A Response to the Problem of Evil Concerning Terminal Illness in Children (Question of the week #1)


I have an honest question for you don’t respond to this in a manner of defending Christianity because its what you are programmed to do, but in honesty.If there is a god, why is there suffering? I’m not talking about rapes and murders etc…more like children who are born and have cancer and don’t live to see 12 years old. How is that apart of gods perfect plan?

Eric Hernandez responds:

You have correctly identified the two types of evil and it segues in the two categories of the problem of evil.
There is human/moral evil, such as you noted, rape, murder etc, and there is natural evil, such as earthquakes, disease and the like.Then we have to answer these in two categories: the emotional problem of evil and the intellectual problem of evil. Since you defer to the natural evil I’ll only focus on that one. Alvin Plantiga is a philosopher who has said to have solved these problems very well.

In regards to your specific example of a child getting cancer and dying very young I’ll answer in few ways:
First is to note that this is only a problem if God exist. If God does not exist there is no such thing as good or evil. If God does not exist there is no teleology in the world, that is to say there no goal or reason or design and therefore no way things “ought” to be. There is a difference between an efficient cause and a final cause. To be short, an efficient cause is that which brings about an effect, a final cause is the over all goal or purpose for each efficient cause. For example if i’m boiling water for tea, the efficient cause is the molecules heating up to a certain point and so forth, the final cause is to hearthave tea. But if there is no God there are no final causes, merely efficient causes. So a heart does not pump blood in order to function the way it was design to for that organism to provide life, but rather, if there is no God, it just so happened that because of the cause of mutation, one heart evolved so that some squirted blood and some didn’t and the organisms that had a heart that pumped blood survived so that it was able to pass on that trait of that organism and so forth. It was just a chance of causes and so forth but there was no design or goal to it because that would imply things are design in order to function a certain way. So if a child gets cancer, so what? With no design or purpose and we are all doomed to death just as the universe one day will too, all that happened was that one organism was not fit to survive and it is an efficient cause that this organism would die and not pass on these traits. But with out God’s existence there is no goal or end or good or evil.

Now to answer this as I would because I DO have a world view in which a loving God does it exist then it at face value does become a problem of evil. Namely that some things do not function the way it was designed to. By that very implication we can automatically deduce that this was not the way God designed these organisms to function. So who’s to blame? Now I know you said to not answer in the christian perspective but as I said previously if there is no God there is simply no problem of evil and i believe God is the ONLY solution and response to the problem of evil so i have no choice but to answer it as such.

The first approach I’ll take is the intellectual problem of evil. Note here that this will be merely a defense of the problem of evil, not a theodicy (a specific reason because that would take a case by case basis which I will get to later). Also note that an intellectual reason for evil will for the most part NOT console someone who is going through such a traumatic situation such as the example you gave. For that one will need an emotional response to it. After all going to the dentist and willingly receiving much pain is not at all soothed by knowing it will be for a greater good. But again I’ll get to this later. So know upfront the intellectual answer is not necessarily meant to console someone but it does put things into a much better perspective and make it an easier pill to swallow.

The first thing we must consider is that we live in a fallen world. Namely a world in which God did not intend for us to live in. In genesis we see God made everything and called it good. Then sin happened and the sin not only affected the mankind with death and whatfruit not but also affected the earth; thorns and thistle now became part of creation. The reason for that is an entirely different discussion but it deals with mans stewardship over creation. So say i buy my future son or daughter or car under my name and they wreck it. Who then is to blame for the ramifications it has such as a broken ac, broken hood etc etc that they must now live with? Me or my son or daughter that drove it?

Secondly we know God is an all good perfect and powerful being. And although God is omnipotent (all powerful) we must also understand that He can not do the logically impossible. That is to say He can not created a squared circle or a married bachelor because these are logical contradictions. This is not a lack of power, as if God would need to do a little more weight lifting and He could do these things but rather these are things that are logically contrary to one another and not even a possible “thing” to be done. That being said God created a world of free creatures. So if there is a possibility to do good then by default there is a possibility to not do good, namely to do evil and God can not make someone do good because He can not make someone freely choose something, hence a logical contradiction. How does this relate to a child having cancer? We must understand that we are not aware of the ripple effects of the actions of our ancestors or other people have done to cause what we now live in. Many sci-fi doctor-whomovies and books illustrate this well that if one thing about the past is changed then it will exponentially effect the future. So whos to say something a parent did, a location one lives in, too much time in the sun with out the use of sun block or many many other scenarios that played out was not a cause to this effect? Was God to blame? Did God try to do such that this conclusion would be avoided? We can only assume so if He is an all loving God. But He could not have forced someone to do something. Clearly every ones actions do certainly have a toll on the most innocent. So we can not assume that it was God that made this child with intentional cancer. Clearly a question of healing comes up and I will address that later.

