That's a question. Tomorrow I am supposed to answer it in 50 minutes in such a way that eleven thirteen year olds can respond, years down the road, if someone asks them the same question.
There are simple answers to the question. But the question itself isn't simple. What makes something Good? What is God? What is suffering?
In my essay writing class we read a paragraph (found at the end of this entry) by an author who says that Christians say that “pain elevates,” meaning pain makes people better. We talked in the class about what Christians actually believe, not what Maugham thinks they believe. We agreed with the apostle Paul that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope.” It's not that pain makes you a better person, it is that you can become a better person through having had the pain. You can also, as Maugham points out, become a worse person.
How do you determine whether something is good? A social constructionist would say we have to agree with it. If a group agrees that it is good, then it is. Relativists would say it depends on what you as an individual think. There are many opinions.
I am a moral absolutist. I think some things are wrong, period. Just because they are wrong. I think they have been wrong as long as humanity has lived and will be wrong no matter how long we continue to live. It doesn't matter if a particular person or culture decides it is okay to murder, it is still wrong to murder. So I think there are clear evil things and clear good things. But how do you tell which is which?
God is good. Therefore, whatever God is, is good. God is loving. God is merciful. God is just. God has high expectations. God… Whatever God does or is or has is by definition good. Even if I can't understand it that way. (The Case for Faith by Lee Stobel holds a longer, more elaborate presentation of this.) If God says it's good, then it is good. If God says it's bad, then it's bad. If God talks about it, it could be bad or good. Some things in the Bible are talked about, but it doesn't say they are good.
What is God? Well, God is good. God is those things I wrote above. God is all powerful. God is all-knowing. God puts limits on himself. I can't understand God, though I can know him. I can have a relationship with God, even though some of the things he wants or does confuses me. (I'm used to that. I'm married.) I am not God. God is not me. God is not inherent in all things, though God does show himself through creation.
William Somerset Maugham
No more stupid apology for pain has ever been devised than that it elevates. It is an explanation due to the necessity of justifying pain from the Christian point of view. Pain is nothing more than the signal given by the nerves that the organism is in circumstances hurtful to it; it would be as reasonable to assert that a danger signal elevates a train. But one would have thought that the ordinary observation of life was enough to show that in the great majority of cases, pain, far from refining, has an effect which is merely brutalizing. An example in point is the case of hospital in-patients: physical pain makes them self-absorbed, selfish, querulous, impatient, unjust and greedy; I could name a score of petty vices that it generates, but not one virtue. Poverty also is pain. I have known well men who suffered from that grinding agony of poverty which befalls persons who have to live among those richer than themselves; it makes them grasping and mean, dishonest and untruthful. It teaches them all sorts of detestable tricks. With moderate means they would have been honourable men, but ground down by poverty they have lost all sense of decency.