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Perhaps the greatest obstacle Christians face in spreading their faith is the existence of suffering. It suggests that God is either amoral, or positively cruel, or that He simply does not exist.
In River Out Of Eden, our old friend Richard Dawkins discusses an incident in which a bus full of children from a Roman Catholic School crashed for no obvious reason and with wholesale loss of life. "Not for the first time clerics were in paroxysms over the theological questions that a writer on a London newspaper framed in this way; "How can you believe in a loving, all powerful God who allows such a tragedy?" The article went on to quote one priest's reply: "the simple answer is that we do not know why there should be a God who lets these awful things happen. But the horror of the crash, to a Christian, confirms the fact that we live in a world of real values: positive and negative. If the universe was just electrons there would be no problem of evil and suffering." On the contrary if the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies like the crash of this bus are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no properties, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference." (1)

But are such events only consistent with a mindless, Godless Universe? The same phenomena may not necessarily have the same cause. Dawkins fails to take into account the possibility that God may have to work under certain limits, or that He has a particular and ultimately good reason for allowing such tragedies as that in question to take place. The priest's statement proves nothing either. Pain and suffering, and pleasure, are a matter of electrons, whose position in the brain determines when and with what intensity we experience them, although that does not diminish their significance or, in the case of pleasure, their sublimity. If they exist at all, there must be a method to their existence, one whose analysis constitutes a science. The mere fact that we have emotions, including a revulsion against suffering and a desire to eliminate it from the world, cannot by itself be used as an argument for the existence of God.
Neither Christians nor society at large have always adopted the right approach to the problem of suffering. Non-believers dislike subjection to a deity because it seems like slavery yet complain when God in the interests of ensuring free will leaves us to cope with adversity as best we can; they thus demonstrate how confused and hypocritical are their attitudes towards God. For their part Christians, when asked tough questions about the reasons for suffering or the way it is distributed, too often seem to take refuge in God's inscrutability, like the Bishop in Siegfried Sassoon's poem They. And I am sorry to say that in some cases I have known them become aggressive (always a clear sign that one is not sure of the validity of one's arguments). Neither approach is sufficient to deal with the problem.
It must be pointed out that nowhere does the Bible suggest life is going to be a bed of roses; there is never any indication that eliminating all suffering from the world is part of God's brief. However an atheist could still claim that Christians are guilty of deception, or that their teachings are contradictory, because they claim God is omnipotent (and thus presumably able to achieve His purposes without any need for suffering, which does not appear to be the case).
I must stress that in this chapter I am concerned with suffering that is of natural rather than human origin. The latter I will term "evil". There has in the past been a tendency to call all suffering "evil", which in my opinion confuses the issue. Often, no line is drawn to distinguish between natural and man-made suffering, as it ought to be; or, a line is drawn where it can only lead to erroneous conclusions. Ayer writes, "If {God}was so deeply concerned with men's behaviour, and had the power to make them as He chose, why did He not endow them with a nature and a form of life which would ensure that they always behaved in ways of which He approved? The usual answer to this question is that to
have contrived that men should live in this fashion would have been inconsistent with giving them free will, and that it is better that we should have this freedom, however badly we employ it, than that we should simply be a deity's puppets. This answer is sometimes given in an attempt to reconcile the suffering that men endure with the supreme benevolence which is ascribed to God, but here it wholly fails, if only for the reason that much of this suffering is due to causes which are beyond our control."(2) Natural suffering has a very different explanation from man-made evil, though it does involve free will to an extent, and thus there is nothing to be gained from drawing any comparison between the two.
We need to know, in so far as we can know, what the reasons for suffering are. Peter Van Inwagen believes that disastrous events occur for no reason, or for no reason that we can identify (and that the effect of the Fall From Grace was to expose us more fully to their consequences)(3). Although it is undoubtedly true that our own behaviour often makes a bad world worse, there are several things wrong with his thesis. Everything must happen for some kind of reason, logically speaking, whether it is a practical or a moral one. We need to know what the reason is because if those things which had unpleasant consequences were brought about deliberately by God, we have to be satisfied that He had a good motive for doing so, if we wish to continue believing in His benevolence. We may have made the situation worse by our own voluntary actions, but if disastrous things were unable to happen in the first place then the scale of the problem would be significantly reduced, and if God does not have a good reason for allowing them to occur then He is as much to blame as we are.
One thing we can categorically say is that if the evils are in some way inevitable then a benevolent God is doing something about them or is somehow "writing them into the script". If God is what He's cracked up to be, an omnipotent being who is also good, we must assume suffering is something which He is aware of and is seeking to use for a good purpose, or if possible to eradicate, in so far as He can do anything about it at all.
The possible reasons for the prevalence of suffering are:
(1) God does not exist.
(2) God exists, but is not benevolent. He permits suffering either because He is cruel or because He is apathetic.
(3) Suffering is the fault of Man; our ancestors chose to rebel against God, and their action had a damaging effect, which was both profound and lasting, upon the world as a whole.
(4) God is not omnipotent.

Concerning (1),I have hopefully shown in a previous chapter that God does exist, in which case this particular objection can be discounted. In any case this must be considered a separate issue. I also reject (2). We judge God by the kind of world He has created. The presence in that world of many sublime things - beautiful scenery, delicious foods, etc - is clearly not incompatible with the existence of a benevolent deity. Clearly much hinges on the reason why the bad things are allowed to happen. If, as well as there being good things in the world, the bad things in it happen for an ultimately good reason, and no system is possible which dispenses with them, then God's benevolence is assured. If these conditions are not met, then at best God is like a schizophrenic, a disturbed person, a lunatic who can exhibit great kindness and possesses some wonderful talents but who at other times behaves with violence and cruelty. How they are met will be discussed later on.
It might be thought that God's benevolence derives from His omniscience. But why should the one quality necessarily lead to the other? Does omniscience mean one is wise, and thus benevolent? If God is benevolent it is not because He is omniscient in the sense of having factual knowledge. It is possible to conceive of a being, human or otherwise, who knew every fact there was to know about the Universe and was still wicked. We could perhaps speak of God's (or a person's) moral wisdom, meaning that they knew goodness was a better thing, from the point of view both of oneself and of others, to practise than wickedness, but it is doubtful whether this could be categorised as "knowledge" in the sense normally understood by the term, if it can be categorised at all except as something whose essence is indescribable but which is undoubtedly beautiful and sublime. And the essence of wisdom, I think, lies in what one does with one's knowledge rather than one's having it in the first place.
I prefer the following explanation. There are reasons why certain things are so - why God is as He is and why He operates as He does - because nothing can exist, or have certain properties, or behave in a certain way, without a reason. God therefore is a rational being. If God is a reason why things are as they are, then He must be rational. Now if God is rational He must be benevolent. Why is this so? Because benevolence, the desire to achieve pleasure for ourselves and others, is the only thing that makes sense of life, the only purpose a rational consciousness could have. Evil, after all, damages both the people who are its victims and, although they may not admit it, those who practise it. It is chaotic, destructive, and goes against order (order being another essential feature of rationality).
For those who find this a hard concept to grasp, there is a simpler way of showing that God must be a morally good being. We can establish the existence of the light by the shadows it casts. Evil must be the shadow rather than the light, an inevitable - as I shall seek to demonstrate in the next chapter - but unwanted consequence of the way things are, of the essential nature of the Universe (and thus of God) rather than an integral part of that nature, unless we believe the whole of creation to be fundamentally perverse - and what reason is there to think that, since there are many good things in the world as well as bad things? Our own behaviour and the way we see the world makes us seem muddled and hypocritical whenever we deny that the basic force which sustains everything must be good. If the whole of creation were fundamentally perverse then so would we be, for "the whole of creation" would presumably include ourselves - and we would strongly reject any suggestion that we were fundamentally perverse. And how would we have the idea of evil at all, if the universe were not fundamentally and inalienably good?
Essentially evil is a perversity - that is how we see it - and if there is a perversity then there must be something to pervert, something which is the natural shape and order of things. That something is goodness. Evil seeks to wound and to hurt, to damage and to destroy; and less serious forms of sin, which perhaps cannot be called "evil", can have the same effect even if they are not meant to. Evil likes to inflict pain, to cause suffering, chaos and confusion. In other words, it is essentially dysfunctional. However, the Universe generally functions on ordered lines; very bad things can happen, but most of the time they don't. There may be reasons why the world is universally bad in particular places, or at particular times (and we may, possibly, be living in one of those times - the time leading up to the Day of Judgement). But generally order is the rule. Evil, however, is always seeking opportunities to cause as much suffering, and on as wide a scale, as possible. Whatever force created, and is maintaining, the universe, its modus operandi would seem to be in direct contrast to that of evil. The only people who benefit from evil are those who practice it (and that not always),whereas the generally ordered state of the world benefits everyone, both just and unjust.
Thirdly, such things as love and virtue could not exist in a universe whose driving force was fundamentally morally neutral or morally wicked. One might regard "love" and "virtue" as merely chemicals and electrons occupying certain positions within the brain; and perhaps they are, although it would not diminish their value, the word "merely" therefore being inappropriate. It makes little difference to the argument whether or not we see them as such, but if we do then it might be useful to consider the analogy drawn in the previous chapter between the origin of certain qualities and the creation of glass from sand. For sand to become glass, once the right conditions are created, there must be some molecular similarity between the two, so that in one sense at least they must be the same thing; likewise, I submit that for the universe to give birth to such qualities as virtue it must in some way be virtuous itself. Goodness cannot come out of perversion, since perversion is so alien to it in nature. The goodness in humans must have developed from something that itself was good. Maybe God is schizophrenic or morally ambivalent, both evil and good; but the thing to be noted about goodness is that it promotes itself for its own sake, and not as a counterweight to evil in some great cosmic game of chess. And the nature of the world is not consistent with the suggestion that it was created by a schizophrenic mind. A schizophrenic mind is by nature disordered, whereas the world as we have seen is not. The schizophrenic veers between evil phases, during which they think only dark thoughts, and good phases during which they think good thoughts. During their good phases they will not wish bad things to happen, and during their evil phases they will not cause good things to happen, or at least will be apathetic about whether they do or not. But the schizophrenic does not have good and bad thoughts in their head at the same point in time; only the capacities to have good and bad thoughts, which must always be present if either kind of thought is to be at any time entertained, exist simultaneously. Happiness and unhappiness do not, throughout the world as a whole, follow each other in succession; they exist side by side. Who is to say that God, during one of His evil phases, and having the powers He does (in this scenario He is presumably still omnipotent) would not have destroyed the whole world at some point, or done something to ensure that only bad things happened anywhere? But there was never a time when nobody anywhere was either happy or unhappy.
To do good and to experience good is the only logical purpose for any intelligent agency. If God is ordered that means he is logical/rational. Not to do good either means to do nothing, which would be the same as having no purpose, or to be destructive, to pull apart, to work against order and rationality.
So God is "benevolent", which can be taken to mean that either He only does pleasant things, or if He does unpleasant things it is only in order to achieve some ultimately good purpose, which is sufficiently just to excuse His means, and for which that means is the only one available.
(3) If suffering were entirely our fault, that would certainly make it a lot easier to understand and to accept, if only we had the humility to acknowledge our responsibility for it. In fact it has been in the past, and to some extent is still, an essential tenet of Christian doctrine that Man is responsible for his present unhappy state, our ancestors having committed a sinful act which had the effect of despoiling the whole Earth, making it a place where people, along with animals, did harmful things to each other or were killed or injured in natural disasters. Today it is
probable that few Christians believe in the literal truth of the story of the Fall From Grace, which in recent centuries has come to be questioned. However most believers, while accepting that the matter cannot be seen in terms of two naked lovers, an apple and a serpent, nevertheless tend to insist that there was a time when Man lived in a paradisal state, enjoying a special relationship with God, but then spoiled that world by sinning and so was expelled from paradise, since sin had to be punished. They might well regard those who dissent from this view as not being true Christians.
I myself would hold that although the dissenting view may be at odds with orthodox Christianity, it is nevertheless possible to hold it and still with justification call oneself a Christian, in a way that is not the case with denials of the Virgin Birth and Resurrection. There are various important objections which can be made to the idea of there having been a paradisal state.
(a) The pre-Fall state, characterised by bliss and an absence of suffering, seems to be so similar to Heaven that there is little point in their being two separate places. Yet evidently they are meant to be two separate places. It is extremely hard for a Christian to imagine people sinning and being expelled from Heaven, as Adam and Eve sinned and were expelled from paradise.
Whether or not one believes in the Fall, it must be the case that God couldn't have given Man Heaven for free. And that, essentially, is what He was doing if paradise was no different from Heaven (and if there was a qualitative difference between Paradise and Heaven there would have to be a reason for that, if God is a rational being who works according to some kind of plan). Man has surely always had to earn his place in the next life, by showing in this one that he is willing to accept the will of God and eschew sinful conduct.
van Inwagen answers this point by comparing Man and God with two lovers; once lovers reconcile, he argues, they will never part again. The contract between Man and God, once renegotiated, would be enforced permanently.(4) I think this may be too optimistic. Relationships which break down and are then repaired can, and do, break down again (as I well know from having worked for the Child Support Agency). There would have to be something different about Heaven which meant that once people got there, their relationships would never fall apart as they might have done on Earth. Even if one can refute this argument, we would still need to know why God created a situation where the lovers could fall out in the first place. Certainly He would have to have foreseen at least the possibility of the Fall, and somehow worked it into His plans, if He were not to appear foolish and inefficient.
(b) It is unlikely that a really just God would punish the whole human race in the 1990s for what just two people (if one takes the Fundamentalist view of the matter),or all the people who were living at the time the Fall occurred, had done several million years (in scientific terms) before. If our ancestors by their own folly made it impossible for us not to sin then that is not our fault, and it is unfair that we should be allowed to suffer the consequences of their actions. Those who are doing their best to escape the consequences, both temporal and eschatological, of Original Sin, i.e. those who have become Christians and live a Christian life, are just as likely to suffer as anyone else.
(c) If the decision to rebel against God was freely made, and if it were not it could not have been so discrediting to Man, it is too improbable that all people should have chosen that course, even if the population of the world was far smaller than it is today.
There is a way of defending the doctrine of the Fall against the above objections so that it makes greater sense. Possibly God did reveal Himself to the first human beings, at the point when they became human, and told them how they should behave towards Him and
towards themselves. He did this as part of his stewardship of His people; a loving God would want to announce Himself to His children, as well as make clear to them what kind of behaviour could be damaging to them, and what kind could be beneficial, so that they could lead happy and morally correct lives. But this only begs the question of why God went to the bother of creating Paradise in the first place, if there was the possibility that Man could misuse his free will and so wreck everything. It would surely have been much more sensible to have waited until a Heaven could be created in which nobody was able to sin. Since good actions cannot count as such unless they come from the heart, they would have had the free will to obey or to disobey Him, just as we do now. The price to be paid by paradisal Man if he sinned was that the paradisal state would not continue, so there would still be some point in creating paradise. This is an essential point to make if we consider that God must have at least anticipated the Fall. When the first humans sinned, and paradise was taken away from them, could God not have restored it so that their descendants would not have suffered the consequences of their folly? But that would have been no good if those descendants, and their descendants, had sinned too (obviously, if Man had been given free will, no decision by the first humans to respect God's commandments would have bound those who came after them). It would have been absurd for God to go on continually dismantling and reconstructing paradise, as He might have had to do.
Though God had not intended it to occur, He used the situation which Man had brought about, the suffering which it caused, to assist in achieving Man's redemption, in the ways which will be described later in this chapter.
It is quite conceivable that the sin of a few could have polluted the rest of the world, in both its natural and its human aspects, because of the interdependency of everything within it. However, even if these arguments were to be accepted, the argument for the Fall would still founder on the hard rock of scientific evidence. The traditional theory has been that Man's Fall polluted the whole world, both animal and human, because of its interdependent nature. Or one could take the view that the pollution was not a result of the sin itself but of God's punishment of it; paradise had to be taken away through direct action by God, who altered the world to a state where suffering happened on a fairly regular basis, because otherwise the seriousness of sin would not have been sufficiently recognised and demonstrated. Why should the animals have to suffer because of Man's misdeeds? If animals do not experience pain in the same way that humans do then no great wrong is being done by God; if they are comparable with humans in this respect then it was a very great wrong indeed that He did. But in any case, science informs us that animals have been killing other animals, or suffering in natural disasters, since well before Man arrived on the scene.
Rather than being seen as literally true, the story of the Fall should be understood as a highly allegorical representation of a time when humans - probably as a result of some sudden evolutionary jump - first became what they are, that is creatures who for reasons which will be made clear in this and the succeeding chapter had an imperfect nature which made it inevitable, to some extent, that they should sin (although then as now they had no excuse for not trying, at least, to avoid doing so). In that case, however, it might be argued that the story of the Fall is not even an allegory but is quite simply untrue. In claiming that there had been a paradisal state when in fact there had not, God seems alarmingly to be telling a lie on a pretty big scale. The reasons why the truth of the matter was not told are the same as with the account of the Earth's creation (see previous chapter). In addition to the considerations centring on the intellectual ability of people living at the time to understand what was being said, God's word needed to have an impact, and a sudden fall from a paradisal state into one of misery and strife was a much more colourful and dramatic way of presenting matters than it would have been to say that Man was always liable to sin. God should not be criticised for failing, technically, to tell the truth when for practical reasons it would have been impossible, or at any rate harmful, for Him to do so.
One objection to this view of the Fall is that it means Christ's Passion was inevitable; that the whole process of Creation would have been marred by the knowledge that Jesus was going to die on the cross. Certainly God would have had to have foreseen its possibility, if He was worth His salt. C S Lewis writes, "in fact God saw the crucifixion in the act of creating the first nebula. The world is a dance in which good, descending from God, is disturbed by evil arising from the creatures, and the resulting conflict is resolved by God's own assumption of the suffering nature which evil produces. If Man had remained innocent....God could......have contrived an equally splendid symphonic whole."(5) But the mere possibility that it would happen would have been disquieting enough.
So essentially we are left with (4). This is the only one of the possible answers which in my view comes anywhere near the truth.
The question of God's omnipotence has an obvious bearing on this matter because it would make no sense, or be fair, to blame God for failing to do something which was not in His power, except in so far as He was guilty of deceit in giving us the impression that He could.
The stock Christian response to the question of suffering is to say that God allows it to test our faith. But if He were truly omnipotent He would be able to devise a test which did not involve suffering (the same applies if there is any other reason for it). Such suffering that did occur would be entirely our own fault and we would have no reason to blame God for it (we would probably still do so, but that is not the point here). Such a world would be difficult to imagine, but if God is truly all-powerful He would surely be able to create it. And if He is really benevolent He must desire such a world as much as we do.
One would think that omnipotence was an absolute quality, that it was ridiculous to suggest something could only be "largely" omnipotent. Considering the matter recently, I was astonished to realise that this was not the case. There are some respects in which God is clearly not all-powerful.
Two examples spring to mind; He cannot be in two places at once, except by virtue of His being omnipresent (a quality which His omnipotence or lack of it may make no difference to),which is not what I here mean by "being in two places at once". He also cannot assume a physical form (since this would necessarily restrict His size and prevent Him from being omnipresent, which is also supposed to be an essential attribute of His).
That omnipotence cannot be an absolute quality, whether it is God
who is supposed to possess it or someone else, becomes clear when we try to imagine God creating a stone so heavy that He Himself cannot lift it, and yet still remaining omnipotent. And yet we are told in the Bible that for God all things are possible (Matthew 19 v.26, Mark 10 v.27). How does this square with the abundance of suffering in the world?
It is a little worrying that God appears to be guilty of deceit, in that He claims to be omnipotent and yet there are clearly limits to His power. Has He been lying to us? In the matter of the Fall, he had a reason for not telling the actual truth, but that reason does not apply in the case of suffering. We might say that it does not matter as long as he is benevolent, and therefore had some good excuse for the deception, but we must nevertheless clear Him of the charge of deceit if that is possible. For Him to only be able to achieve certain of His purposes by employing deceit would be unfortunate; even if He were not caught out - which would spoil His plans as well as be a further diminution of His powers (He not only has to use deceit, but is unable to maintain the deception against the enquiry of lesser beings) - the mere idea that He has done so tends to diminish His credibility in our eyes whether He has a good reason for it or not.
We should also be wary of too literal an interpretation of what's in the Bible. Equivocality - by which I mean the ability of something to be interpreted in more than one fashion - is a frequent characteristic of Christian doctrine. The most striking example is the warning that we cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless we become like "little children". I remember worrying how exactly I was going to accomplish this, and being immensely reassured when I realised it was simply a highly allegorical way of saying that we must re-examine all we have learned, along with our morals and lifestyle, in the light of Christian teaching. The commandment "Thou shalt not kill" is certainly not taken literally by every Christian; the consequences of doing so would clearly be disastrous in cases where killing was necessary to prevent murder, either of oneself or others.
A contradiction, such as there appears to be between the doctrine of God's omnipotence and His apparent inability to prevent suffering, is only worrying if it is irresoluble (in other words is not just an apparent contradiction). A direct lie is another matter; if God is telling one then His usefulness and His reputation are fatally compromised, and that would be the case even if His motives for doing so were benevolent (though it is still worth stating that such might be the case). I argue that God is not telling a direct lie, and that any contradiction we observe in Christian doctrine on suffering is indeed only apparent.
C S Lewis resolves it by claiming that what is not possible is not a thing. He writes in The Problem Of Pain:

