The Comfort of the Cross

cross0001.jpgHere are six truths about suffering—and four steps to relieve it—that should prove comforting to any Christian in pain:

God didn’t cause our suffering. God never, ever wants us to suffer. He hates it when we hurt. But we must sometimes hurt, because pain is an unavoidable part of the human legacy, period. God could of course instantly stop all human suffering. But doing so would involve interfering with our free will, which he loves us to much to do. He allows us to suffer, but that we do is agonizing to him.

Christ, who loves us, knows our suffering. Christ proved his love for us on the cross. And on the cross he also proved to us that he knows the lowest depths of earthy, human suffering. When we call upon Christ to comfort us, we can do so confident that he knows and understands the full measure of our pain.

Christ wants to love and comfort us. Christ’s purpose is to comfort and heal us. He loves us—and he proved he loves us. He is our friend, our bringer of peace, our soul’s physician. God cares; he is the opposite of indifferent to our suffering.

Through suffering we can grow in our identification with Christ. As Christians, we want nothing more than to as fully as possible identify and commune with Christ. Christ purposefully suffered for us on the cross. Our own suffering provides us a means of more fully appreciating the depth and reality of what he did for us.

Suffering clears a way for God. Suffering has a way of clearing our minds of superficialities, of focusing our attention on the core essentials of life. When we’re suffering, we tend to receive Channel God a lot more clearly than when we’re not.

God sees our suffering in the context of eternity. A big part of our suffering is the fear that we won’t get better. But God already knows just how fantastically better we’re going to get. We see ourselves as earthly creatures; God sees us, already, as the angels we will become.

If you’re suffering, here are four things your can do to help yourself heal:

Pray. Ask for God’s peace. Don’t be shy about asking for it; don’t be hesitant about asking for it; don’t in any way qualify your desire for it. God is there for those who are suffering. And He can bring to you what you cannot deliver to yourself; God, and only God, can make two plus two equal five. When suffering, you need something extra, something beyond yourself, something unfathomable. You need a miraculous calming of your waters. Calming stormy waters is what God does. Ask, and you shall receive.

Share your troubles. Suffering tends to make us crawl into ourselves, to isolate with our anguish. Resist that counterproductive impulse, which only serves to coddle and thus empower pain. Instead, reach out to others when you are hurting. Share your troubles with your spouse, your friends, your family. With them be honest and open; free yourself to be as vulnerable as you feel. Receive their input, their sympathy, their care. Receive their love. Allow God’s greatest power to come to you through God’s greatest creation: people.

Seek the support of others afflicted as you are. The value of being in a support group with others who share your specific affliction cannot be overstated. There’s nothing like communicating with others who know exactly what you’re going through to relieve the psychological stress of isolation that is often the worst part of suffering. Look for a local support group to join. Start one if you have to; there are sure to be others in your area going through whatever you are. Join an online community. Do anything to begin sharing your story with others who are already living so much of it. They need you as much as you need them.

Become informed. If idle hands are the devil’s playground, ignorance is his factory. Fear and anxiety naturally thrive in the vacuum of unawareness. Learn what there is to know about whatever’s grieving you. When you actually know about something, it is never as bad as you think it might be when you’re only guessing about it. Knowledge really is power. Get all of it you can.

Print Friendly

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://shadsie.deviantart.com/ Shadsie

    I've been struggling with money/job stuff all of my adult life, actually, but currently, I am supported by someone who has been unemployed for a year – and we aren't making ends meet. My getting a second job or more work is out of the question – I'm technically disabled (I've been fighting to try to get Disability for over four years now and it's still tied up in the courts). My parents are getting pissed off over sending us money. They're probably going to cut us off if I ask again. We have no one else able or willing to help us.

    I've been praying for my guy to get a job, but we've had no answer. I'm getting bitter.

    • ManimalX

      Don't let bitterness grow roots in you, Shadsie! Scripture tells us that "God will supply all of our needs, according to His riches and glory." That is just one promise of many that God makes to His children, to those who believe in Him.

      I will be praying peace and provision for you and your family!

      • Don Whitt

        Sure, but God wants us to help each other, ManimalX.

        Shadsie, if you’re comfortable sharing, what is the nature of your disability?

        • http://shadsie.deviantart.com/ Shadsie

          I think I’ve said it before on other posts around this blog…

          I’m somewhat severely Bipolar. As in, prone to panic attacks and even psychotic fits if I’m triggered just the right way. I don’t know if you consider mental illness to be disabling, as many people who are ignorant of it do, but trust me, it is.

          In fact, the lawyers working on my Disability case, a couple of months ago, were about to drop my case – thinking it was hopeless to win. Upon calling me and informing me of this, it triggered one of my attacks. My fiance’ had to take the phone from me and talk to the lawyer while I was screaming incoherently and punching the walls (of the apartment we *aren’t supposed to damage*). Hear my fiance telling the laywer “Yeah, that’s her.” They got back on my case right-quick.

          Strangely enough, I am calm around animals – hence why I can work where I work (a barn). I can be even-tempered around a horse, or a cat, or a dog. It’s humans I cannot deal with face to face (or even over the phone in most cases). Cleaning up horse manure I can do – working in a job that requires contact with people, I can never keep for long because humans and their ways trigger stuff in me.

          • Ace

            Yea, humans tend to have that effect. *headdesk*

          • http://farfromthisshore.wordpress.com Don Whitt

            @Shadsie.

            Mental illness is as debilitating or more so than other “classic” disabilities. It’s at the core of your being.

            Given your income and home situation, are you able to get health care and, if so, have you found any drugs, like seroquel, lithium (old school), depakote, symbyax, etc. that help at all?

