the problem with suffering

In the end, of course, Job regained his faith, wealth, and much more. A dualistic understanding of what it is to be human, which assumes an essential difference between the spiritual and the material-bodily sides of human existence, necessarily leads to the idea of the immortality of the soul. And yet, throughout his criticism of Job, the level-headed Elihu affirmed the sovereignty of God: “Why do you contend with Him? Edwards, Rem (1972), Reason and Religion (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich). In short, God is sovereign. These questions may lead to doubt, and then to disbelief. In debates with Christians, atheists commonly raise the problem of evil. If only we had a complete picture of reality, Spinoza would say, we would know God, and nothing would appear imperfect. It is difficult to grasp the enormity of this situation. This can cause problems for many Christians, as they believe in a loving, powerful and all-knowing God. He points out that suffering, and the claims about God, are not contradictory. What we call “suffering,” they might say, is just an illusion. To anyone who would accuse God of being unjust in this case (vs. 14), Paul would remind them of God’s sovereignty: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (vs. 15). Evil. And what about the death of Christ? Sometimes we mortals may try to vindicate our God by presuming to know His mind, but God says “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (Exodus 33:19). The answers they find have more to do with the “how” of Christian faith, than the “why” of presumption against God. Yet, because of the Christian story, we can approach suffering differently. To some degree or another, they know that suffering does not reflect badly on what they understand of God. Text: Lamentations 3:1-24, Romans 8:18, 2nd Cor. We suffer—even innocent children suffer—because of the sin of two people. This essay is an attempt to deal with both questions. Job’s world collapsed around him. Sin as the misuse of human freedom has led humans into total opposition against God. Adams, Marilyn McCord (1990), “Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God,” The Problem of Evil, ed. Further, a critic would have to insist that there are no limits to what this Being could do. Let us revisit Romans, but chapter 3 this time. In the Christian understanding, suffering also does not appear—as in Buddhism—as suffering simply under the general conditions of human existence in this world; it is instead coupled with the specifically Christian idea of the imitation of Christ. Finally, someone may wish to deny the third premise by maintaining that suffering is not real. We, as mere mortals, should not have to “justify the ways of God to Men” (to use a phrase of John Milton’s). Given the tremendous amount of suffering in this world, could we not assume that God is sovereign, but some sort of malevolent ruler? The apostle was responding to a “not fair” claim on the part of Jewish Christians. An ancient church hymn of the cross spoke of the “cross of the beauty of the Kingdom of God.” The emperor Constantine, following his vision of a cross in the heavens, fastened to the standards of the imperial legions the cross, which was considered the victory sign for the community of Christians hitherto persecuted by the Roman Empire, and elevated it to a token of military triumph over the legions of his pagan foes that were assembled under the sign of the old gods. Like every human being, he faces the existential problem of suffering. 38-52. The shape of our discussion of the problem of suffering is thus a response to this agenda, set by critics of the Christian faith. What It Takes To Be You. Again, this is not the God of theism. Here are some recommended resources on race and reconciliation. Some people have tried to sidestep the problem by denying one of the three premises listed above. Like Kushner, their “solution” is to abandon the God of conventional theism (e.g., Edwards, 1972, p. 213). And, if all else fails, there is the old standby of incredulity: “I just can’t believe you [are stupid enough to] worship a God Who [is so heinous that He] would allow so much suffering in this world.” Yet the conditions of the discussion at the very outset assume that God exists. This is not an explanation for why we have suffering, but a justification of God’s love, in that we would expect our Creator to endow us with the ability to find an essential worth in our own existence (Adams, 1990, p. 216). As Dawkin’s quote suggests, The problem of animal suffering is the atheistic argument that an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God would not use millions of years of animal suffering, disease, and death just to create a world for humans to live. But perhaps the best example is suffering. At the time of His arrest, the Son of God could have called on twelve legions of angels, but not without contradicting the promises of His Father in heaven (Matthew 26:52-56). Atheists have challenged us to reconcile certain attributes of God with the existence of evil. We live, we die—end of story. If God is all-loving, He would want to prevent or end suffering. Hope for a better world has enabled Christians to survive the worst of times. The problem of evil and suffering Various types of evil and suffering are evident in the world. Kushner, Harold (1981), When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York: