apologetics

If God Can Do Anything, Why Not Alleviate Suffering?

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Is God All-Powerful?

God made the sun, moon, and stars. And He could more easily crush the sun, moon, and stars than we can crush an ant. He could juggle the planets if He wanted to. Hypernovas are to Him what a shaken can of soda is to us. He could defeat the Avengers with His pinky finger. A nuclear bomb wouldn’t even cause Him indigestion. He is literally unable to be harmed. He had to become a man to be able to die, which He did for the express purpose of saving us.

God is all-powerful. But does that mean that God can literally do anything? This is a common misconception opponents of Christianity have, but, no, God cannot do anything and everything. Technically, God can do all logically feasible things that are consistent with His character. Hebrews 6:18 says that “it is impossible for God to lie.” So, there are things God cannot do. He cannot lie because that is inconsistent with His character. He also cannot create a square circle because square circles are not a logical possibility: there is no such thing as a square circle.

People sometimes ask if God can make a rock so big He cannot lift it. If you say He can, then they point out that there are rocks God cannot lift. If you say no, then they point out that there are rocks that God cannot make. What are we to do? Has God’s omnipotence been debunked? Hardly. The rock question is a trick question. You can simply respond by saying that God can make a rock of any size; and He can lift any rock He makes[1]. Or, you could point out that God not being able to make a rock so big He can’t lift it is like God not being able to make a square circle: there is no such thing as an immovable rock for an all-powerful being (hence why he can’t make it).

Nothing can stop God from fulfilling His purposes and promises.

One of the great things about God being all powerful is that nothing can stop Him from fulfilling His purposes and promises. He is not willing but unable to save us. He is both willing and able to save us. In Romans 8:38-39 Paul writes: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Why can nothing separate us from God’s love in Christ? Because God’s love in Christ is stronger than all the things that could separate us from Him: sin, Satan, and death. Jesus is more than powerful enough to pay for our sin, defeat Satan, and overcome death. But, it is often asked: if God is this powerful, then why didn’t he just make a world in which Adam and Eve did not sin in the first place? Then He wouldn’t have had to save us; and we wouldn’t have had to suffer.

Omnipotence, The Fall, and Suffering

The answer to this question isn’t as difficult as you might suspect: a world in which Adam and Eve did not sin is a logically possible world, but it is not a logically feasible world [2]. As Alvin Plantinga has argued, it is possible that humans have something called transworld depravity: in any world in which God gave humans free-will, they not only could have sinned (or not) but would have sinned [3]. Therefore, if God is going to create any world with free-creatures, He must choose from among worlds with a fall, which He did. God could not give Adam and Eve free-will and determine what they do with it—that would be to take with one hand what He gave with another. God is sovereign over our choices without making them.

The real question is this: if God loves us and is all-powerful, why doesn’t He go ahead and put an end to all suffering and evil now, the way He promises He will at the end of history? Or, why doesn’t he at least put an end to all the suffering in my life? I believe this is the existential question underneath people’s questions about evil and suffering. And I believe the answer is readily available in Scripture. Peter writes: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

In other words, God practices spiritual triage. He prioritizes people’s potential eternal suffering over your and my temporal suffering. Apparently there are more people who will be saved; people who are not yet saved; people who might not even be born yet; and God is patiently waiting for them to reach repentance. So, if God were to end history now and bring about the eternal state, those people wouldn’t make it to the New Heavens and New Earth. Unbelievers’ sufferings wouldn’t be alleviated but intensified by the eternal state (because they would go to hell).

Here’s the point: God is all powerful, but it is not logically possible for the world to be fallen and glorified at the same time. God can alleviate some suffering now [4], but He cannot answer our prayer to alleviate all suffering without enacting the eternal state, which as we have seen, would mean the alleviation of suffering for some people (believers), but not all people (unbelievers).

God will glorify the world and us with it at the appointed time. But that time has not yet come. And in meantime, God is asking some of us to wait patiently in the waiting room [5]; and He is asking the rest of us to “scrub in” and help with the most serious of all spiritual ailments: unbelief.

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[1] I first heard this response years ago from Dr. Greg Welty in a class lecture.

[2] A world without sin is logically possible, but it is not logically feasible, which means that a world without sin is not actualizable for God. It is not actualizable because while humans could not sin, they would sin in every world God could make.

[3] Given humanity’s finite goodness, which entails the possibility of sinning, transworld depravity seems likely.

[4] Who God chooses to heal this side of the new creation and how he chooses to heal them is beyond our comprehension; but we can trust that it is for His glory and our ultimate good. E.g., Lazarus was raised from the dead, but Stephen was not. Why Lazarus and not Stephen? We don’t know. But we can be certain God worked all these things for His glory and the greater good of Lazarus and Stephen.

[5] Some believers are too sick to participate in evangelism.

  • apologetics
  • suffering
Jonathan Darville

Jono Darville is a former Global Master Trainer with The Center for Leadership Studies and Co-Leader of the New York branch of Models for Christ (an international non-profit bringing the gospel to the fashion industry). Due to a decade-plus long battle with chronic illness, Jono almost lost his life in 2017. After spending a number of years bed-bound, God graciously intervened in 2020, using UNC Hospital to restore Jono’s health. Jono is now finishing an M.A. in the Philosophy of Religion at SEBTS, while serving as a Ruling Elder and Youth Director at Peace Church in Cary, NC. He and his wife, Jillian, have one son, Jono Jr.

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