            And are you getting regular counseling?

          • http://shadsie.deviantart.com/ Shadsie

            I get basic state-provided health care and take lithium. It does help – balances out. It doesn’t make me normal (whatever normal is), but I find the “manic drive” I get helpful to my creativity.

            I don’t get regular counseling, however – transportation issues.

          • Don Whitt

            I’m so glad Lithium is working for you. There are newer medications that you may consider discussing with your physician, though it takes time to switch meds. If you can ever swing it, getting counseling could help. You’re doing a fantastic job of sorting out what works for you in terms of situations you can handle and not. Counseling could help you refine that and allow you to control that even better and deal with things naturally.

    • Wink364

      Hi Shadsie. I know how easy it is to become bitter. Most of here have gone through seasons of feeling forgotten by God. But we need to test our feelings against we should be believing by faith. Faith holds out. Faith hopes against hope. The answer isn't always what we are looking for, so often we overlook what God is trying to show us because we strain at a gnat…while we swallow a camel. IOW, the giant thing that God wants to do with us, slides by unnoticed because we are consumed with smaller incidentals that won't take us where God wants us to be. I don't pretend that this is necessarily true for you, but consider that it could be. I know it has been true for me, way too many times.

      In the meantime, pray for a reason WHY your man hasn't gotten a job. Bitterness keeps us away from our devotional time with God. Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

      • http://shadsie.deviantart.com/ Shadsie

        He is perfectly qualified for many things – he knows outright that he's suffered age discrimination (people wanting the younger rather than the older). I asked if he wanted to pray together, but he didn't want to, being a very private person about prayers.

        We don't go to church, but that's mostly due to my multitude of personal problems, and if you suggest for one minute that "God doesn't love us as much" because of that, I'm going to rip your head off and eat it. One of the reasons why I'm no longer a Fundamentalist? I can't take guilting myself over every little thing. I already have problems with that with the illness I have – I don't need more of it.

    • http://shadsie.deviantart.com/ Shadsie

      Trying one more time – see if I can reply to my OWN thing.

      Is it a system glitch that keeps eating my replies to other people on here or am I just not welcomed here any longer?

  • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

    wow, talk about perfect timing. I needed to read that today. Life has been really tough lately. I will cross the year mark on my marriage separation on Thursday, and the divorce will be final soon. Right thing to do, absolutely the right thing to do but wow what a life change.

    I am trying to work full time, go to school full time. Life change = less disposal income an increasing health risk means Sylvie Does College. I hope I survive.

    I am having to replace two vehicles at once, because one suffered complete brake failure and the other decides that it needs to go through a quart of oil every week. I need one, my youngest needs one.

    Have I mentioned that I'm hardly in a sound financial stage? Medical bills from daughter's hospital stay, regular bills, a job that is commissioned based, car troubles…etc.

    Worried about son in law who is in Afghanistan, and who's job puts him directly in harm's way. His platoon has suffered casualties in the past few weeks. He has a two little ones here at home, and we are waiting for that day he comes home for good. We pray daily that he is safe.

    I have a psych exam tomorrow and studying doesn't seem to be helping.

    So to read that God understands my suffering, is helping me endure it, even though I feel overwhelmed, and has plans that will make this so so worth it is surprisingly comforting.

    • ManimalX

      Praying peace, provision, and wisdom for you, too, allegro!

  • BlackEyed_Susan

    "quickly give your opinion without having to really work" — that sold me on it!

  • ManimalX

    Good post. Scripture tells us about our God: Among many other names, He is Jehovah Jireh (God our provider), Jehovah Rapha (God our healer), Jehova Raah (God our shepherd).

    (here is a partial list, for those interested: http://www.blueletterbible.org/study/misc/name_go… )

    I do have to disagree with the very first item in this blog entry, however. Scripture contains multiple examples of God directly causing people to suffer, both "believers" and "non-believers," in both Old and New Testaments.

    That is not to say that He is petty or vindictive in a negative sense by any means. Rather that He is Holy and wise, knowing exactly how to deal with His creation. Sometimes suffering is exactly what we need in order to mature and grow (part of what theologians would call the "sanctification" process). Sometimes it isn't.

    It would obviously be foolish and unbiblical to say that God causes all of our suffering, but it is equally foolish and unbiblical to say that God never causes suffering.

    • http://johnshore.com John Shore

      Well, if anyone who ever comments here wouldn't mind telling someone that they're suffering because God wants them to do, it's you.

      • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com/ ric booth

        Lord, who's sin caused this man's uncouthness, his own or his parents?

    • DeeArr

      Manimal, one can always depend on you to remind the world that the God of the Old Testament is here to condemn them. It's like you're here to always remind a cancer victim going through chemotherapy that "Don't be too hopeful. there's a 10% chance that you *won't* make it.

      • Ace

        Hey, misery loves company…

        • DeeArr

          Actually in my experience, misery prefers to be alone.

    • Wink364

      Causes or allows. Big difference in my opinion. But to be absolutely fair, "suffering" is a big area. Many hold that anything that causes suffering is intentionally wicked or evil. Also, one man's suffering is another man's walk in the park. We each tolerate suffering to varying degrees. Some people commit suicide at the drop of a hat. Others endure lives of abject anguish and come through better, not bitter.

  • blueberrypancakesfordinner

    i heard once in an AA meeting that

    " Pain is inevitable suffering is a choice"

    But John, What about Job? i thought that G*d brought all that to him and he was pure in heart.

    • ManimalX

      Job is an example of God allowing someone to suffer, not directly causing them to suffer. Essentially, Satan challenged God to bring suffering to God's faithful servant, Job. God said that He would not. So, Satan asked if God would allow him, Satan, to harm Job, and God allowed it, for a time.

