God is all-powerful and all-loving, yet evil exists. The classic problem of evil has baffled believers and provided ammunition for sceptics for centuries. Now, though, a new book from the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics argues that there are many different answers to the problem of pain and suffering – but it's when they're seen together that the defence is strongest.
In Why Suffering? Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn't Make Sense, Dr Ravi Zacharias and Dr Vince Vitale acknowledge that for many people, the problem of pain is the greatest objection to Christianity there is.
However, there are multiple answers to the problem which speak into different situations at different times.
Vitale told Christian Today that they were "like a jury with a multiplicity of witnesses all supporting the goodness of the defendant. The testimony of the witnesses taken together will be much stronger than any one witness on her own."
Among the insights they share are that "Wishing God had made a different world is to wish yourself out of existence" and "Relational knowledge about God takes the argument beyond reason to the presence of God amidst suffering."
"In another new approach we make an analogy between divine creation and human procreation," Vitale said. "We ask those who think evil disproves God to consider the following question: If it is immoral to create beings in an environment that includes the possibility of serious suffering, then is it immoral for human parents to have a child?
"We suggest that the same reasons for thinking having a child can be an act of love are also reasons for believing divine creation can be an act of love."
He said: "We wanted to write something that would be helpful for seekers and Christians alike, for those with intellectual questions and for those who are hurting. We wanted to help show that the intellectual and emotional challenges are deeply related, and that there are not just one or two Christian responses to suffering but rather the variety of responses one would expect from a God who loves each and every person and desires to meet us amidst the great variety of circumstances and challenges we find ourselves in."
He added: "The challenge, I find, is that what each person needs when suffering is very personal. There is no one-size-fits-all.
"I once responded to my Aunt Regina's questions about suffering with a more philosophical answer, and she responded, 'But Vince, that doesn't speak to me as a mother.' Since that conversation I have listened and prayed much longer before thinking I know what someone needs."
He added: "While pain can be a great obstacle, it is also one of the greatest reasons to turn to God. The more seriously we take the problem of suffering – indeed the more seriously we take the people who suffer – the more we will be led to trust the God who can do something about it."