"In ordinary usage the word impossible generally implies a suppressed clause beginning with the word unless. Thus it is impossible for me to see the street from where I sit writing at this moment; that is, it is impossible to see the street unless I go up to the top floor where I shall be high enough to overlook the interesting building. If I had broken my leg I should say "But it is impossible to go up to the top floor" - meaning, however, that it is impossible unless some friends turn up who will carry me. Now let us advance to a different plane of impossibility, by saying "it is, at any rate, impossible to see the street so long as I remain where I am and the intervening building remains where it is." Someone might add, "unless the nature of space, or vision, were different from what it is." I do not know what the best philosophers and scientists would say to this, but I should have to reply "I don't know whether space and vision could possibly have been of such a nature as you suggest". Now it is clear that the words "could possibly" here refer to some absolute kind of possibility or impossibility which is different from the relative possibilities or impossibilities which we have been considering. I cannot say whether seeing round corners is, in this new sense, possible or not, because I do not know whether it is self-contradictory or not. But I know very well that if it is self-contradictory it is absolutely impossible. The absolutely impossible may also be called the intrinsically impossible because it carries its impossibility within itself, instead of borrowing it from other possibilities which in their own depend upon others. It has no unless clause attached to it. It is impossible under all conditions and in all worlds and for all agents. {Similarly, it is impossible for God to give us the opportunity to redeem ourselves unless He subjects us to a certain amount of suffering, or does things which will inevitably lead to suffering}.(6)

Lewis goes on to say,

"All agents includes God Himself. His omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power. If you choose to say "God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it" you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two words "God can". It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God."(7)

