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So far we have reasoned through the atheist’s complaint and found that in truth, the problem of evil (the wily atheist may say “problem of pain”) doesn’t actually disappear when we snap our fingers at God to say He should have invented a universe without any suffering. If the complaint dismisses God as a cause, we are left with what the problem then leaves for us to do about it – that is, if pain is a problem that God must resolve because anyone can see that pain is a problem, if there is no God we must still admit that pain is a problem, and we as the ones left holding the bag have to do something about it.

But in asking that question, we come up with massive shortfalls, philosophically — like why 60 million people should be willing to lose their lives in a world war to stop the deaths of 6 million people of a small ethnic group. We discover that even atheism will admit that it turns out that for us some things are worth suffering for — and that somehow, one can self-determine to suffer for the benefit of something other than himself.

But if that’s true existentially for man, why would it not be true for God as well? By that I mean: if man can show that some suffering is justified in a world where God is not a cause, why can God Himself not thereby show that some suffering is justified?

And before I dive into God’s case, let me strongly recommend John Piper’s book, Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. I got my review copy from Crossway when it came out and left it on an airplane, so may God be willing to use that book for somebody’s good. But I bought a second copy, and re-read it, and while it is not necessarily a theodicy, it is a strong case from Scripture regarding the biblical understanding of God’s purposes in suffering.

Of course one of Piper’s key examples is the case of Joseph, son of Jacob. Joseph was the oldest son of Jacob’s favorite wife, but sadly he was also the second-to-youngest of Jacob’s 12 sons. Joseph’s older brothers were fiercely jealous of him and intended to kill him.

BTW, I’m telling you this story because this is one of the stories God tells us in His book about what kind of universe he’s running here — and the atheist needs at least to listen to the story even if he’s not willing to buy the whole thing from start to finish.

So the 10 older brothers determine to kill Joseph — but after throwing him in a hole, they have a small change of heart. They determine rather just to tell their father he is dead and instead sell the boy into slavery. The man-traders just so happen to be walking by right then, and they fish the young man out and hand him over — and that’s it.

See: they intended evil to Joseph. In fact, they did evil to Joseph without any qualifications: they sold their own brother into slavery, and then told their father he was killed by a wild animal — and in fact dipped his cloak in goat’s blood to show that plainly, he was torn to bits. And in doing this, it was not just evil toward Joseph: it was evil toward their father. They were giving everyone pain, and in buckets.

They intended evil to Joseph, and they did what they intended to do. But something fascinating happens to Joseph over the course of the next 20-or-so years: Joseph becomes the second most powerful man in the whole world — and he does so because his brothers sold him into slavery.

Let’s not get confused here: Joseph doesn’t scheme to get power in order to make revenge on his brothers. The slave-trading doesn’t make him some kind of Count of Monte Cristo who spends his life trying to forge justification for himself. Rather, if Joseph had never been sold into slavery, he would have never been in a position to become what he became.

And in order to do that, Joseph had to get framed for rape and go to prison. This is a story which makes it clear that God is not oblivious to the problem of pain. In fact, the writers of the Bible are not in any way obvious to the problem of pain. The question is what they see pain and suffering doing in this world when it is correctly examined.

More later.

More on: Apologetics, Atheism

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