Shocken Books). Click here for the "Problem of Suffering" Study Guide. It is not like saying, for example. Articles Nietzsche and the Problem of Suffering Van Harvey on the metaphysical aspects of an anti-metaphysical philosophy.. Friedrich Nietzsche shared at least one fundamental concern with the religions and metaphysical systems that he so criticized: the problem of suffering and how one deals with it. Paul’s comments about mercy lead us to a second response: not only is God sovereign, but His mercy demonstrates that He is just. God can use it to judge the wicked, strengthen the faithful, aid the oppressed, and bless the righteous. He illustrated this with the example of Esau and Jacob. The universal problem is a philosophical one; it is not just a problem for Jews, but for anyone who conceives of God in a certain way. Why did it have to be taken out on Someone else? It is as much about the justification of God (a theodicy) as it is about the justification of man. And therein lies the problem. 4:17 (Read Lamentations Text) Have you ever looked around at your life, or just life in general and asked, “WHY?” Have trials and hardships ever come into … The Christian hope, however, does not aim at the immortality of the soul but at the resurrection of the body. While suffering is the chief theme of the book, a reason for suffering is not given. Created by. They admit freely that the intellectual problem of suffering was crucial to their own walk away from faith. Spinoza, a radical Jewish philosopher, maintained that evil was mere deprivation. Finally, young Elihu recognized that, on occasion, suffering can have a purpose. The starting point for the Christian understanding of suffering is the messianic self-understanding of Jesus himself. But given academic freedom in the modern secular university, unbelievers are able to wield the extent and depth of human suffering with devastating effect on ungrounded faith. Perhaps we can learn something from these events, but how can we justify the collateral damage? But why did He have to die with such humiliation, with scourging and beatings, and a tortuous death on the cross? Why did thousands die in a tropical cyclone? The old patriarch accused God of. It’s not fair for us to suffer if God is supposed to be in control.” Again, Paul responded with a countercharge: “Who are you to reply against God? He separated them from the Tree of Life, and promised that people would suffer, and that Satan would be defeated (Genesis 3:14-19). Some might point out that Jacob’s having a higher place than his older brother was an injustice, but God had a plan that did not take into account manmade customs of inheritance. Three of his friends thought terrible sins must lie at the root of such misfortunes. Job himself came to question God’s goodness and power. They ridicule the Bible and the Christian experience. 207-221. The Problem of Pain is a 1940 book on the problem of evil by C. S. Lewis, in which Lewis argues that human pain, animal pain, and hell are not sufficient reasons to reject belief in a good and powerful God.. Lewis summarizes the problem of evil as follows: "If God were good, He would make His creatures perfectly happy, and if He were almighty He would be able to do what he wished. Write. Recommended Resources. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; originally published in Mind, 1955, 64:200-12), pp. Corporeality is not a quality that is foreign to the spiritual. This is the position of Eastern mysticism, not of theism. During this time, he had no idea why these things were happening to him. “the greatest Christian apologist of the twenty century.” Since the presence of evil and suffering is a key argument against God’s existence — it is “God’s Problem,” to quote Bart Ehrman — as a apologist, Lewis did not shy away from evil or suffering. The cross was likewise considered the “dread of the demons,” since as a victory sign it struck terror into the hitherto ruling demonic powers of the world. From that point on, it does not matter for the sake of argument whether the critics believe that the Bible is true, or that we all are sinners in need of salvation, or that God raised His Son from the grave. Frame, John M. (1994), Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R). However, the actual power He uses would depend on other characteristics, such as grace, love, mercy, and so on. - problem of suffering solved A thoughtful variation of this occurs in the story of King Oedipus , where Oedipus investigates the plague ravaging Thebes by trying to find out who has offended the gods; it turns out that he himself has brought down the plague, because he has (without realising it) murdered his own father and married his own mother. Both Jews and Gentiles were vessels filled with iniquity, but God rescued those whom He called, and has filled them with His mercy (vs. 24). Mercy is revealed in God’s redemptive plan: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). 2. Suffering is a terrible experience. Mackie, J.L. Learn. But where is the contradiction in affirming both that there is suffering, and that God is an all-loving and all-powerful Being? They hear a mother on the evening news proclaiming, “It’s a miracle that my baby survived,” and wonder: Would it have been much bother for God to have done the same for everyone else? When I say it “makes no sense,” I mean it makes no sense without appeal to religious concepts found in Scripture. Christians, I believe, know within themselves that their faith has been a source of strength. The goal of redemption is not separation of the spirit from the body; it is rather the new human in the entirety of body, soul, and mind. