In the 140 years since its initial performance, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, the latest addition to my literature website, has been viewed as a proto-feminist document by advocates and critics alike. Ibsen, however, denied that he was a feminist and insisted that he wrote instead of all humanity, portraying the forces in society that kept people from becoming the free individuals they ought to be. The play pictures a late nineteenth-century middle-class household that is completely dominated by the husband, who treats his wife like a child. She is pampered and spoiled and has no idea that life can be lived in any other way. By the end of the play, she insists that she must leave her husband and children in order to achieve self-realization. which Ibsen believed was essential for all people. From a Christian pespective, however, Ibsen’s approach to men and women, marriage, and society is deeply flawed. The relationship between Torvald and Nora Helmer at both the beginning and the end of the story is far from the biblical ideal and demonstrates innate selfishness, even when they try to give of themselves for the benefit of the other. The play is worth reading, both as a way of understanding some of the roots of modern humanism and feminism and as a basis for discussing how both fall far short of what God wants people to be, both in their individual lives and in their relationship to one another.
The reality of suffering is perhaps the greatest stumblingblock that keeps people from accepting Christianity. Whether a person experiences suffering in his or her own life, grieves over the suffering of a loved one, wonders at all the pain that exists in the world as a result of disease, natural disasters, or man’s inhumanity to man, or questions the Christian doctrine of eternal punishment in Hell, many struggle to believe in a God who would allow such things to happen. How many people do you know who have experienced unbearable physical or emotional pain and have even prayed to God for deliverance, but have found no relief? How many have been deprived of children through senseless accidents or incurable diseases? All too often people who suffer these things wind up questioning the love of God, and rather than continuing to believe in a God who would appear to be so callous, they reject belief in God altogether. Others struggle with the massive scale of suffering in the world at large. Why do millions die of starvation or the AIDS virus in Africa? How can someone who believes in a loving God explain the thousands whose lives are snuffed out in earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters? Could God not have prevented such monstrous examples of human cruelty as the Holocaust or the massacres under dictators like Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, or Pol Pot? What kind of God would allow such things to happen if He had the power to prevent them? Worse yet, how can Christians argue that their God is a God of love if He ultimately consigns the vast majority of His human creatures to an eternity of torture in Hell? Such a God seems more like the devil than like a loving Father. For some, these questions cause them to turn away from the Christian faith in which they were raised. As children grow older and become more aware of the extent of evil in the world, they begin to ask questions, and when they find that their parents, teachers, and pastors are unable to give what they think are satisfactory answers, they reject the faith and turn to a naturalistic view of the universe that explains suffering as the result of “nature red in tooth and claw” and “the survival of the fittest.” Others turn away from the faith as a result of personal suffering, feeling as if God has deserted them. In many cases, the problem of suffering in this world and the next becomes a justification for unbelievers to reject Christianity. The classic argument is that the existence of evil in the world proves that the Christian God cannot exist; either He wants to eradicate evil and cannot, in which case He is not omnipotent, or else He is able to eliminate the suffering in the world but chooses not to do so, in which case He obviously cannot be a loving God. If suffering in this world becomes the basis for an anti-Christian apologetic, how much more is this the case when one considers the eternal torments of Hell? Any all-powerful being who would consign His own creatures to such horrors clearly is not good at all, and is unworthy of belief by any reasonable and moral person. These are the questions that this book is designed to address. It looks first at five fundamental truths that underlie any reasonable discussion of the problem of human suffering – the existence of God, the fact that He has revealed Himself in the Bible, and what the Bible teaches about His love, power, and the reality of evil. After dealing with these issues, it turns specifically to the problem of evil in its many aspects as it has been used to attack the Christian faith. What does the Bible tell us about the problem of evil, and perhaps more importantly, what does it not tell us? It then moves on to the question of eternal punishment, considering what the Bible teaches about Hell, common objections to the idea, attempts by some Christians to provide alternative explanations to this doctrine, and finally how to harmonize it with what Scripture tells us about God’s character.