How would you respond to this question?

A person asked my husband, who asked me, and now I’m asking CAF: “If God is all powerful, all knowing etc. etc., then why doesn’t He just tell us the cure for cancer?”

For my part, I said that God is not answerable to us, and who are we to ask of Him these things? I said, “Why did He let us discover penicillin? Why didn’t He just tell us about it? Why did He let us discover all the medicines we know of today? People get cancer for a reason, even if we don’t understand why. They can either use it to good, or don’t do anything with it. They can either use it for redemptive suffering, and receive graces that could touch thousands, or not use it and it goes nowhere.”

But my husband reminded me this person is an atheist, with no religious background (that we are aware of), so any sound answers my husband gives him, aren’t listened to. Yet, interestingly, this person keeps asking. :shrug: Either way, the answer I gave above, would not be understood, or acceptable in his view.

So, this is a long about way of asking, what is your opinion? Is there anything we can say to this person that is a “sound enough” answer?

Thank you for your input!

My answer: ‘It is hard to communicate, when no one is listening.’

Perhaps say “God probably did send us someone with the cure for cancer. Unfortunately he was aborted.”:mad:

I suppose I would try to point out that God’s agenda might be different from ours. If the Christians are right, God is much more concerned with how we prepare ourselves for Heaven than with how comfortable we are in the world.

As an example, the general idea in the world is that a quick, painless death in one’s sleep is optimal (probably surrounded by the expensive possessions one has accumulated during life). For Catholics, however, a little time to look death in the eye might be considered very beneficial. I certainly want to see death coming. I’d rather have time to prepare for death and offer suffering up to God while I’m still breathing, even if that breath is coming in ragged gasps.

Anyway, the assumption that God wants exactly what we want isn’t confined to atheists. Plenty of Catholics rationalize away truths of the faith and moral responsibility by assuming that God would want them to be “happy”.

The question pre-supposes that an all-powerful, all-knowing God would be obligated to tell us how to cure cancer. This is an inferential claim that is not supported by the premise of an all-powerful, all-knowing God, so the conclusion your husband’s friend would like to draw (that there is no God) would be false. Essentially, the questioner is attempting to judge an all-powerful, all-knowing being by human standards; this is a logical non-starter, whether a person believes in God or not. The argument fails.

Your husband’s friend is doing what many people do: simply making a claim, or gainsaying what others say. This is not a logical argument, it’s just a contradiction of our claim that God is all-powerful and all-knowing.

Atheist (albeit very neutral, and with some religious background) weighing in. :thumbsup:

The question you were asked is one that is fairly common, and I have actually asked similar questions (given, the person whom I ask has consented to me asking them. I don’t run around handing out flyers for atheism or anything :D). The idea is basically just this following list of logical statements:

God loves us
God is ALL POWERFUL (meaning he can do whatever he pleases)
Suffering exists.

If god loves us, and is all powerful, why does suffering exist?

My background and standing being what it is, I don’t have an answer to that other than “god doesn’t exist OR one of the statements isn’t true”. This may not be true for you, I cannot see your thinking pattern (And I’m not saying it’s wrong. Just different than mine) Non Sum Dignas gives an answer I never thought of or had heard and while it isn’t one I believe, it is still valid. Tough love, basically.

Knowing most people who would ask that kind of question outright, they won’t be satisfied with any answer you give them. Maybe just tell them that you don’t feel it’s appropriate discussion (and frankly, it’s fairly rude…) and if they continue…well I see no reason to keep speaking to the person.

Hope I’ve helped shed some light on that persons thinking.

Tough love might be a part of it, but I was thinking more in terms of a different order of priority. I’ll try an example outside of Christianity. Imagine a man climbing the peaks of the Himalayas to seek the Dalai Lama’s advice on getting a nicer car so he can impress girls. The man certainly perceives that nice car as an objective good to be pursued, and he might even be right. Nice cars are, after all, nice. But the ascetic Dalai Lama hasn’t spent his life meditating on shiny machines that help us to attract a mate.

That’s not really tough love. It’s the difference between thinking materially and thinking spiritually. If we’re not directing ourselves toward something beyond mortal existence (and it would be strange for an atheist to do so), we tend to think more immediately and assume that the greatest goods are those achievable in concrete terms during our temporal lives.

God clearly isn’t completely opposed to suffering, since he sent his Son to suffer for us. In fact, suffering and sacrifice may be the clearest ways to demonstrate love. There’s a place for it in Christian thought, but it requires a non-intuitive perspective to see suffering as a potential good. Have I clarified the position at all?

TylerEast - nicest answer I’ve seen from an atheist in a long time. Thanks!

Here’s the thing, in my experience. Some atheists are seeking Truth. I don’t have a problem with that, even if the arguments are sometimes rude or ill-formed. I have to think that someone who is a sincere seeker of Truth will find Him.

