If God’s goodness is inconsistent with hurting us, then either God is not good or there is no God: for in the only life we know He hurts us beyond our worst fears and beyond all we can imagine. … But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.CS Lewis, A Grief Observed
Either way, we’re for it.
What do people mean when they say ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?’ Have they never even been to a dentist?
Which is it, then?
“No God” must be ruled out. Our contingent, finite, spatiotemporally bound universe exists. Ex nihilo nihil fit: Our universe must therefore have a cause which is necessary, infinite, and unbound by space or time. Things are slightly more complicated than that—but not by much.
Which is it, then? A good God, or a bad one?
What reason have we, except our own desperate wishes, to believe that God is, by any standard we can conceive, ‘good’? Doesn’t all the prima facie evidence suggest exactly the opposite? What have we to set against it?
We set Christ against it. But how if He were mistaken? … The trap, so long and carefully prepared and so subtly baited, was at last sprung, on the cross. The vile practical joke had succeeded. … Is it rational to believe in a bad God? Anyway, in a God so bad as all that? The Cosmic Sadist, the spiteful imbecile?
I think it is, if nothing else, too anthropomorphic. When you come to think of it, it is far more anthropomorphic than picturing Him as a grave old king with a long beard. That image is a Jungian archetype. … It preserves mystery. Therefore room for hope. Therefore room for a dread or awe that needn’t be mere fear of mischief from a spiteful potentate. But the picture I was building up last night is simply the picture of a man like S.C.—who used to sit next to me at dinner and tell me what he’d been doing to the cats that afternoon. Now a being like S.C., however magnified, couldn’t invent or create or govern anything. He would set traps and try to bait them. But he’d never have thought of baits like love, or laughter, or daffodils, or a frosty sunset. He make a universe? He couldn’t make a joke, or a bow, or an apology, or a friend.
A bad God (or a bad man) could perhaps ape goodness and beauty to some degree. He could not create them out of nothing without examples of each to imitate (and eventually pervert). Have your pick of all the archvillains of history and fiction: Could any of them have composed not just your favorite poems but poetry itself? Could any of them have fashioned not just your favorite flowers but color and light and life themselves? Could Sauron, Hitler, Stalin, the Joker, or the Wicked Witch of the West not just have faked love but invented it?
But then every daffodil and peal of laughter and act of love is a singular proof of the existence of a good God.
Why, then, the tortures?
One answer is that faith only becomes serious when it becomes a latter of life and death—that only torture can awaken us from our madness:
Bridge-players tell me that there must be some money on the game ‘or else people won’t take it seriously’. Apparently it’s like that. Your bid—for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity—will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high; until you find that you are playing not for counters or for sixpences but for every penny you have in the world. Nothing less will shake a man … out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.
And I must surely admit … that, if my house was a house of cards, the sooner it was knocked down the better. And only suffering could do it. But then the Cosmic Sadist and Eternal Vivisector becomes an unnecessary hypothesis. … God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. … He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.
But another answer, in some respects the only answer, is that we simply do not know: do not know why Joy Davidman rather than CS Lewis, why the apostle James rather than his brother John, why this tragedy rather than another—or no tragedies at all.
And all the while the tortures continue apace. What, then?
Two widely different convictions press more and more on my mind. One is that the Eternal Vet is even more inexorable and the possible operations even more painful than our severest imaginings can forbode. But the other, that ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.