OBJECTION #3: “It is impossible that God could use our suffering for a sufficient purpose.”

Atheist Walter Sinnott-Armstrong writes, “Anyone can try to defend any action, no matter how horrible, by saying that it is justified by some reason that we do not see.”[1] Is this objection reasonable?

First, this is an argument from ignorance. This is similar to saying, “I don’t understand jet propulsion; therefore, airplanes cannot possibly fly.” While we might not personally understand the purpose of our suffering, God might be able to understand this from his omniscient vantage point. We might not be able to see how God uses suffering, but this might only be because we are finite and limited. Therefore, this statement is more of a reflection on the individual than it is on God.

Years ago, I was on babysitting duty for friends of ours. At one point, while we were running around in the backyard, the little three year old kid fell and skinned his knee. I moved in, scooped him up, and took him inside to patch him up. I made my best attempt at cleaning the knee, as the kid squirmed with agony. But, I’m sure you could imagine how hard this was to accomplish.

After I cleaned his knee, I knew that I eventually had to dab the wound with disinfectant, so it wouldn’t get infected. Ideally, I would have liked to explain what I was doing to the crying, three year old child. I was trying to help him by pouring disinfectant on his skinned knee. But, as the kid sat there crying, I knew it was impossible to explain difficult concepts like “germs” or “bacterial infection” or “leg amputation.” In fact, this might scare him even more, if he did understand! Instead, I simply had to put the disinfectant on his knee for his own good –with or without his permission.

Of course, after I did this, the child screamed in agony.

He looked up at me with big crocodile tears in his eyes, as if to say: “How could you ever put me through this?! I thought we were friends! Why would you put me through suffering, if you say that you care about me?!” Of course, if the kid could understand, he would’ve seen that I was allowing him to undergo the pain of the disinfectant, so that he could be ultimately healed. However, from his limited vantage point, this was impossible for him to grasp.

As you consider this illustration, ask yourself: If I can know something that the three year’s suffering that he doesn’t know, isn’t it possible (even probable) that God knows something about my suffering that I don’t? Of course, you or I might feel infinitely more intelligent than a three year old, but we probably look no more intelligent than a termite compared with an all-knowing Being. For this reason, it is at best a statement of ignorance to claim that our suffering is without purpose, when God could see a clear purpose from his all-knowing perspective.

Second, consider the butterfly effect. The most inconsequential acts in history can be used in the later historical landscape in ways we cannot conceive. For example, imagine what would have happened if Abraham Lincoln was never born. Surely, the history of the United States would be drastically different. But, consider how many small details in Abe’s life had to fall into place, in order for him to be born. The night Abe was conceived by his parents, consider if his dad was supposed to work late, but instead, he was sent home early to be with his wife. This seemingly inconsequential detail (e.g. being sent home early from work) probably didn’t seem too important at the time. However, if this hadn’t occurred, American history would have been radically different.

We can multiply the butterfly effect exponentially, when we consider the future eternal landscape: How many seemingly inconsequential actions on Earth will turn out to have eternal ramification? A lot of suffering might have no purpose in this life, but it certainly could have great purpose in the next.

Third, the Bible has several examples of this good-out-of-bad paradigm. For example, Stephen is killed, so that Paul can be called, as the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 7:54ff and Acts 9:1-5). Joseph is tortured, so that the nation of Israel could be saved (Genesis 50:20). Most importantly, Jesus was killed, so that people could be brought into heaven (Acts 2:22-24). Imagine the women at the foot of the Cross. They were probably thinking: “God, how could you let this happen? Jesus is innocent. He’s done nothing wrong! How can you let him be tortured and killed? This is completely unjust!” And yet, God used the greatest conceivable Evil (e.g. torture of his sinless Son), and he turned it into the greatest conceivable Good (e.g. the salvation of hopeless sinners). Over and over, when you read the Bible, you see horrible acts of evil and suffering. However, then you turn the page. And then, you find that God had a remarkable purpose behind the entire event.

Fourth, suffering often draws us to God. It’s amazing how little we consider God when we are splurging on vacations, but we call out to him, when we’re outside of an emergency room at three in the morning. C.S. Lewis writes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”[2] This must be what Jesus was claiming, when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt. 5:4). God might actually use suffering like this to draw us into a knowledge of Christ.

Suffering Might Draw Us to Christ[3]






Mao’s cultural revolution killed off 20 million Chinese.


30 to 75 million people have come to a knowledge of Christ.

El Salvador

12 year civil war, earthquakes, and severe poverty.


El Salvador was 2.3% evangelical Christian. Now they are 20%.


Repression, famine, and war.


Ethiopia was .8% Christian. Now they are 13%.

My wife was born in Viet Nam, and she lived in a refugee camp for two years. In retrospect, she claims that this had a lot to do with her coming to know Christ. She wouldn’t trade that suffering, because it brought her the eventual joy of knowing Christ. Therefore, if coming to Christ is the greatest good, and suffering might draw us to God, then isn’t it possible that our world of suffering is actually bringing about the greatest conceivable world? Geisler writes that this world is not the best possible world, but “this evil world is the best possible way to the best world.”[4]

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[1] Craig, William Lane., and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. God?: a Debate between a Christian and an Atheist. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. 95.

[2] Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. New York: Macmillan, 1962. 62.

[3] Moreland, James Porter, and William Lane. Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003. 545.

[4] Geisler, Norman L. The Roots of Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1978. 45.