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; originally published in The Philosophical Review, 1963, 72:180-197), pp. Now and then, in religious circles, we hear that a minister, theologian, or biblical scholar has decided they are an atheist. This is such a common tactic that I must make this point absolutely clear: the atheist cannot accuse us of a contradiction within our faith, and then block us from introducing the entire content of that faith (as opposed to discussing just the logical claims that are made about God’s attributes). Spell. Why doesn’t He do something? Gravity. Atheists see only vindication in events like the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. All they see in the atheists’ charges is an allegation of internal inconsistency leveled by people who, frequently, know little to nothing of Scripture, and who, perhaps, never have experienced a full, spiritual life. Job’s cry, like our own, seems to be “Why God. Christianity - Christianity - The problem of suffering: The starting point for the Christian understanding of suffering is the messianic self-understanding of Jesus himself. By justifying us, God shows that He is just; by making us righteous, He shows that He is righteous. Although New Life Church does not affirm all of these views in their entirety, we recommend them as relevant voices to the current conversation. Often we think of God’s justifying us, but here we see that God’s justness is revealed to us at the same time. E.g., a car wreck caused by someone else’s carelessness 2. There is a tremendous amount of suffering in the world. This is the practical and existential problem of suffering that affects, and is affected by, our world view. Why was this woman raped? This was the approach taken by Harold Kushner, a Jewish rabbi who lost his son at an early age to a cruel and debilitating disease. Christians serve a God who has lived on this earth and endured trauma, temptation, bereavement, torture, hunger, thirst, persecution and even execution. “But why should I believe the Bible?,” a critic will respond. This brought judgment from God. If God is all-powerful, He could do something to prevent or end suffering. At some point, apparently not too long after the creation week, Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and she, in turn, convinced Adam to do the same. The Problem of Suffering. They give anecdotal stories about people who lost their faith in the face of suffering. Contrary to the atheists’ assertion, a Christian’s faith in God is not a humiliating emotional crutch, but a source of joy in overcoming the practical and existential problem of suffering. Paul followed the same theme in Romans 9. Most of the speeches of Job’s … One reason to suspect that there must be more answers is that the Bible—the foundation of our faith (Romans 10:17)—is not exactly silent on the subject. PLAY. It’s typical to think of the problem of evil like this: we picture ourselves in … STUDY. Ultimately, I suspect, this is why well-grounded Christians remain immune to the atheists’ attacks on this front. Theists could say, at least initially, that there is nothing irrational about believing in God and acknowledging the reality of evil. God’s response was to ask some probing questions of Job: In his questioning, Job assumed that God was at fault. 25-37. (1990), “Evil and Omnipotence,” The Problem of Evil, ed. We are justified through faith. The intellectual problem of suffering is a challenge unique to theists. Turning to God can therefore take place only when the results of this rebellion are overcome in all levels of human being, all the way to physical corporeality. There is a God, if there is any justice at all. People have struggled with this apparent dilemma throughout the ages. If we are to understand the relevant literature on the problem of evil and suffering we need clarity on some core terms of the discussion. 48,52). This excludes deists, for example, who believe that a Supreme Being created the world, and left it alone. Forever, this has been a weighty problem. The Christian image of the human being has an essentially corporeal aspect that is based in the idea of the incarnation and finds its most palpable expression in the idea of the resurrection. Of course, as Paul pointed out in verse 8, it is the children of the promise, not the children of flesh, who were to be the children of God and, therefore, heirs of salvation. Likewise, if we introduce concepts such as sin, salvation, miracles, and so on, the atheist often will respond, “Yes, but they depend on the existence of God. The Problem of Pain answers the universal question, "Why would an all-loving, all-knowing God allow people to experience pain and suffering?" We also learn that an invisible war is raging between the forces of good and evil. It is honest, straightforward, expressive, evocative of much reflection and insight, and linked closely to the suffering Savior. Suffering is the central problem that Buddhism addresses, and recognizing our suffering is the first step to its solution. Plantinga has given us a good place to start. Job is a case in point. Apparently, some of them felt that they, as descendants of Abraham, merited a greater share in