One of the biggest obstacles to faith in G-d is the observed fact that life is not fair. People whom we regard as bad often attain great wealth and power, while those whom we consider good or even saintly are often just scraping by. Little children in Ethiopia, who aren't even old enough to make moral decisions, die of starvation every day. And those who strive for holiness must endure vicious persecution in many parts of the world. One is led to wonder where G-d is when all of this is going on. I actually know someone who was driven to atheism by G-d's failure to stop Hitler from perpetrating the Holocaust.
I have heard and read a number of discussions of this problem. Often the speaker invokes some unseen divine plan of which the unfairness is somehow a part, so that some greater good comes from the presence of adversity. At other times, G-d is said to be testing us in order to prove our character; those whose faith is strong, it is said, will persevere to the end, whereas those who turn back in the face of adversity never really believed in the first place. It is also often pointed out that only G-d knows people's hearts, so that those whom we regard as bad may actually be good, and those who appear to be good may actually be bad.
However, while all of this is true, it effectively begs the question. The skeptic would point out that none of the above can ever be verified, except by direct communication with G-d. The "unseen divine plan" theory seems to be born of desperation; it is hard to see why G-d should need to test us, considering that He already knows the content of our character; and to argue from our ignorance of people's hearts fails when we ourselves suffer in spite of the fact that we try to be good, or when the person who suffers is a small child who has not reached the age of reason.
I believe, however, that not only does the world's observed unfairness not contradict G-d's existence, but it is in fact a necessary consequence of G-d's existence.
While you try to wrap your mind around that one, consider what the world would be like without this unfairness. Good people would live forever. They would never lack food or drink, and anything they could possibly need or even want would be theirs for the asking. Meanwhile, bad people would perish from off the face of the earth.
Sounds like paradise, right? Not so fast! Without mortality, people could not kill each other, so murder would be impossible. With no material needs, robbery and the withholding of charity would be unthinkable. A whole litany of other evil deeds, which are commonplace in our society, would never even occur to us.
In short, free will would not exist.
People object to the existence of unfairness in the world because the people who suffer don't deserve to suffer. But the vast majority of activities prohibited in the Bible - murder, robbery, adultery, etc. - involve harm inflicted on someone who doesn't deserve to be harmed; indeed, it is on this basis that they are prohibited. If good people were impervious to harm, then it would be impossible to commit these evil acts. We would all be righteous, not because we had made a free-willed choice to be righteous, but because righteousness would be the only choice available to us.
The question all of this motivates is why G-d ever intervenes to prevent suffering. Three and a half millennia ago, He parted the Red Sea to redeem the Jews from bondage to the Egyptians. More recently, in 1948 He enabled the tiny Israeli army to defeat the surrounding Arab nations in Israel's War for Independence, despite the Arabs' vast advantage in numbers and munitions. The Bible is peppered with references to assorted other miracles which G-d performed on our behalf. So if G-d can prevent suffering on some occasions, why not on others? Why did He stop Pharaoh and the Arab nations, but not Hitler?
I believe the answer is that the very existence of atheism in the world is proof that the above-mentioned miracles did not destroy free will. But it is obvious that if suffering were eliminated in its entirety, free will would be destroyed. Where is the dividing line? I don't know. Only G-d knows when it is appropriate for Him to intervene, and when it is appropriate for Him to let the situation play out. But it is clear that the fact of bad things' happening to good people should not be an obstacle to belief in G-d.
An explanation of Old Testament prophecies cited by Christians
Why the theory of evolution is false
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