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The Problem of Suffering

02 Nov

An acquaintance of mine once asked how Christians deal with the question of suffering. She wondered, if God is all-knowing and sees all the suffering in the world but can do nothing to alleviate it, does he deserve to be worshipped? On the other hand, though he is all-knowing and all-powerful and sees all the suffering of the world but chooses to do nothing to alleviate it, does he have any right to be worshiped? When told that some suffering was necessary or had purpose, she claimed that, even if that were true, some suffering was completely gratuitous and unnecessary. Anyone who has watched a loved one die a painful death would know the futility of the ‘benefits’ of suffering. How do we answer this? Is there an adequate answer?

What this dilemma reminds me of is that of Epicurus’ “Four Propositions” which he used to try to show there was no God. The difference is, where he would put evil my acquaintance would put suffering.

Epicurus’ Four Propositions

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?

Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing?

Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing?

Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing?

Then why call him God?”

I believe Epicurus’ four and my acquaintance’s two propositions failed to take a number of things into consideration when speaking of God.

First, this kind of puzzle fails to consider that the benevolent God, because he does not act, shows he is in control. That is, while the problem of suffering/evil does exist, it is not more than mankind is able to tolerate. On the face this may sound cruel, but not if one takes in all necessary considerations and the consequences of what would ultimately occur if God took suffering/evil away.

Second, the puzzle fails to take into consideration that the Hebrew/Christian understanding of God is true when we claim that God has given man freewill (to a point). The freewill of man would account for much of the evil/suffering that exists. We endure much more than would have been our lot, had Adam and Eve never rebelled against God, but that is another story. Nevertheless, much of the blame God endures for suffering/evil is caused by man, but God is expected to alleviate it or cause circumstance to occur so man is not held responsible for what he does, or that evil intent would be automatically corrected by God. The whole concept would arrest God’s plan for mankind and force him to prosper man’s will whether or not what we do would hurt others—and at the same time prevent that hurt from taking place. Under such a proposition, either man wouldn’t have freewill if God prevented his evil or hurtful activity or God wouldn’t have freedom to carry out his plan if he had to endorse man’s desires and clean up after him to boot.

According to the Christian understanding of God, we (through Adam) have made some bad choices that brought upon mankind – all generations – unnecessary suffering. If God would prevent all suffering, man would become an automaton and have no real responsibility for his acts. God would control all the stings, and we, like puppets would perform the will of the Puppeteer. If this were true, we wouldn’t have suffering, but neither would we have strength of character. There would be no heroism or real human leadership. All of these things come through real life experiences of loss and suffering in one’s life.

It is like the story of the butterfly. It struggles to get out of its cocoon. If I would help it, it would still be a beautiful creature, but it would be unable to fly. ‘Helping’ would destroy its potential by eliminating its struggle (suffering?).

I conclude, therefore, that some suffering is necessary, but we have brought upon ourselves much more than was ever intended by God. Nevertheless, if we are to have freewill at all, God cannot eliminate evil or suffering carte blanche. Rather he holds us responsible for how we treat our fellow men and women. There will come a day when all things will be made equal, but that day is in God’s hands. Man’s freedom of choice is an important matter and cannot it be taken out of the way, even to eliminate suffering or evil in this world. To do so would destroy who we are and what God intends us to become.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on November 2, 2010 in Christianity, Religion, The fall of man

 

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5 responses to “The Problem of Suffering

  1. Eddie

    November 2, 2010 at 14:33

    Greetings Robert; thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment.

    Concerning my saying the suffering/evil that exists is not more than mankind could tolerate…

    Tell that to a starving child, or to the mother who must watch him slowly waste away to death.

    It was never my intention to make light of anyone’s pain. Suffering and evil exist and life still goes on. History testifies to cruelty that perhaps neither you nor I could imagine, yet mankind has arrived at where we are today—life goes on.

    Concerning my saying that mankind (we) through Adam have rebelled against God and brought upon ourselves suffering that was unnecessary—i.e. not intended by God…

    It doesn’t make sense to say that “we (through Adam)” caused suffering since we didn’t even exist when Adam was allegedly around.

    Really, then “we” didn’t really win the Revolutionary War, and “we” really didn’t get rid of slavery in the Civil War, or “we” didn’t really defeat the Axis powers in World War II and “we” didn’t really go to the moon? Why would it be correct to speak this way when recalling the good or admirable things we’ve (mankind/United States) done, but it isn’t correct to speak this way when blame is to be shared?

