19 February 2008

Why do we suffer?

Given our last discussion, I thought this an interesting piece from an author who spent most of his life deeply involved in the Christian faith and studying its intricacies. I'm interested to read the entire book.

"I realized that I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life. In particular, I could no longer explain how there can be a good and all-powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things. For many people who inhabit this planet, life is a cesspool of misery and suffering. I came to a point where I simply could not believe that there is a good and kindly disposed Ruler who is in charge of it.

"The problem of suffering became for me the problem of faith. After many years of grappling with the problem, trying to explain it, thinking through the explanations that others have offered—some of them pat answers charming for their simplicity, others highly sophisticated and nuanced reflections of serious philosophers and theologians—after thinking about the alleged answers and continuing to wrestle with the problem, about nine or ten years ago I finally admitted defeat, came to realize that I could no longer believe in the God of my tradition, and acknowledged that I was an agnostic: I don't "know" if there is a God; but I think that if there is one, he certainly isn't the one proclaimed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the one who is actively and powerfully involved in this world. And so I stopped going to church."


Rachel said...

I think he has the right idea. The belief system that proclaims and all powerful and loving God that is intimately involved in our lives seems a touch off kilter. God may be all powerful and loving, showing that love by being in the hearts of those who believe and allowing that belief to strengthen the hearts of those who must suffer. But that is a long way off from being intimately involved. Most people use the "If you had a child would you let them ride a bike knowing they might get hurt" argument. Yes you let them because, even if they get hurt a little bit they need to learn. But I think the question is bigger than that. I think it is illogical to think that God is involved in the day to day workings of each life. Yes we are going to fall down, yes we are going to make small mistakes. I think the issue is more of whether God is involved in large scale motivations. Personally i don't think God is. There is so much widespread suffering and discord to really believe that he is intervening in our lives all the times, even on a large scale. Lets look at cancer, I'll even get a little more specific and say leukemia. This is an awful disease that claims hundreds of thousand of innocent lives (and I do say innocent because leukemia also afflicts children). It is unreasonalbe to think that God would heal them individually. However, how many stories are there in the bible being inspired by God. Recieving gifts from God that enable them to do great things. Could he not inspire one among us to a cure for this disease? Or is it more logical to believe that God is there watching, waiting for us to do what we can to solve it on our own, knowing that we suffer, but waiting for human kind to solve the problem itself.
I think it infinately more likely that God is a silent partner, the being that watches over our shoulders. Just watching and observing the behavior of the human race as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Oy Vey!! To start...for every book about a Christian falling away...there is another book about a non-Christian coming to Christ. Make sure you look at both sides. Yes...I do...

Second...The basic premise of this dudes logic is..."If there is suffering...Then, No God". LAME-O

Third - I cannot explain suffering like Leukemia. But I know that my God has a plan and I do not know what the end result is supposed to be. My God is HUGE and His thoughts are WAY higher than mine.

Finally, GOD sent Jesus to die and when Jesus went to heaven, the Holy Spirit was left here...to definitely interact with us. I can tell you countless times I've interacted with Him and the awesome events that I've seen occur.(NO I DON'T HEAR VOICES IN MY HEAD).

And finally....A lot of the crap that has been taught in churches....Christian churches...over the years has lead to A LOT of misunderstanding about what a Christian is...and is not.

Let me just say...it's A LOT more simple than the Catholics preach.

Timbo said...

I am a Christian, but a "bad" one, for I could care less if you believe in the Christian God, Buddha, or any other deity. My interest in god is purely personal, and if someone is interested I will talk to them, but if not, I absolutely do not feel compelled proselytize. Basically, I have adopted a laissez faire attitude towards religion and my role in it.

With that being said, my main problem with this particular portion of this guys argument is that he lost faith because he couldn't find answers. I would argue that he never had faith to begin with, because faith implies a certain amount of belief regardless of whats going on. For example, I have faith every year that the Broncos will go to and win the Super Bowl. When they don't do so, I don't stand up and scream "Denver Broncos, I renounce thee!", I just move on and have faith that next year will be the one.

Faith, more than anything, is the bedrock of any religion. Part of the reason towards my Christian attitude is that I don't want to argue with someone over my faith. It's pointless. It's like arguing with someone over why they prefer Pepsi over Coca-Cola. By the same token, I don't want to dictate to someone what they should have faith in. I have personal reasons for believing in God, and thats good enough for me. My reasons may not, even probably not, be enough to influence you. The key, however, is faith. Despite not getting a job, having suffered many and grievous injuries, having been divorced, having been at one point so dirt-ass broke that I was stealing food to eat, and the rest, I have faith.

This guy doesn't have faith, but I am not sure that I can buy the argument that he lost it, which means that I am not sure that I can buy his argument in general. Searching for answers that your pretty sure aren't there to begin with isn't really enough to justify losing faith. I mean, he is complaining about not finding answers to questions that have been asked for hundreds and hundreds of years, and I am sure he knew that when he asked them. Thus, I am forced to conclude that instead of losing faith, he was really in a struggle to find it. Failing to find easy answers, he opted to wholly reject it. Believing that there is the possiblity of a god doesn't really count. I believe that there is the possibility that Jennifer Love Hewitt will one day let me touch her boobies, but I don't have any real faith in that happening.

