Answering “Questions Christians Can’t Answer” #7 – Suffering Children?

Children death

50 Questions Christians Can’t Answer.” This is the challenge that atheist R. E. Pucket casts out in his 2009 article. Pucket, once a Christian himself, became disillusioned from the system because of all the questions it failed to answer. Now, in order to deflect the attempts of Christians to save his soul (presumably people close to him when he was once a Christian), Pucket has compiled list upon list of things Christians seem to be unable to comprehend, deal with, or handle.

Pucket is not interested in spiritual rationalizations based in faith. He wants rational, logical answers and – if possible – testable evidence.

This article series seeks to answer each one of Pucket’s fifty questions – one at a time. Today’s is a very familiar question, indeed.

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7.) Why do innocent children have to suffer with terminal diseases such as cancer? What part of ‘God’s plan’ is this exactly?

Today’s question is a very familiar one, and is a subset of question #3, which asks why a perfect God would create an imperfect world. Giving a blanket answer that explains the rationale behind every particular instance of suffering may not be possible, so let’s examine the question itself: why is the suffering and death of children any more objectionable than the suffering and death of adults? There are two possibilities: either the question assumes that children do not deserve to suffer because they are innocent on account of their reliance on adults both to instruct them in the particulars of ethics and morality, their limited capacity to make informed choices, and the limit of their access to really damaging actions. Or the question assumes that there is some value in living a full life of which these children are robbed by their early demise.
The first objection assumes some kind of karmic system of reward and punishment based on a person’s innocence or guilt. This is not the view of the Bible. Paul says“I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Suffering, if it leads to some ultimate existential fulfillment, is not necessarily a bad thing. Nor is comfort, if it gives no purpose or fulfillment, a good thing.

Think, for instance, of children living in poverty or with chronic illness, and yet seem happy and fulfilled. Consider Romano and Turner’s 1985 paper “Chronic pain and depression: does the evidence support a relationship?” Which states, among other things, that the link between chronic pain and depression is not as clear cut as one might suppose. A person may still be personally fulfilled in the presence of pain. Then add Christianity to the mix. A person’s pain and suffering frequently drive them to Christianity. And not to no end. The study  “The relationship between religion/spirituality and physical health, mental health, and pain in a chronic pain population[1]” found that religious beliefs can offer relief and personal fulfillment in the presence of suffering.

Opposite studies, such as Regnerus and Uecker’s book Premarital Sex in America (2011), find that pleasurable activities, such as frequent of sexual experiences can actually be a contributor to depression. One need only look at the tabloids that having all the comforts of life does not lead to satisfaction or fulfillment.

The very fact that personal fulfillment are not directly linked to pain and comfort indicates some transcendent value which exists above physical experience.

If the objection is early death rather than physical comfort, then one would have to question which is the optimal age at which a person’s death is justified? When have they achieved their purpose or meaning so that they may pass away without complaint? On the Christian worldview, it is entirely possible that this child has achieved some kind of purpose or fulfillment at an early age. Their earthly purpose being accomplished, they go to an eternal reward, and are thus spared an entire lifetime of earthly difficulties.
It should be pointed out that Christianity is arguably the ONLY system of belief that provides comfort and hope in the suffering of a child. In order for the objection to hold water, one would have to explain on the Christian worldview how the suffering of a child is a problem.

 

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