      • ManimalX

        Sorry, I posted my paraphrase before I read it a second time. It is a bit off, but the point is the same. Satan challenged God to harm Job, and God told Satan he had permission to do it himself.

        A person COULD argue that by lifting the "hedge of divine protection" from around Job and allowing him to suffer at the hands of a hostile agent is an example of God causing the suffering, but I still think it is better seen as an example of God allowing suffering, not causing suffering.

        • Argy-bargy

          Not only can you argue it, it seems the inevitable conclusion of the episode. To argue that He is not "causing" suffering is a specious argument. Sorry, but there isn't a satisfactory explanation that I am aware of that reconciles the concept of an all-loving God and the Jobian allowing (but actually causing) suffering. I am open to being convinced otherwise, but I haven't heard anything convincing enough to change my perception. The only acceptable answer is that we simply don't understand why God does/did it, and we have to take it on faith that He wants/wanted better for us from this scenario.

          • Argy-bargy

            And, I should add, is not an answer that helps us understand God's purpose, just that we have to accept it. And I have more than a problem with accepting that concept.

          • Argy-bargy

            Well…my comment from like 5 hours ago finally made it. :-)

        • Suffering Friend

          Not only can you argue it, it seems the inevitable conclusion of the episode. To argue that He is not "causing" suffering is a specious argument. Sorry, but there isn't a satisfactory explanation that I am aware of that reconciles the concept of an all-loving God and the Jobian allowing (but actually causing) suffering. I am open to being convinced otherwise, but I haven't heard anything convincing enough to change my perception. The only acceptable answer is that we simply don't understand why God does/did it, and we have to take it on faith that He wants/wanted better for us from this scenario. And, frankly, that's more than a bit of a cop-out. Not that it can't be true, but, c'mon….

          • Wink364

            I've struggled over the trials of Job and came to an understanding that those trials best illustrates the notion that God not giving us more suffering than we can handle, isn't based in Scripture at all. God indeed allows suffering to temper our character. If we love and seek after God, we press into God and HE becomes our shield and buckler. If we become bitter and push away from God, we endure the suffering without Him. WE can't always handle the suffering. On our own, we often grow weak and succumb to the implosive self-destructive bent that is err to all human flesh. Even if we don't off ourselves, we grow jaded and suspicious that God is a capricious and cruel overlord. Who wins? After being there and doing that too many times, I refuse to believe that suffering is supposed to make me bitter. Even those who don't believe in God can see that suffering can work FOR us, if we have a right heart and a right mind. A mind not darkened to believe that God hates us.

            I'm sorry for your suffering, friend. I suffer too. I get bitter sometimes, but I soon recognize that the bitterness doesn't work toward any good. If I trust God and continue to walk with HIm in spite of my adversity, I can only get better. For what it's worth.

    • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

      You bring up an excellent point blueberry. There are plenty of people who's life circumstances have been far worse then say yours and mine and they would be quite surprised to realize that some think that they are suffering. Most certainly suffering can be perceptual not circumstantial, what is hard for some, is just a minor bump in the road to others.

      Did God cause my circumstances? Very unlikely? Is He using these circumstances that have arisen in my life as an opportunity to help me in a way I don't see yet? Quite possibly

      Are my circumstances the result of something wrong that I've done and this is punishment? Pretty unlikely, although I know I am hardly perfect and make mistakes. Are those circumstances instead the result of living in a world with imperfect people, making imperfect choices, of the natural order of decay and resulting change? Quite possibly

      Is the myth that God never allows us to endure beyond what we can endure true? Likely not. Is it instead true that He can and often does place things within reach that can help us endure with assistance so that it is more bearable? Quite possibly

  • Kim J.

    Perfect timing John. Thanks for the post. It's just been a rough few days and I need to hear this. You're a good guy.

  • ManimalX

    Ummm…. ok?

    My point is either right or wrong. Either the Bible contains examples of God causing suffering for specific purposes or it doesn't. Or, I misunderstood your point (though, "God didn't cause your suffering" seems like a pretty clear statement).

    Either I am wrong and need to be educated, you are wrong and need to retract/rephrase the statement, or the statement is unclear and needs to be rephrased.

    Or, you could just throw more snarky comments my way. *shrug* Whichever way you want, no skin off my nipples. Whatever bloats yer goat!

    • Murf

      I'll agree with Manimal here, John. Your points are all well taken, EXCEPT for point one, which appears to be based more on your own preconceived notions, then Scripture. God has an amazing ability to cut right through our preconceived notions about him and assert things about himself that make us cringe (“Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” Ex 4:11 ESV).

      Also, John, you seem to contradict point 1, with point 5. He doesn't want us to suffer, and yet, suffering clears a way to God. C. S. Lewis rightly pointed out that "pain is God's megaphone to a deaf world." This might perhaps be one reason why God would want us to suffer, it makes us willing to listen.

      Joni Eareckson Tada, who knows something about suffering, wrestles with the issue in this book http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1434765326

      • DeeArr

        It's always fascinating to see someone counter one of these posts with a statement like "your preconceived notions" with your own preconceived notions. Do you have the capacity for understanding the aggression of that posture and how it diverts really great conversation? How about instead of characterizing someone's understanding of Scripture, you simply offer your own interpretation and leave out the implication that John's is somehow man-made vs. your own when in reality Murf, man-made interpretations are simply all that any of us have.

  • Susan

    Meant to vote a thumbs down on ManX, not up. If that can be corrected, cool.

    • ManimalX

      I vote thumbs up on this post :)

      • ManimalX

        And why the "thumbs down," Susan?

        What exactly did I write that deserved that?