    Concerning my saying if God prevented all suffering man would be a virtual automaton without responsibility for what he does…

    Doesn’t explain suffering caused by natural events (earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.) or animal suffering.

    The context of my remark had to do with the suffering in the world caused by man’s inhumanity to man. If you wish to address “natural” disasters, that may be another matter. I imagine someone’s pov might be that, if we all resulted from the “Big Bang” or a reasonable facsimile, “natural” disasters are the result of forces in nature that eventually clash or suddenly release in order to produce these terrible disasters. If the Hebrew/Christian pov were true, then it is difficult to imagine such phenomena in Eden. If the earth had a peaceful environment eons ago, implying a perfect creation, then these disasters must have come about through something we have done. We are destroying our environment today; it is difficult to believe we would not have done so had we the power do so ages ago.

    So we don’t have free will in heaven since there’s no suffering there?

    I didn’t say that nor have I implied it.

    Finally, God could easily prevent suffering while maintaining free will. Does the cop violate the robber’s free will when stopping his crime? Nope, because the cop is only preventing action; the robber’s free will remains intact. Free will is not “the ability to do anything one wants”. That’s license.

    I agree. According to Christian understanding of the Eden experience, man had freewill and there doesn’t appear to have been any suffering—for humanity. So we do agree on this point, but my point in God’s not eliminating suffering carte blanche is that man has made some stupid choices. There is such a thing as cause and effect. Life can be difficult, and we bring a lot of problems upon ourselves through the stupid choices we make—or those our ancestors have made. If God took all that away, then he is virtually saying man doesn’t have to be responsible for anything—God will pick up the pieces of the things we destroy for ourselves and others.

    By the way, God is not a cosmic cop. He never intended to be, nor has he taken that position today. He expects us to take responsibility for what we do, govern ourselves properly and seek him for those things we cannot do ourselves. If we take responsibility for what we do and go to him with clean hands, he’ll repair the damage we’ve done and can no longer correct.

     
  2. Robert

    November 2, 2010 at 10:43

    That is, while the problem of suffering/evil does exist, it is not more than mankind is able to tolerate.

    Tell that to a starving child, or to the mother who must watch him slowly waste away to death.

    According to the Christian understanding of God, we (through Adam) have made some bad choices that brought upon mankind – all generations – unnecessary suffering.

    It doesn’t make sense to say that “we (through Adam)” caused suffering since we didn’t even exist when Adam was allegedly around.

    If God would prevent all suffering, man would become an automaton and have no real responsibility for his acts.

    Doesn’t explain suffering caused by natural events (earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.) or animal suffering.

    So we don’t have free will in heaven since there’s no suffering there?

    Finally, God could easily prevent suffering while maintaining free will. Does the cop violate the robber’s free will when stopping his crime? Nope, because the cop is only preventing action; the robber’s free will remains intact. Free will is not “the ability to do anything one wants”. That’s license.

     
  3. Eddie

    November 2, 2010 at 09:58

    Hi Daniel,
    Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment.

    God brings all evil and suffering to the time and place that he can use them for his purposes.

    Yes, I agree with you here that God will use suffering and evil to accomplish his purposes, but I don’t believe either evil or suffering is necessary in order to accomplish his will. He uses them because they are our reality, but he doesn’t cause them.

    Also, I don’t think God is very concerned with easing mankind’s suffering.

    We differ here. I don’t believe God is unconcerned with our suffering. I believe answered prayer is testimony that he does desire to alleviate our pain. Jesus concerned himself with our pain and healed many during his public ministry. He used it to accomplish the will of God, but his healing ministry was not necessary for God’s will to be accomplished. This is proof of our Lord’s compassion for our plight.

    It challenges our faith, and makes us grow. It can bring us closer to him.

    We agree here. Suffering often challenges our faith and submitting to God in suffering will cause our faith to grow–and draw us nearer to him (consciously–for God cannot be nearer to us than being within us). Nevertheless, I don’t believe suffering is a necessary ingredient for faith to grow. Again, God will use it, because it is our reality. Our suffering/pain neither hinders nor helps God perform his will with us. He will do what he pleases no matter what our present condition.

    I hope to write more about suffering in the next few days.

    Lord bless,

    Eddie

     
  4. Daniel

    November 2, 2010 at 08:55

    God brings all evil and suffering to the time and place that he can use them for his purposes. Also, I don’t think God is very concerned with easing mankind’s suffering. It challenges our faith, and makes us grow. It can bring us closer to him.

     
 
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