Ready to Answer - Lesson 8

By Jim Baird

Where is God When I Hurt?

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The students will recognize that God can be very tough on those he loves the most.
  2. They will see the flaws in a common form of the argument from suffering that some claim proves that there is no God.
  3. They will learn how to look for similar flaws in related arguments from suffering.
  4. They will be able to recognize how some of the good things God has done in the world bring with them some suffering.
  5. They will gain some sense of when it is and is not appropriate to talk about these issues.


  1. It is important not just to read these notes to the class. Teacher should be very familiar with the outline and choose how to present the material, making notes in the margins as needed. Practicing the lesson a few times will allow the teacher to look at the students’ eyes while making the presentation.
  2. Some find it helpful to underline the key words that will spark their memory of what to say and do next.
  3. A teacher who is new to this subject would be wise to get copies of the resources listed at the bottom of this outline and study them as well.
  4. Blackboard should be provided, clean with chalk and erasers.
  5. Students should have access to Bibles, or have overheads of all scriptures.
  6. It would be helpful to have the quotes in the introduction and in the learning activities on overhead transparencies.
  7. If you are going to use the handouts associated with this lesson, give them out after the introduction. The underlined material in these notes appears in the handouts.
  8. This lesson has a lot of material. It might be good to use two sessions to cover it. But if you have to cut, make sure you leave time for the conclusion and application. They are key.


God wants us to become good more than he wants us to be happy.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Introduction: (about 10 minutes)

  1. The Simple Form of the Problem
    1. God is love, and he loves me.
    2. Since God loves me, he wants me to be happy.
    3. God can do anything he wants, so why doesn’t he make it so that I am happy?
  2. The more we emphasize the love of God, without thinking about what God’s love is really is like, the more problem we will have with this.
  3. Instead, we need to let the Bible tell us more about what the love of God includes for those he loves.
  4. Some Frequently Ignored Data from Scripture
    1. The story of Abraham and Isaac. See Genesis 22:12.“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” God let Abraham go through the agony of preparing to sacrifice Isaac
    2. The story of Joseph. See Genesis 50:20. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. ”This is the happy ending, but God let Joseph suffer for years as a slave and prisoner to bring it about.
    3. The story of Job See Job 2:3-6.“3 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns suffering. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” 4 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5 But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”6 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.””God let Job suffer, and the reason is never explained.
    4. The story of Jesus See Luke 22:42-44.42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. If there was ever a prayer for deliverance from a righteous person, this is it. But God lets Jesus suffer anyway.
  5. These scriptures and many others tell us that the love of God can be very hard on those people he loves the most.
    1. We don’t sing many songs about this side of God’s love, and we don’t like to think about it.
    2. But the evidence from scripture is clear - the peopleGod loves the most often have the hardest lives in this world.
    3. It is still true that God wants to make us happy. But more than he wants to make us happy, he wants us to become good.
    4. It is only by facing the hard side of God’s love that we can make some sense of the suffering in the world.

Learning Experiences: (about 40 minutes)