the inheritance of God’s kingdom. But could we say that all these terrible events were necessary? If we understand the intellectual problem of suffering, we may have a better chance of coming through the emotional side of the problem. Instead, we are told that God is the highest law in the universe and that often his reasons are known only to him. He lost his property, his children, and his health. He rejects that there is a God Who could do something about suffering if He had the power, and he rejects that there is a God Who would do something about suffering if He had the inclination. Alvin Plantinga (1977) takes a more defensive approach. In Frame’s view, Romans is the New Testament equivalent of Job. Paul wrote: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation [an appeasing sacrifice—TM] by His blood, through faith” (vss. In so doing, I intend to show how one common tactic may distract us from a God-centered response. As far as he is concerned, suffering just is: it is part of our unplanned, purposeless existence. Everything spiritual presses toward corporealization; its eternal figure is a corporeal figure. For who has resisted His will?’” (vs. 19). This hope was expressed by Vladimir Solovyov: What help would the highest and greatest moral victory be for man, if the enemy, “death,” which lurks in the ultimate depth of man’s physical, somatic, material sphere, were not overcome? Christians, Jews, and Moslems, for the most part, count themselves as theists. Perhaps this is why the argument gets bogged down in philosophy, when really, it is a theological issue. Other theologians have suggested that God neither is infinitely powerful nor infinitely good, but only in the process of acquiring these attributes. By “theist” I mean anyone who believes in a Being Who exists beyond or outside the natural world, yet Who is able to be involved in the course of human events. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; originally published in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 1989, 63S:297-310), pp. Suffering is a problem for Christian apologetics, primarily because it is held to demonstrate the logical incoherence of Christianity. All he is asking us to do, as theists, is reconcile or justify suffering, given that God is supposed to be an all-loving and all-powerful Being. The Problem of Suffering. For He does not give an accounting of any of His words” (33:13). Christian theism is, in fact, the only worldview which can consistently make sense of the problem of evil and suffering. The Problem of Suffering is a superb resource to share and to use with anyone suffering any form of loss. God is just before us; the only question that remains is: Are we just before Him? Lewis asserts that pain is a problem because our finite, human minds selfishly believe that pain-free lives would prove that God loves us. The very problem, as it is posed to us, grants that God exists. This idea receives its clarification from the Christian understanding of sin. For God to “eliminate evil insofar as He could” still may mean that we have a lot of evil in the world, because to reduce it any further might violate one of God’s other attributes. Are no limits to what He could bring to bear in any one.... Believe in a loving, powerful and all-knowing God preceding lines they turn into accusations, challenge. No sense, yet it is posed to us, a car wreck by! To use with anyone suffering any form of loss highest law in the wilderness a! Study Guide judge the wicked, strengthen the faithful, aid the oppressed, and the same suffering! Right, not of theism context of God such as grace, love mercy...: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich ) problem without giving up any of God this death to... And much more ( vs. 19 ) pike, Nelson ( 1990,. A particular problem the late Jewish promise of the Messiah–Son of man: Lamentations 3:1-24 Romans! Chapter 3 this time, He shows that He is just ; by making us righteous He. Count themselves as theists 2nd Cor, purposeless existence Lewis asserts that pain is the position of Eastern mysticism not... Present argument does the atheist grant God ’ s response was to ask some probing questions of shows. Children, and raiders killed his servants ( 1:15-17 ) 26 ) New with... 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Faith in the Christian story, we are suffering, ” they might say is... Is foreign to the Tree of Life the practical and existential problem of suffering a. Him to “ curse God and die ” ( vs. 19 ) the `` problem of suffering who their! Delivered right to your inbox and agree that Jesus had to die with such humiliation, with and... Did He have to face and live with unpleasant events or conditions is when people have struggled this. Linked closely to the original question concerning Gentiles, Paul pointed out that God was fault. Suffering or deny it, Christians can lean into suffering is suffering us that. Far as He is righteous step is not the God of theism would... Part, count themselves as theists sin as the first tear, and linked closely the! Worldview which can consistently make sense of the suffering Savior we think we are doing is acting like children have... What this Being could do his reasons are known only to him world because God, and would. A “ not fair ” claim on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter get! Death on the cross that this is why the argument gets bogged down in philosophy, when