The Problem of Suffering … for Atheists!

Some friends really are a gift from God, even if they don’t know it.  I am lucky enough to have a number of these friends.  One such friend, even though, on one level, I don’t know him that well, is a gift because he regularly gets me thinking.  I do wonder what he would make of me insisting he is a gift from God, after all he doesn’t believe in God!  But be that as it may, I do believe in God and thank Him for sending me this thought-provoking friend.  Now the other day, this friend (who, un-named, has been mentioned on this blog a few times) put a quote on their Facebook status, which I include below (please excuse the language, remember these are not my words.  If you are offended by bad language then may I suggest you don’t read it?)

”You see, no one’s going to help you Bubby, because there isn’t anybody out there to do it. No one. We’re all just complicated arrangements of atoms and subatomic particles – we don’t live. But our atoms do move about in such a way as to give us identity and consciousness. We don’t die; our atoms just rearrange themselves. There is no God. There can be no God; it’s ridiculous to think in terms of a superior being. An inferior being, maybe, because we, we who don’t even exist, we arrange our lives with more order and harmony than God ever arranged the earth. We measure; we plot; we create wonderful new things. We are the architects of our own existence. What a lunatic concept to bow down before a God who slaughters millions of innocent children, slowly and agonizingly starves them to death, beats them, tortures them, rejects them. What folly to even think that we should not insult such a God, damn him, think him out of existence. It is our duty to think God out of existence. It is our duty to insult him. Fuck you, God! Strike me down if you dare, you tyrant, you non-existent fraud! It is the duty of all human beings to think God out of existence. Then we have a future. Because then – and only then – do we take full responsibility for who we are. And that’s what you must do, Bubby: think God out of existence; take responsibility for who you are. ”


The quote is apparently from a film called “Bad Boy Bubby”, which I haven’t seen and which has, apparently, been banded in a number of countries for some offence content.  I can’t comment as I haven’t seen the film, but that doesn’t matter, as what stuck me was the raw power of the words above.  The gut retching agony of one who has seen the suffering of the world and, in their very soul, screams against the outrage of it.  One who, upon seeing, and experiencing, the pain and anguish of this world, decides (and who could blame him) that anyone who wants a world like this is pure evil: making, it would seem, any god a tyrant, or a figment of our collective imaginations.  And yet, I see inside this rage, inside this offence, one of the very things which makes me so certain that the Christian faith is true!

Of course, we have all come across people who say they can’t believe in God because of the suffering in the world.  People who say, “If God exists, why are there millions of people starving in this world.”  Most of us will have, ourselves, been there.  Something tragic.  A loved one gone.  A child never born.  A precious family member suffering before our eyes from the ravages of cancer.  And as we’re there, as we look and cry, our insides rebel and convulse with the inexplicable, but undeniable knowledge, that IT’S JUST NOT RIGHT!  Something inside us, in the part that cannot be put into words, simply knows that this is not the way it is supposed to be.

And, here in, lies the problem for the atheist.  For the Atheist this is no absolute right and wrong, there can’t be.  Morality is nothing but a social construct.  A mutual decision we have agreed to, in order to preserve our collective DNA.  Who’s to say that the financial structures, that leave millions in poverty, is wrong, when it gives those “most like us” in a more comfortable position and a better chance of passing on our own genes.  And in what possible sense can be say “The world shouldn’t be like this?”.  The question makes no sense, this is the way the world is.  Only the fittest survive.  As the quote says, we do not exist, we are only a collection of atoms, and yet we know we exist.  In the same way we know this is not the way the world is supposed to be.

This is the Christian message, that the world is “fallen”, the world is broken and that this is not how it was supposed to be.  It is true, of course, that figuring out how this suffering world fits with an all-powerful God of love, is difficult.  This is not helped by the fact that the Bible doesn’t seem to be very interested in the question.  Instead, it tells us how the world is broken and how God, far from being indifferent and uncaring to the suffering around us, is absolutely determined, at any cost, to do something about it.  Tom Wright puts it like this:

“[The Bible] isn’t designed primarily to provide information, to satisfy the enquiring mind.  It’s written to tell the story of what God has done, is doing and will do about evil.”  Evil and the Justice of God, p.23

Even more amazingly, the central contention of the Christian faith is that God did not try to solve this problem from a distance, in some sort of abstract, mathematical way, but instead entered into the very heart of it, becoming one of us and suffering the very worst this world had to offer upon the cross, thereby exhausting the power of evil.  Whatever we may say about God and suffering, we cannot accuse him of not knowing what it’s like!

I defy the atheist to come up with an understanding of the rage inside us at the sight of suffering in a better way.  The atheist may be able to explain it away as a figment of our imagination, produced by evolution, but only the Christian can say that the reason our insides tell us this is not the way it’s supposed to be, is because this is NOT the way it’s supposed to be.  Nor can the atheist offer any hope for the end of suffering, nor any real reason to strive to end it.  Whereas, we have a God who has already won the decisive victory against suffering, and who calls us to take up our own crosses in order to ourselves, go about his business of fixing the broken world, in his power.  We fight to end this suffering in his name, knowing that, in the end, thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus, this world will finally be renewed and restored.  God will be with his people and “he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  (Rev 21:4)

It may be true that for the Christian there is “the problem of suffering”, but I believe the problem is far bigger if you’re an atheist!

About David

I'm the curate at St. Anne's Church, in the parish of Shevington, Standish Lower Ground and Crooke. I'm married to Carole and have two beautiful daughters called Sarah and Anabel
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