Neither God nor Man can do what is not a "thing". But of those entities which are "things" Man can only do some, while God can do all. We cannot dismiss such things as the Virgin Birth out of hand - although we tend to think that we can - because we have no proof, scientific or otherwise, that they are not possible (see my earlier comments on this). It is just that we have no sure evidence for or against them; we cannot say what powers creatures on other planets, for example, might have. However, although the Virgin Birth, Resurrection etc may be possible, we know without much reflection on the matter that drawing a square circle, or using omnipotence to do something which actually contradicts it, is not possible; that it is logically absurd.
So when it is said that for God all things are possible, the way of resolving the contradiction between this and suffering is to see the latter as indeed being impossible - in an Earthly context, at any rate - to avoid, and thus not belonging within the category of "things".
There is another way of proving God still to be omnipotent; it depends on accepting Berkeley's theory that everything is mental in origin. "God using His omnipotence to create a stone so heavy that He Himself cannot lift it, and still remaining omnipotent" is essentially an idea in the mind (God's own mind or our minds),whether or not it is accompanied by a physical action, and since things would be concepts in God's mind if they were not concepts in anyone else's, God is the ultimate originator of that idea. If the action were physically possible it would only be so because God had first had the idea of it; so in a sense God remains omnipotent even though He cannot physically perform the action. The same is true of anything else God can or cannot do.
It is worth noting that many of the things which God can't do are not worth doing anyway. He gets along quite well without a physical form, managing to accomplish such remarkable things as the Parting of the Waters and turning Lot's wife into a pillar of salt. His omnipresence means that His influence permeates everywhere, and can be used to promote goodness anywhere in the Universe. It makes Him quite as powerful as He would be if He could "be in two places at once" in any other sense. And there would be no value in God creating a stone so heavy that He could not lift it; if He did not do so it would not be because He was afraid of exposing limitations to His power. The reason would simply be that it would add nothing to the sum total of human happiness.
The statement that for God all things are possible can legitimately be interpreted in more ways than one. Therefore, it is not correct to accuse Him of lying. When we read in the Bible that for God "all things are possible," nothing is being said which is not true in one way or another. God might perhaps be using language judiciously, but this is not because He has anything to hide. To openly state that there were limits to His power would have diminished His authority. But nor has He said anything which can be interpreted as a statement that He is all-powerful, by any interpretation of it. Certainly, all kinds of people are capable of finding a Christian answer, of a sort which satisfies them, to the problem without being guilty of self-deception. The majority of people - and thus the majority of Christians - probably could not understand or debate this issue in the complex terms we have been employing here (I say this without meaning to insult anyone, for I know that morality and not intellectual brilliance is the ultimate yardstick of a person's worth). This seems worrying, in that the only satisfactory answer must be a very complex one. And yet many "ordinary" people have been, and are, Christians nonetheless, along with intellectuals like George Berkeley, Hans Kung, and C S Lewis. Lacking the intellectual discernment which enables the philosopher to identify (apparent) weaknesses in Christian doctrine, the ordinary believer may well be quite satisfied with the argument that exposure to suffering is necessary as a test of one's faith. To many of them the objection that a God who was both truly benevolent and truly omnipotent would be able to devise a system that didn't depend on suffering might not even occur. The more sophisticated citizen may, like Lewis, find ways in which acceptance that there were limits to God's power can be reconciled with a Christian belief that is sincere and ardent; they may, for example, be influenced by my response to the question of God and the stone (if I may be permitted to flatter myself with regard to my polemical abilities). Simpler people will generally accept the traditional view of an omnipotent God. I think also that most people, as long as God could get them all into Heaven and wanted to do so, would not be bothered about what limits there were to his power (particularly in the case of Him and the stone).
I should like to say here that although God's omnipotence is obviously of value if He can use it to promote goodness, which is why it is stressed, it is not as important an attribute as His benevolence. If God were omnipotent but not benevolent, He would have no claim on our allegiance, if morals mean anything at all. We might still obey His dictates out of prudence, but it would be a sorry state of affairs.
We have established that there are certain limits to God's power. This raises the possibility that there might be others. We should not diminish Him any more than is necessary, which would be both damaging to us and demeaning to His dignity. But we ought not to ask from Him what He cannot deliver, for then we will only end up being disappointed (and we would also, in the view of some Jewish theologians, be insulting Him).
I am going to suggest that God can do anything which (a) is not morally wicked and (b) is not logically impossible. The latter restriction must apply even in Heaven, for if something is logically impossible it must be absolutely impossible.
(a) What is morally wicked. By saying He cannot do this I mean that He cannot do it because He is constitutionally incapable of doing so, since His nature is so fundamentally good. God is truth, is goodness, therefore He cannot do anything bad. This may count as a logical impossibility; at any rate it seems to constitute a diminution of God's power. But it is not something that need bother us; if anything we should be grateful for it, because a being with God's powers could, if He wanted to do evil things, cause untold devastation and terror.
(b) What is logically impossible.
Logical impossibilities fall into two categories. A logical impossibility may be a physical impossibility; e.g. a container cannot be packed solid with bricks and at the same time be full of water. It could also be of an abstract (by which I mean non-physical) nature. As an example of an abstract logical impossibility, it is impossible for anyone to be said to make a choice of any kind unless there are at least two options to choose
between; God could not possibly, in any set of circumstances, bring about a situation in which that was not the case. The category of abstract things also includes morals, and therefore we can speak of logical possibilities and impossibilities when dealing with moral matters.
Very often, whether or not something is logically possible is contingent upon certain factors. The impossibility is conditional (as we have seen). Then, when speaking of God, we should not say "it is impossible for Him to do this" but rather, "it is impossible for Him to do this unless He.." If we are saying that God can do what is not logically impossible, it might be objected that God cannot swim, which is logically possible because I can do it (now that I have had the proper training). Again there is a condition involved; what we are saying here is that although swimming is not logically impossible for us, it is logically impossible if one is God (i.e. because God does not have a finite physical body). So we are still talking about a logical impossibility.
If we want to be sure that God has sufficient power for Him to be of any use to us, we really ought to identify and list all those things He cannot do. But this may take a long time, if we take the view that the world's complexity means the inability of God to do the logically impossible is manifested in a variety of different ways. For example, the sun is necessary for life on Earth to function properly, and for us to enjoy a pleasant summer's day, and we need a skin so that through it we can experience sensual pleasure of various kinds, but the nature of the sun and of skin means that unless one takes the right precautions one risks getting sunburn or skin cancer while sunbathing, or if forced for some reason to stand out in the open for long periods on a hot day. Something cannot both be and not be the case, and in a complex world the number of things that are the case, and thus the number of things which cannot be the case, will be very large indeed. Logically, it is impossible for God to remove all risk of sunburn unless sun is not sun, or skin is not skin. As long as they are what they are, and thus have the properties they do, it will always be there.
I submit however that we do not need to go so far. What is it that really concerns us about God? It is that He can create a world which is free of suffering and send us there for all eternity to be blissfully happy. As long as He can do that, nothing else matters. Although it may be difficult to understand how exactly He can bring such a state of affairs about, our knowledge is not sufficient for us to be able to say whether or not it is logically impossible, whereas we can see without having any acquaintance with the finer points of theology that it is quite frankly impossible for 2 plus 2 to make 5, or a finite object be in two places at once. We cannot prove there is no Heaven, and no God who can put us there, just as we cannot prove there was no Virgin Birth or Resurrection. Here is where what is called faith - a quality which has already been defined, as far as one can define it, in previous chapters - comes in. Faith cannot be faith in something which is logically impossible, since whatever one does or believes we cannot go against reason. Of course, the logical possibility of God and of Heaven, though not disproved, has not been proved either, but faith enables one to believe in them nonetheless.
The difference between scientific and logical impossibilities. There is firstly a level on which things are possible or impossible depending on whether they contravene logic. Below this is a level on which things are as they are because that is just the way the universe is. Take for example colours. It may be that there are can be no colours other than those with which we are presently familiar. But if there were colours, or sexes, which were different from those we are familiar with, nothing about those colours or sexes could contravene the laws of logic. The scientific possibility or impossibility of those colours or sexes existing could be regarded as a purely scientific matter, but only after their compatibility or otherwise with logic had been established. So science cannot be said to be something entirely independent from, or irrelevant to, logic.
It might be scientifically impossible for God to do something, even if it were logically possible; this appears to have the effect of considerably multiplying the number of things which God might not be able to do.
If a particle has a characteristic which enables it to make a colour, and creating a colour additional to those in the known spectrum would involve its having properties which would be incompatible with its being a colour {which is what we really mean when we say there can be no new colours?}, then this could be regarded as a logical impossibility, for something cannot be a colour and not be a colour. However even if we regard this sort of thing as a logical and not a scientific impossibility, it would still entail that there were a vast number of things outside God's power, for there would be a vast number of cases where such impossibilities would arise. What matters is that we can believe God when he talks about the things he can do.
The composition of the sun and its effects upon various kinds of matter might not be said to be a logical matter, rather it is a scientific one. However scientific principles, although they may not themselves be the same thing as laws of logic, must be SUBJECT to logic. For example, no matter what the sun is composed of and how it affects other entities, it cannot be a sphere and yet also a square at the same time. And it is true that IF to be a sun necessarily means having certain properties, then it cannot both have those properties and not have them. The actual reason why a sun rather than some other agency is necessary for planets to have life on them may be purely arbitrary (there was more than one way
of making life possible, each of which would have served God's purposes, so he was justified in arbitrarily choosing suns as the way of doing it - he would afterwards have had to stick to his choice because..... Or it is the only way of doing it, not because of logic but because it simply happens to be the only way! That's the way things are! It is not something determined itself by the laws of logic, but is nevertheless subject to them. As for the reasons why sun is able to cause such things as heatstroke, sunburn and skin cancer, that is to do with God's moral purposes. For moral reasons making everything perfect, in the here and now, cannot be his brief. In Heaven we must presume it would be possible for God to make things so that either we can get by without suns or skins or we can somehow have them without, say, fair-skinned people (one presumes there is diversity in Heaven, as there is on Earth) getting sunburn/skin cancer.
In the case of Earthly suffering, the physical limitations God has placed on the world stem from the need to take into account certain moral factors. It is not that God is physically unable to remake the world so as to eliminate all pain and suffering from it. This He can do, and one day will do according to the Book of Revelations. His reasons for not doing it now are moral ones.
The assumption to be made from Christian doctrine is that there will be no misery or unhappiness in Heaven. We should not so much
be asking "Why is there suffering in the world", as "Why is there suffering in this world?" I think we have to approach the whole subject in the context of God's ultimate plan for Mankind, which is to get everyone into Heaven. After all, the existence of suffering can frustrate that objective; it causes people to lose their faith, or be put off becoming Christians in the first place, and so presumably jeopardises their chances of salvation.
Heaven represents the ultimate realisation of God's potential; the reconstruction of the universe in the most wonderful form possible. It is something so sublime that one cannot possibly be given it for free; such would debase the whole thing. So before one can gain entry to it there has to be a test which must be passed, a condition which must be fulfilled (it does not matter which of the two we think of it as, since either would serve the purpose). Some people appear to believe that in the last resort God allows everyone to go to Heaven regardless of what happens to them or what they do during their earthly lives. But if that were the case, and He was right to be so generous, there would be no need for the earthly world at all; why not just have everyone born in Heaven right from the start? Such ideas, I am afraid, do not make any sense, especially when the suffering that occurs in this life is taken into account. That suffering would then have no ultimate purpose, unless God were merely cruel, capricious (in which case He could probably not be relied upon to allow anyone into Heaven and let them stay there for all eternity),or illogical (and thus a serious threat to our welfare, given His vast powers).
The test we have to pass, the condition we must fulfil, would seem to be to accept the existence of God and His primacy over our lives, and also not to sin. For there to be any possibility we will pass, there must be some possibility of our failing. One may ask why God puts obstacles in the way of His aim of getting us all into Heaven. Why subject us to a test which some might fail? Two replies can be made to this. Firstly, it would for the reason given above - the need not to tarnish such a wonderful gift as eternal bliss - be infinitely worse if there was no test at all. Secondly, the test is possible for all to pass if only they make the required effort - if they seriously and honestly attempt to seek God. Even if they do ultimately fail, it is the effort which makes the difference, since it shows that our will, at least, is to do the right thing, and that is the only fair way to judge a person.
If one cannot enter Heaven without first passing a certain test, then that obviously implies the existence of a place separate from Heaven where the test is to be undertaken. Now what are the characteristics of Heaven? It is a place where everything is good and nothing is bad (there may perhaps be some faint memory of suffering, and to be happy implies at least the concept of unhappiness, but it need be no more than that). Now if this place where we go to undertake the test is not Heaven it can only be one of three things:
(1) A place where everything is bad. This our present world clearly is not, because there are many sublime things in it. The reason for those sublime things is discussed below.
(2) A place where some things are good and some things bad. That
is exactly what this world is like.
(3) A world where nothing is either good or bad; in other words somewhere where there was no sensation at all, where one merely existed. That would not be a world at all.
We would certainly not wish for this world to be in either category (1) or category (3). But certainly it cannot be a place where everything is good and nothing is bad. If this world were a place where everything was good, then essentially it would already be Heaven, and that is impossible under the system. It's logical really - if a cat is a cat and not a spider, it will not have eight legs or spin webs. We are concerned with the essential features of Heaven, the ones which alone really matter to us. All we want to know about it is that it is (a) a place where everything is idyllic and (b) that it lasts forever.
Included in its goodness would have to be the eternal duration of the blissful state, otherwise our enjoyment of it would always be sullied by the knowledge that it would not last forever. We might not mind that provided we were ecstatically happy until it all ended, after which we would know nothing; after all we take the same attitude towards our earthly lives. But if we think that way, we may as well say that God might not have created us in the first place and it wouldn't matter because we would know nothing about that either. God could I suppose allow us to enjoy Heaven for a certain time and then cut it off without telling us that He was going to do so, but what reason would He have for doing that, if Heaven is as good as it's made out to be? It is true that some forms of oblivion are pleasurable, but only after one has become conscious again; we only think "that was a good night's sleep" after we have actually woken up. We have no reason to suppose people in Heaven do not sleep, if sleep is pleasant and Heaven is characterised by everything that is pleasant; but I very much doubt if they do it all the time.
Nor ought we to be satisfied with the eternal duration of a world such as this one, where happiness and misery exist side by side. We should certainly settle for it if there were no better alternative, but there is a better alternative. If we desire the best for ourselves and others, which all are agreed we should do, we must prefer a world where there is no suffering whatsoever (it should here be borne in mind that in this world suffering is distributed very unevenly, and some people have very little happiness at all).
If Earth is not Heaven, then it cannot be a place which both endures forever AND is blissfully happy. Would God's scheme work if it only had one of those two characteristics? It certainly cannot be blissfully happy but finite; we would want it to be enjoyed eternally. It certainly cannot be eternal but not entirely blissful. God wants the best for humanity - as should humanity itself - and nothing else will suffice.
But God could still be expected, if He were moral, to reduce the amount of Earthly suffering from its current level. He could, for example, make it so that one could only have the expectation of suffering, which might in itself be sufficient for His purposes and at the same time, although still unpleasant, is obviously less serious, on balance, than the actual occurrence of it. However, there would not be an expectation without suffering actually occurring, either to oneself or others, on a fairly regular basis; it would be completely absent from our consciousness. I raise this point because we need to ask: how unhappy, exactly, does this world have to be to not be Heaven? If no-one ever died or was unhappy/ill to the extent of suffering serious damage to the quality of their life, then it would still be Heaven, even if one occasionally stubbed one's toe or caught some very minor illness (about which small tribulations we are not unduly bothered, and which for all we know may therefore be experienced in Heaven without causing any serious problems). So the suffering that takes place in this life must be of a kind that is grievous. If God creates a functional world which is not Heaven, He is creating a place where there is a certain amount of suffering, in the same way that if He draws a square He is inevitably drawing a shape with four right angles.
So the suffering is an inevitable consequence of there being a need for a test in the first place, a part of the inalienable nature of the world whose existence the test requires. This is why it happens to good people as well as those who might be thought to deserve it. Why shouldn't good people go straight to Heaven? Discussion of why virtue, the only genuine form of "goodness", is insufficient to gain one entry to Heaven will have to be deferred until a later chapter; for the moment it should suffice to say that we are always capable of sinning however good we are, and the smallest sin is an incalculable evil. The reason why people aren't transported to Heaven immediately they become Christians is dealt with later in this chapter.
It appears that a functional world which is not Heaven involves certain essential problems. Lewis points out:

"if matter has a fixed nature and obeys constant laws, not all states of matter will be equally agreeable to a given soul, nor all equally beneficial for that particular aggregate of matter which he calls his body. If fire comforts that body at a certain distance, it will destroy it when that distance is reduced."(8)

And here is Michael Green, writing in Evangelism Through the Local Church: "{the nature of our world}is consistent. It works to regular laws, and we should be thankful that it does, or life would become impossible. But that means that if a knife will cut bread it will also cut a finger. If a shotgun kills a rabbit for our food it will also kill a man. The useful force of gravity which keeps me on this earth is not suspended for my benefit if I fall out of a window. So at least the possibility of pain is built into the very structure of the world we live in, where cause and effect prevail. This is inevitable." (9)

Mr Green adds, quite rightly, that pain

"is also invaluable. Pain can so often be nature's warning light. Were it not for the pain in your inflamed appendix it might well burst inside you and you could die." (10)

