God and Suffering

by AK - Jeff 322 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • AK - Jeff
    AK - Jeff

    A few weeks back, in the midst of the Haiti tragedy, much discussion took place in cyberland about the tolerance [or indeed the insistence on] suffering by a loving God. The furor over Haiti has settled a bit [as unfortunately most tragedy is wont to do far too quickly in the human mind], but this persistent matter continues to chew at my subconscience. Today I came across this:


    I post below the contents of this man's perspective - and add that I find it very hard to fault his premise on consideration. The following words are not mine, but his:

    Here are some familiar responses to the problem of suffering.

    Suffering is deserved.Perhaps the most widespread view, on this account when people suffer it is because they are wicked, sinful, and deserving.They’ve done something that is so evil that they now deserve to have awful things happen to them.They’ve got slow starvation, cancer, drowning, dismemberment, or painful disease coming to them.

    Suffering is redemptive.Through suffering, humans become better people, they redirect their lives, they find a more beneficial path in life for themselves and others, and they transcend selfishness and narrow-mindedness.Without it, they’d be far worse off.

    Suffering is apocalyptic.God, for reasons we don’t fathom, has withdrawn from us, perhaps for our wickedness or our lack of faith.And in his absence all manner of demons, spirits, disease, famine, and even Satan himself have had free reign to abuse us and create great torment.But God is coming back.Jesus will return and abolish the evil-doers, setting up a new theocratic reign on earth that will be filled with peace, love, and forgiveness, at least for those who will repent of their ways.

    Suffering is transient.No matter how profound or deep suffering may be for a person here and now, it all vanishes into insignificance when framed against the backdrop of eternal life and joy with God.The suffering may seem awful now, but it will be nothing in the cosmic scheme of things, and the full breadth of God’s plan.

    None of these responses reconciles God’s existence with evil.Far too often, people seem to be satisfied with just any sort of justification that makes the suffering seem less severe or maybe mitigated by some benefit.But of course that’s not the point.The point is:how could a good and powerful God who loves you stand aside, unmoved to action, while such things happen?Believers and too many non-believers get embroiled in protracted discussions of whether or not suffering is really deserved, or if it is really redemptive, as if positive answers would get God off the hook.As long as someone has done something wicked, then not only is it permissible to allow them to suffer, that’s what an infinitely good being would justly inflict on them.Believers are content to absolve God of all responsibility as long as in a few cases, suffering plays a role in getting someone to change their behavior.They offer these justifications as if it would be morally acceptable for God to withdraw and leave us to suffer through the apocalypse, as long as he’ll be back.And they are satisfied that even if things are bad now, as long as existence afterward is going to be much better, then the current suffering would be permissible.

    It’s a simple matter to see that suffering is not justified in any of these cases.Imagine a kind and loving parent who infects her child with polio for some rule violation leaving her crippled for life.We would even balk at the cruelty of giving polio to a convicted serial murderer.We would never tolerate that sort of maliciousness, yet God, if we are to believe these justifications, is more cruel than any human who has ever lived.Suppose a sadistic kidnapper defended his actions by arguing that in fact the cruelties that he inflicted on his victims actually had a redemptive effect by getting them to turn their lives around.And imagine that his victims really had benefited in some small way in the end from his tortures.Would we accept that as absolution for what he did to them?Would his actions be morally justified by the redemption of his victims?Imagine Michael Jackson, after engaging in abusive acts with a child for a night, justified the suffering he has caused by lavishing gifts and a comfortable lifestyle on the child to balance it out.Does transient nature of his crime make it seem less like a crime now? Imagine parents abandoning a child to an awful group of criminals, rapists, murderers, and abusers, but promising that they will be back in a few years to straighten it all out to everyone’s satisfaction.Would we insist that they really are loving parents as long as they fixed it all later?

    The real challenge created by suffering is not whether or not there will be some benefits too, or whether or not the suffering will ever cease.It’s much more substantial: a good and powerful being would not permit any suffering that he could avoid by some alternative sequence of events that would produce as much or more benefit.The only way that being and suffering will be compatible is if every instance of suffering is optimal such that the benefit it produces could not be acquired any other way, and the benefits that are produced are greater than the losses suffered.When we consider the challenge this way, the four responses above completely miss the point. That suffering will end, perhaps with a wonderful existence in the afterlife, does nothing to show that the torment that sentient beings have gone through was necessary or worth it. In fact, the existence of a joyful afterlife suggests that there is a much better alternative mode of existence that is available to God but that he mysteriously prevents us from having.That some cases of suffering redeem some people does nothing to explain why God would employ suffering to change the lives of a few when he could have achieved complete and perfect redemption directly and without any harm at all.

    Posted by Matt McCormick at 5:41 AM

  • BurnTheShips

    "The mystery of suffering"

    Suffering is deserved.

    Some suffering is deserved. If I knowingly do something evil, and evil befalls me because of it, I deserve it. But a little Haitian baby crushed under the weight of a collapsed building did nothing to deserve his suffering. There is injustice in the world.

    Suffering is apocalyptic.

    I don't see it that way, at least not as described after that header.

    Suffering is redemptive.

    Catholics deal with this aspect more than most.

    JPII's encyclical, Salvici Doloris:


    Suffering is transient.

