Friday, January 20, 2012

If God Loves Us, Why Are Children Still Starving?

One of the main arguments I hear from atheists is that starving children in Africa are proof that God doesn’t exist. The rationale behind this is that, if God loves us and could do anything He wanted, He would save those dying of starvation in third world countries. The fact that He doesn’t do this proves that either a) He does exist, but is cruel and doesn’t love us (which would then make the Bible false), or b) He doesn’t exist at all.
Before I tackle this issue directly, I want to back up and give an overview in regards to how God views our sin.
He hates it [1].
He absolutely hates it, yet allows us to do it. Why? Does He not have the ability to stop us in our tracks before we sin?
For those of you who have experienced being in love, I think you’ll understand this pretty well. Those of you who have never experienced love will probably understand it even better. Love is only worth something when it is voluntarily given away. When it is forced, it is worth nothing. Those who have never experienced being in love (yet have the desire to) will recognize that it is not the easiest to find. But that’s what gives it its value. If we could force another person to love us whenever we demanded, it would immediately lose its significance, and its power.
‘The problem of evil’ is the philosophical question, “Why, if God had the power to do whatever He wanted, would He create a world where we had the ability to choose evil?” [2] The problem of evil, ultimately, stems from the choice God made to give us free will. God wanted to be in a relationship with us, where He would love us, and we would love Him back. [3] Of course, this is only possible if we have the ability to freely love Him. If God had removed our capability to choose evil when creating us (as some suggest He should have), we would only be able to do good. Since good can be defined in this context as doing that which God would do, [4] then by removing evil we would be left with only one choice in every circumstance. If then, our only choice was to act in the way God would, our free will would be gone, thus making it impossible for us to truly love Him, or love each other.
So then, it is necessary for us to be able to choose either evil or good in order for us to truly love (both God and other people). Because of this though, there is the danger of those rejecting good and choosing only evil. This brings us back to the main question posed: “Why are there starving children in Africa?”
According to Oxfam International (an international organization dedicated to fighting poverty and injustice in over 90 countries), there is enough food grown in the world to feed everybody that inhabits it [5]. Yet, over a billion people go hungry every day. Since there is no shortage of food on the planet, the blame cannot be given to God, as He has endowed us (the population of the earth) with more food than we need. Yet it is because of greed (over half the world’s food is thrown away as waste) and corruption [6] that the poor in third world countries continue to starve.
Furthermore, if there is one thing I have noticed about zealous atheists, it’s that their main goal is to delegitimize religion, and secularize culture. Why then, does a group so passionately against the inclusion of God in society, get so upset at Him for not doing what they ask (fixing poverty)? The message from atheists (at least to me) is clear: “We don’t want God in our culture, or our lives.” The surprising thing about God (which I will never fully understand) is that at times He says “okay” and backs off. [7] However, when society as a whole tells God not to get involved with anything, it doesn’t seem fair to then be upset with Him for not imposing His will into situations that they do not like. The argument “God must not exist because there are injustices in the world and He hasn’t gotten involved” is poor in my opinion. The obvious response (to me) is “No, He hasn’t gotten involved because everybody has told Him not to be involved.”
It seems clear that starvation, poverty and injustice in the world is not a God issue, but a human issue. Because God loves us and respects our free will, He gives us the ability to choose whether or not we do good, even if it greatly upsets Him. God has the ability to get involved, but waits for those who agree to act out His will for the world, so as to not violate the choices He’s given us.
So, what are we to do, if we love God and care about social justice? Well the cool thing is that God wants to help out those who are less fortunate, [8] He’s just waiting for an invitation. God will give us the ability to fight injustice around the world, and in our own city. The answer is not to just accept evil as something that will always be here, (as God does not just accept evil [9]) but instead to fight against it.
Admittedly, this is something I don’t do enough of, so for those of you who are interested and have some cool ideas of things we can do as Christians to fight evil in the world, let me know. In the meantime, I hope this cleared some things up about the nature of God, and if anybody has ideas for what I should write about next, please leave a comment.

Thanks a bunch for reading this, amigos!