In Heaven there is presumably some means by which things can be allowed to function without these attendant problems. Only if the safeguards which would turn this world into Heaven were introduced could they be removed from our present lives; and we have established, I trust, that that would be impossible.
The reasons for, say, the birth of Downs Syndrome children are obviously far more complex than those for the harmful aspects of such things as fire and knives. As science has made clear, a world such as that we presently inhabit must, in all its aspects, be constructed in a highly complex way if it is to be workable. As well as being necessary for the proper functioning of things, that complexity is what makes it so fascinating, and thus bearable (the more fascinating it is the better it will be to live in, and the more we will want to compensate for the fact that we die by making sure we get to Heaven, where things will be even more complex and fascinating and where the negative consequences of complexity will be somehow taken care of).
Now if complexity is a fundamental feature of the world, then when things go wrong - the possibility of which is also a fundamental feature of the world - they will go wrong in complex ways. Drugs used in medicine will have unforeseen and unwelcome side-effects. The causes of diseases will be difficult to establish and to deal with, particularly if new strains appear which are resistant to antibiotics. Human nature will be such that the interests and desires of even close friends or members of the same family do not always harmonise, leading to friction. Political and social disputes may be complicated by the number of competing interest groups involved, the conflicting claims arising from their different circumstances. We do not know precisely why Downs Syndrome children are born, but the explanation is certainly not a simple one, otherwise doctors might have found it long ago. God must for logical reasons withdraw the safeguards which prevent this kind of thing from happening, or He would effectively be creating Heaven for all, before all had been proved ultimately to deserve it; if He makes a functional world which is not Heaven - and to do so is His brief - such a world must be one in which there is a certain amount of suffering, in the same way that a square will always have four right angles, to use again the analogy made above. One might ask God to rearrange things so that no Downs Syndrome babies were born, but there are so many other things in the world which are equally tragic that there would not be much point, morally speaking - and God is essentially a moral, as well as a logical being - in His dealing with this particular evil unless He removed all the other evils as well (why should He favour a parent who is likely to have a mongol baby over someone who is about to die in a house fire?). And then, as detailed above, this world would logically speaking be no different from Heaven in its essential features, and it cannot be like that if God's scheme is to work.
One might nevertheless think it wrong that God should allow something which is merely an inevitable consequence of the way things are to be a cause of our losing our souls. But He does not in fact do so. For Him to decree that faith in Him should be a criteria of admission to Heaven, and then punish those who fail to meet that criteria, would be outrageous if there were some insuperable obstacle to our attaining such faith, and would suggest either capriciousness or stupidity on the Creator's part. But the point is that in the last resort we do not need to lose our souls; we can solve the problem by being open-minded about God, by honestly seeking Him, because we will either find Him or, perhaps, be exonerated by virtue of the fact that we were seriously trying to do so. We do not know the reasons why God allows suffering to take place, so we have to be open-minded towards all the possibilities that occur or are suggested to us rather than be alienated from Him. And it was that willingness to consider, to question your preconceived notions, which was so morally commendable. The ultimate reason for suffering, something we will not know until we have been open-minded, makes no difference to this. Until we are acquainted with it the reason for suffering may for all we know be a good one. If we were in a situation where we were subjected to a certain experience, which we shall call X, and we needed to find out why, the ultimate reason why we had to go undergo X, even if it turned out to be something silly or morally dubious, would make no difference to the responsibility we would have, at a time before we knew what it was, to be open-minded about it.
One problem with explaining suffering as an essential part of the world's nature is that it says nothing about suffering's moral value, an important consideration given the amount of time Christians spend talking about it, and hence about the morality of God. If we want to be convinced of God's benevolence, we need to know what He would do from choice, not what He would do because He could not do anything else.
The test which we must pass in order to get to Heaven can still be accomplished by subjecting one to temptation to sin, in resisting which there is obviously considerable moral value. Secondly, although suffering may be an inevitable consequence of the necessary working out of God's plan for Man, a plan which was conceived with our best interests at heart, we may not appreciate that. That is because God cannot publicly explain the reason for suffering without upsetting His whole system. For the explanation to be effective, in such a way that no-one alive then or in the future could fail to accept it, would involve supplying unshakeable proof both of God's existence and of His morality, the two grounds on which people are most likely to reject Him. We would have no opportunity to reject Him and thus to accept Him either.
We will not understand the reasons for suffering if we have had little exposure to Christian arguments, if our parents have not brought us up in the Christian faith, and even if we are believers we may still fail to see reason, and allow suffering to harden our hearts against Him. There is still a moral dimension to the question, an opportunity to do what is right by God instead of what is wrong by Him.
As for the morality of God Himself, whether or not He inflicted suffering on us out of cruelty (although no Christian believes that to be the case) and was seeking to make up for it, or suffering is simply an inevitable if undesirable necessity, the onus would be on Him to support us in our plight, and offer us some form of compensation. Suppose I work for a firm changing gas meters, and for the meter to be changed the customer must arrange to be at home when the fitter calls. One of our fitters fails to keep the appointment and the customer, who has stayed at home so that the work can be carried out, loses a day's wages. The customer rings the office to complain about what has happened. Even though it is not my fault I must (a) express regret at what has happened, and (b) seek to provide redress if I can. And this, according to the Bible, is what God does. What matters is that we can believe He cares about suffering - sending Jesus to die on the cross in order to show that He cared - and acts as a prop and a comfort in times of adversity.
The question we are concerned with here is something of a "chicken and egg" affair; should we see suffering as an inevitable result of the need for a test, or as the test itself? The answer is that it is both those things. The test is created by the very conditions which arise from the need for it. We are being presented here with something of a tautology but this does not matter, since if the situation is paradoxical it is not so in any way that destroys my argument, because God's purposes would still be served and He would still have a justification for what he was doing.
Suffering will inevitably serve as a test of my faith because God cannot publicly explain the ultimately good reasons why He allows me to experience it; thus I will be bewildered and angered by it. It will seem most unjust. What I have to do is steel myself not to be poisoned against Him by it - as so many people nowadays are - and try as hard as I can to consider the possibility that He may have good reasons for exposing myself and others to it. This onus would rightfully be on me whether the suffering was caused deliberately by God, for reasons which for all I know might be good ones, or was an unfortunate but inevitable by-product of His actions. One book I have read on the reasons for suffering asks why God inflicts it on us when some will react to it with fortitude and some with bitterness. I do not think we have to look to the next world for the answer to that question. Not everyone is the same; if it is a fundamental characteristic of people that they have different temperaments and personalities, different psychological make-ups - and it must be, or life would be incredibly boring - then there is a possibility at least that people will react differently to different things, even when one or more of the possible courses of action is morally wrong. In the last resort, though our characters may incline us to act in a certain way, whether in the end we actually do is down to the will alone (in relatively minor matters, of course, there is either no element of moral blame or the sin can be considered venial). God is bailed out by the consideration that in the last resort people who react negatively to suffering had the free will not to do so. And if free will is to be truly free, there will be as much a probability that people will take one course of action as that they will take the alternative. The will is an eternal variable.
I have talked a lot about the need for a test, and the consequences of that need, but not really about the test itself. It is desirable that I should do so; we do, as I said above, need to know what God would do out of choice. If suffering were not an inevitable feature of any world that was not Heaven, would God have to make it so - i.e. because it was part of the test, a possibility which I suspect has already occurred to the reader?
The test is not merely of one's ability to survive earthly misfortunes, although it can perform that function (a very valuable function, since one must get through this life before one can go to Heaven or to Hell). It is to do with getting us all into Heaven. If we fail to get to Heaven, resilience in the face of purely earthly misfortunes is ultimately worthless. And it involves, as I said, acceptance of the existence and primacy of God along with rejection of sin.
Since a test which is so easy to pass that everyone is sure to willingly attempt it, or a condition which could be met so easily that everyone would seek to meet it, would be the same as having no test, or no condition, at all, the test has in some ways to be difficult. The grief and pain which blight our lives are rooted in the very necessity to do whatever is ultimately good for Man. There is an element of pain in steeling ourselves not to sin, because to sin is a part of our nature and thus not always easy to overcome. If we chose to be, for example, racist it would imply we already were racist, for there would have to be something in us which could appreciate racial hatred and desire to incite it, or we would have opted otherwise. We might, perhaps, if we were beings who lacked any kind of virtue or morality, but wanted to experiment with such things, ask to be given good and bad qualities so we could decide which of the two we allowed ourselves to be governed by; but if, were we to experience the desire to do evil, we then decided to stay evil that again would imply that we already possessed a capacity to appreciate evil and thus were evil.
The test does not consist in a physical accomplishment. Such would still achieve the purpose of preventing the whole thing from being debased by being made free. But there is another consideration involved as well, and that is morals. God's very reason for the test is a moral one, originating in a desire to do the best thing for His creatures and thus not debase His gift of eternal life and bliss in Heaven by offering it unconditionally. Therefore moral considerations inevitably permeate the whole system. Morals - when they stem from real virtue, as they should do - are what enrich life, and are so sublime that they are practised for their own sake; a universe without them would be so awful that even if one sees their introduction into the system as purely arbitrary, there would be a justification for them.
Since, in any world, morally good actions must, to be that, come from the heart, we are given the ability to choose between right and wrong, with a possibility that we will opt for the latter. Now if goodness is really as good as it is cracked up to be, it logically follows that the punishment for rejecting it must be Hell, something infinitely awful, just as the reward for practising it must be Heaven, something infinitely wonderful (a gift which a benevolent God wants to be able to bestow on everyone in any case).
It would be a grotesque offence against all decency if those who rejected it, and thus did not deserve eternal life, were granted eternal life anyway. So the willingness to do what is good serves as the condition for entry into an eternal, paradisal afterlife. "Doing good" obviously means not committing wrongful acts, but if such is the case it must also mean letting God's will govern one's
life, because that kind of discipline is essential if we are to sin as infrequently as possible. Many "good" people would deny that but I do not agree with them, as I will elaborate in a later chapter. Our refusal, however morally good we may be, to accept God as Lord is therefore merely another form of immorality, one which is of such a nature that it is not easily perceived to be such. Morals and their good consequences are essential if this world is to be bearable; and through enriching life they furnish one of the reasons for turning to God, by leading to a wish that life should continue after the demise of our Earthly bodies.
We must make a free choice to live Godly lives, because to live in accordance with God's wishes is the moral thing to do, and morality is of no credit to anyone if it is not practised out of free will. And, as I stressed above, the choice which gains us entry to Heaven, to be a true choice, must to some extent be a difficult one. That is why we are placed in a world where we either cannot easily be convinced that God exists (we must be capable of doubting the reality of God since it is impossible for us to devote all our life to Him if we are not convinced that He exists),or cannot easily be convinced of His morality and thus His worthiness to be served. By recognising that these questions are important, and therefore making a honest and determined effort to answer them - to seek God - we are displaying moral responsibility and moral goodness.
Sinners though we may be, we are nevertheless moral beings, and have to be if the world is not to be so disordered and chaotic that life becomes impossible. Therefore we need to be assured of God's goodness as well as His existence (He would be no good to us if He did not exist, whatever His moral standards might be if He did, but if He were not benevolent then He would be equally useless, and perhaps even a positive threat to our best interests). If we were convinced of God's morality then I expect we would all be Christians. I believe this is evidenced by the fact that many people's ultimate objection to Christianity is on grounds of morality - God's existence is a lot easier to accept than His benevolence, and certainly a great many of us want to believe and would do so if only we could be convinced that God was just and so deserving of our allegiance. If we were sure God was moral there would be few obstacles to anyone believing in Him. So there must be something which causes us to doubt his morality as well as His existence. Since, as the Creator and arbiter of all things, He is judged by the nature of the world He has created, there must be things in that world which suggest He is morally deficient.
This explanation may well appear somewhat ludicrous. But we will not know there is an explanation unless we keep our minds open and seek for God. And as with any possible answer to the question of suffering, it is that openness, that willingness to consider that we are not necessarily right, that justifies us in God's eyes and was so morally commendable. Even if we nevertheless ended up honestly believing there was no God, we would still have been redeemed by virtue of our willingness to question our pre-conceived notions.
If it is to be morally to our credit turning to God must be done from choice; otherwise it cannot be said that we have passed the test. The test has to be difficult, and that implies a choice is going to be made. If it is so easy that we are sure to do it, there is no choice. But where there is difficulty, we may think "I can't be bothered with this, it's too much hassle", and at the same time "I really ought to be doing this because it may be advantageous to me, despite the hassle it will cause." Now on grounds of logic as much as of anything else it would seem that if one is to choose between two options, in this case those of turning to God and not turning to God, there must be factors which incline one to plump for option A and against option B, and factors which incline us to go against option A and for option B. This is true regardless of whether the choice is moral, intellectual, or both. In the case of God the factors which incline us for choosing Him (though they may not always have that effect because we do not allow them to) are the impermanence of our Earthly life and its frequently unhappy nature, which we would naturally like Him to compensate us for by giving us an eternity of bliss in Heaven, and the appeal of being able to enjoy a close and loving relationship with a benign and powerful Father. Those which incline us against choosing Him are the lack of evidence of an unquestionable kind for His existence, and the suffering He allows to happen, which would seem to cast doubt on His goodness. The suffering we experience may possibly be designed to test the faith of the believer, but it also tests the unbeliever; it does not test their faith, because they do not have any, but it does test their moral ability to approach the issue of God in an honest way.
Some Christians may reject the idea of God deliberately causing suffering in order to make us reject Him as absurd and perverse. But when, for example, they suggest that suffering is intended to test our faith they are in effect saying much the same thing as I have done above - that the test must be a moral one, for allegiance to God is a moral necessity and rejection of Him a sin, and there must therefore be something which suggests to us that God is morally deficient. This leads me to make another important point.
I will still continue to be subjected to suffering after I have become a Christian. Is this purely because of the inalienable nature of the world, or does it have some other purpose? It may be that the suffering will serve to keep me on the right path, once I have found that path in the first place. It will remind me of what I should be doing. The frequently made assertion that the purpose of suffering is to test our faith implies that we already have a faith to test. Suffering has a dual purpose. For the non-Christian, it provides an opportunity to turn back to God; for the person who already believes it serves as a test of their faith. I do not believe that suffering is there specifically for the latter purpose, although it can certainly have that effect, and if one passes the test the consequences will be beneficial. Ideally, the testing of a Christian's faith through suffering will not involve causing suffering to an unbeliever at the same time, even though the latter may benefit from it spiritually in some way. If the test involves the unbeliever's death, then it is particularly strange, for God would want the unbeliever to remain alive for as long as possible so that they had the maximum chance of changing their ways before they died, and it is hard to see what benefit can be gained if, in testing someone who already has a faith, someone who does not have any is caused to die, afterwards being presumably consigned to Hell. At best, the debit and credit would be equal, the effects of one offsetting the other, and no real improvement in the state of things would have occurred. The death, and likely damnation, of the unbeliever would undeniably be compensated for by the fact that the believer would emerge the stronger in his faith and better able to convert others; but I do not believe God operates in that way.
In any case, the number of things which could conceivably test the faith of a believer is probably infinite, and the chances of them all happening during a person's lifetime, however long that lifetime may be, are unlikely. God could perhaps intervene in the world so as to make sure they did happen, and in such a way that free will would not be infringed, but the interdependency of everything in the world would ensure that other people as well as the believer would suffer at the same time, whether or not we are talking about a major airline disaster, which in providing a believer or unbeliever with an opportunity to test their faith in God destroys hundreds of lives, or the death of a loved one, which achieves the same purpose on a numerically smaller scale. (Since all things must emanate from one source - that source being God - of which it is an aspect, everything is connected with everything else in a single system, which means that what happens in one part of the world may well affect what happens in another part, particularly if God is unable to intervene to regulate events on account of the need to preserve free will).
If our faith is of no value unless it is at some point tested, we might well ask what happens to someone who becomes a Christian but chances to die before they can be subjected to any experiences which might test their faith. Do they go to Hell, because their faith was not tested? For that is what is implied by the principle. And some people go through life without having any particularly traumatic experiences which might test their faith.
So why, once someone has become a Christian through having shown the correct response to suffering, does God not transport them immediately to Heaven, or to some sort of limbo where they will remain until the Day of Judgement? There is a reason why not. Firstly, He would be showing more favour to Christians than to other people, when He desires no-one to suffer more than anyone else because we are all of equal value in His sight regardless of whether we have yet taken the first steps on the road to repentance (that is why the testing of a believer's faith, given that it may involve something which at the same time causes hardship to an unbeliever, is not a primary reason for suffering). Secondly, if it happened it would, along with other things, be proof of God's existence. This would kybosh His scheme for the redemption of those who continue not to believe. In other words, the Christian is being subjected to continued suffering for the spiritual benefit of the unbeliever. Is that fair? I think it is. If a Christian is really just and has the welfare of their fellow humans at heart, they would not want to do anything which would upset God's scheme for their salvation, for that salvation is the best thing that one can desire for other people. For us not to want it, and to obstruct it for the sake of our own comfort and happiness, would be selfish. We would not be likeable people if we took such an attitude; and I think we want, quite understandably, to be likeable. So when God permits the Christian to continue to live in a world whose nature is often hideous, even after they have repented, He is acting in everyone's best interests and not only those of the unbelievers who He wants to redeem. (I suspect that it is not this consideration which is uppermost in the minds of those Christians who seek to protect themselves against something which threatens their lives - when one would have thought they would be pleased to die, since they would most likely go to Heaven - but rather a basic instinct for survival as well as a feeling that we can never be exactly sure that our daily behaviour has met God's approval and that the longer we remain alive, the greater the chance we have to put things right before we are called to account).
I would like next to talk about sin, which I define as those forms of conduct which are morally and spiritually damaging, and thus are repugnant to God, and ought to be repugnant to Man although he often refuses to see them for what they are; things such as adultery, murder, deceit, greed, cruelty, prejudice. Mention of sin is relevant to the question of suffering because some see the latter as a punishment for the former. I tend not to agree with that view. Certainly it cannot be a punishment for Original Sin, because those who are doing their best to escape from the consequences of the Fall - i.e. are Christians - can suffer from it just as much as those who aren't, even if their faith means they are better equipped for dealing with it when it happens. Nor is it a punishment for those sins which are being committed at present, for many "bad" people seem to go through life without any particularly unpleasant things happening to them. Having said that, if misfortunes do happen to particularly unpleasant characters there is a certain value in that, and we may perhaps be forgiven for feeling a certain satisfaction when they do suffer in some way, although we still should not wish for such things, and our hope should be that the suffering has a redemptive as well as a punitive effect on them. There is no doubt that suffering can act as a punishment for sin (though more often, sinners do not learn from the consequences of their actions). But this cannot be the primary reason for it. For it to serve that purpose adequately it would have to be the case all the time; every time someone sinned they would suffer. And that is not what we observe. If it were the case, nobody would sin; they would not even be tempted to sin, because there is no point in being tempted to do something unless you have a reasonable expectation of being able to do it without suffering unacceptably severe consequences. If you do not, the whole system of moral testing is wrecked. If people are to sin it must be seen as having its rewards, and certainly not to carry with it an immediate and obvious deterrent. As a case in point, let us consider the AIDS virus, which some see as an appropriate punishment inflicted by God on those who are guilty of sexual misbehaviour. It has not necessarily stopped people from being sexually promiscuous; the only difference it has made is that people tend to use condoms when having casual sex (and even that is not always the case). If people stop being promiscuous, rather than simply take precautions against AIDS when they are, purely out of fear of dying, and might for all we know revert to their previous practices if a cure for the disease were to be found - then no moral credit is due to them. If God is inflicting AIDS on certain people in order to punish them for sexual misbehaviour, then He ought to make every other form of sinful activity, including many which are less natural and understandable than sexual ones arguably are (though they may not be as bad in terms of their physical consequences for the individual and for society),similarly dangerous. And yet He does not.
One other question which crops up a lot in discussions about the reasons for suffering is that of free will. It is an argument often used by Christian apologists to excuse God's allowing unpleasant things to occur. One might assert that all we need freedom to do, if God is what He's made out to be, is become Christians; that is the only voluntary action which can have any ultimate value. And that is true; but if that purpose is to be achieved we must have free will in all things, and not just the all-important matter of turning to God. If turning to God is the right thing to do, and must be done voluntarily if it is to be to our credit, we must be capable of voluntarily doing the wrong thing, of indulging in those activities which divert us from Him. Our secular pursuits - books and magazines, sport, parties, etc, are not bad in themselves but they too often act as distractions from God, and we must obviously have the freedom to pursue those distractions of our own volition if the system of redemption is to work. Though I may effectively have made this point already, this seems a good place in which to stress that if we must do the right thing of our own volition for it to be to our credit, it follows we must also do the wrong thing willingly. For an action to be to our credit there must be a possibility that we might have acted otherwise; therefore, if the essence of the good thing was that we willingly took this or that action, then that of the bad thing, its moral opposite, must be that we willingly took the opposing course. It is having freedom, having the knowledge that we did this or that on our own initiative, and thus taking pride in it, and not having the fear that factors beyond our control may harm us, which makes life so pleasant. If we lacked free will - if we felt unfulfilled, and at the same time were afraid that whatever it was that was motivating our actions might cause us to do something extremely unpleasant to ourselves, or make something unpleasant happen to us - we would either be so miserable that we could not motivate ourselves to be concerned about anything, or we would inevitably turn to God, who promises freedom from sin, suffering and oppression whether in this world, the next, or both, as a compensation for the misery of our lot, and thus not be doing anything morally creditable.
But this does not prove a connection between free will and suffering. The whole purpose of this life is to serve as a testing ground in which we must prove our allegiance to God. Free will is obviously, as I have said above, a necessary ingredient in that process. But what is its connection with that other important ingredient, suffering? We are talking here not of a free choice whether to sin, (or to do those things which give us pleasure, which are not the issue here since it is the unpleasant things we are primarily concerned with) but of a free choice as to how to respond to mental or physical pain - pain which may be wholly natural in origin and unconnected with anything good or bad which we might do or contemplate doing.
Free will is important, where suffering is concerned, only in the sense that there should be a free response to the suffering itself. If God were to abolish the suffering there would be no question of making a free response, of any kind, to it, or an unfree choice for that matter. If the choice for or against God has to be free, and one's response to suffering is a vital part of it, then the response to suffering - whether to be alienated or enlightened by it - must be free also. If there were no suffering at all, the choice could not be made.
Since the reconciliation of the soul with God, making it deserving of eternal life, is the only thing that really counts, the preservation of free will in temporal matters is not an important consideration where it does not affect that all-important goal. Of course it does have a bearing on that goal, but not always in the same way. Making this world appealing is only one of its functions. Its role in suffering is a different matter altogether, and we should distinguish between these two functions. God would, if He could, contrive a world in which there was free will but no suffering - and that, presumably, is what Heaven is like. And we would certainly prefer it if He could do so.

