A Thought Experiment vs “Unjustified” Evil & Suffering



(The FreeThinking Theist)


June 24, 2019

Suppose you awoke tomorrow in a state of affairs in which suffering had ceased. Not only are you no longer experiencing suffering of any kind, but you became aware that all suffering had come to an end. There was no more suffering resulting from moral or natural evil — and even gratuitous animal suffering was nothing but a memory.

Is there any reason to think that it would stay that way?

In order to answer this question, take a short quiz:

Question #1:

Would you take this “suffering-free world” for granted or would you enjoy it? Would you say, “So what? No big deal,” or would you exclaim “this is the way things ought to be!”?

a) Yes, I would savor this suffering-free state of affairs. 

b) No, I would take this suffering-free state of affairs for granted. 

Next, suppose that you discovered that this new suffering-free state of affairs depends on you! It is up to YOU (as well as everyone else in that suffering-free state) to keep suffering of all kinds out of this world.

Question #2:

Would you do everything within YOUR power to ensure that no sentient being ever experienced suffering again?

a) Yes, I would do everything in my power to ensure that no being capable of suffering ever suffers again. 

b) No, I would not try to keep this world free from suffering. 

Now suppose that you realized that all you had to do — to ensure that this world would remain uninfected from any affliction and suffering ever again — was merely to follow a few simple rules. If you strove to follow these rules daily, then you would ensure that sentient life — including you — flourished into the infinite future with each day getting better than the previous day.

Question #3:

Would you do your best? Would you make a commitment to live according to these few simple rules — every day — into infinity and beyond?

a) Yes, I would do my best to follow these rules to make sure that no one, including myself, ever suffers again. 

b) No, I will not commit to live according to any rules! 

Next, suppose you discovered that the “rules” you needed to follow were exactly the rules known as “The Law of Christ” (John 14:15) in the New Testament.

Question #4:

Would you freely choose to commit to following the commands of Jesus, or would you say, “No thanks! I’d rather live according to my own set of rules — even if all kinds of suffering comes flooding back into the world!”?

a) Yes, I would gladly commit to following the commands of Christ into the infinite future (eternity).

b) No, I would never live according to those stupid commands!

If you answered in the affirmative to all of the above, then congratulations — you have learned from pain, evil, and suffering, and have chosen wisely. As the Apostle Paul makes clear in 2 Corinthians 4:17, these “light momentary afflictions” (suffering resulting from moral, natural, and even the awareness of gratuitous evils) have prepared you for an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison!” You have learned how things ought to be and also learned how stupid it is not to strive to follow the “rules” given to us from God. You are ready for Heaven!

If you answered in the negative to any of the above, you are either “still learning” and need to experience more suffering yourself and/or you need to be aware of much more suffering of others in the current state of affairs suffused with evil (that’s the best case scenario). Or perhaps you have made a commitment NOT to learn from suffering. That’s cool. God lets you have it your way into the infinite future. You simply will not be allowed to hang out with those of us who have learned how stupid it is not to follow the Law of Christ and to love God first and all people as ourselves (Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39)!

This thought experiment demonstrates that God allowing suffering — including what seems to be gratuitous evils — is justified (and perfectly loving) because we can learn from all kinds of suffering. That is to say, when we keep eternity in mind, these “light momentary afflictions,” as Paul describes them, make perfect sense.

Have it your way!

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton


A syllogism clarifies the above thought experiment via deduction:

1 – If God is omnibenevolent, then He desires genuine eternal love relations with humans.

2 – If God desires genuine eternal love relations with humans, then He creates humans with libertarian freedom (because):

2.1 – A genuine eternal love relationship between God and humans necessarily requires that humans possess libertarian freedom.

3 – If God creates humans with libertarian freedom, then He allows humans to experience suffering (because):

3.1 – Suffering can result from libertarian free humans.

3.2 – God created a world in which He knew that unless He permitted natural evil, some would not freely choose to eternally preserve the suffering-free state of affairs in the new heavens and new earth (2 Cor. 4:17). 

4 – God is omnibenevolent.

5 – Therefore, God (since he is omnibenevolent) allows humans to experience suffering.


About the Author



(The FreeThinking Theist)

Timothy A. Stratton (PhD, North-West University) is a professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. As a former youth pastor, he is now devoted to answering deep theological and philosophical questions he first encountered from inquisitive teens in his church youth group. Stratton is founder and president of FreeThinking Ministries, a web-based apologetics ministry. Stratton speaks on church and college campuses around the country and offers regular videos on FreeThinking Ministries’ YouTube channel.

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