On the other hand, there are atheists who are simply seeking to be right – to win arguments (not necessarily the logical kind, either) for the sake of their own self-aggrandizement. It’s a form of bullying, really. These are people who, in my opinion, would not recognize Truth if it smacked them upside the head. Sustaining a “conversation” (long, protracted emotional dispute) with these folks is a waste of everyone’s time. With them, it is better to just provide at most one answer and then proceed to witness to the Truth through my own life, and let my joy show. With God’s grace, they will wonder about my happiness and peace, and will look further into the reason for it.

There are people like that on both sides mate :slight_smile: I could name a few on this very forum that are arguing religion for the sake of being right. I don’t really divide people into religious and non-religious. More into the groups of open minded and searching the truth and NON-open minded and interested in being right. My search for truth has led me in a different direction than many other people but we all share the same goals :slight_smile:

But yeah, I tend to be very nice. If anyone has any questions about atheism or any sort of “looking from the outside in” kind of questions, feel free to come to me. I promise I dont bite :smiley:

@Non Sum: Good point. Now I see what you’re saying. He has a different goal in mind than we do.


For me, the answer to some questions is, “I don’t know.” The truth is, we don’t understand everything about God. I’m okay with that. For some people that’s unacceptable.

In order to accept all these statements as true, we must also believe that not all suffering is bad. Or that sometimes suffering can lessen future suffering. (the pain of a Novocaine injection, for example)

Why does God not just give us the cure for cancer? I don’t know.

This forum really needs a rating system. There are people on here I want to + rep a bunch (such as the case above.) and some that make me want the person banned (very hateful, close minded, and very little actual information their posts -.-)

So your answer to that question is “I don’t know” and you place your trust in God to know what He is doing, correct?

Of course.

Thank you all for the comments! I’m really glad to have gotten so many responses, and it’s so cool to read the different kinds of replies. I feel I can’t put into words the overall statement I get, but I feel like I’ve gotten clarification, at least for myself, nonetheless :smiley: Thank you!!

The error here is in conflating “loves us” with “doesn’t want us to suffer.”

To love someone (in the Biblical sense, not the hippy-dippy modern emotive sense) is to will what’s best for them. What’s best for them is, among other things, justice, which means allowing them to suffer if in fact they deserve to suffer. Some people deserve to suffer. QED.

Because the error itself is rooted in utilitarianism, which is a whole other kind of error. Nothing’s worse than pain, right? But that’s only true if you a priori reject Christianity. If you a priori reject Christianity, of course it won’t make sense to you.

Why didn’t god make fire burn-proof or water drown-proof? Why didn’t god make cliffs fall-proof, or at least put up a warning sign? Why didn’t god tell us which mushrooms are poisonous? I understand the atheist position to a point but seriously, what does an atheist expect from a god that does not exist?

I would answer, “Good point, you’re probably right… it doesn’t make sense.”

I’d say, “We don’t know, but we don’t have to. We trust that God is all good, and so we have faith that the reason we don’t have a cure is directed toward a good end.”

When asked why I trust that God is all good, I’d recommend him to study Thomism; “The Last Superstition” might be too heavily polemic for an atheist, but “Aquinas” is more scholarly and still extremely readable.

Justice? OK, let’s talk about justice, then.

The main example provided was cancer.

Cancer is, to an extent, indiscriminate. Yes, certain behaviors provoke certain cancers, but cancers can also be genetic, or caused through no direct fault of the victim.

Further, if we expand this concept to include all serious diseases, then we must recognize that some diseases have been cured by man.

Therefore, the concept of disease as a “tool of God’s justice” is flawed unless:

  1. You accept the idea that man is able to thwart God’s deliverance of justice by looking into a microscope and thus God’s justice is weak (defeat-able by man’s hands) and unnecessary (in which case, why hasn’t God cured a single disease?)

  2. You define justice in such a way that it is indiscriminate, choosing a selection from among the guilty and punishing them at random. This defies nearly every human conception of justice, dating back to the words of Pericles in 431 BC. The human conscience revolts against it, the same conscience which God has written upon. When we now encounter cases where grievous criminals escape justice, it is due to our lack of power (which God is not lacking for) or else some miscarriage of justice which is widely reviled.

What about this choice?

  1. People who die of cancer get what they deserve just like everybody else. We just don’t see it ourselves since justice is ultimately fulfilled after death.

Then that would mean cancer is not a tool of justice (administering justice) but a summons to appear in court. So it’s irrelevant. Right? The poster specifically spoke of people who “deserve to die” not people who “deserve to have their eternal judgment issued in a more prompt manner.”

In any event, I would assume you know or have known someone with cancer (or any other serious disease) and thus realize that a mere summons is not an apt analogy to describe the pain that it causes.

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