Both the pleasant and the unpleasant features of this world serve a purpose in God's plans. The pleasant things perform the function of whetting our appetite for Heaven, although they do not inevitably cause us to turn to God since that must ultimately be a matter of free choice. They furnish the reasons for choosing one of the two options involved in the choice, and thus make a "choice" truly possible. They are intended to cause us to think, "this world may not be perfect, but it has many good things in it. If going to Heaven means that I will be able to enjoy them after I die, and for all eternity, or is even better, I should certainly be interested in the possibility." Now if God is good then He will either allow us to enjoy those things again in the afterlife, or replace them with something even better; and in addition the bad things will be absent. We are presented with good things, the enjoyment of which will presumably end when we die, and which even in this life will not always be with us. Let's take, for example, our sexual appeal and athleticism. These tend to be lost through the ageing process (something which is made a lot more painful by the fact that some people age better than others!) God gives us vigour and virility (if you have never, even when young, possessed those attributes, then that is another reason for wanting a world in which they will not be denied you or in which not having them will cause no regret),then takes them away from us by making us grow old. There are, of course, plenty of sprightly nonagenarians, and plenty of mid-lifers who are virile and attractive, and ageing, generally speaking, is something most people can adjust to eventually - but all of us would, I am sure, be twenty-five again in biological terms if we could have the chance. We should desire the best for ourselves in all things. And maybe we can have the chance, or something like it, in Heaven. Or perhaps it somehow wouldn't matter if we can't; either way the problem would be taken care of. In this and other cases, the bestowal on us of good things, which then turn out to be transient either because of age or some other factor, is designed to make us want to go to Heaven, where we can find the lasting fulfilment which we failed to achieve in this world.
What purpose do the unpleasant things serve? I agree with Lewis and van Inwagen that the purpose of pain, or one of its purposes, is to reconcile us to God. "Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when all is going well with us", Lewis points out(11). Another of the things which supply arguments for or against turning to God is the hideous, to a greater or lesser degree, nature of the earthly world. It causes us to yearn for an existence in which we shall be spared such tribulations, and at the same time the need for a spiritual prop in the face of those worldly tribulations may prompt a reconciliation with God. Sometimes, of course, it is the expectation of suffering which does the trick. We are not constantly worrying, every minute of our lives, about the possibility that we might be knocked down and killed by a car, nor should we be, but awareness of that and other undesirable possibilities is always in our consciousness, somewhere at the back of our minds. That, however, is only because we have heard about it happening to someone else.
If people do not respond to suffering in the way intended by God, and opponents of Christianity will waste no time in pointing out that they usually don't, it is not because God's system is flawed but because we are not going along with it. God is throwing the ball to us, but we are not catching it.
Suffering supplies both the argument and the counter-argument which are necessarily involved in the making of a decision whether or not to become a Christian. It has two purposes; it both alienates people from God and reconciles them to Him. The suffering, if personally experienced, causes us to consider the afterlife and how we might be assured of a place in it. We may then think that on the other hand a benevolent God - and if He is not benevolent, one is less enamoured by the idea of spending eternity with Him - would not have caused the suffering to happen in the first place. There should then follow, if we are open-minded, the thought "but can I really be sure about that?"
We must have a certain degree of happiness in this life so that we can desire it to continue after death, and thus have an incentive to seek God. But we can only experience happiness unless we also have a concept of unhappiness, and it would not be possible to have that concept unless pain and suffering were actually experienced on a fairly regular basis.
Suffering must, however, be regulated to some extent. If it happened too often we would be so busy trying to cope with it that we really wouldn't have time to turn to God; the mental and emotional stress we would be going through would render it impossible to consider theological issues that may often be extremely complex and difficult. And as stressed above, some measure of happiness is necessary to whet our appetite for Heaven. Clearly if there were too little suffering, we would be quite happy with our present lot and not be bothered too much about God. But if suffering were eradicated entirely from the world then essentially we would already be in Heaven, and the divine scheme would collapse.
One possible objection to this centres on the particularly horrendous nature of suffering in the poorer, and least politically stable, parts of the Third World, which seems in stark contrast to the general situation in the West. I believe this dichotomy results from the differing natures, in terms of geology, climate, relief and ecology (and thus socioeconomics),of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, something which can be explained in terms of a God who needs to create a world which is characterised by diversity if that world is to be functional and also endurable by those who live in it. Though we should not view poverty in the Third World lightly because of it, it could be argued that God has provided a safety valve to prevent life in the most deprived regions of the world becoming impossible. Because people's expectations are different from those in the West, and because they have little or no direct experience of life there they are not constantly in a state of mental anguish over the contrast between its relative comfort and affluence and their own grinding poverty. That this safety valve is doing its job is demonstrated by the fact that inhabitants of the Third World do not commit mass suicide because of their impoverished state (whereas in the West suicide because of extreme stress is at least relatively common). It can also be argued that the suffering of people in affluent countries is simply different in nature from that experienced in the Third World. When Westerners do suffer relative poverty, for example in times of recession, their anguish is particularly acute precisely because their expectations are higher. They also live in a highly complex and overcrowded society where the business of living has become so complicated that severe pressure is put on them through their various responsibilities and the insistent demands on their time. High standards of living do not necessarily mean greater quality of life. Finally, it may be pointed out that even in the Third World where there might seem to be uniform misery, some people will still suffer more than, and in different ways from, others.
We must distinguish between the primary reasons for suffering and those which are secondary (i.e. are not the reasons why it exists in the first place, but rather are potential or actual consequences of suffering which were foreseen by God and can serve a good purpose, therefore being allowed by Him to do so). In the case of the secondary reasons, God's policy is that since these things are inevitable in any case in this earthly world, they may as well be put to good use. In view of His inability to Himself explain the reasons for suffering, something which has been mentioned before, they inevitably will perform that useful purpose. It is important to distinguish between God doing something for a definite reason, and God saying "this will inevitably happen; now X is the best way to respond to it, so you must do X." With these secondary factors it is our reaction to them which is important in God's scheme, and not the factors themselves. They inevitably happen, but we have the freedom and the ability to choose between different ways of responding to them, and there is nothing wrong in imposing on us a moral obligation to choose the right one.
We cannot imagine a world in which only the primary reasons for suffering applied, since it would be fundamentally different from our own, but I for one believe that God would not cause suffering specifically for the sake of its secondary ones. They may still make a difference to our salvation if we respond to them in the wrong fashion, because of what that response would say about us, but since they are in the last resort inevitable, and we have the freedom to turn them into something positive if we try, it is Man who is at fault here and not God.
Where the particular form that suffering takes is concerned, there is no moral value in a child's being born with, say, Downs Syndrome as opposed to any other kind of tragic event. For God to have decreed, "if suffering is to happen at all, I might as well make it happen in all sorts of different ways, because that would make the world more interesting", would not be a sign of benevolence on His part, because suffering is such an awful thing that the only consideration that can justify it is its moral value, rather than its intellectual interest. As it turns out, a study of the reasons why this or that bad thing should happen often is interesting, but the suffering was not brought about by God for that reason; at most it is merely a beneficial side effect whose primary value is to encourage doctors and scientists in their research into the causes of those evils, with the conscious aim of eradicating them. Downs Syndrome is merely one more aspect of a world whose nature causes suffering to occur in numerous and diverse forms. Sometimes the particular nature of certain forms of suffering may, if one responds to them sensibly by letting them lead to the development of a philosophical outlook on life and courage in the face of adversity, have particularly good effects. But the importance of such things is still lies in one's reaction to them rather than any divine intention behind them.
To summarise, the primary reasons (both moral and practical) for suffering are that:
(a) It is an inevitable consequence of the nature of any world that must necessarily precede Heaven, if God's system is to work.
(b) It tests our willingness to seek God, to be open-minded on the important questions of His existence and of His goodness, and thus by demonstrating our moral responsibility helps to prove our worthiness to be granted eternal life.
(c) It is God's way of bringing us back to Him.
(d) To like this world, and thus Heaven, we must have an idea of "pleasantness" - that is, things which are pleasant to us mentally, physically or both must happen to us. For that to be the case, we must have an idea of "unpleasantness", which means unpleasant things happening to us on a fairly regular basis.
(We can now see that in answer to the question posed earlier, God would have to make suffering a feature of the world if the world's essential nature did not bring it about in any case).
The secondary reasons for suffering are:
(a) It can serve as a punishment for sin.
(b) It can test the faith of a believer, and thus, if (s)he passes the test, enable them to better serve themselves and God.
(c) It provides an opportunity for good things to happen - for example, an estranged couple may be spurred to reunite if one of them suffers some misfortune - and thus enriches our earthly lives, which God does not wish to make any more unpleasant than is absolutely necessary, and thus is of value, in the short run at any rate, even if it does not cause the unbeliever to turn to Christianity.
This has proved to be an extremely complex issue; there are not one but several (primary) reasons for the existence of suffering, each of which would apply if the others did not. I hope I have proved that suffering per se is justified. The fact that it takes place in such a variety of forms is explicable by the necessarily diverse and complex nature of the world, and by there being no reason why God should remove one cause of suffering and not the others, while if He removed all of them His whole system would collapse. But He does not want suffering to be any more widespread than is necessary for it to achieve its purposes, those purposes being ultimately moral ones. He therefore limits the amount of suffering in the world in so far as it was consistent with those purposes, even if it means the equivalent of a difference of just 1p in a parking fine (despite what van Inwagen appears to believe(12)). And that is why in this world some people will suffer much less than do others.
It may be objected that suffering may sometimes be of a sort which involves the sufferer's death, which if they are unbelievers means their damnation; the suffering which is meant to bring about their redemption in fact results in the ultimate defeat of that objective. But since the suffering is essential in the first place, there is no way to escape this tautology other than doing away with the whole system altogether, which would be worse, we can say that God is still acting in a just and rational manner, that He has created the best kind of world He can. That suffering may result in death is all the more reason to put oneself in the right kind of relationship to God.
What we should now concern ourselves with is the magnitude and distribution of suffering. Firstly, its magnitude. If, in Heaven, no-one ever died or was unhappy/ill to the extent of suffering serious damage to their quality of life, then it would still be Heaven, even if one occasionally stubbed one's toe or caught some very minor illness (about which small tribulations we are not unduly bothered, and which for all we know may therefore be experienced in the next world without causing any serious problems). So the suffering which takes place in this life must, some of the time at any rate, be of a kind that is grievous. (This is a repetition of something said earlier). Secondly, for us to have "pleasantness" as a concept in the mind we must have the concept (entailing the actual experience) of unpleasantness. Now if one concept is dependent on, may be said to feed on, the other, like light and dark, then to have a concept of extreme pleasantness we must have a concept of extreme unpleasantness. The brighter a light, the darker by contrast is the darkness. So, not only unpleasant things must be allowed to happen, but extremely unpleasant things as well.
The distribution of suffering often seems to be unfair. I have explained why I think the nature and extent of suffering varies between different parts of the world; but even in the Third World its distribution may not be entirely even, and any case in which some people suffer particularly badly relative to others is regrettable. Some seem to get more than their fair share of suffering. Is it so they can be specially strengthened, to perform some vital role in human affairs? The answer must be no; those people who suffer, whether they suffer particularly badly or no more than anybody else, are as likely to be ordinary people as great religious, military or political leaders. It is not because it increases their chances of salvation (i.e. by making their faith even stronger); people to whom suffering, whether or not it occurs to a particularly grievous extent, happens relatively rarely become Christians too.
If God is going to subject us to suffering He should at least give us the ability to profit by it, and it's true that there is potential for those who have suffered more than others to become the wealthiest of all. However, there is no moral reason why some people suffer more than others; that they do is simply inevitable, as we will see later. It is also inevitable, given the interdependency of everything in the world, that when they do suffer, others will suffer too to a greater or lesser degree. That again is something which although not intended can and should be used to good effect, as is the case with suffering in general. When groups of individuals suffer together or in the same way they can benefit spiritually and emotionally from the resulting solidarity. Families can be brought together and couples reunited. Even people who do not know each other may experience a pleasing sense of solidarity and companionship, and become firm friends. It is important to emphasise that God does not cause suffering simply so that such things occur; that would make the whole business contrived and ludicrous, like a pantomime. That the events which have such good spiritual consequences are inevitable means it is not contrived.
