Did the Good Christian God Relocate to Another Galaxy?

He hasn’t been paying much attention to planet Earth

When anyone says, “Can you prove God doesn’t exist?” I am tempted to reply, “Just look around you. What do you see?” Answers from the devout might include, “Beautiful sunsets, glorious flowers, majestic mountains—-how wonderful—this is my Father’s world!” But take a closer look: the god who supposedly engineered the marvels that prompt believers to sing “how great thou art”—isn’t that the same god who made huge blunders? Just look around you, they’re so easy to spot. One of the great curses on humankind has been mental illnesses, which have plagued us for millennia, causing horrible suffering. Couldn’t our brains have been better designed? Then there are thousands of genetic diseases: that newborn baby who looks “so perfect” may be programed by his/her genes to a life of pain and disability. Diseases spread by microbes also don’t make sense if there was an Intelligent Designer. Millions of people died in agony during the Black Plague in the 14th century, with no understanding as to its cause. The church was clueless as well, proclaiming the bad news that the plague was god’s punishment for sin. Moreover, marveling at the beauties of the natural world is misplaced when we realize how much suffering and death have been caused by hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis. Why would a good god who cares about humans have placed us in such a brutal environment? How can it be argued that he’s paying attention? Maybe he took off for another galaxy a long time ago.
Of course, Christian theologians/apologists have worked so hard to come up with convincing excuses as to why horrendous suffering doesn’t cancel—totally cancel—the concept of a good, caring, powerful god. Their good god has to be real: he sent Jesus into the world to give them access to eternal life. Most of the folks in the pews, it would seem, try not to think too much about horrendous suffering, and welcome such excuses as “god works in mysterious ways,” or “he has a bigger plan we don’t know about.” Nor do they pay all that much attention to the writings of the theologian/apologists, whose primary audience is fellow academicians. 

But it’s hard to get away with the strained defenses of god when secular thinkers mercilessly point out the flaws and shortcomings of their arguments. John W. Loftus’ 2021 anthology, God and Horrendous Suffering (500+ pages) is a collection of twenty-two essays addressing the theological problems posed by suffering (full disclosure: I wrote two of them). See especially Number 4, The Problem of Animal Suffering (Loftus), Number 7, On Making Excuses for God (Loftus), Number 17, Supernatural Evil (Dan Barker), and Number 20, Suffering Due to Faith (William Zingrone).    
In 2023 Loftus wrote an essay, again addressing the brick wall posed to theology by horrendous suffering, and it has been recently republished on The Secular Web. In printed form, it’s about ten pages, and is an excellent, handy resource for getting up to speed on the issue of suffering and god. Also take a look at Loftus' brief posting here about this new article. 
In the first half of this essay, Loftus describes four moral obligations that should have guided a creator god as he went about fashioning our earth and its great diversity of beings: this god should have had a way to prevent harms brought about by free will; should have guaranteed that our earthly environment cannot not cause great damage; should have designed our bodies in such a way to reduce suffering; should have revealed himself pretty clearly to humans—which didn’t happen, given how much humans have disagreed about god(s). What a scandal that Christians themselves are deeply divided about what their god is like, how he wants to be worshipped. Read/study what Loftus writes about these four obligations that god failed to notice. He sums it up:
“…given these four moral concerns it is crystal clear for many of us that a God who created this world just doesn’t care about us. God had a reckless disregard for our safety by giving us the gift of freedom before we could use it responsibly; he placed us in an environment that causes us excessive suffering, and gave us bodies that don’t provide a reasonable measure of well-being. On top of all that he failed to let us know which religion is true, out of a great diversity of religions.”
In the balance of the essay, Loftus critiques four strategies that apologists commonly use to get their god off the hook. He demonstrates how shallow they all are. For example, god wants to help us “build our characters”—and suffering can play a role in that. But horrendous suffering deflates this argument, as James A. Haught has pointed out:

“Horrible occurrences such as the Indian Ocean tsunami that drowned 100,000 children prove clearly that the universe isn’t administered by an all-loving invisible father. No compassionate creator would devise killer earthquakes and hurricanes—or breast cancer for women and leukemia for children.” (Haught, Religion Is Dying: Soaring Secularism in America and the West
One woman saw five of her children swept away by the tsunami. Is that an appropriate, necessary way to build her character? 
Then there’s the free-will dodge, which makes no sense as Loftus notes. I don’t recall where I heard this example: a mom and dad gave permission for their son to throw a big party for his friends. Turns out there was excessive drinking, everyone was doing drugs, and all the teenagers got undressed and had sex. What kind of responsible parent would not intervene? Loftus cites the example of hardened criminals: “We do not let them roam the streets once they are discovered. They lose their freedom in the interests of having a safe society. Safety is a higher value than freedom.”
Apologists have also argued that horrendous suffering is simply part of the natural world in which we live. So get over it. But wait a minute! Loftus points out that it was their god who set up the world as we know it. Surely this god could have designed a less dangerous world, “a different universe with different laws of nature without any horrendous suffering in it.” On this issue, please read the Loftus essay I mentioned earlier, The Problem of Animal Suffering. Just in the time it takes to read this paragraph, billions of animals have eaten other animals alive; the pain is beyond calculation. 
The final apologetic strategy that Loftus notes in the mystery excuse. That is, we are not entitled to understand horrendous suffering because it’s part of god’s mysterious nature. Yawn. This is speculation, wishful thinking, unless reliable, verifiable, objective evidence is produced. By the way, a god that does not exist will always be shrouded in mystery—and that’s how theologians/apologists/clergy get away with convincing the laity that he/she/it does exist. “It’s all so mysterious, you know.” An Even Bigger Yawn.  

Loftus’ conclusion to the essay is a masterpiece. “In order to evade my challenge, I have found Christian apologists to be experts at cherry-picking God’s supposed divine attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence, depending on the problem to be solved.” And he skewers these three attributes. 

I have a large three-ring binder in which I keep classic essays for handy reference. Yes, I also have them saved on my computer and a thumb drive, but I’m old-fashioned enough to like to see that big binder on my shelf! This new Loftus essay is there, for very good reason: “… the evidential problem of horrendous suffering is one of the most powerful refutations of the theistic God as can be found.”

David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, now being reissued in several volumes, the first of which is Guessing About God (2023) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). The Spanish translation of this book is also now available. 
His YouTube channel is here. At the invitation of John Loftus, he has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.
The Cure-for-Christianity Library©, now with more than 500 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here