Recently, Pastor Levi Skipper, the evangelism catalyst (oh the ministry titles Evangelicals come up with these days) for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board (GBMB), wrote an article for the GBMB website. Titled, Why Doesn’t God Stop the Coronavirus: 4 Steps to Responding Well, the article attempts to answer the age-old question of why the Christian God allows suffering. I say attempts because as I shall show in this post, Skipper fails spectacularly in his defense of God’s honor, reputation, and name.
Skipper identifies the problem many people have with the notion of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God not only allowing the existence of the Coronavirus, but doing nothing about its spread and mortality.
Why doesn’t God stop the coronavirus? It’s a simple and yet profound question. As the body of Christ, we must be prepared to answer.
There is a perceived logical argument against God when looking at a crisis. You’ll see these argument arise especially during and in the wake of a crisis.
British comedian Stephen Fry delivered a vicious, scathing attack on the Judeo-Christian God when asked what he would say if it turned out, after he died, that God did in fact exist. He called this God a “maniac,” pointing to the large amount of unnecessary suffering in the world which he, by definition, created and allows (See More).
Don’t just gasp at that statement. This is the sentiment of millions of people today who choose either to reject God or deny His existence.
So how do they get to this mental state concerning God? The argument doesn’t take a lot of mental gymnastics. In fact, it is a very simple and even quite compelling argument.
God is all-powerful: He can do anything He wills.
God is all-loving: He cares with an intense love for His creation.
Suffering is a reality: We see suffering in the world now due to the Coronavirus Crisis.
Enter the problem: If there is a God who is all-powerful and all-loving, why doesn’t he stop this coronavirus?
This leads to an inevitable conclusion: A God who is all-powerful and all-loving, as we see the God of Scripture, would never have created the world in which we live. Choosing to believe in Him requires closing one’s eyes to the suffering that surrounds us. Therefore, as some would hold, He must not exist. Or, if He does exist, there no way that He is both all-powerful and all-loving.
Skipper does a good job of framing the objection many people have with the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God and the existence of suffering. We know that if we had the same power and love as God, we would behave differently. Why does God silently sit by while people, along with animals, suffer?
Skipper rightly recognizes that this is a powerful argument used by atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-believers against Christianity. Personally, I consider it an unanswerable, unassailable argument against claims Christians make for their God.
First, this will be an argument used against followers of Jesus. In fact, this will be an argument that will quickly silence many Christians.
Secondly, this argument will be used by the evil one to shake the faith of believers today.
Skipper worries that unbelievers will use this argument to quickly silence Christians. And he’s right. Countless Evangelical apologists have come to this blog to defend their deity’s honor. Their arguments are endless (and tiresome). However, when it comes to suffering (and the existence of evil) their defenses quickly flame out. As long as Evangelicals are tethered to the Bible — a book they believe is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God — it is impossible for them to successfully defend God’s honor on this front. In particular, Bible literalism proves to a big problem in arguments about God and his culpability in human suffering. A cursory reading of the Bible reveals a God who is anything but kind, compassionate, and all-loving. If the Bible is one way we understand the nature of God, then it’s fair for non-believers to conclude that God is, to put it bluntly, a violent, judgmental prick.
Skipper begins his defense of the indefensible by saying:
God created a world in which love could exist. We read about this in Genesis 1.
We were created to love Him and one another. However, given the capacity to love means there is a capacity to choose. Had there been no choice to love it wouldn’t be genuine. Relationships would hold no meaning.
Terry Firma, writing for The Friendly Atheist website, responded to Skipper’s claim this way:
This has literally nothing to do with why God would allow or inflict pain, suffering, and death, but maybe Skipper is working up to it. I have to ask though: If love means having a choice, where does that leave a god who says he loves you, and if you don’t love him back, he’ll torture you forever?
It’s the same with Christians’ trite apologetics about free will.
Love me, insists the abusive husband or the sex-fiend kidnapper; and if the object of his warped affection can’t, or won’t, violence is sure to follow.
According to Skipper, the all-loving Christian God created humans to love him and love one another. This statement is, in and of itself, fraught with all sorts of problems. God didn’t create any of us with the capacity to love him. Surely, Skipper understands Evangelical Theology 101. The only two humans created to love the Christian God were Adam and Eve. Thanks to their fall into sin, none of us has an innate ability to love God. We are born into this world alienated from God. In fact, we naturally hate and despise God. That’s why we need to be born again. But, even here, can it really be said that God is an equal opportunity Savior? Of course not. Both Calvinism and Arminianism teach that human salvation is predetermined; that it is God alone who chooses who may enter into a restored love relationship with him. And for those who won’t or can’t love God? The bloodthirsty God of the Bible reserves for us a room in Hell for all eternity. As Terry Firma rightly notes, God is akin to an abusive husband who says to his wife: love me or else.
Later in his defense of God, Skipper states:
The consequence of sin include suffering, pain, toil, and death. This is the reason suffering exists in the world today. An all-powerful and all-loving God created a world in which love could exist. Man chose not to love, and, therefore, sin corrupted the whole of creation ushering in evil, pain, and suffering. One author writes, “Ever since Adam and Eve fell, members of the human community have been thoroughly committed to their own well-being regardless of the cost to others.”