Unpleasant things can shake our faith either by the way they affect ourselves or by they way they affect others. Whoever is the victim, we tend to feel moral outrage against God, and will benefit if we overcome our resentment and try to understand that it need not be seen as reflecting badly on Him. But it is not necessary that others should suffer for us to profit spiritually, when suffering that happens only to ourselves can be grievous enough to alienate us from God; it is merely inevitable that they will suffer, and we should put the matter to good use by using it as a test of our faith (which it will be, because God cannot explain the reasons for suffering Himself).
van Inwagen argues that God has the right to decree that one person should suffer so that another may benefit (13). I hope he will forgive me for saying that I find this suggestion quite monstrous, though no doubt it stems from genuine conviction rather than cruelty. The essence of virtue, of honour, of nobility, is that they are not forced on us by some outside agency, though it may nevertheless recommend them. The sacrifice of a person's life, health or happiness for the benefit of someone else must be an entirely voluntary affair, coming from the person's own heart and performed of their own free will; that is what makes it such a noble thing. It is debased by being made obligatory and compulsory - as it would be if God, because He was God and so had the right to do it, were deliberately causing some people harm and grief so that other people could in some way profit by it, regardless of whether they would have made the sacrifice themselves if allowed freedom to do so. However, that is not quite what actually happens; certainly, it is not what needs to happen for the system to work properly. Where more than one person is involved in an unpleasant incident, it is because of the essential nature of the world. That nature means that individuals suffer (and benefit from the suffering),but also that people suffer (and benefit from the suffering) collectively.
To say, as Christian apologists often do, that we are subjected to suffering in order to test our faith, if we already are believers, or to make us turn back to God, makes it seem in some cases as if God is effectively saying to the sufferer "I'm sorry, Mr A, but I had to cause you to die so that Mr B could profit spiritually by the experience." If a person's suffering is grievous enough, and their fellow human beings are as compassionate as they should be, it will affect them too, so if suffering is meant to benefit particular individuals rather than society as a whole then it is exceeding its brief; a symptom of bad planning on God's part. Perhaps God is serving up the potential benefits of suffering in a sort of menage a trois. He might be thinking, "I'll have X be permanently paralysed; that means his parents will have to care for him so they'll be able to have the opportunity for tribulation too." But this makes Him seem more like a cordon bleue cook than a benevolent and rational being, which is how He wants and needs to present himself. Mr A can himself profit by the experience, but only if he is alive to do so. And if Mr A dies and is not a Christian he won't get to Heaven. God would want Mr A to remain alive for as long as was possible so that he had the maximum chance of saving himself. He wants salvation for all, so if suffering is being inflicted on us as a means of turning us into Christians in the first place, deliberately and directly bringing about Mr A's death before he succumbs to old age, and regardless of whether the imperfect nature of the world may cause him to die at some stage, seems irrational and counter-productive. And why should God desire one person's salvation more than any other?
After all, some individuals go through life without suffering any particularly traumatic experiences, at any rate of the sort that dent one's faith in God. If suffering, in its most extreme and unpleasant forms, has to be limited, then the probability is that some people will not experience it at all. Like everyone else they will, of course, know the pain of bereavement from time to time. They will be aware of the possibility of personal suffering, which should be enough to turn them back towards God, but the mere knowledge that suffering can occur is always less unpleasant than the actual experience (or life would become unbearable).
I find it hard to imagine a scenario in which God says to Himself, "What about today's quota of suffering? I think I'll have Mr A crippled in a car crash. And Mr B....what'll it be, food poisoning for this feller? Or maybe his son will be born with spina bifida {a bit unfair on the son}. As for Miss C..well, she's a model, so perhaps I could give her skin cancer, because it'll ruin her career and make her sit up a bit. That'll serve the girl right for forsaking me!" It could be pointed out that God's attempting to do so would be frustrated by His having given us free will and afterwards needing to respect it. The reason why unpleasant things happen or do not happen to individuals is often a matter of pure chance, or the results of whims and decisions which no-one could have predicted. For example, suppose God decided that I should die, or be badly injured, in a rail crash so that either myself or a relative of mine might profit spiritually from the resulting anguish. His plan would be squashed if I decided at the last moment to catch a different train, or to stay on where I was for the foreseeable future. However if God has the powers He is credited with He would surely find some way, at some time, of achieving his intention; and it could not be said that free will would be impaired, because we would not know that the event was caused by God's direct intervention in the world, and we would be free to respond to what happened to us in whatever way we thought fit, whether or not we thought that God had been responsible for it. Rather, the argument should be that God does not need to operate in this manner. As with the process of evolution, He would be quite capable of intervening in order to push things in the direction He wants, but with the powers He possesses He wouldn't need to - He could equally well have pre-programmed things to achieve the desired results.
All God needs to do for His scheme to work is to have created a world in which, from the outset, there was always likely to be, due to its basic nature, enough of suffering, or the expectation of suffering, for it to achieve its desired purpose or purposes. This results in a situation where, because of the operation of free will among other factors, the distribution of suffering is uneven, and therefore seemingly unfair, but the only alternative would be for God to parcel out suffering in what would, since there is no reason why one person should suffer more than another, be an unacceptably arbitrary way.
When something particularly unpleasant happens to us we tend to take it personally. The thought which goes through our heads is, "Why me?" We approach the matter as if there were some reason why we in particular should be singled out for suffering. The truth is that there is no reason, even in a world created and ultimately controlled by God; but this is so in such a way that His benevolence is underlined rather than disproved.
It may be helpful here to look at the reasons why unpleasant events, or any events for that matter, happen at all. If we are Christians we believe that God was behind the initial creation of all things, and sustains them in being, but allows them to function independently of Himself. Whether He does occasionally intervene in the world, and to what extent, is a matter for conjecture; I am not sure how seriously we should take tales of latter-day miracles such as weeping Madonnas and moving statues. But most of the time He does not intervene. Therefore, what now happens in the world, where intelligent life forms such as human beings are not involved, is for the most part not the result of particular actions of the Creator's. Whether we are Christians or sceptics, we might say that this abstention on the divine part from regular interference in cosmic affairs means that a lot of things are left to chance, even though the universe functions in an ordered - and thus, once the order is properly understood, predictable - way most of the time. But in a universe where everything happens, or fails to happen, for some kind of reason, as it must do if logic is not to be confounded, there is in fact no such thing as "chance".
If, whether we believe in God or not, we do believe in reason, then we must reject the idea of "chance", for a world in which things exist or happen for no reason is absurd to any rational person. We do not possess the gift of telepathy or of predicting the future, with a few possible exceptions, and certainly do not possess omniscience. Therefore we cannot predict when an event that will cause ourselves or others to suffer some misfortune is certain, or likely, to happen. We do not know when a child or a dog is going to run out into the road, causing us to swerve instinctively and crash (and the dog is not going to think, "I ought not to run into the road, because I may cause this human to crash their car and so kill or injure themselves"). We will know of the existence of dogs, and that their running in front of people's cars is potentially dangerous, but we do not know the precise location of every dog, or every car, in the world at every given time, and so be in a position to know when any are likely to
cause road accidents, and if some agency is planning to cause harm to someone we cannot, since we are not telepathic, anticipate their actions (of course a rapist is not going to tell his intended victim when and where he is planning to rape her, nor an terrorist who intends to cause maximum suffering give adequate warning of where his bomb is and when it is going to explode). We do not know when some other person is going to do, or is considering doing, something which may, intentionally or unintentionally, result in bad things happening to us. If God had granted us the gift of telepathy, or of future prediction, we would be able to anticipate unwelcome occurrences and so be prepared to meet them, so that they would not for much of the time count as adversity and thus give us the moral and spiritual benefits which they do.
Another factor is free will, which means we will not be sure what decisions we are ultimately going to take in this or that matter, regardless of whether they will affect others adversely or at all. We need not assume free will on the part of inanimate objects or phenomena, whether they are natural like the wind, the sun, and rocks or stones, or man-made objects such as pencils, knives, cars and space shuttles. Nor have we any reason to assume that non-human life forms possess free will. The evidence suggests they are motivated by instinct alone. There is some dispute as to what extent animals are sentient, that is can have feelings and experiences, but there seems no ground for regarding them as sapient (that is, possessing the ability to reason),and thus make decisions (it is when a decision is made regarding some matter or
other that we are justified in claiming that the agency which makes it has free will). There is an interplay between the operation of free will, the actions of the non-sapient universe, and the inability of human beings to anticipate future events or have a really comprehensive and accurate knowledge of the present. It and nothing else explains why things happen; there is no such commodity as "chance". (Similarly, what we call "luck" is merely another word for the fortuitous, or otherwise, conjunction of the different causal factors). The interplay is of a sort which clearly results in a situation where the distribution of suffering is uneven, some people having far more of it than others.
If the amount of suffering which took place were in some way regulated so that it never rose above a certain level, even if that level were high enough to be grievous at times, it could only be explained by attributing it to the actions of some intelligent agency. It is the fact that we cannot tell either when or in what way we are going to suffer that suggests a random and unregulated world, and so makes it possible to doubt God's existence or goodness. If there were any kind of pattern to the distribution of suffering (other than is necessary to prevent the world from becoming either too happy or too sad for God's purposes to be satisfactorily achieved),whether in terms of the situations in which it happened, (with some areas of human life being free of suffering while others were not - for example genetic diseases and deformities ceased to occur, but earthquakes and hurricanes did not) or the scale of it, or the people to whom it happens, there would be no apparent reason for it apart from the regulatory action of a creative intelligence.
The boy who stands awed in the presence of a famous and respected
personality, or quaking outside the Headmaster's study awaiting imminent punishment for some misdemeanour, is unlikely not to be on his best behaviour. If God's presence is too obvious there would be no question of our coming to Him through choice, and thus redeeming ourselves; neither would we be able to sin, to voluntarily perform - and thus voluntarily avoid - the things which it is morally and spiritually necessary for us to do, whether we were atheists or believed in God but flouted His commandments out of moral perversity.
That is all I can find to say on the subject of human suffering; I trust it is sufficient.
The fact that animals suffer, or appear to suffer, pain is frequently held against God. It is seen as unjustified because animals neither deserve suffering nor can profit by it. And animal pain is certainly widespread; the entire ecosystem is characterised by animals killing each other, for food or some other consideration essential to their functioning, on a large scale. This seems to indicate that if it the world had an intelligent creator he must have been morally extremely perverse. And animals - even domestic animals, which normally depend on food produced by their human owners - may injure and kill each other in territorial disputes or because their nature inclines them to do so, whether or not there is any need for them to. Even if animals do not in fact suffer anything which could be described as pain, the damage they inflict on each other in the natural course of events would, if there were an alternative, be crazy, and not consistent with the doctrine of a God who must be seen as rational, whatever else He is, if it is to be at all desirable and safe for us to follow Him. Even if animals do not actually "suffer", and so morally cannot be distinguished from inanimate objects, damaging or destroying them for no reason would still be at best a purposeless act, in the category of mindless vandalism, inconsistent with God's rationality and thus cause for concern.
As might be expected, Richard Dawkins is among the foremost of those who seek to show these things to be evidence that God, if he exists, is at the most indifferent and at worst positively cruel.
"Let us return to living bodies and try to extract their utility function. There could be many, but, revealingly, it will never turn out that they all reduce to one. A good way to dramatise our task is to imagine that living creatures were made by a Divine Engineer and try to work out, by reverse engineering, what the Engineer was trying to maximise: what was God's Utility Function?
Cheetahs give every indication of being superbly designed for something, and it should be easy enough to reverse-engineer them and work out their utility function. They appear to be well designed to kill antelopes. The teeth, claws, eyes, noses, leg muscles, backbone and brain of a cheetah are all precisely what we should expect if God's purpose in designing cheetahs was to maximise deaths among antelopes. Conversely, if we reverse-engineer an antelope we find equally impressive evidence of design for precisely the opposite end: the survival of antelopes and starvation among cheetahs. It is as though cheetahs had been designed by one deity and antelopes by a rival deity. Alternatively, if there is only one Creator who made the tiger and the lamb, the cheetah and the gazelle, what is he playing at? Is he a sadist who enjoys spectator blood sports? Is he trying to avoid overpopulation in the animals of Africa? Is he manoeuvreing to maximise David Attenborough's TV ratings? These are all intelligent utility functions that might have turned out to be true. In fact they are all completely wrong."