    Yes. For me, the end is not in doubt nor is it for any good person. I am going Home, and so are they. Also, suffering allows me to show what I really am, and to perfect myself in virtue, if I dare.

    as if positive answers would get God off the hook.

    "Off the hook?" Who am I to judge God?


  • AK - Jeff
    AK - Jeff

    So, how does transient suffering justify such?

    A parent should beat a child because when the beating ends - relief? This explanation does nothing to explain/justify God's failure to recognize and act on the suffering of his children. How is transient suffering justified?

    In fact, is not this long long long transient suffering the whole point?

    And if ransom is the issue - what the bloody hell? If I paid a painful ransom to release my children from suffering, and it was in my power, I would so immediately following the payment. [Kind of an interesting conflict of interest isn't it? God pays his own ransom to release his own children whom he both tempted and then punished for taking the bait?] In any event - the garden of eden and talking snakes, naked ladies, and eruption of sin out of Pandora's box is a hell of a long time ago. Time to act - even for a God who loves transient suffering!


  • cofty
    Who am I to judge God? - BTS

    I am more than happy to judge god.

    If we don't understand what is loving and decent then we don't understand anything; god is neither.

    The god of the 3 great Abrahamic faiths is beneath us. I am a better person than god and I am certain you are too. All attempts to excuse god are what Daniel Dennett called "the fine print in a fraudulent contract"

  • Perry

    This explanation does nothing to explain/justify God's failure to recognize and act on the suffering of his children.

    Faulty premise at work here. We are not God's children at birth....but children of Adam. God is under no obligation whatsoever toward Adam's children. However, even for Adam's children Christ died for them that give up all and follow him that paid their personal ransom, not Adam's.

    The earth is still under a curse. Whether a person be a child of God through the rebirth, or be a child of Adam naturally...all have the same appointment with death, albeit for different reasons. (Heb. 9:27)

  • bohm

    Perry: Faulty premise at work here. We are not God's children at birth....but children of Adam. God is under no obligation whatsoever toward Adam's children.

    I have to bite: If i see a children who suffer and it is not mine, i dont need to intervene. I feel the christian love.

  • beksbks

    No kiddin' Bohm. If I could prevent an ounce of pain for another...................Look at the way HUMANS rush to give whatever they possibly can in situations like Haiti where others are in pain.

    I got a call from a lady today. We were on jury together for 6 weeks before the holidays. We rode together. Could not be more different, and yet still made a connection. She has a young son, and an 11 year old daughter. She has stage 4 cancer. Why? Keith Olbermann has focused on a story for the last couple of days, about a little 5 year old guy with horrible cancer. The families insurance has refused his latest treatments. Why should an innocent child suffer so? There is absolutely no reason anyone can give that makes an ounce of sense.

  • Mattieu

    Hi Jeff,

    I was at a cemetery yesterday visiting the gravesite of my younger brother and as I always do, I look at the thousands of plots/graves/tombstones (particularly those who died at a young age like my brother) and just ask why....

    After 40 years of knowing so called truths and promises regarding resurrection and of why God allows suffering to continue, I just cannot equate the reasoning’s of what I was taught as a child with how I feel now as an adult.

    As a softie (I tear up during soppy/heartbreak movies, though hide it so as not to be a wus), I can’t look at some of the news stories in regards to natural disasters and the effects on people, especially little kids, without tearing up.

    I’m no spiritual/theological academic and I wish I knew why God does permit so much suffering, because all the spin put out by the wtb$ does not add up to me. If I knew, it would at least stop me asking “why?” every time I visit my little brother.


  • choosing life
    choosing life

    You are asking a question that no one can answer. It is easy to skim over the question of God's allowance of suffering when life is good and it is a remote possibility. When you or someone quite close to you suffers, it is quite a different story.

    It changes from a philosophical interest to an up close and personal ache that is never satisfied. I heard a funeral sermon lately where the minister stated that it just doesn't make any sense. Kinda surprised me that he would admit that.

    This question used to eat away at me for a long time. I finally had to realize that there is just not a good or satisfying answer.

  • glenster

    An all-beneficent God (or people or life) idea sounds good but disappears with
    one look around. To be credible, your God concept has to be reconciled to the
    world He's believed to preside over.

    bad God good
    bad people good
    bad life good

    None of them are all good or all bad. The best you can do for any of them is
    be glad for your chance at life and what good you found in it--Job, etc.
    Whether you do or not, you're probably disturbed about the bad--it doesn't in-
    dicate you've rejected any of them or require you to. Job didn't rationalize
    the good of the bad--he just didn't like or understand a good reason for it.
    Nobody does.

    Without trying to rationalize the bad as good, you could make a case for
    freedom of choice including the possibility of bad choices or circumstances,
    notably including love freely given being worth more than if people had no
    choice but to be programmed for it, etc. You could add some or all going to
    heaven to the good offered.

    Prerogative makes a difference, too. I think of an analogy with God > people
    and people > animals. A man might not rescue animals from a medical lab, not
    have a pet in his house, might even enjoy hamburgers, and his neighbors think
    he's a nice person--they think it's his prerogative. If he ate equal quality
    beings, they'd think he was Dahmer. It makes a difference. The idea that it
    would be criminal if he did that as an equal quality being isn't an exclusive to
    the non-belief choice--it's understood all around. It's not the concept,

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