Suffering as an Argument for God

Just finished reading Andrea Palpant Dilley’s Faith and Other Flat Tires (Zondervan) and found a lot to like and ruminate on. (She’s a young writer, sort of a cross between Lauren Winner and Anne Lamott (on valium), without the book sales, as yet, of either.) One point she makes that I find interesting is that, for her, the fact of suffering seems more an argument for the existence of God than an argument against God. This is the opposite of what most, including defenders of God, have supposed over the centuries.

Here’s what she says:

“Sometimes I think the problem of evil in a strange, counterintuitive way actually points toward God. . . . Like the human experience is too dark to be meaningless. . . . If we lived in a godless world, I would expect to feel physical pain. We’d be all body, no soul. But I wouldn’t expect the kind of intense, existential pain that we experience as part of the human condition. That kind of suffering seems like it would only exist in a world where God exists, where the soul exists. The loss we feel must mean something. It’s too pointed to be meaningless.”

This is not presented as an airtight argument—one can of course quibble with any “must” in this kind reflection—but I think she’s on to something. Fundamentalist secularists argue that life came from nonlife—a big jump but one we have gotten used to (especially if we act like evolutionary explanations about the present forms of life also explain everything about the origins of life—which they don’t). But it’s an even bigger jump from assuming that nothing transcends the material (as materialists must) to the belief that one can have genuine right and wrong in the world that is anything more than an expression of preference. (That is, the great difficulty of getting from is to ought if one thinks everything can be explained as chemicals and the collision of atoms.)

Dilley is suggesting that deep, existential pain (as opposed to physical, material pain) is a clue (not a proof) that there may be more to us and to the universe than pure secularism can allow. And that it is linked to our being made in the image of God (who, by the way, also suffers).

Something to chew on.