If this world, not being Heaven, must function according to certain limits, then the problems that causes for humans will affect animals as well, since they are an essential part of the world, playing important roles in the functioning of the ecosystem. Animals will suffer from natural disasters; and if it is necessary for humans to have free will animals will from time to time become the victims of cruel acts perpetrated by them. As we have established, the limitations within which this world has to function, resulting in suffering and death on an often considerable scale, are the result of something which God is doing in order to ultimately benefit humans. Is it wrong that the animals should have to suffer for the humans' sake?
Even though it may, perhaps, ultimately be necessary and justified for God to do things which cause animals to suffer pain, should he not compensate them by giving them the ability to go to Heaven? As I will argue in a later chapter, I see no reason to reject the idea of animal immortality. But is it bad enough, perhaps, that animals should have to suffer at all.
It has been questioned, by C S Lewis among others, whether animals really suffer pain, at any rate in the same way as a human does. We should attempt to deal with this question before we go any further. Lewis writes,

"At the lower end of the animal realm we need not assume anything we could recognise as sentience. At some point however (though where, we cannot say) sentience almost certainly comes in, for the higher animals have nervous systems very like our own. But at this level we must still distinguish sentience from consciousness. If you happen never to have heard this distinction before, I am afraid you will find it rather startling, but it has great authority and you will be ill-advised to dismiss it out of hand. Suppose that three sensations follow one another - first A, then B, then C. When this happens to you, you have the experience of passing through the process ABC. But note what this implies. It implies that there is something in you which stands sufficiently outside A to notice A passing away, and sufficiently outside B to notice B now beginning and coming to fill the place which A has vacated; and something which recognises itself as the same through the transition from A to B and B to C, so it can say "I have had the experience ABC". Now this something is what I call Consciousness or soul and the process I have just described is one of the proofs that the soul, though experiencing time, is not itself completely "timeful". The simplest experience of ABC as a succession demands a soul which is not itself a mere succession of states, but rather a permanent bed along which these different portions of the stream of sensation roll, and which recognises itself as the same beneath them all. Now it is almost certain that the nervous system of one of the higher animals presents it with successive sensations. It does not follow that it has any "soul", anything which would recognise itself as having had A, and now having B, and now marking how B glides away to make room for C. If it had no such "soul", what we call the experience ABC would never occur. There would, in philosophic language, be "a succession of perceptions": that is, the sensations would, in fact, occur in that order, and God would know that they were occurring, but the animal would not know. There would not be "a perception of succession". This would mean that if you give such a creature two blows with a whip, there are, indeed, two pains: but there is no co-ordinating self which can recognise that "I have had two pains". Even in the single pain, there is no self to say "I am in pain" - for if it could distinguish itself from the sensation - the bed from the stream - sufficiently to say "I am in pain" it would also be able to connect the two sensations as its experience. The correct description would be "pain is taking place in this animal"; not, as we commonly say, "This animal is in pain", for the words "this" and "feels" really smuggle in the assumption that it is a "self" or "soul" or "consciousness" standing above the sensations and organising them into an experience as we do. Such sentience without consciousness, I admit, we cannot imagine: not because it never occurs in us, but because, when it does, we describe ourselves as being "unconscious". And rightly. The fact that animals react to pain much as we do is, of course, no proof that they are conscious; for we may also so react under chloroform, and even answer questions while asleep."

Whether or not we can agree with Lewis, there are no firm grounds for concluding that he is wrong. What puzzles and annoys me is that some people anthropomorphise animals on very flimsy evidence, and going purely by emotional feeling (which alone is not a sufficient basis for argument, even though it may be understandable). This is due partly to political correctness, partly to the (admirable) British concern for animal welfare, and partly to a quite understandable reaction against Man's appalling vandalism of the natural world.
Dawkins, commenting on the tendency of the digger wasp to lay its eggs in the bodies of live caterpillars, so that its larvae when they hatch will have an abundant and readily available source of food, writes:

"If nature were kind she would at least make the minor concession of anaesthetising caterpillars before they are eaten alive from within. But nature is neither kind nor unkind. She is not against suffering or for it. She is not interested one way or the other in suffering, unless it affects the survival of DNA. It is easy to imagine a gene that, say, tranquilizes gazelles when they are about to suffer a killing bite. Would such a gene be favoured by natural selection? Not unless the act of tranquilizing a gazelle improved the gene's chances of being propagated into future generations. It is hard to see how this should be so, and we may therefore guess that gazelles suffer horrible pain and fear when they are pursued to the death as most of them eventually are. The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. If there is ever a time of plenty, those factors will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored."

