I have watched many youtube videos and engaged in many discussion with friends about the premises leading to the existence/not existence of God.. I usually see advocates of religion (usually abrahamic religions) stumble when they are asked about the reasons for which pain, sickness and hunger exist in the world? Why does a kid gets cancer when there is a just God? Why some people are born poor and die on the side of the street.

The answers I have gotten are usually something along the lines of: There is a purpose and wisdom to everything in life and its purpose may not yet be known to us; or our brain with its limited capacity may not fully understand.

Another answers I receive is: if a human being is poor or hungry it is the fault of the the rest of human race. Its because we are greedy and don't show enough compassion, we don't share/care enough, and generally speaking its the fault of the governments which are managed by incompetent and selfish individuals.

Are there any other reasons that can be in support of why there is pain, poverty, and sickness for some of us and health and happiness (albeit limited) for others?


3 Answers 3


Your question refers to the theological problem of theodicy: How to explain that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnigracious, but there are so many evils and pains in the world?

1) Concerning evil a well known proposal is due to Leibniz: Our world is the best possible word. From the set of all possible worlds God chooses for creation the one world with the fewest evils.

See Leibniz, Gottfried: The Theodicy (1710)

2) Leibniz himself does not cover the case of pain caused by natural catastrophies. But in an appendix to The Theodicy Leibniz reviews King, William: De Origine Mali (= An Essay on the Origin of Evil) (1702). Leibniz states in section 9 of the appendix

It is the same with inundations, earthquakes, thunderbolts and other disorders, which brute beasts do not fear, and which men have ordinarily no cause to fear, since there are few that suffer thereby.

Here Leibniz reviews in an affirmative way one of King's claim.

3) Whether Leibniz' Theodicy solves the problem of evil is controversial between theists and atheists. Concerning the problem of pain I do not know whether any contemporary theologian considers King's claim a valid argument.


When considering the question of evil, the easy part to explain is why there is pain, poverty and sickness, because if we truly understand the nature of our sinfulness, we realize that the world is much better than any of us deserve. Therefore, the real difficulty with the question of evil is understanding why some enjoy health and happiness in spite of the fallen nature of man. How does a just God endure the rampant corruption that goes on this world when it seems that justice would call for its immediate destruction? Hermann Bavinck answers as follows:

"Time and again Scripture refers to this mercy of God as it contrasts with the attitudes of humans. His mercy is great, without end, tender like that of a father, is shown to thousands, and after periods of chastisement returns. In the New Testament, God, the father of mercies, has revealed his mercy In Christ, who is a merciful high priest and further shows the richness of his mercy and the salvation of believers.

"The goodness of God, which spares those who are deserving of punishment, is called forbearance or patience. Scripture frequently mentions this attribute as well. It was made manifest throughout the time before Christ and even now, in accordance with the example of Christ, is still frequently displayed to sinners." (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, p. 213)

It's also important to understand that's everything that goes on in the world is under God's control. Nothing happens by chance, and many draw great comfort from knowing that all things are governed by His goodness. Charles Hodge speaks of God's providence as follows:

"As God is infinite in power and wisdom, He can control all events, and therefore the course of events must be in accordance with his will, because He can mould or direct that course at pleasure. It is, therefore, evident, first, that events must be the interpretation of his purposes, i.e., of what He intends shall happen; and secondly, that no objection can bear against the purpose or decrees of God, which does not bear equally against his providence." (Systematic Theology, vol. II, pg. 322)

The history of Joseph in the book of Genesis is a remarkable example of how God's goodness works through the sinful intentions of others. After Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, he forgave them for their wrongdoing and explained to them that it had all been planned my God from the start, saying:

"And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt." (Genesis 45:7-8)

Speaking on passages such as this, John Calvin has the following to say:

"If I mistake not, I have already shown clearly how the same act at once betrays the guilt of man, and manifests the righteousness of God. Modest minds will always be satisfied with Augustine’s answer, 'Since the Father delivered up the Son, Christ his own body, and Judas his Master, how in such a case is God just, and man guilty, but just because in the one act which they did, the reasons for which they did it are different?'" (Institutes I, Ch. 18, Sec. 4)

Herman Bavinck comments that God's glory is made the most evident when it is displayed in such contrasting contexts:

"Certainly, it cannot be denied that we witness God's sovereignty at its most brilliant when he a magnifies his wisdom in human folly, his strength in human weakness, and his grace and righteousness in human sin." (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, p. 245)

Of course, for justice to truly be just, all accounts must eventually be settled. And though there may be an apparent imbalance as the corrupt sometimes prosper in life, eventually all of us shall stand before the throne of God to give a reckoning:

"[F]or we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." (Romans 14:10-12)


It has been objected that I begin with my argument with the presupposition of the fallen nature of man and his consequent sinfulness. This question is easily resolved by appealing to the divine authority of God's Word:

"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" (Romans 3:23)

Of course, there are those who reject the authority of the Holy Scriptures as well as the sinful nature of man. It might be said that this is really the heart of the issue because it's not just a rejection of the Bible's authority, it's also the rejection of the testimony of their own conscience:

"For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus." (Romans 2:14-16)

Man's sinfulness is the very obstacle preventing the just recognition of God's authority. For that reason, its recognition can be thought of as a prerequisite to any meaningful treatment of the subject. The traditional idea of theodicy generally begins with the assumption that there is evident injustice in the world for which God needs to be defended. It also usually assumes that man is in some way qualified to render a verdict with respect to God's justice. I deny both of these assumptions, especially because it's a travesty to suggest that the very people who refuse to recognize their own sinfulness may rise up and stand in judgment of God.

For those who would take such a position, there's nothing more to say. No evidence and no cleverly formed arguments can ever suffice to overcome the blindness that results from a hardened heart. Repentance is the only solution for that, pleading for God's mercy to grant the redemption that was purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. For those who deny their own sinfulness, there remains no other recourse, and I refuse to enter into such a debate. As Bavinck so poignantly observed:

"[Scripture] does not put itself on a level below us to ask for our approving or disapproving judgment on it but takes a position high above us and insists that we should believe and obey. Scripture even expressly states that the unspiritual cannot understand the things of the Spirit, that they are folly to them, that they reject and deny them in a spirit of hostility (1 Cor 2:14). The revelation of God in Christ does not ask for the support or approval of human beings. It posits and maintains itself in sublime majesty. Its authority is normative as well as causative. It fights for its own victory. It itself conquers human hearts and makes itself irresistible." (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, p. 505)

  • 1
    You start your answer by presupposing "the nature of our sinfulness" and "the fallen nature of man". How do you argue that these presuppositions are correct? - I myself would reject the accusation to be sinful. And I take care not to make such far-reaching claim about the nature of man.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 22:05
  • @Jo Wehler. Excellent observation! For that reason, I edited my answer, appending some clarifications to the end.
    – user3017
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 2:04
  • That’s a clear answer. Following Paulus you accuse of being blind and hard-hearted those, who do not share your premiss. Because we are on “Philosophy beta”: What is the argumentative value of such strategy? You give a clear answer to the OP, but is it the best answer a religious advocate can give?
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 6:13
  • @Jo Wehler. I believe my answer at least strives for the best. It's all about trying to glorify God in his justice and moral excellence, so there's always room for improvement in that respect. I'll let someone else decide about the "argumentative value" because I have no idea what possible importance that could have.
    – user3017
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 9:11
  • @Jo Wehler. For the sake of argument, try to assume that I have presented the proper biblical interpretation as far as the epistemic prerequisites for recognizing the divine authority of God's Word. If that is accepted, then I'm sure you would agree that presenting the truth about sin to people is indispensable. Without doing so, they would forever remain in their blindness. You may characterize that as the accusing people if you want, but it's really about helping people come to understand the nature of their dilemma.
    – user3017
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 9:52

Hinduism (based on the Veds) deals with pain as a result of bad karma of past. If one can't see the cause of pain/suffering due to his/her bad karma in this life, Hinduism postulates that the bad karma happened in past births.

  • So according to Hinduism: If an innocent person suffers through no fault of his own, he must have done bad deeds in one of his previous lives. Don't you think this means to make someone feel guilty who suffers anyway?
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 7:22
  • @Jo Wehler The karma theory (which, I must note, is one of several theories in Hinduism on the subject) doesn't put guilt at the center, like say the doctrine of Original Sin. It is a theory centering on cause and effect. The suffering due to past is there, but, in theory, you can do good karma in the present to alleviate it or to at least reduce or limit it.
    – Madhur
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 8:12
  • If you want to avoide the term "guilt", I call it "to give a bad conscious to the person". And that I do not consider fair to the suffering person because the karma theory is an unproved hypothesis.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 9:24
  • @Jo Wehler. I am not avoiding the term 'guilt' but simply saying it is not the focus of karma. Focus of karma theory is action, even when pain/suffering is unfair, as the question asks. In fact, 'action' happens to be one of the meanings of the word 'karma'!
    – Madhur
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 9:33
  • The logic in the last sentence of your answer is an example of the strategy to immunise the karma hypothesis: If one cannot see the cause of pain/suffering, the cause is moved to a former life. And the latter claim can nobody confirm or refute.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 20:09

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