Anyway, thats my two cents. I believe that everyone else is wrong on so many levels. Good Day.

Toby said...

Sorry for the delay in replying. It's been a hectic few days.

I'll start with this quotation from Epicurus:

"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?"

One could make the argument that evil is relative, so for the sake of this discussion, let's just replace evil with suffering. The quotation is still valid.

My main issue is that a loving god -- like the one described in the Bible -- allows, and according to many Christians, causes so much suffering. Additionally, for the 70% of the world's population that does not subscribe to Christianity, the Christian god not only permits extreme suffering in this life, but dooms them to an eternity of hell, simply because they have not heard of this one version of god. I will concede that that is not proof that there is no god, but it speaks strongly against the idea of the Christian version of god.

As far as serious diseases go, why is it unreasonable to think that he would heal each person individually? We are all his children, right? Are some more important -- more worthy of healing -- than others? Why the need to heal in the first place? If he truly is omnipotent and omniscient, and a loving creator, doesn't it stand to reason that he would not cast such terrible illnesses and diseases upon us?

I recently heard this point made: Right now, in Africa, there is a little boy sitting on a river bank. He will be blind in a few years, as there is a worm eating its way through his eyeball. God, in all his infinite wisdom, created this worm whose sole method of survival is boring through people's eyes. It didn't evolve this way, apparently. No. It was created by a Creator.

Finally, I disagree that this author never had faith. I think he did. He lost faith not because he couldn't find answers, but because he didn't like the answers he found, and in fact, found them rather abhorrent.

Aunt Ruthie said...

My Response to Toby:

Let's just say that I agree with you Toby.

Here would be the logic.

1. There is great suffering in the world.

2. A loving God would not let this happen.

So, that means...um....that there is another God that is in control who is just as apauled by the suffering, but is too weak to do anything about it? THAT is a scarey God!!

There is no God and the suffering is just random? That is scarey too!

Maybe...just maybe...my God see the suffering and is even more sad than you and I can imagine, but he sees the reasons for it and is in control even though we cannot understand it.

Regarding the worm that is eating the boys eye.

Was the worm created by God or is the worm random?

Which one makes YOU feel better about that situation? Should your decision about God be a decison based on your feelings? That is kinda going which ever way the wind happens to be blowing today.

And....is that situation even about YOU or what you believe?

What if that little boy beleives in God?

Aunt Ruthie said...

My response to timbo:

"for I could care less if you believe in the Christian God, Buddha, or any other deity. "

The definition of a Christian is a Christ follower.

Christians believe that the way to God is through Christ.

Believing in Buddha makes you a Buddist.

For the record....God is not a Christian. He is the Father of Christ. I say this only because I hate the term "the Christian God". I know it's used to mean the God that Christians beleive in.
It's just a nit...that is "wrong on so many level"...(YEAH I GOT TO USE THAT!!!)

I could go into the topic of faith...but I guess I'll just leave it as...it's awesome that you have faith.

And just to prattle on a little more..your comment:

"My interest in god is purely personal, and if someone is interested I will talk to them, but if not, I absolutely do not feel compelled proselytize."

If I don't tell people about my God while I'm here on earth...then when do I? In heaven...I'm pretty sure they've all heard of him.

Please know...I'm not a Bible thumper who attacks people with my beliefs. I too wait until I'm asked. But if asked...or prompted (like by this post), then I will share.

Toby said...

A world without a god is not scary. In fact, I find it even more beautiful and wondrous BECAUSE it wasn't created by a god. The scientist, Michael Shermer put it far better than I ever could: "What can be more soul shaking than peering through a 100-inch telescope at a distant galaxy, holding a 100-million-year-old fossil or a 500,000-year-old stone tool in one's hand, standing before the immense chasm of space and time that is the Grand Canyon, or listening to a scientist who gazed upon the face of the universe's creation and did not blink? That is deep and sacred science."

As far as suffering goes, what possible reason could an omniscient, all powerful, omnipotent god have to put us through suffering? Maybe he does have a reason that I cannot comprehend, but it seems to me that if he really is that powerful, he would have a better way to do whatever it is he is trying to do...

Your implication is right: the worm was not created by chance. Nor was it created by a supreme being. It evolved. One of the most popular misconceptions about evolution is that is pure chance. Far from it. Natural selection is a cumulative process, in which slightly improbable pieces come together over time and space to become something seemingly improbable. Way too improbable to have happened by chance! (I realize this is a very basic description of evolution. Would be happy to elaborate further...)

Finally, I concede that I cannot prove that there is no god. One can never prove a negative. But when one looks at the facts of the universe, its seems highly improbable to me that there is a god. It seems odd to me that God would create the entire universe, put a tiny galaxy in it, and in the corner of that galaxy, throw a tiny planet around a tiny star and give it the exact right conditions for his prized creations: people.