Why Does an All-Loving God Tolerate So Much Suffering?

Why Does an All-Loving God Tolerate So Much Suffering? March 4, 2024

Recently, I wrote about the Super Bowl ad “He Gets Us.” In the comments section, a reader made the following observation about suffering that I want to explore. This reader often claims that the unnecessary suffering of children proves an “All-powerful, All-knowing, All-loving God” cannot exist.

Giving weight to real world data means that I cannot achieve the level of self-deception that is necessary to believe in an All-powerful, All-knowing, All-loving God. It is very likely that there is a God, but the undeserved suffering of children in the real world means that one or more of those “All” attributes is false. In fact, the “God given free will” theobable that is used to explain the undeserved suffering of children in the real world is itself nothing but a fabricated excuse.

I challenged this reader with the following:

What real world data do you have to know how much evil an All-powerful, All-knowing, and All-loving God will tolerate?

They retorted that the issue is not “evil” but underserved suffering.

I have no idea how much evil such a God will tolerate. But “evil” is not the issue. “Evil” is a very abstract and generalized term. The specific issue is undeserved suffering. A truly All-powerful, All-knowing, All-loving God would not tolerate the starvation death of even one child. Since God clearly does tolerate children dying of starvation, one or more of those All’s is mistaken. Since Jesus by His life and actions seems to have confirmed God’s All-loving character, it must be that the All-knowing or All-powerful or both are lies.

Sorry for the long quotations. I thought this would provide the proper context.

For this article, I explore the “Alls” listed above and how they relate to God’s toleration of underserved suffering. Furthermore, I reflect on Jesus’ life and actions as a reflection of God’s “All-loving character.” Do the life and actions of Jesus show God as “All-loving,” yet not “All-knowing” and “All-powerful?” How does Jesus’ suffering death (an undeserved death) fit into a discussion of God’s toleration of suffering?


First, some definitions.

All-Power (Omnipotence)

The power of God to effect whatever is not intrinsically impossible. The universality of the object of the Divine power is not merely relative but absolute, so that the true nature of omnipotence is not clearly expressed by saying that God can do all things that are possible to Him; it requires the further statement that all things are possible to God. The intrinsically impossible is the self-contradictory, and its mutually exclusive elements could result only in nothingness.

All-Knowing (Omniscient)

God is omniscient or possesses the most perfect knowledge of all things, follows from His infinite perfection. In the first place He knows and comprehends Himself fully and adequately, and in the next place He knows all created objects and comprehends their finite and contingent mode of being.

All-Loving (Omnibenevolence)

This definition comes from multiple sources.

God is all-good. Possessing perfect or unlimited goodness. God’s goodness is tied to His all-lovingness.

221 But St. John goes even further when he affirms that “God is love”: God’s very being is love. By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange.

The Problem of Suffering (Evil)

The problem of undeserved suffering brought up by the reader is commonly known as The Problem of Suffering (Evil). The most popular version comes from the atheist philosopher, J.L Mackie. His Logical Problem From Evil posits that the Christian God cannot exist because contradictions exist between what Christians assert God is:

  1. God is omniscient (all-knowing)
  2. God is omnipotent (all-powerful)
  3. God is omnibenevolent (morally perfect)
  4. There is evil in the world

Concluding from this, one must come accept “that a God with the attributes (1-3), must know about all evil, would be capable of preventing it, and as morally perfect would be motivated to do so.” As pointed out by the reader, given these premises, God either does not exist, or is powerless, ignorant, or evil.

Plantinga’s Free Will Response

Moreover, the most comprehensive response to Mackie’s argument comes from analytic philosopher (and Christian) Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga’s free will defense counters that:

Mackie’s argument fails to establish an explicit logical contradiction. He contends that the contraction originates from the atheist (referred to an atheologian) unstated implicit assumptions. For example:

  1. God’s omnipotence does not mean that he can do anything, even logically impossible things, like create square circles. Likewise, God cannot create creatures with free will unable to choose evil.
  2. The moral value of free will provides God with a morally justified reason in permitting the existence of evil.

Plantinga states:

A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.

The Life, Actions, and Suffering of Jesus

As stated above, the reader commented that the life and actions of Jesus “confirmed God’s All-loving character.” However, when we look at His innocent life, and His good actions in healing the sick and feeding the hungry, in light of His horrific death (which includes extreme and undeserved suffering), we see an All-loving God allowing the most extreme example of underserved suffering. Now Christians understand this event as Jesus offering Himself up freely for the sins of the world (Hebrews 9:11-14). Therefore, as stated in the Catechism above, “By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange.”

In this “sending” out of love for humanity, God allowed for the immense and underserved suffering of Jesus. Furthermore, in the life, actions, underserved suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God showed His great love.

Final Thoughts…

To sum up, God allows for a great deal of suffering, as we see in our world. He does so because He sees moral value in free will. Moreover, just as God cannot create a square circle, He cannot also create creatures with free will and the inability to choose evil (or inflict underserved suffering on others, even children). Finally, God used the greatest example of underserved suffering to bring out the greatest good for the human race in the person of Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection.

Thank you!

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