6:35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.

Such love, goodness and mercy is NOT predicated on some prior choice of Him… and of such we are called to be imitators.


Triangles cannot be circles and triangles can be circles

In a 2 dimensional reality triangles cannot be circles. But if we add an extra dimension of space a triangle can be rotated on it’s axis. In a different frame of reference we get:

Stop trying to sound profound. When people say triangles can’t be circles, they’re speaking of 2 dimensional objects. If God chose not to save people, and not saving them would mean their damnation, God would be choosing their damnation, because He chose the only two possible outcomes for a human and not picking one (salvation) is synonymous with not picking the other (damnation).