I thought a summary might be helpful.
The question is simple. It isn't an attempt to use suffering to prove there is no god. It isn't even about suffering in general.
It is about suffering that is not caused by humans and how theism accounts for it.
Specifically the Asian Tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 which claimed the lives of a quarter of a million people.
Pastor John offered 6 possible answers to the question of why a loving, powerful god did nothing to stop it. At least another 9 answers have been suggested in this thread so far.
Here is a summary with responses. If I have missed any please speak up.
1. God does good things, Satan does bad things.
Response - So Satan caused the tsunami and god did nothing. That makes god look weak as well as wicked.
2. Calamities can be prevented by intersessionary prayer
Response - So god would have saved 250 000 lives if only a christian had remembered to pray?
3. There are lots of stories of christians who were saved from death in the tsunami. (this is a way of saying those who died basically had themselves to blame = prosperity teaching)
Response - I'm sure there are lots of stories of atheists and Muslims who were saved from death in the tsunami. There were also many thousands of christians who died. If god picked a few favourites that only makes him look even more nasty and capricious.
4. Humans cause suffering.
Response - The tsunami was caused by an earthquake under the Indian Ocean. There was absolutely nothing any human could do to cause it or prevent it.
5. Free will. Here he manged to link it to 9/11?
Response - I am deliberately not talking about human actions. I am only interested in "natural evil". If god had prevented the tsunami no free will would have been involved.
6. All creation including the planet was harmed by the "fall".
Response - I t was casued by the movement of tectonic plates. Earthquakes are an intrinsic part of how the earth was made. They have been happening for billions of years. It would have been trivially easy for him to quell the beginning of the tsunami wave long before anybody even knew it had happened. He chose to do nothing except watch the wave wipe out a quarter of a million lives.
7. Yes its a pity that 250 000 lives were wiped out needlessly but humans do bad things too.
Response - Measuring the morality of god against that of a human tyrant is setting the bar rather low for god.
8. It wasn't god's time to act
Response - Is there a better time for a loving god to act than before the tsunami kills a quarter of a million innocent people?
9. God was seen in the actions of christians who worked to relieve the suffering of survivors
Response - Human efforts to clear up god's mess does not excuse his passivity
10. God caused the tsuanmi because he is judging people for sin.
Response - The problem for theism is that god cannot be powerful, knowing and loving if he passively observes the violent death of a quarter of a million people.
You have chosen to resolve the dilemma by ditching the claim that god is love. In doing so you are in harmony with pre-exile worhsippers of Yahweh but you are left with a god who is all-powerful, all-knowing and a total tyrant. You still have theism but as far as ethics go your god is on a par with Zeus or Thor. Surely the whole point of being god is being worthy?
11. Who are we to judge god?
Response - You have unhitched the word "love" from any meaningful definition. We may think we know what love means but god demonstrates that we have not the slightest idea. Love could just as easily mean the capricious anihilation of a quarter of a million innocent people. You destroy our ability to make moral judgements. "Good" is whatever pleases god from moment to moment. Mass destruction is just as morally good as altruism and self-sacrifice.
Ethics are a matter of divine fiat. The value of human life is trivialised.
In defending god you have reduced him to a celestial Pol Pot who may choose on a whim to eradicate our lives in the manner of the killing fields of Cambodia. With apologists like you who needs atheists?
12. Suffering is good for us
Response - Lets try that out with a real tsunami victim. Please take a few moments to get down out your ivory tower and try to imagine what suffering really feels like for this woman. Perhaps this dead child is the only body she managed to recover from the aftermath. Lets imagine she has lost everything. Every family member, every possession every hope and dream and ambition she ever had. She is now condemned to months of living among devastation without adequate food or water or shelter.
Now go and tell her that your god sent the tsunami because she needed to learn empathy and compassion.
13. Suffering provides us - the observer of suffering - with the opportunity to learn compassion and empathy.
My response - Please refer to the answer to number 12 above. Try telling the victim that your god sent the tsunami so that you could learn to be a better christian. What astonishing hubris that diminishes the lives of a quarter of million people into a comodity to be used for your benefit.
14. Its a mystery.
Response - No response required. The intellectual dishonesty of faith is self-evident.
15. Suffering will be unimportant compared to eternal rewards
Response - This is ethically repugnant. It is an extreme example of "the end justifies the means" defense, so beloved of tyrants.
Like other theodices it is dehumanising by reducing humans to pawns in god's game.
Imagine that scientists developed a pill that would eradicate all unwelcome memories and create a feeling of bliss.
How would you judge a scientist who imposed the most horrific suffering on millions of people, as unwilling subjects of his experiment, but who gave all of them one of the magic pills when it was over?
Please feel free to propose more or to improve any of the responses.