Also we have what we call the “best possible world” that God created. Say God prior to the universe had before him every possible world He could create. Perhaps a world in which some things did exist and others did not and so forth. So it is quite conceivable to note that this world is the best possible world God could have created with free creatures that has the most amount of Good with the least amount of evil. And we can also conceive that even the evil that is present has been lessened by God, implying that things could have been much much worse such as in the case of 911 that so many people “coincidentally” were not able to make it to work that day.

Lastly I’d say that God knows what effects that will inevitably happen that He can use to bring about the greatest amount of good. This is called monolism, or also known as God’s middle knowledge. Another very interesting subject for another time. But this says that God knows what He can and will allow that in the end will have a ripple effect that will bring about the greatest amount of good and therefore permissible in doing so. I recently had a friend of the family who actually lost a grandson at the age of 5 due to cancer. In a nut shell, the journey this took her through gave her a faith that was unyielding. Her son spoke of conversations he had with Jesus, the comfort and peace he felt in the face of reality knowing he would soon leave his family behind. His mother, not being being that much of a devout christian (to my knowledge) was not sure how to take such things, would after many testimonies of her son speaking with Jesus began to give him messages to tell Jesus the next time Him and her son spoke. Long story short she was greatly consoled and many many of her family was brought so much closer together and their faith in God was undeniable. At the death bed of her sons last moments her son before passing spoke of seeing God and His angels waiting for him. Out of anger the mother asked God why she never had any experiences like that, and funeral_1then began to hear music. Celestial music that only she heard in the room. The eulogy was absolutely amazing that she gave personally and many many people that over flowed that funeral home were encouraged by this woman who lost her son to seek God even more so. The ripple effect this boys short five years of life will have and continue to have exponential testimony to God’s great love for us when we are hurting and the comfort that can only be found in Him. I can give many more stories but this here would be an example of an emotional response that could possible console someone.

Finally I’ll say this: We have or are under no “right” to life. If God is the one who gives it is His prerogative to freely take. Although this answer at face value sounds cold and harsh, we may only think so in light of our finite understanding of what God sees in the much much broader scope of things and the ripple effect these situations would have on literally the world. He owes us no earthly life, no earthly happiness and no earthly pleasure, but clearly for many He has allotted it and for some it has not been given. But what if every case we asked God why, all He would simply have to say is, “Well what you don’t know is X” and that answer alone would suffice to show us the grander scheme.

And one more point to consider: if this life were the only life we had and if death was literally the end, then yes, it would be unjust of God to have us live in a world that we do (although this world is not His result or final plan). However when we understand eternity and the greatness of it, we see how trivial and utterly short this life is in comparison to eternity. As the writer of James said, Life is but a vapor. And if this life is not the final life and if the ultimate healing is an eternal destiny of a flourishing life with the all loving God where no more pain or suffering exist, then what person in heaven right now wishes to be back here on earth and what person in heaven, such as the young boy who died of cancer and left his family behind would not say, “I wouldn’t change a thing seeing how my life played out on earth and how many more people, and most importantly my mother, that I was able to secure their eternal destiny as well.” Like a martyr for Christ and their family how many people in heaven are just fine with the life they had on earth despite their trials and hardships that they endured when they see from above the greater good it brought about. Much like the dentist visit, we allow temporary pain and suffering only because we know of the greater good in will have in the long run. And if Dental heath assistant and patient.our life is but a vapor, then is God not justified in allowing what He does and using what He can not control to bring about a greater good that although this life will have no justice for some, in the after life there is much more to reap than the trials we faced here on earth. I leave you in the words of Paul as he said in Romans 8:18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”.

Hope this helped brother. I tried to be short but this question has heavy implications and qualities to it.
God BLess

-Eric Hernandez

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