Some people reject Christianity by saying that they cannot understand how a good, all-powerful God could allow suffering. Obviously this is a complex objection that cannot be answered in one blog post, but I think it ignores an equally troubling question. If there is no God, how can we explain the opposite of suffering: happiness and pleasure?
You see, everyone must give some explanation for suffering, because it troubles everyone. Bodies ache, unkindness stings, depression hurts, diseases destroy. Suffering would not be remarkable unless it was not juxtaposed with happiness and pleasure.
C.S. Lewis puts it this way, “Pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that ultimate reality is righteous and loving.” Pain would not trouble us if pleasure did not exist. Pain would just be our experience.
But, obviously, happiness and pleasure do exist. A scientist explains this by saying that through evolution we developed nerves, which made bad things painful (those things which prevented us from reproducing, like disease, sickness, dismemberment, and death), and good things pleasurable (sex, and perhaps the communal instinct). But believing this mythology is like mistaking an olympic pool for an ocean. Science is too shallow to explain both suffering and happiness.
First of all, it does not explain why we enjoy things which have nothing to do with passing on our genes, like sunsets, art, music, fame, appreciation, kindness, and understanding. Second of all, it does not explain why some things, which do pass on our genes, feel painful, like sexual abuse and rape. The reality is that pain points to something far darker than an inability to procreate, and that pleasure points to a reality far more glorious than natural selection.
Only Christianity makes space for these two realities. There is horrific evil produced by the fall, and wonderful glory revealed in God on the cross. And isn’t the the cross the most paradoxical conglomeration of these realities? Jesus suffering the worst pain, God’s wrath for our sin, to make available to us the most supreme happiness: life with him in heaven.