Oxford Christian apologist Vince Vitale recently released a book he co-authored with theologian Ravi Zacharias that deals with suffering, why it exists and how Christians can explain it.
Vitale recently spoke with The Christian Post about the book, titled Why Suffering?: Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn't Make Sense, where he discusses how suffering can shape someone's future and identity, and the existence of evil in the world. He also addresses skeptics who might call God evil for creating people in a world where they are destined to suffer and die.
"We might be tempted to think that it's always wrong to create someone in an environment in which we know that they will suffer significantly," said Vitale. "And that might be the claim that the atheist or the person who's skeptical of God makes. They might say God has to either not exist or be evil because otherwise he would never create someone in an environment in which he knew they were going to suffer."
Vitale argued that based on that belief, both atheists and skeptics would not have to only deem God evil, but also any person that decides to have children in this world that contains death and suffering.
"It's still true in having a child we are choosing to procreate in such a way that we know full well we're bringing someone into an environment where they will suffer significantly and one day they will die, so unless we want to say that all procreation is immoral then I don't think we're going to be able to say that God's decision to create us in a world in which He was able to foreknow that we would suffer could be immoral because of that," he said.
Vitale feels it would make more sense to ask questions about the kind of parent that God is in the same way we would look at earthly parents.
"When we think about human parents having a child we don't think that they're immoral just because they've had a child," he said. "We have to ask further questions about whether they were willing to be there with their children through the suffering, whether they were willing to make sacrifices on behalf of their child to make sure that the suffering could be overcome in the end."
Vitale believes people should examine God in this same way. Was God willing to suffer alongside His creation?
The Oxford apologist also discussed God using suffering to grow Christians in their faith.
"I don't know all of the different ways in which God can allow people to grow and to mature in life and in the Christian faith," said Vitale to The Christian Post. "But it certainly does seem like one of the ways is through suffering, which is not to say that He desires suffering in the beginning, it's not to say that He caused suffering or intended it.
"We don't need to say any of those things in order to be able to say that He's at work through suffering, that He matures people through it, and often times that we get the greatest glimpse of God and depth of intimacy with God through suffering that might not otherwise be possible."
Vitale also explained how there's a special depth of relationship that is made possible when two or more people suffer through a trial together. This same bond and intimacy will just not be possible in relationships where suffering is absent. Some examples include people who have survived natural disasters together, or those who supported one another while a loved one passed away.
The suffering of Jesus Christ affects God's relationship with human kind in a similar way.
"One of the most amazing claims of the Christian faith is the idea of a God who steps down and who suffered with us, who really understands what it is to go through suffering, and not just minimal suffering," said Vitale. "In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus says my heart is sorrowful even to death. Even the person who's thought about dying, who has been in that state of deep despair, the Christian God knows that experience."
God's spirit, he stressed, continues to be with us even today and experience the personal suffering of mankind. This allows for a greater intimacy between God and man.