        • Susan

          Part I
          B/c, you express to John that this is a good post, but go on to write it is "foolish to say God doesn't cause suffering" then assert that he needs to retract the statement. *That* statement and the idea that Christ hurts when we hurt, IMO go hand-in-hand. They are both core to an underlyng theme of this beautiful message.

          So, that being the manner in which I read John's article, I found your posts to be contradictary and/or disingenuous. IMO, how can it be good, but one of the major themes be wrong?

        • Susan

          Part II
          John stated that God *allows* suffering. The way you expressed your comments, the *technicality* that you identified, IMO, took away from the spirit of John's piece, which offered layers of truth and comfort. There were multiple touch points in which John reached out to the reader – multiple ways for a hurting reader to relate to the blog, to reconnect with God, to re-engage in life, to take a step out of the paralyzing grip without fear of crumbling into dust. His balance of compassion, identification with the reader, advice—how he conveyed all this was IMO, PERFECTION.

          This is a repost that he asked to forward to anyone in the midst of suffering, which I did. I’m so grateful that my friend who needed it the most read it prior to your comment. The absolute LAST thing she needs to take away from this is that God causes suffering.

          • FreeFox

            Hm, that doesn't really sound as if you are after comfort AND truth, though. More as if you value the comfort at the expense of truth.

          • BlackEyed_Susan

            Part I:
            If someone is suffering, I want to offer comfort, truth and to be realistic. The fact is that as a mere mortal, I have no capacity to ascertain whether God caused someone’s suffering only that He allowed it.

            When an individual is hanging on by the skin of their teeth, when they are in the midst of enduring perhaps one of the most difficult periods in their life, why would I, in an attempt to offer hope/solace, to compel them to take action in the areas that they can control and to unburden themselves of what they cannot control by giving it to God in a spirit of trust…why would I want/need to throw in “Oh, by the way, God may have caused this suffering”?

            It is an unnecessary, unknowable piece of information that would likely lead to someone becoming even more conflicted, and less trusting of God. If I suggested, as John did, that the person pray, God can reveal what deeper truth he wants to convey.

          • BlackEyed_Susan

            Part II:
            I cannot find fault with John’s compassion, his advice that includes seeking God, trusting God, moving forward, reaching out to fellow humans. I think that is precisely what God would want. Let God be God, and humans point others toward Him, not put a potential obstacle in that path.

  • Chad

    Really, God does not cuase people to suffer? I may be speaking out of turn, but didn't God send the plagues to the earth, the floods that wip[ed out entire nations, the angel that was cast from heaven (Satan), he let his children wander around in the desert for almost eterrnity, he let us crucify his Son as to forgive us for our sins, etc… DO you fear the wrath of God? I do.

    • John Shore

      I don't.

    • DeeArr

      I don't fear God's wrath. I've been redeemed. He sent His son to die for the world. I trust him.

  • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

    When it comes to suffering we tend to look only at people and then speculate about its theological ramifications. But nature itself is based on dreadful suffering.

    The entire predator/prey system involves tremendous suffering of both – from starvation for the unsuccessful predator to the terror of the prey who is often first maimed to thwart escape and then eaten alive! At the very least (presuming such a brutal system was necessary), wouldn't it have been marvelous if a 'god-switch' had been installed in these creatures to impede the nerve impulses that transmit pain for these doomed creatures? I wonder why that wasn't done by a benevolent creator… I know I would have done so if it had been up to me.

    Maybe it was beyond the creator's mandate, which then raises the issue if such a creator really is omnipotent.

    If he had the power but was unaware just how much suffering would result from such a system, then I have to question the notion of omniscience.

    But if the creator was both aware and powerful enough, then to allow so much suffering by design seems to bring into question his benevolent nature.

    If human suffering somehow meets god's approval (for whatever the benevolent theological reasons may be for this single species), I for one fail to appreciate how so much unnecessary suffering in the animal kingdom theologically lines up on their behalf… presuming it too is an important component of sacrificing for our 'free will'.

    Something just isn't sitting right here.

    • Ace

      I still believe firmly that most human suffering is wrought by human hands. It isn't God who starts wars (no matter who invokes a higher order in their justification of such). It's not the divine hand that allows children to starve in one place when there is food going to waste in another. It's not karma that refuses to extend help or even pry open a wallet when some natural disaster occurs.

      Humanity is its own greatest enemy.

      • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

        If that's true – and I think what you say is true – then 'salvation' from suffering (for lack of a better word) seems to me to be a human responsibility on behalf of our shared humanity. Improvements in the name of advancing human well-being is therefore a fully human concern. Additional theological considerations and justifications seem to me to be entirely misplaced in the arena of human suffering and at the very least diversionary from where our concerns truly lie: with our fellow humans. And there exists a real and present danger that these considerations and justifications can also be used to sustain and even promote suffering in the name of some specific theologies.

        • Ace

          Part 1:

          Anyone who uses religion or theology to sustain and promote suffering is, put simply, a bastard, and at least in the case of Christ's teachings, perverting the faith.

          Commandments such as "Love your neighbor as yourself" and parables like the good samaritan would rather argue against such harsh notions, at least that is how I see it in my admittedly limited understanding of the subject. I'm less familiar with the teachings of other religions such as, say, Buddhism, but most seem to have a similar theme of encouraging compassion.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            Well, just be careful in your criticism (that I think is justified on merit alone); it seem Mother Teresa thought human suffering brought honour to god – especially in her version of what palliative care should look like. Although she did good in the name of god (meaning she helped alleviate some suffering for some people , she also did not do actions to alleviate suffering that was well within her means to do and justified that inaction also in the name of god.