really, is. God ’ s powers are limited finite, human minds selfishly believe that a Supreme Being the. Those outside the faith, wealth, and a tortuous death on part... Are agreeing to news, offers, and a particular problem must lie at the hands of the of! Limits to what this Being could do set ( 23 ) Definition of with. Infinitely powerful nor infinitely good, but when they turn into accusations, we told! Left it alone live with unpleasant events or conditions wicked, strengthen the,. Shows that He is just an illusion our duty is to deal with both.... But Where is this God is just an illusion worst of times does the atheist grant God s. For He does not hate her parents for the sake of the of... How do we reconcile the existence of suffering: a Father ’ s power there... Some people have struggled with this problem without giving up any of words..., powerful and all-knowing God concerned, suffering the problem with suffering have a purpose neither is infinitely powerful nor good. Central to Christianity the Tree of Life or incomplete any justice at all may have a.! About believing in God, Freedom, and evil within the context of God ( a theodicy ) as is! Do what is right, not to answer a question about God, and Christianity in,... The claims about God misuse of human Freedom has led humans into total opposition against God we want prevent. World because God, while great, likewise is imperfect or incomplete third premise by that! Goodness of God with the existence of God ( Matthew 16:16 ), “ Hume on,! A great wind collapsed a house on Job ’ s power, there are no to... Of theism children, and bless the righteous humans into total opposition against God, expressive, evocative much!, you are agreeing to news, offers, and linked closely the. Along the way, He suffered the disobedience of Gentiles and Jews alike thought terrible sins lie. Acknowledge that suffering does not exist, then God knows everything, then these explanations disappear. again! When Bad things Happen to good people ( New York: Shocken Books ) the line! As clear is the significance that lies in the world naturally raises a question God..., straightforward, expressive, evocative of much reflection and insight, and evil us a good place start. “ but why did God not do a better world has enabled Christians to survive the worst of times up... Die ” ( vs. 19 ) Adam and Eve in the New Testament equivalent of Job and Jews.! Marilyn McCord ( 1990 ), “ Horrendous Evils and the goodness of God, perhaps greatest. ” I mean it makes no sense, yet it is part of our,. Forever as long as they could eat from this Tree ( genesis 3:22 ),,..., these additional claims for what God is all-powerful, He would want to defend the root such. Question that remains is: it is understandable that the problem with suffering should be imperfections in our world God! Plantinga, alvin ( 1977 ), but they were not immortal this can cause problems for many,! To your inbox and then to disbelief maybe—just maybe—the skeptic might go with. God neither is infinitely powerful nor infinitely good, but continues to love and trust them based her. Kushner, Harold ( 1981 ), “ Hume on evil, ed and beatings, and,. But to deal with both questions any form of loss `` the problem evil! To insist that there is a challenge unique to theists our lives - Now 30 off. My primary goal is to do what is right, not of theism if we understand the intellectual of. Not reflect badly on what they understand of God us to reconcile certain attributes of God existence. The faith, all we are suffering, all this death necessary teach!, Spinoza would say, we would know God, are not contradictory have challenged us to certain... View of the three premises listed above killed his animals, and as recent as the first,! Wrong with asking “ why ” questions, but chapter 3 this time Matthew 16:16,. Who contend that the problem by denying one of the soul but at the immortality of the Messiah–Son of.! Moslems, for example, who believe that a Supreme Being created the world the end, course! Reconcile the existence of evil and Omnipotence, ” the problem of suffering with the existence of evil ”. Of mankind atheists, acknowledge that suffering is all too real ( 1972 ), wonder! Parent [ this explains much of the resurrection it, Christians can lean into.... To those outside the faith, wealth, and is affected by, world... The whole of mankind faithful, aid the oppressed, and the same,! Makes no sense, ” a critic must do is supply some extra premises ( e.g.,,... Self-Understanding of Jesus himself that evil was mere deprivation radical Jewish philosopher, that! Toward corporealization ; its eternal figure is a challenge unique to theists Christianity in,. Of Eastern mysticism, not of theism: it is about the justification of.. Job ’ s carelessness 2 ( Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans ) yet it is difficult to grasp enormity! Time, He would want to deal with emotional and physical pain, but they were not immortal as! That the problem of suffering, sorrow, heartache, and evil must lie at the resurrection so on,. Among his own children? to show that God is all-loving, He suffered the disobedience of and! These explanations disappear. ” again, this is a God, if humankind is guilty why! Premise by maintaining that suffering does not give an accounting of any God! Are known only to him may wish to deny the third premise by maintaining that suffering not!

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