Travis Parker Martin

[2] – This is a slight simplification of the problem of evil. For a more detailed version of the question, and a far better, more logically sound response to it, visit here.
[3] – Obviously, examples of God’s love are all over the Bible, but I think probably the most clear (and most famous) verse would be John 3:16. Jesus also gives us the commandment to love God with everything that’s in us in Mark 12.
[4] – I wrote a paper on the definition of good in response to the Euthyphro dilemma, which asks "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” last year. Perhaps at some point I can go into detail about why such a question sets up a false, mutually exclusive dichotomy, and why good can only be defined as that which is inherent to God, but in the mean time I ask you to humour me if you will in believing that the definition of good, at its simplest, is “that which God would do”.
[6] Here is a PDF file that goes into detail about the corruption among African elites while the poor in their countries continue to starve.
[7] – My pastor often says “God is a gentleman, He won’t force Himself on you.” This reminds me of Romans 1:26, where God says He gave people up to their sinful desires.
[8] – One of the best verses that captures this fully I think is 1 John 3:17-18.
[9] – I feel like I should have spoken more about the consequences of evil eternally, but this post was already getting rather long. Although his message is directed towards those who live comfortably, instead of those who are committing active social injustices, Francis Chan sums up nicely how the decisions we make on earth affect our eternity here.


  1. "Admittedly, this is something I don’t do enough of, so for those of you who are interested and have some cool ideas of things we can do as Christians to fight evil in the world, let me know."

    The problem is, its RAMPANT. It appears Christianity in America does not give a care about "people unlike themselves". Look at our current republican candidates. They are claiming (and rightfully so, purely by the numbers) To be the "Christian party", yet what they espouse has nothing to do with helping "people unlike themselves". NOTHING!

    Heck, look at the kids (and the parents that send them) that go on short term missions! Supposedly the best that we have to show for ourselves. Do you think those poor families they go and help paint their houses or donate shoes or toothbrushes to don't know they just spend a couple grand each to do that? Who are they serving?? I would say themselves more than the poor people they visit.

    Its rampant! RAMPANT. I live in South Carolina. I literally live within 500 feet of two churches that have spent at least 5 million EACH on building in the last 3 years.

    How is that right?

    So the question returns. Why are there starving people that are "unlike ourselves"?

    Ed. South Carolina.

  2. To say that "God is not getting involved because we asked him not to" is a little unfair, don't you think? Poverty and hunger is not a new issue, but Atheism is a perspective that is ever growing. To say that the second contributed to the first is a little backwards, if you ask me, because you already stated that the "why is God not getting involved" issue is what's contributing to Atheism.

    And the "world hunger" issue is just one of many. Would this same answer work for something such as natural disaster? Something that God would realistically have control over, but chooses to let happen. That cannot be blamed on selfishness of humans but purely by an act of nature.

    1. I agree that perhaps this part of Travis' argument was not as concrete as it could have been. But I think he raised a valid point about greed and selfishness being big parts of why there are people in the world who are suffering.

      I think also a big part of the problem is that people have this idea that God get's involved in absolutely everything. Christianity puts a strong emphasis on fellowship with god, and I see this as akin to a Parent-Child relationship; a good parent let's their children stub a toe and date sleaze bags hoping all the while that the guidance they provided leads them to make good life choices. A good parent let's their children explore and make choices for themselves which includes making mistakes; not all children learn from their mistakes or even learn the right things, but that doesn't mean parents should stop children from living and learning. Of course good parents do not always make good children, and although God could magically transform all of the bad children into good children, then they wouldn't be children at all really. As Travis said, forcing love (or good behaviour in my example) makes it meaningless; programmed robots would make a poor substitute for most people who chose to have Children.

      When it comes to natural disasters I think it has much more to do with how the world was formed and much less to do with what God wants to happen, not to say God could not do something about it, but perhaps it's more of a side effect of the home we inhabit. A child does not blame his parent for stubbing his or her toe in their room on the parent that gives them that room, but if it weren't for the parent providing the room it wouldn't have happened. I think in the same way things like natural disasters happen, and events are allowed to happen as interference would stop humanity as whole from learning about how to live better and safer in the world in some capacity. Each stumble for humanity has a lesson to offer us. God cares about every single one of us, put has at the very least a global perspective, a parent cares for every one of their thirteen children, but has to do what is right for all of them, and sometimes that means not getting involved and letting mistakes be made. God has over seven billion children.

  3. This is a big topic. Nice. The thing I love about God and theology is that He asks us to think about things, and praise Him, and serve Him, and not always figure things out perfectly. And if we could rationalize people into the kingdom, we would, but we can't, so we don't.

    I was walking on campus today, and I thought, if God is so good and so life-changing, then why are there so few Christians? If that question catches your interest, go for it. If not, He'll give you one.