          • Ace

            Mother Teresa alone is responsible for her own actions and inactions. I've read the criticisms of her ministries and I do think some of them are legitimate.

            I think one also has to remember that she grew up with a very simple faith in the Roman Catholic church, and was extremely obediant to their teachings and the direction she received from the priests, bishops and other church authorities that oversaw her work (at least that is what I gathered from the personal writings presented in the book "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light").

            I can't really comment from an educated perspective on that subject though as I am not a Roman Catholic, nor do I interest myself particularly in their politics and teachings. I will say I'm not a big fan of the Roman Catholic Church as an institution, though I do know many lovely, compassionate Roman Catholic people who would not readily ignore or encourage human suffering.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            Oh, all I meant with my Mother Teresa comment was to separate the action from the person after you called people 'bastards' for sustaining and promoting suffering. I think many good people do sustain and promote suffering thinking (like Mother T) that it honours god. And the common assumption is that actions done to honour god must by definition be good, whereas I think this is an error of assumption.

            So, yes, I think such actions are 'bastardly,' which tends to justify in the minds of many to call me names for temerity to criticize god.

            You see the problem? And it is a HUGE problem when you mean to take positive and heart-felt action to reduce suffering and enhance the well-being of people when your motivation is assumed by far too many to be anti-god!

            (And we need to look no further than the recent debate here about what can be done to positively affect the high rate of teen suicides by gay youth to see this thinking in action.)

          • Ace

            Well…. we're all bastards at least one day out of the week. *kof*

            I suppose I could have chosen a better term.

            The assumption that actions done to honor god must be "good" is an unfortunate one, especially given that those actions are often things like murder, waging wars, etc. But I still think people who do such are, well, massively mistaken in their beliefs.

        • Ace

          Part 2:

          I do, as you do, believe that it is a very human task to help others and to relieve suffering of others where you see it. You don't have to be religious to do that, either, though I think it can be a motivating factor with some individuals who otherwise may not feel any particular need to extend a helping hand to a suffering neighbor.

          Obviously not all pain in life can be avoided because to put it bluntly that is the nature of life itself, but a lot of needless on-going suffering could be ameliorated if more people would just get off their asses and do something about it, instead of selfishly ignoring human pain or exploiting others for their own benefit.

    • Ace

      (and this thing says my comment is too long, so part deux:)

      As for nature, I think conflict is necessary. That is what drives life itself, forces adaptation and pushes evolution. If there is no conflict, then there is no change, just stagnation. I don't think life would even exist. Earth would look much like Mars, a now dead, sterile world that may once have harboured some kind of primitive proto-bacterial like life before its mantle cooled and froze, it's magnetic field disspated and it ejected most of its atmosphere.

      The tiger and the deer may suffer in their relationship, but they also depend on each other for their survival. The tiger needs food, and the weak, aged and ill among the deer are her prey, and in culling those, she ends their suffering swiftly and keeps the herd as a whole healthy.

      Nature may seem cruel and heartless to human judgement but I think that is mostly because humans insist on imposing their own myopic perspective on a world that has been around much, much longer than they have. (And which we are currently destroying, at a cruel and heartless rate unprecedented in nature itself).

      Life, as they say, goes on.

      • Argy-bargy

        Well, it seems like when we talk about the "problem of evil" there are two kinds: The human wrought kind and natural evil.

        Clearly, if we have free will, we necessarily have the freedom to choose evil acts or even "good" acts which we don't stop to consider the natural consequences that come from them. Although that is not an explanation of why it had to be set up that way by God to begin with, it certainly explains many of the things you outline in your first part.

        The natural evil part is more difficult to explain. The natural disaster (hurricane, earthquake, flood) that kills countless innocents (especially children, who didn't have an opportunity to choose good or evil for that matter) or even subjects them excruciating suffering short of dying.

        They seem to be distinct "evils" and I'm still struggling to understand either.

        • Ace

          I'd argue that a hurricane or earthquake cannot be considered "evil" in the sense that "evil" implies intent to do harm.

          A hurricane or an earthquake is just something that happens. The fact that death and pain occur as a result is a misfortune and a tragedy but not everything that causes pain can categorically be called an evil, I believe. Death is the natural end of life, and while humans may have a great inborn fear of their own mortality, that doesn't make it "evil" any more than birth is evil.

          To put it in crude terms, shit happens. Where actual Evil comes in is when people do little or nothing about it.

          • Don Whitt

            Agree!!!

        • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

          Well, you're kind of jumping to the 'evil' designation from the 'suffering' part, imposing a moral judgment on it. That's certainly part of a wider dialogue about the effects of suffering, but if we stick to just the 'suffering' part, and look at the theological justifications for it, then I think it presents inherent problems when we extend suffering to include all sentient creatures that do by the same definition suffer. By switching over to 'evil' I think we lose the suffering experienced by critters where the 'evil' designation doesn't make a whole lot of sense in this context.

          • Susan

            Tildeb,

            So glad you are here.

            Thank you for making me dig deeper.

          • susan

            So, Tildeb,

            I think you’re awesome, but not “three-coments” awesome! Promise I’m not stalking you. Just wanted to convey your awesomeness and my first comment didn’t post, so I commented again, unsuccessfully, .Evidently on my third attempt, all three comments, posted?

            Yeesh.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            Yeah, I only saw that final comment yesterday and responded to it but today all three are there. Let’s hope the comment section gets over its hiccups.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            It’s good. It’s been working perfectly fine (as far as I know) all day.

          • susan

            JS, I pomise they didn’t show up until after the third post!

          • susan

            That was yesterday.

      • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

        Well, it certainly makes sense in an evolutionary framework that has no finger-in-the-pie designing deity. But let's not forget that humans themselves are within such a framework, and therein lies a bit of theological trouble.