  1. A Common Argument to Disprove God from the Fact ofSuffering [Put on board]
    1. The God of Christianity is supposed to be all knowing, all powerful and perfectly good.
    2. Such a God would not allow suffering.
    3. But we see a lot of suffering.
    4. Therefore, the God of Christianity does not exist.
  2. But this argument is not sound, because it is not possible for us to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that God would not allow the suffering we see. [Side Point: This is one of the few cases where unbelievers have to do more than just sit back and say “Nope, you haven’t convinced me yet.” Here they have to make a positive case from something, and it turns out to be very hard to do.]
    1. How could we find out whether or not God would allow suffering? If we admit he might allow some, how would we find out how much is too much. It looks like we would have to know things about God’s thinking and motives that we limited humans just cannot know.
    2. Actually, most versions of the problem of suffering crumble at this point, from a logical point of view.
      1. They require us to know something that we just aren’t able to know.
      2. We can figure out a little of what God might do based on what we do know about him - he’s good, all-powerful, has made certain promises, and so forth - but our ability to say what God could never do is much more limited.
        1. Most unbelievers just do not take the idea of God seriously enough to realize what a huge problem he presents to those who want to figure him out.
        2. He is all-powerful, all-knowing and he is the ultimate source of all our thinking abilities. Consequently, we can only know about him what he wants us to know.
        3. We can put limited things under the microscope to find out how they work, but we will never be able to do that with God.
      3. When you run into new versions of the problem of suffering, always look for the weakness in this area.
        1. good question is: “What is this argument claiming to know about God could never do, and how reliable is that claim?”
    3. Because of this flaw, the problem of suffering is not very strong from a logical point of view.
      1. It gets its power from our emotional reaction to suffering, not its logical coherence.
      2. In emotional terms, it is very persuasive. It tests our faith right up to the breaking point, and we have to deal with it at the faith level.
      3. But when it is presented as a logical proof, we can show what is wrong with it.
  3. Part of our answer to the logical problem of suffering comes from showing how God might allow some kinds of suffering in order to make greater goods possible.
    1. We know of many cases where good people knowingly allow sufferings that they have the power to stop, most usually when the sufferings make possible some greater goods. [Get them to offer some examples. Be ready to offer some examples of your own: performing heart surgery to save a life; police using deadly force to stop a multiple murder, or even vaccinating children (while they loudly protest) in order to prevent horrible diseases; etc.]
    2. According to strict logic, we refute the logical argument from suffering the minute we show that it is “possible” that some good outweighs the amount of suffering in the world.
    3. But we can actually do a lot more than that.
    4. We can show that it is quite reasonable to believe that the suffering in the world is just what God might allow for certain kinds of good results.
    5. The greater the good, the more suffering can be allowed for the sake of obtaining it.
      1. Why do we treat kids worse than the family dog? We make them do algebra homework, and we let the dog off. Why? [Hopefully they’ll answer: Because the family dog can’t benefit from algebra - it’s beyond his capacities.]
      2. Coach works with the kids with most potential - it’s always a bad sign to be let off easy.
  4. Some good things which seem to include the possibility of suffering. [These are variations from several books. The most influential are Richard Swinburne’s The Existence of God, especially chapters 9-11, and C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain.] [You can list each of the following on the blackboard]
    1. Survival
      1. We can see why it is a good thing for God to make animals and men so that they can usually preserve their own lives, while moving around freely in the world.
      2. But some kind of pain mechanism seems required for survival.
        1. Animals and men need pain to learn to avoid fire, for instance, or poisonous food. [Use the following if you think you have time.]
          1. We think of leprosy as a disease that rots away flesh - noses, feet, fingers, ears.
          2. But actually, it just makes us unable to feel.
          3. The rotting comes from the normal wear and tear of living, minus pain sensations.
            1. Get burned and not notice it until you see smoke.
            2. Step on a nail and not find out till you smell the rot.
        2. Pain makes sure you get away and remember to stay away.
      3. Also, men and animals need to be able to learn from experience about danger and safety, which seems to require other men and animals to suffer sometimes.
    2. The Freedom to Grow in Knowledge and Power
      1. We can see why it is a good thing for God to make beings like us who are very limited in knowledge and power but who can choose to grow in knowledge and power.
        1. He could have made super-intelligent beings, who know virtually everything as soon as they think about it, (and maybe that’s what angels are like).
        2. But the pursuit of knowledge has its own kind of goodness, and we can see why he might want to make beings who have to learn.
      2. But for limited beings to have this opportunity to learn, they need their environment to have observable, predictable regularities - that is, natural laws.
        1. Can you learn about the world or figure out how to control any of it if eating bread nourishes you one day and poisons you the next?
        2. Or if a roof keeps the rain out one month, then starts dropping snakes and coals of fire the next?
        3. Or if summer is followed by summer, or three winters come in a row?
        4. Or if seeds spring up overnight sometimes and after centuries at other times?
      3. But an environment with natural laws is likely to produce big and little natural disasters.
        1. Gravity for instance - dropping rocks on toes, or flash floods that wipe out villages.
        2. Incidentally, animals need regularity to learn and live as well.
    3. The Freedom to Choose Good over Evil
      1. We can see why God might want to make beings who can freely choose whether to love God or reject Him. [Ask: Since God can do anything, can he make us love him? After they talk a bit, point out that, while God could make us say and do all the actions of love, it wouldn’t really be love. It appears that part of what makes love love is that it is based on a free choice.]
      2. But God cannot give us free will without allowing the possibility of our choosing to do bad things.
        1. Are you free if God won’t let you do evil?
          1. Suppose I say: I’ll give you the choice of my lesson length. I take suggestions and say 'no, no, no, no' until I get the length I want. Do you have freedom or not?
          2. Likewise, if God lets me use my mouth for anything except telling a lie, do I have freewill?
          3. If my hand works for anything except when it is part of an evil action, do I have free will?
          4. Not only do we have free will, but the Bible indicates that Satan does too! [II Cor. 2:11; I Tim. 3:6]
            1. We are deeply ignorant of the evil which Satan’s free will can bring about.
            2. I think that much disease and catastrophe, as well as animal pain, may be due to Satan and his agents.
    4. The Freedom to Make Choices that Really Matter
      1. We can see why God might want to make beings whose decisions can have very good or very bad effects on themselves and others.
        1. My decisions must matter.
          1. What if your fairy Godmother never let your checks bounce? She always scolded you, but always bailed you out? You’d become the hot check King, right?
          2. We need to see clearly the results of our actions: drunkenness, adultery, gossip,selfishness or laziness would mean nothing if there were never any bad consequences from them.
        2. They must matter a lot!
          1. Real possibility of divorce makes me serious about developing my marriage.
          2. Real death and disease make us take ignorance of sanitation seriously.
          3. Real exploitation makes us take greed or abuse of power seriously.
        3. They must matter not only to me, but sometimes to others.
          1. Realizing that by laziness or selfishness, I can hurt others as well as myself adds an extra dimension to my responsibility.
          2. The fact that the world is set up so that adults need to care for their children is one good example, but there are many others.
      2. But this means that, if people make evil choices, some very bad things may happen, sometimes to innocent people.
    5. The Freedom to Struggle against Evil
      1. We can see why God might want to make a world where there are beings who engage in struggles against evil.
      2. But this requires a variety of evil to be overcome.
        1. Some moral qualities cannot be learned without evils.
          1. Forgiveness requires real injury.
          2. Courage requires real danger.
          3. Faithfulness requires real temptation.
        2. Really heroic good comes when a person fights against evils which he knows are not his fault, and which he could justly ignore. But this also means that God will allow evils of this kind to exist. (1. Helping an alcoholic or drug addict recover.)
          1. Not only forgiving those who have hurt you, but trying to help them out of their own self created problems.
          2. Working to improve agriculture or sanitation in some third-world country.
          3. Working to find a cure for various diseases.
          4. Being a missionary or going to any great lengths to spread the Gospel.
    6. The Freedom to Grow in Knowledge of Good and Evil
      1. We can see why God might want to make a world where there are beings who can voluntarily grow to a deep appreciation of good and a deep loathing of evil.
      2. This can only happen given opportunities to observe (or pretend not to notice) the differences between good and evil.
        1. Can’t really know Good without Evil.
          1. Gen. 2:17
          2. Isn’t it interesting that it was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Would have thought it was just the tree of the knowledge of evil.
        2. God wants you to learn to hate evil by seeing it.
          1. Hate hypocrisy by seeing hypocrites.
          2. Do you hate idolatry like the Jews did? No, because you haven’t seen its evil as clearly.
          3. But you may hate drunk driving more than they did, because you’ve seen it effects.
          4. You learn to value agape and hate selfishness by seeing or feeling the different results.
        3. Learning to love Good equals learning to love God.
          1. Everything good is a taste of God and His Heaven.
          2. All suffering is a taste of the lack of God in Hell.
          3. God wants you to know enough to make the choice to be with Him.
  5. Summary
    1. All these things taken together make a lot of sense of the suffering in the world.
    2. Even some of the hardest parts of the problem of suffering make sense in this view.
      1. The suffering of innocent people and children.
      2. The suffering of animals.
      3. The suffering that comes from natural disasters.
    3. These may not answer every question we would like to have answered.
    4. But they show that the logical argument from suffering to prove that there is no God is not a successful argument.

