The problems of evil and suffering

An overview of Unit 3 of Religious Philosophy and Ultimate Questions

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  • Created by: Kate
  • Created on: 14-05-12 07:35

The problem of suffering

Suffering: when people have to face and live with unpleasant events or conditions

Responsibility: duty, the idea that we are all in charge of our own actions

Suffering raises problems for theists, who beileve God is benevolent, omniscient and omnipotent

  • If God is benevolent, why does he allow us to be hurt?
  • As if he is omniscient, he must know that suffering happens - surely it would be his responsibility to stop it?
  • As if he is omnipotent he must be able to stop it

Why did God create a world with death and destruction in the first place?

Why does he allow innocent people and children to suffer?

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Reasons for suffering

Natural suffering: suffering caused by nature - some people would say that tis is caused by God as it is out of our control. However, others might say that God is not to blame as the forces that cause natural disasters are also those that helped create the earth and a life sustaining environment

Man-made suffering: suffering caused by the actions of humans - hurting themselves or others by accident or deliberatly. This is because of free will. Some argue that this is Gods fault becuase he created free will and knew that we would make mistakes. Others argue that it is just human nature - making mistakes makes us people

Sometimes suffering can be both natural and man-made - for example a slow response to a natural disaster

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Is suffering unjust? Does it have purpose?

Just: fair or right

These are some ways theists may argue against suffering being pointless

  • Some suffering is neccessary to keep us alive - pain tells us something is wrong e.g. toothache allows us to do something to prevent the serious infection
  • Suffering temporarily can make us appreciate things that we take for granted
  • It can make us better and stronger people by the courage it takes to get through it - e.g. unity and self-sacrifice in wars
  • some people suffer to achieve a goal e.g. childbirth
  • suffering can challenge people's faith
  • It can be a punishment for sin and show us when we do things wrong to change for the better/ go back to God
  • Suffering is part of God's plan which we cannot explain now but will understand later
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Religious explanations for suffering

Christianity teaches suffering is a result of human free will - as shown by Adam and Eve (by disobeying God they brought suffering and pain into the world. some people think that the devil tempts people. By Jesus's innocent suffering they believe that Jesus allowed forgiveness and that death is not the end

Judaism teaches about Adam and Eve and free will. Also that God uses suffering to train and discipline people

Islam teaches that Allah gave Adam the world to look after but also free will. Evil was given the job of testing peoples faith through suffering,  but he does not test people more than they can bear

Hinduism teaches that suffering is a result of bad karma in this life and past lives

Christians, Jews and Muslims think that suffering is a result of free will

Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists think that suffering is a result of past actions

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Religious responses to suffering

Christianity teaches Christians should trust in God to help them through suffering, and feel compassion and actively help those who are suffering, taking Jesus's example

Judaism teaches to help those who are suffering. Charity is a duty from God and should be carried out so that the needy are able to retain their self respect

Islam teaches people who cause others to suffer will be judged on the Day of Judgement. Muslims should show compassion, but also have to give a percentage of their earnings to the poor

Hinduism have a tradition of helping family, communities and holy men. It is their duty to give and share with those in need

All of the major religions have organisations that deal with those in need

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Evil: the opposite of good. A force or the personification of a negative power that is seen in many traditions as destructive and against God. It is usually used to describe something harmful - it is the cause of much suffering

  • Impersonal force: evil is something beyond people's control that draws people to do evil. Sometimes when bad things happen for no reason people may say that this force is at work
  • Personal being: evil is an evil spirit or devil rather than an impersonal force. This is mostly Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The devil tricks people into doing wrong
  • Psychological phenomenon: evil is something that arises from the mind of the person - influenced by society, their upbringing and mental health

These raise questions as to whether people can be evil or if they simply do evil actions

  • Evil is God's fault - he gave us free will so allowed evil to exist
  • Evil is our fault -we make the choice ourselves to commit evil - God does not force us
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The problem of evil

Questions for believers:

  • if God is good, why did he create a world containing evil
  • If God is benevolent, why would he want us to behave badly - like a parent wants good children
  • If God is omnipotent why doesn't he stop people doing evil
  • If God is omniscient he knew that free will would lead to evil
  • Some theists say that everything that happens is God's will - is evil God's will?


  • the fact that God allowed us choices shows his love as it allows us to be individuals, despite the risk of evil. He allows us to make mistakes so that we learn from them
  • If he controlled someone every time they were about to do evil they would not have free will
  • Not everything that happens is God's will. Free will means that evil happens despite God not wanting it
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Religious explainations for evil

Christianity teaches that everything God made was perfect - Adam and Eve caused evil to be brought into the world when they were tempted by satan - evil is caused by disobedience from God

Judaism teaches that God created everything, including evil, which he can control as he is omnipotent. Satan represents straying from God. He created evil to allow people the freedom to have real choices - he doesn't want to force them to follow him

Hinduism teaches that evil is part of the cycle of life. God is all light and so he could not have created it. Evil is the absence of light - it is there when people turn away from God

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Religious responses to evil

Christianity teaches that when evil is done to you you must "turn the other cheek". You must forgive others, so that you will be forgiven when you do wrong

Judaism believes that God has made a covenant with them that he will protect them if they keep his laws. Evil doers can expect punishment. The Holocaust was regarded as a huge test of Jewish faith in God and they have campaigned for human rights to prevemt the evil happening again

Islam teaches that people must live with complete submission to Allah's will and peace. The Qur'an teaches Muslims to stand up for justice

Hinduism teaches meditaiton and yoga to try and overcome selfishness. They respect life and do not harm living things. When facing evil, many Hindus are inspired by Ghandi's non-violence

Religious people try to overcome evil by protesting about it in society and trying to get rid of it in their own lives

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