What? Is Richard Dawkins claiming to be able to get inside the head of a gazelle, or a caterpillar - it is even more ludicrous when we are dealing with caterpillars - and so be certain that they experience pain, or have the same kind of psychological make-up, as humans do? Apart from this being anthropomorphism of the sort that I have been told respectable scientists were supposed to avoid (altogether this constitutes a demonstration that, far from being objective, scientists are just as prone as anyone else to ideological fashions such as political correctness),it has no scientific basis. Now it may be that Dawkins is right, although most of us will never be able to accept it. But he could just as easily be wrong. He is making an assumption here which is totally unproven, and which if it were ever proved conclusively to be false would leave him looking somewhat ridiculous.
Certainly my scepticism might be justified in the case of the lower forms of life. We find it hard to imagine that a fly feels any distress when it finds itself trapped in a spider's web. But what about mammals, creatures with complex nervous systems, which are killed and eaten by other animals or, where in the cases where it may be morally acceptable on their part, by humans? And ought we not to apply the same standards to all life forms, since in the last resort we cannot be absolutely sure that the fly, or the newt, or the plankton, do not experience pain in the same way that higher organisms do? Even in the case of plants we cannot say with authority that no "pain" is ever experienced. I don't wish to be controversial over what has become as much a political as a theological issue, but it seems to me that the moral distinction apparently being made by vegetarians between eating animals and eating plants is an arbitrary one and not necessarily helpful, particularly when recent evidence suggests that plants and trees do actually respond to certain stimuli in a way which points to the possession of some kind of nervous system, and thus may also suffer pain.
Unfortunately, both for the Christian and the sceptic, so much of this matter must be guesswork. We cannot know the state of mind of an ape, worm, fish, insect or bird without actually being one, which is both impossible and inconceivable. I suspect that if animals did truly suffer, in the same way that humans did, we could only be sure of this if they could communicate it to us; and then they would not be animals. We cannot be exactly sure that animals do not experience such things. We can only say what seems from outward observations of them to be the case. The best thing one can do is to go by what insufficient evidence there is - evidence which suggests that animals do not experience pain, and at the same time to say that if God is benevolent then what he does is either ultimately just or is simply what He cannot avoid doing. If God is both a benevolent and a rational being, then either animals do not actually experience "suffering" in any sense, despite what may appear to be the case, or the suffering they do experience is not something which God can do anything about, in the earthly context at any rate. In any case I do not believe the majority of Christians regard this as an issue which must destroy their faith if they cannot answer it.
Of course if the animals, in the same way as Mankind, do benefit from suffering in some moral fashion, without us being aware of it due to our inability to get inside their heads, then God is let off the hook, although I think most Christians, along with most other people, would find the idea of animals having morals utterly ludicrous. But we would like to be aware of it, for otherwise there would appear to be a strong objection to belief in a just God.
It may be justly pointed out that we are bound, most of the time, to act as if animal pain does matter; it is distressing to us, and if we allowed it to occur wherever we had some chance of stopping it, or - even worse - deliberately caused it, we would not be acting in a humane fashion. (As a Christian, I offer the suggestion that as well as from humane reasons we ought to protect animals because, for one thing, they are the works of God, and to abuse them is a form of disrespect to Him - but that has nothing to do with the question of why they suffer pain). We are conditioned to feel concern for animals because this enables us to care for them. Human nature, unless we are particularly cruel or insensitive, will dictate that we should protest and if possible take action against it. But for the purpose of rational theological discussions, in which we are suspending all emotional considerations and using our intellects alone, such factors as these should not apply.
But just as we are conditioned to be distressed by animal pain, and do something to remedy it, we are not conditioned to regard animals as being on a par with humans in that their welfare and safety must be considered equally important to ours. I am vindicated by the fact that whereas we are all conditioned to try to avoid animal pain, we are at the same time not conditioned to regard them as being in the same category as ourselvses. Although we should not assume that a view is wrong merely because it is held by a relatively small portion of society (after all, such a principle is frequently applied by atheists to Christianity),it is worth noting that those people who are the exceptions to this rule tend to be ridiculed by the rest of society. It might be objected that people such as Richard Dawkins are conditioned, if only by their individual nature, to regard animals as being in the same category as humans. But to see this as a proper conditioning would be a mistake. They merely have a notion which is absurd because, among other things, it goes against what they are constitutionally able, as human beings, to manage. To illustrate my point, let us suppose that a number of people who share Dawkins' views on this matter are on a passenger ship crossing the sea, which also happens to be carrying a sizeable cargo of animals, and that the ship starts to sink, or a fire breaks out, and a hurried evacuation is necessary. It is inconceivable that they would really, in this situation, show as much alarm and concern for the safety of the animals as they would for the humans, and forego trying to save a human who, say, was pinioned under a fallen beam which was too heavy to lift easily, in preference for an animal which was not so trapped and thus possible to save in the short time available for them to do so? That they would is inconceivable. I rest my case.
We are just not conditioned to regard animals as having the same moral value as ourselves. And if nature is sensible, which she is, whether or not we regard her as being identical with a creative intelligence, she will have designed things that way. For us to worry about animals to the same extent and in the same way as we worry, or ought to worry, about our fellow humans would make life impossible. A gene which had that effect would result in our extinction, and so die out itself. For example, just imagine the chaos that would be caused if it was decided that in the interest of animal rights all farm animals should be set free. Since people do not generally keep farm animals as pets, and cannot be forced to, we would either have to let them roam the countryside as they pleased, which would cause all sorts of problems, or slaughter them on at least as massive scale as would have happened anyway, which would rather defeat the animal rights activists' objectives. It is the anthropomorphicists, and not those who are sceptical of their views, who are going against the natural order.
We should recognise that there are sound reasons for our tendency to value human lives more than animal ones, rather than attribute it to the "breathtaking arrogance of our Christian-inspired speciesism", as Dawkins puts it. There is at least one case in which we might not find it so easy to make such a distinction between what is human, if by that term we mean a sentient, intelligent being which should be regarded as having rights, and what is an animal and thus is not. Suppose there existed on this planet a species only just below Man on the evolutionary scale, which was still alive and was one day discovered and came into contact with "civilisation". Whether or not we were Christians, we would have a great deal of trouble attempting to decide whether it merited being classed as human. We would find ourselves in a legal and intellectual minefield, and the controversy would generate much bitterness, as questions involving race very often do. For God to have got round the problem by somehow arranging the extinction of the species, committing what might be viewed as genocide, or at the very least extremely cruel, in order to make Christian arguments more defensible, seems unacceptable; the species might have become extinct, but not necessarily because God wanted to make our task easier. In this matter, a Christian will just have to believe that God would do what was right, would do nothing without a reason. However there may not be a problem; if, as has been suggested, the first Homo Sapiens was a genetic mutant, radically different in important respects from its parents, then the differences between Man and this hypothetical "Missing Link" may be such that there would be no doubt about the latter's not being classifiable as human. Evolution does sometimes happen in such leaps and bounds, and it may well be that in the case of Man's emergence this tendency was God's ideal way of getting round the problem.
If animals do genuinely feel pain in the same way that a human does, should they not somehow be compensated somehow for it, as Man is by being given the ability to turn it to his advantage by using it as a test? But if they could, they would not be animals. They would be on a level with ourselves. No animal has ever been known to appear on a religious programme, or been the subject of an article in a Sunday supplement, talking about how it profited from adversity to something-or-other. But, just as we cannot be sure animals don't experience pain, we also cannot be sure that they don't understand morals and theology. We cannot in this earthly life put animals on the same level as humans in every respect, but that has no bearing on the question of their ultimate role in the cosmic scheme.
The upshot of all the above is that we cannot be sure that animals don't suffer pain in the same way as humans. We must therefore ask why they suffer pain at all, and what God is doing about it.
There is the argument that animal suffering is caused by Man's Fall from Grace having infected the whole of nature; but it is unlikely to be of any use to you if you don't believe in the literal truth of the Fall From Grace, besides which it seems unfair that animals should have to suffer for what Man has done.
We must consider this question in the context of a universe which is (a) determined by certain rigid laws, and (b) is allowed by God to function much as it likes without him. God has to work within certain limits. As we saw, the most serious of these limits stem from the need to fulfil a moral purpose, whether it is the case that that purpose only benefits humans, or that animals are in fact the same as ourselves and so are also intended to profit in some way by it.
God wanted a world in which Man could be tested so as to make himself deserving of eternal life (let us assume at this stage that God's prime aim at all times is to benefit Man rather than the animals). He wanted this world to endure for a long enough time for the number of people who eventually joined him in Heaven to be very large). This world had to have a certain structure. The animals are on it to make things pleasant for Man as well as possibly for their own sake. Now somehow the animals must be sustained in being so that they can perform whatever purpose they were created for. They must have something to eat. They cannot eat the actual structure of the planet itself (which of course does not reproduce),as over the vast amount of time that the planet was in existence they would have eaten it all away. So they must eat either vegetation or other animals. Some animals do the former and some the latter; if all were plant-eaters they would soon consume all the vegetation, and if they were all flesh-eaters they would wipe each other out. This ecological balance, necessary if the ecosystem is not to be disastrously upset, also requires that predators should not be too successful at catching and killing their prey, or the prey too good at escaping from them (either way the predators would eventually starve). Cheetahs and gazelles are so designed that the killing power of the one, the agility and sure-footedness of the other, and the speed of both, cancel out any possibility of either disastrous contingency being realised.
Overpopulation would also have a damaging effect upon the balance of nature, whether it were flesh-eaters, plant-eaters or animals in general which were too abundant. The population is kept down by predation, but by itself it is insufficient for the purpose and so there must be other factors which keep it at a safe level, such as disease and natural disaster.
If God is unable to intervene actively in things, and yet his world functions in a basically ordered and stable way (so that a block of wood, because it has a fixed nature, can be used to kill someone as well as to make furniture) there must be mechanisms built into the system which prevent things getting out of hand. The behaviour also helps to regulate the ecosystem (part of the world's being self-sufficient).
In order to continue to exist, whether for their own sake, Man's, or for any other reason (as their contribution to the maintenance of a balanced ecosystem),animals must do whatever is necessary to obtain food, shelter, and a territorial base, defend themselves against other animals, and to reproduce.
As diversity and complexity has to be a feature of God's Creation, the way in which each species seeks to meet these basic requirements will be different. But all are motivated by instinct in doing so, regardless of whether they also possess higher, human-like mental faculties, because the considerations are so essential that there is no time to think about them. The same is true with us to some extent.
In going about all these activities, animals are likely from time to time to feel pain. Pain's purpose is necessary to alert animals - humans included - to danger, and so lead them to avoid things which may be harmful to them. Animals which did not experience pain would die out and thus upset the ecosystem. And in a Universe which (a),if it is to function properly, must operate according to distinct laws, with things to some extent having constant natures, and (b) is allowed by God to proceed at its own pace, animals will experience pain on other occasions too; as a result of natural disasters, unfortunate mishaps, or ill-treatment by cruel humans.
But this explanation does not really meet the objection on grounds of animal pain. With his powers, God could surely achieve his purposes while still avoiding any necessity for animals to suffer. He could have constructed the world so that somehow there would be ample room for both plants and the stuff which animals would eat instead of them. He could have ensured that there was some means of maintaining the ecosystem and controlling animal populations that did not involve animal death and suffering.
It is this that leads us to conclude that God's reasons for allowing animal pain to occur are moral ones. He surely wouldn't let the world develop on its own, and therefore by its nature run the risk of causing suffering, just because its ability to be self-supporting appealed to His sense of neatness and tidiness.
If animals do not experience pain or suffering in any meaningful sense, then an ecosystem in which life forms can only survive by killing and eating other life forms is a good deal more excusable, however crazy it may seem, and there is nothing morally wrong about God causing non-human life forms to suffer misfortune in order to benefit Man by making him doubt.
The bottom line is that if animals are akin to human beings in the way they think and experience pain, God would make some provision for compensating them for their tribulations; if they are not, there is no problem.
God is using animal suffering as part of his scheme for Man's redemption. Man must make a free choice for or against God and the particular unfairness of animal suffering is one of the things that might incline people to choose against God. It is of particular value for this purpose because it seems so unfair, animals being both undeserving of pain and unable to profit by it. Alternatively, one can see this as not being a factor at all. Rather, the interdependent nature of the world and the logical and other restrictions on God's power meant that animals must inevitably experience pain or die on some occasions. If animals are in fact on the same level as sentient beings such as humans it would be unfair for Him to exempt them from the consequences of the world's limited nature, but allow humans to continue to suffer; and if they are not on the same level as sentient beings, it would be pointless (as well as an inevitable sign of the existence of God). (Not everyone would be intelligent or aware enough to be influenced in their choice by factors such as these but not everyone is going to be the same anyway). If they are like human beings in this respect then God is going to compensate them for the inconvenience, or the whole thing is working for their benefit anyway. Either way, the problem is taken care of.
One reason why animal suffering is seen as particularly damaging to God's image is that animals are sometimes gratuitously cruel, inflicting damage on one another for no apparent practical reason. Foxes will kill lambs purely for pleasure, or so it seems, and birds will peck other birds to death without provocation. It may be that we have simply not yet discovered the scientific reason why they behave in this way; science has never at any one time been able to answer all our questions about the world. That reason may turn out to be something which is not incompatible with the picture of a God who is benevolent and rational but has to work within certain limits.
For them to be acceptable, occurrences such as these must either be something that the animals have to do in order to fulfil their place within the ecosystem, or an inevitable by-product of such.
If what I have said on the subject so far is not adequate, there is another point I might make which I think should be adequate to finally clinch the matter in God's favour. Logically, if A has this property (property 1) as part of its essential nature AND can be shown to have it through reasoned argument, then it follows that the reason for its doing X or Y are consistent in some way with that property. We do not need to analyse X or Y in themselves to be assured of this, even though it would be useful in that it would strengthen our argument. If I have proved earlier in the chapter that God is benevolent, then it follows that His reasons for allowing animal suffering, elephant seal gang rapes and animal murder/fratricide must be good ones, or stem from factors he can do nothing about.
Our attitudes to animals tend to affect our views on the subject of their eschatological destination. Although we do not know whether animals suffer pain in any sense which would reflect badly upon God if there were not some very good reason, and some ultimate compensation, for it, we know that we do, and if we believed in God and His system of redemption we would think it very bad that our chances of salvation should be scrapped just to make it fairer on the animals. Those people who have become Christians do not find animal pain an obstacle to their faith.
Man and the beasts are at least equally unfortunate; it might even be possible to go further and argue that the animals may be in a better position than Man, if Lewis is right and they do not experience pain as such. Some would say that bereavement, and unrequited love, are worse than physical pain. We should not criticise God for putting the animals in a particularly difficult position so much as remember, if we are Christians, that the state of affairs in which pain, in the harmful sense, whether it is humans or animals who suffer it, prevails will not last forever. It will not be found in Heaven, where, we are told, "the lion will lie down with the lamb", and as I have intimated earlier I see no reason why animals should not go to that place as well. And the animals, if they can get in, get in for free. Having no conception of sin, they do not have to meet the condition set by God for entry to the afterlife, i.e. that they must obey his will in all things and renounce all immoral conduct. They cannot be atheists or humanists, and cannot sin.
Whatever conclusions we may or may not come to about the extent of animal sentience we ought to ask whether it would be just for God to abandon His whole scheme, to deny Man Heaven by denying Him the means to make himself worthy of Heaven, because it was too hard on the animals, especially when we are not certain that an animal actually feels "pain" at all?
The idea of animals going to Heaven as a recompense for their earthly sufferings is absurd, although I think there are other reasons why they might be found there, since although there is ample evidence that they feel something akin to, if not identical with, pain there is nothing at all to suggest they at any time think "this pain is something so awful that I would like, and think I deserve", eternal happiness as a compensation for it." They do not have the concepts of tribulation, or of compensation for tribulation.
But we cannot say that the animals are less fortunate than Man. Man's suffering may have an ultimately good purpose, but he suffers nevertheless - perhaps more so, if C S Lewis is right - and the nature of that suffering is often hideous.