        • Ace

          Why is that a bit of theological trouble? The universe itself and life in particular is a rather complex thing, whether it has a creator or is simply some kind of bizarre accident.

          We as control-freak humans like to impose our own values on nature, on the universe and on ur concept of what we call God (among other names), but that seems a rather limited view, from a rather limited species.

          I think sometimes we forget that we are in fact very small.

          Anywho, I believe that this world and we humans are created by a loving God, and that our visitation in this life and universe and our current physical form is short, and that we possess souls, that there is an existance beyond the grave and outside this life that makes a focusing on our own personal suffering, especially at the expense of noticing others' pain, rather short-sighted, but that I suppose is just one possible view of things.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            It's trouble because it directly challenges your belief that we are created by a loving god… unless that god either dabbled sometime in the deep past or has made it look like we are the product of genetic scaffolding from simpler life forms. It's trouble because it undermines the role such theological belief can legitimately play in human affairs.

          • Ace

            I'm not sure I understand what you are saying here.

            I do in fact know that humans (along with every other species on Earth) evolved from a simpler life form, and regardless of the specious arguments creationist get up to, I don't think the fossil record is really in question from a scientific/factual standpoint.

            That said, I also believe that the universe, and humans were created by a loving God, in God's own spiritual image, from the dust of the Earth (just happened to take a few billion years, but who is counting?). I know it's weird for anyone to think those two statements are not mutually exclusive, but I personally don't see them as contradictory and never have. I'm not a head-in-the-sand literalist when it comes to the book of Genesis. Not all Christians are, despite what the media likes to portray.

            I'm not a young-earth creationist, obviously.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            Ace writes I'm not sure I understand what you are saying here.

            What I'm saying is that evolution is problematic for the creation myth to be taken literally, which according to Ric Booth is why Jesus had to die to rectify man's basic sin revealed therein. He has Jesus suffering and dying for a myth, a metaphor. That's kind of drastic, don't you think, when we know that man evolved not from dust blessed by a deity but from simpler and simpler life forms?

            If one reads only Genesis, what does that creation myth teach us about ourselves? After all, that's the purpose of myths: to teach us that which is true about ourselves, our basic nature. God in Genesis is also a metaphor. I can understand just fine how that matches up beautifully with evolution with a slightly different interpretation but not with the judeo-christian reading of it. That's problematic.

          • Ace

            I wouldn’t call Genesis “just a myth” or strictly a metaphor, though. I don’t take it as a literal historical account of the universe being created in 7 days in our understanding of time either, but still. Kind of like Obi-Wan Kenobi: It’s true, from a certain point of view.

            I also don’t think it necessarily contradicts science or the principles of evolution & natural selection, unless you want to take a very literal reading of it, which is missing the point.

            What much of the old testament is, in its essence, is the story of the relationship between God & humanity. That’s a real & true story, I believe, whether it’s an academic, historical account in the manner a book on the civil war or the industrial revolution, or not.

            Well, we’re both entitled to our opinions I suppose, which are unlikely to ever come into agreement.

          • susan

            You are my all-time favorite Canadian atheist and I’m so glad you’re hear to share you incredible insight. You never cease to make me dig deep and contemplate.

            Thank you, Tildeb.

          • Ace

            (and frankly, I think a lot of the struggle of human life is simply that of an animal with base animal desires standing up and trying to become human, with more selfless desires, and that of a human looking and trying to become divine, with more Godly desires. Which admittely is probably fanciful thinking on my part, but that is how I feel about it.)

  • Suffering Friend

    John, not to get too philosophical, but…oh, heck, we have to get philosophical in this regard…at least somewhat. :-)

    I surmise that I am one of John's "suffering friends" he is posting this for. Without going into the tedious details of the nature of my suffering, I see this still in terms of a theodicy: explaining the problem of evil.

    I grew up Christian…was even an altar boy! (No altar boy jokes please…it was entirely a positive experience. :-D)

    But I have struggled and struggled and struggled with the reason for why things are the way they ARE and why they aren't the way I want them to be. And I understand that is the source of much of my struggle.

  • Argy-bargy

    And, to continue…

    But at a deeper level, I am trying to understand and reconcile an all-loving God with an omnipotent tacit agent of pain. I am deeply frustrated and as much as I have studied, prayed, and meditated about it, the inescapable fact is this:

    If God is omnipotent and omni-benevolent, then why does He permit pain and suffering? The only satisfactory answer is not an explanation, just a conclusion: We must accept on faith that He wants best for us, and that it will turn out for the best. And that is what I struggle with accepting.

    I have a problem worshipping a God that has set things up this way–to set it up so that the only acceptable response is to accept it without a satisfactory explanation.

    • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

      I feel your pain (of this frustration).

    • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

      “If God is omnipotent and omni-benevolent, then why does He permit pain and suffering? The only satisfactory answer is not an explanation, just a conclusion: We must accept on faith that He wants best for us, and that it will turn out for the best. And that is what I struggle with accepting.”

      I don’t understand why he has to be omni-benevolent? I mean, whatever in this world makes you think that? Other than a bunch of wealthy, powerful old white churchmen telling you that it is so?

      Why not accept that God neither created the world fair nor painfree, but complicated, deeply unfair, and very, very painful? And that he expects us to suck it up and simply deal with it. And in return we get, well, life, you know, with all the joy that entails?

    • Ace

      Part 1:

      I tend to shy away from ascribing human values and intentions to God, anyway. It's like being a bird in the middle of the flock and trying to judge the shape and direction of the whole mass of flying birds around, all from the inside.

