The problem of evil is ubiquitous. However, this argument only works against certain definitions of a god. If you believe in a particular God that is incompatible with the nature of suffering then you should throw out the definition of God. Normally this is not what happens. People either cut their definitions of God or redefine their terms and then argue with the same vehemence that they have always believed in their new adaptation.
But it is not the nature of the argument I am here to critique; I am here to discuss whether freewill necessarily permits suffering and whether God could stop our suffering without infringing on our freewill. I want also to extend the question: if ending our suffering does mean removing our freewill, should He do it? To all these I want to answer that not only could God end our suffering, but to protect our freewill He must end our suffering.
Consider, first, an analogy. At an advertising firm the Executive Director, Graham (or “G” for short and ingenious hipster irony), permits sexual harassment in the workplace because it is necessary for his employees’ creativity. G believes, and the shareholders agree, that ending sexual harassment will ruin creativity. “Sexual harassment is a part of our expression…” G explained to an incredulous collection of 12 of his peers, “… thus it feeds our creativity”. Occasionally when employees finishes working at G-Advertising the police punish the offenders, but there are no consequences during their employment.
The problem is that Jethro disagrees. Jethro is an ex-psychologist who started to work at G-Advertising 8 months ago. Holly is sexually harassing Jethro and Jethro has noticed a decline in his own psychological wellbeing and that has changed his ability to think clearly and to be creative. Although Jethro recognises G’s argument that sexual harassment appears as a spin-off from creativity, he cannot understand why G favours the creativity of those who are willing to sexually harass others over people like himself, whose creativity depends on not being sexually harassed.
To protect the creativity of Jethro and others like him, G necessary must create and enforce a policy that forbids sexual harassment. He may even consider only hiring people he believes will not sexually harass others in the office as a part of a new team development policy.
I hope the analogy stands on its own with explanation. This is how it is with God. Children will not to be abused and beaten. People will not to be kidnapped and killed. Citizens will not to be oppressed. Property owners will not to be stolen from. If our freewill were really being protected, these wills would matter. However, it is the will of the child abuser, kidnapper, oppressive government and thieves that God favours (else, none of this could happen). The world we really see is not one where we have freewill, but one where our wills are realised in proportion to our force. Sometimes this is good; the joint will of people has generated charities. However, human caused suffering appears when ill-will has more brute force or deception behind it than the strong opposing will.
One of the options for doing this is increasing our empathy so that we don’t want to cause other people harm. We already have some empathy (each of us at different levels). That empathy stops us pushing new-mothers with their babies in their pram into the road so we can walk past. If you disagree that it is empathy that stops us doing that, we can at least agree something is stopping us from committing infanticide? And whatever that is, no one has complained that has interfered with our freewill. So, more of that, please. God, if you read this, I will that all people have more of whatever this is. That should end intentional human-caused suffering.
The idea that force is what turns will into reality appears very natural. To an atheist, this is the unfortunate way of things. But it is also the pitiless indifference of nature and certainly no sign of a benevolent overseer. We have will that is recognised according to our physical strength and chance. If our freewill is to be protected, it must be realised according to a democratic system. It should not exclude the weak and the vulnerable. No matter how much one person wills to hurt me, my will and the will of those who care about me would be enough to prohibit that behaviour. Suffering would end. Because that is what we do will.
Not only could God end human-caused suffering and protect our freewill, but to protect our freewill He must end our suffering.