The sum of Skipper’s defense of God is that humans are sinners and that’s why they suffer. Again, none of us had a choice in this matter. God is playing a rigged game. He created Adam and Eve, knowing that Satan — whom he also created — would tempt them, causing them to break his law. God decided that everyone born after Adam and Eve would not have an opportunity to choose whether to eat fruit off the proverbial tree of good and evil. Everyone born after Adam and Eve comes into this world with a sin nature. This too is God’s handiwork. Remember, God is all-powerful. He could have acted differently, but he didn’t. Why is that? What kind of God allows suffering, pain, and death just so he can “save” a few people he determined to deliver from before the foundation of the world? (Ephesians 1:4) It’s all a game, is it not?
Skipper concludes his “defense” of the thrice holy God by saying:
God promises that those who know Him will be set free from the penalty, power and presence of sin. So, while the coronavirus is racing through the world, God has not forgotten us and is still in the business of bringing others into a relationship with Himself.
In other words, don’t count on God doing anything about human suffering. Much like Baal in 1 Kings 18, God is an absentee deity. Perhaps he’s sleeping, on vacation, or using the toilet. Skipper’s all-loving God may seem to not care one whit about human suffering — hey it’s humans’ fault, not mine, says God — but he does really, really, really want to save us.
Skipper tells his fellow Baptists to focus on evangelizing unbelievers. God’s in the soul-saving business! Amen? Amen! Of course, the big question Skipper leaves unanswered is this: why do Christians suffer and die just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world? If God is focused on saving people, what, exactly, is he saving them from? It’s evident that God is NOT saving Christians from suffering, pain, and death, so I ask again, what, exactly, is he saving them from?
It seems to me that the only thing God is saving Christians from is the mess he, himself, created. It’s the Biblical God who created Adam and Eve with the capacity to sin. It’s the Biblical God who created Satan, the tempter of Adam and Eve. God is the first cause of everything, is he not? Yet, Christians buy into the notion that they need “saving,” believing that their God will reward them — not in this life — in the afterlife with eternal love, peace, and bliss in Heaven. Well, that and they will never have to be around non-believers who dare to question God’s love of the human race. Those people will be tortured forever in the Lake of Fire. That’ll teach them to question the all-powerful, all-loving God.
Let me share the good news to Southern Baptists and other Evangelical Christians who may read this post. There is no God. Suffering exists for many different reasons, and no deity is going to show up and make things better. While some causes of suffering are beyond us, much of the suffering we face is of human origin, and it is within our power to ameliorate or eliminate suffering. We are the Gods in this story, and it is up to us to make a difference in the lives of others. While the origin of the Coronavirus remains unknown, we do have opportunities to lessen the suffering of our fellow humans during this pandemic. Praying to a non-existent or absentee deistic God accomplishes nothing, and neither does offloading life to some sort of nonexistent afterlife. The people we really need saved from are politically and religiously motivated zealots who think that pain and suffering are somehow good for us, or that they prepare us for eternity in a mythical Heaven. The idea that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is not true, as any chronic pain sufferer will tell you. Since we only get one go-round in this thing we call life, wouldn’t it be good for all of us if we reduce suffering as much as possible? Surely, lives relatively free of pain and suffering would be good for all involved. I know it would for me, anyway. How about you?
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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I mean, I kind of appreciate that he lays out the argument so clearly. It’s just that his answer is basically that God is focused on bringing us into a relationship with Him instead of alleviating or preventing suffering, and it’s going to be kind of a hard sell to convince me that that’s the important part. It’s very much not the worst argument I’ve heard on the topic, and at least he didn’t try to make the argument that suffering doesn’t actually matter, but still: arguing that God is merely focusing His efforts elsewhere isn’t much of a defense when you consider that God is All-Powerful and therefore could presumably walk and chew gum at the same time. Or, excuse me, prevent suffering and bring people into a closer relationship with Him at the same time. Whichever, really.
Amen, Bruce! I know you’re an atheist and I’m not a Christian, but that’s how I feel towards your atheist sermon. (Positive.)
The answer to the problem of suffering is simple.
Christianity was invented many centuries ago when there were many ignorant people around who wouldn’t see the contradictions, the hypocrisy, or the lack of logic in basic Christian assertions.
People are smarter and more logical now, and traditional Christian beliefs are not so convincing.
I spent/wasted a lot of brainpower during my teens pondering these problems. None of the answers given by apologists made sense – the answers all boiled down to everything bad being the fault of humans and their sins, and that we must live with the consequences.
I’d say that it’s pretty evident that the God of the evangelicals is not what they say it is. There is no way a deity that is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent could exist and allow the suffering to go on. At least one of those descriptors is false. Or, the deity stopped playing with its Lego Set (i.e., Earth) a long time ago. (Personally I don’t believe in deities, but I think there is ample evidence that an involved omnipotent, omniscient omnibenevolent deity doesn’t exist).
Pastor Skinner has figured most-all-of-it out and shown all the other apologists how wrong they have been. This has never beofre been expressed for all to see and now everything is figured out and I will give 20 percent of my wage to his church. Wow, what a mind!
Or as Marlon Brando said in Apocolypse now, ” The Horror, the horror…”