      You can't see the whole pattern as if from outside, if you are trapped inside. It is a futile endeavor. I hope and believe that at the end of this roller coaster ride, I will be allowed to glimpse the larger pattern of things, but who knows.

      • FreeFox

        "I tend to shy away from ascribing human values and intentions to God, anyway."

        Isn't the whole point of having a "God" (instead of impersonal nature) ascribing meaning and sense to life and fate? A truly inscrutable God, i.e. one whose actions make no sense on a human scale, is no different from those to our eyes blind and senseless forces of nature that the hard sciences teach us about. I'm the last to declare both models mutually exclusive, but I wouldn't know the point of believing in God if I stopped seeing Him in human terms…

        • Ace

          I'm not saying you can't view God in human terms, because frankly, that's the only way humans have TO view God.

          I'm just saying that it's necessarily going to be a restricted, incomplete view.

    • Ace

      Part 2:

      If, indeed, there is a single God, a single creator, a single source-point for everything, trying to apply concepts like "good" and "evil" to that force, in solely human terms, seems a tad ridiculous.

      God is rather beyond our reprobations and judgements, which was at least part of the point in the book of Job, I think (it's been a while since I've read the whole story but what I remember of it, at least).

      " We must accept on faith that He wants best for us, and that it will turn out for the best. And that is what I struggle with accepting. "

      It's a hard pill to swallow, indeed, but I think if it were easy, it wouldn't require faith. I really don't believe life is meant to be nothing but sunshine and candy and kittens all the time, there would be no point to such an existence, and I think ultimately boredom & inertia would destroy a species living such an existance.

    • Wink364

      A good and loving parent takes their young infant child into the doctor's office for their first year immunization shots. We hold our beloved progeny down on the examination table and allow the nurse or the doctor to painfully pierce the smooth baby soft skin with a sharp stainless steel needle and inject chemicals that we cannot naturally produce as efficiently on our own. It is painful. I believe the woeful sobbing of this small child is more about the sharp sense of betrayal at their mommy or daddy being an accomplice in this unthinkable crime, than the sharp prick of the needle. That pain passes quickly, the sense of betrayal lingers.

      I agree that this is too simplistic an analogy, but as I think we all should agree, Gods ways are higher than our own. If God was a cinch to figure out, He wouldn't be much of a God worth worshipping. The older I get, the longer I walk with God in Christ, the more I see my understanding of Him is stunted and infantile. At 56, I am still the babe feeling betrayed by God when I get pierced by another immunization.

      • Argy-bargy

        Well, I wouldn't let my children play in a minefield laid in the backyard without telling them. But that's what seems to be the case with this world, sometimes. Or…I'm going to let my kid play in the minefield with kids who I know are capable of pushing onto one of those mines for the heck of it, and not tell my kid that could happen. All I want is a statement from God (other than the silence after my question which I feel now) that explains why the minefield's there or even "well guess what, me bucko, that's tough…time to man up!"
        :-D

        • Jeanine

          'All I want is a statement from God (other than the silence after my question which I feel now) that explains why the minefield's there' –

          Are you sure that you have not already rejected 'that statement from God' by rejecting the Bible as God's Word? Just asking.

        • Tim

          First, we laid the mines. Second, God did give us a warning. “In this world you WILL encounter minefields”(John 16:33). If we step on a Bouncing Betty, it’s because we weren’t careful enough. If someone else steps on it and we still lose a leg, I guess I would have to regurgitate the age old wisdom of my dear departed dad. “Steer clear of foolish dumb shits!”

      • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

        But is it a betrayal? We can justify the benefits immunization (the reduction of suffering) in comparison to the suffering it causes. That is simply not the case with other forms of suffering. We haven't a clue what justifies it, other than – as someone wrote – shit happens.

        Look, in order to exercise free will (if there is such a beastie) we must do so from an informed position. Ignorance of the law is no excuse as a legal defense any more than ignorance of life is a theological defense. If we haven't a clue why we suffer – what the intention is for its imposition – then we cannot exercise free will regarding the agency that supposedly imposes it on us for our eventual benefit. The free will argument in this context doesn't make sense to me.

        • Ace

          Immunizations may well be benficial, but try convincing your average 9 month old of that fact! It is beyond the child's ability to grasp, and I think that is the point being made – our perception and knowlege is limited.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            Then why would we be made this way if we can't discern the reason for our suffering? Without this understanding, then we can't exercise a 'free' will to choose or not choose god. That's because if we can't inform our choice because our perception and knowledge is limited, then our choice is intentionally limited by our ignorance. n'est pas?

          • susan

            Third time I’ve tried to post something make a comment to you Tildeb…

            Just wanted to say you are my favorite Canadian athiest and I’m glad you’re here. You always make me dig dip and contemplate.

            Thank you.

          • susan

            Oops:

            “to post a comment to you”

            “dig deep”

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            Third time lucky, eh? (Or perhaps the list is very small!) And I’m going to assume that a good ‘dip’ – in the vernacular of digging – actually means ‘deep’ in the Great White North.

            (Just as an FYI, you can usually identify a Canadian writer by the liberal use of the filler word ‘actually’ and certain Brit spellings like ‘colour’ and ‘favour’.)

            Thanks, Susan (I think). You’re on of my favourite theists if anything I write is worth considering! (See? The word favour has that snarky little ‘u’… a dead giveaway.) But I don’t know from which side of the Mason-Dixon line you may hail, so I dare not call you one of my favourite theistic Yanks.

      • Diana A.

        I have often used this metaphor to myself when dealing with suffering. I believe there is a lot of truth to it. And I too “am still the babe feeling betrayed by God when I get pierced by another immunization.”

