Q : 
How should we respond to arguments against the existence of God? The most common arguments I heard of are: 1) God knew everything we would do when He made us so there is no true free will. 2) There are many good people suffering and many unanswered prayers.
【 Question from 】 Canada 加拿大

Fr. Francis : 

1. God’s omniscience vs our free will

God’s gift of free will to humanity is absolute and necessary, because without freedom of choice, love is not possible. A person incapable of saying no is also incapable of saying yes. As wonderful this person may be, as kind and understanding he can be, it is not love. And without love, he is not a person.

But this does not mean God cannot know our choices before we make them. Knowing them is not the same as choosing them for us.

For one thing, God is also the creator of time and space. He lives outside of time. He does not subsist under continuous time, where things have beginning of existence, progress of change, and possibly end of existence. He is outside of time, and He sees all time in the eternal Present. At that singular eternal Present, He sees the birth of time, the entire span of time, and the very last seconds of time at once.

You can say: He sees your whole life span simultaneously in that eternal Present.

He sees all of it, but you make all the choices.

Yes, He denied Himself the power to manipulate or coerce us against our will; though He never tires of pouring out all His graces upon us, and arranging all the necessary opportunities for us to turn to Him. But He will wait gently, patiently, lovingly, for us to choose Him, completely freely.

2. The problem of suffering

In the beginning, there was no suffering. Suffering was brought into existence because of our abuse of choice, because of our sin. Sin brought suffering into the world; sin brought death upon ourselves.

Because it is a product of our own freedom, God would not remove it, for removing the product of our freedom is the same as removing our freedom. And without freedom, we cease to be capable of love; we cease to be persons.

God’s answer to suffering is Jesus. God Himself came to live, suffer, and die for us.

He conquered suffering by turning it inside out. On the Cross He refused to come down to show us God is not absent in suffering, but it is when He is closest to us. He overcome its meaninglessness and evil, by turning it around as a unconditional, free sacrifice to God the Father to pay for our sins. Because of that, it is now possible for us to offer our suffering as sacrifice for the salvation and atonement of others. And by His resurrection, Jesus revealed to us eternal life, thus removing the sting of suffering, which is despair and a hopeless end.

Jesus did not remove our suffering. What He did was greater: He gave us the secret of turning suffering into a powerful weapon for salvation, and He shows Himself to be with us, especially through the darkness of pain. There, He is all the more our light, life, hope and consolation.

If God is for us, who can be against us? If God is with us in suffering, then even suffering can turn sweet.

3. God does not answer all prayers.

If answering prayers means doing what we want of God, then no, absolutely no, God does not answer all prayers.

If God simply answers all our prayers, He ceases to be God. He is merely a slave.

This is not because God is distant, or uncaring, or mean, for even a loving father would never give to his child everything he wishes. A father who does such a thing is not loving; he is certified stupid, and careless.

God is God, a loving Father, who made us out of love, knows us infinitely better than we would ever know ourselves. He knows what is best for us, and when is best to give us gifts. His aim is not to merely satisfy our momentary needs or wants, but to nourish and nurture us to become who we are: glory.

Just as a child who does not trust his father can never understand his discipline and method of teaching, so it is for a soul who is not open to the possibility of a loving God would find it necessary to measure God by His performance. But this cannot be. One who looks for such a God is looking for a slave; and underneath, he is merely seeking his own will, to be his own god.

But for one who trusts God, he will soon discover God has surprising ways to answer our prayers, even the most unimportant ones. And at times, instead of giving us what we think we need now, He offers us something so much better and completely amazing. Or yet, He deprives or withholds favors from us now, only so we may be stretched or may long for Him more ardently; and when it is finally granted, we discover it is so much more beautiful and satisfying.