Applications: (About 5 minutes)

  1. Important Warning for the whole class: The kind of argument just given is for use with people who are claiming that they are kept from God by the intellectual problem of suffering.
  2. It is not what you want to use when people are in grief or emotional crisis. When people are in the middle of grief or emotional crisis, they need comfort, not arguments.
    1. In the middle of grief, anger is natural.
      1. We get angry at the doctors, at the people around us, even at the loved one who has died.
      2. It is very natural to get angry at God. (Lots of Psalms are like this.)
      3. People will say all kinds of things in the grip of grief.
    2. You can actually make a person into an atheist if you start spouting logical arguments like those above when they are in the middle of grief.
      1. They are feeling strong emotions, and your arguments sound like you are saying that they are not allowed to express the emotions they are having.
      2. But they really do need to express those emotions. To let their emotions out, your 'answers’ may make them feel the need to go farther and farther in their expressions of anger and disbelief in God.
    3. When people are in grief, whatever they say needs to beheard by you in love. But even when they ask questions, they aren’t always seeking your answers.
    4. [Ask the class: In the book of Job, when was it that Job’s friends did him the most good? Answer: In Job 2, when they came and set in silence for seven days. Once they started talking, they made things worse for him. (Look at Job 16:1-3 for a sample of his opinion ofthem.)]
    5. Maybe we should learn from this. People in grief mainly just need us to be there with them.
    6. Much later, if the questions still persist, it might be time to deal with the logical problem of suffering.

Further Resources:

  1. Richard Swinburne, Is There A God? Oxford University Press, 1996. chapter 6. This is a more accessible version of the technical discussion in his The Existence of God.
  2. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. A classic, well-written presentation, making the most of the idea that God usessuffering as a part of his plan to help us develop into the kinds of people he wants us to be.

Download Worksheets

Back to Christian Evidences

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.