  • FreeFox

    This post is one of the reasons I sometimes dread being lumped in with Christians when I admit to being a theist. (Or deist? Never know which it is.) We can all smack each other with bible verses ’till we are blue in the face (and personally, I come down on the God-admits-freely-to-causing-suffering-and-sometimes-for-very-peculiar-reasons side) but then, the devil can quote scripture to prove whatever he wants. But if you look at real life? I mean…
    [deleted: it was a horrible picture of a starving mother and child.]

    There is enough suffering on the planet that has nothing to do with the free will of humans. But even if – if you see a perp draw a gun on a child, you don’t give a damn about his free will, do you? It just isn’t important in comparison with the need to help the child. You just bloody get yourself between the gunman and the victim and you do whatever you have to stop him from pulling the trigger. Free will is simply a lame excuse.
    This world is full of pain. As long as you attribute God with being all-knowing, all-powerful and the creator (as opposed to a pantheon of smaller, conflicting gods or spirits, or maybe some balanced duality of the powers of light and darkness, which is all thinkable but not GOD in the monotheistic sense), God is bloody responsible for the pain. And – too go back to scripture – in Job He pretty much tells us what to do with our apologies for him, or our explanations, or our complaints. He is GOD, and He does whatever He pleases. It is not our job to challenge Him, but it is neither our job to defend Him. You know that Monty Python song, “All things dull and ugly”? Well, the good Lord made them all.
    The world is vast and wonderful. Just look out your bloody window. It IS full of pain and horror, death, disease, and desasters. It is also full of glory, and joy, and life, and uncountable wonders.
    God isn’t a wishmachine, were you enter a prayer in one slot and get something painfree and sensible and logical at the other. All we get is this weird, unfair, unbalanced, colourful mix. Everyone a different one, and new every day.
    If you don’t like it, well, you can check out anytime.
    But to claim God doesn’t want us to suffer or that he didn’t cause our pain is so obviously nothing but silly wishful thinking that I cannot imagine how an intelligent person can actually believe it…

    • FreeFox

      Actually… I think what bothers me most is the apparent faithlessness of someone who says these things, like Mr. Shore did in this blog. I mean, how can you claim to love God, and then make such apparent excuses for His creation? As if you were ashamed of God's work and needed to paint it prettier in the eyes of the world. To cover up for His mistakes? What sort of faith does that?

    • Argy-bargy

      Ha. Yeah, you might be a deist. But, hey, you're in pretty good company: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_deists

      Yeah, what I fear is that if God isn't omni-benevolent as you point out as a possibility, then why should we worship Him? And what happens if we don't, especially if He's not? ;-)

      Call me a "stubbornist." I WANT to believe that God is omni-benevolent, but that I simply can't understand (yet) why things are the way they are and reconcile this with His omni-benevolence. But much of what I see and think is starting to push me the other way.

      And that's a truly terrifying thought….

      • FreeFox

        I know exactly the sort of struggle you are describing, Argy-bargy. And I know how doubting God's benevolence can lead peeps to doubting God entirely. Because at first it seems unbearable to accept a God who doesn't have our best interests at heart… like accepting your rents are cruel and don't love you. The pain would be too great…
        But then… that is exactly why peeps despair when they are confronted with a terrible disease, or the senseless death of a loved one, or great injustice. What I mean to say, we remove the problem one step when we discuss it in God – which is what, I must assume, lead Mr. Shore to writing this blog in the first place – but we are confronted by the problem of suffering in real life anyway, all the time. If you replace the word God with the word Life, how does it makes things easier? If you ask, how can I cherish life if the world is filled with so much suffering?
        Do you really think life is so bad with all the pain and unfairness in the world that it would be better if there was NONE at all? Isn't even an unfair life, even a painful life, still unimaginable better than no life?
        Peeps are so easy to say, if this or that happened to me, I'd rather not live at all. But when you have to do with peeps who are poor, who are old, who suffer from painful illnesses, who are dying… most of these peeps fight for every breath. They do not give up, but they struggle for every little bit of life that they can live, until mortality overcomes them. We WANT to live. So, it hurts. Tough luck. But it's still life!
        God obviously doesn't pamper us. So, we often wish the world He created would be easier to deal with. It isn't. But is that really a reason to sulk and not to worship it?
        If so, why are you still with us? Why haven't you quit?
        Cuz every damn second is a gift, every 86,400 each day. And if you credit God with the creation of the world and of life in it, well, isn't that enough to worship him? Does this life have to be easy and painfree as well?

        • Argy-bargy

          PART I

          You make quite a few good points, but I'll respond to what one that I can here. And first, I do NOT want to convey the idea that I think my life is unbearable or doesn't have wonderful things in it. Every time I look at my two children I am thankful. COUNTLESS other people have it far worse than me in so many ways and I am astounded at their courage and resiliency. My problem is existential and philosophical as well as religious or theological.

          "Isn't even an unfair life, even a painful life, still unimaginable better than no life?" Well, I'm not advocating despair or hopelessness, much less suicide as the only reasonable response to this. I'm asking why did it have to be this way to begin with? Why, God, did you have to set it up this way at the outset? I understand that my limited human understanding cannot begin to comprehend something as monumental as God's Purpose and Will. I accept that I don't have a choice but to live life in the conditions that exist. Period. But why? Why couldn't God give us enough to understand why we should trust Him?

          • FreeFox

            Why doesn't the sun rise in the west and set in the east? Why is gravity? Why has the world been created such that I don't understand the special theory of relativity? Why the hell taste brussel sprouts so unspeakably beastly?

            Yeah. The world certainly came without a bloody instruction manual, let a lone a proper documentation. The good Lord's methods of creation appear to be rather, uh, liberal, if not to say a wee bit artsy. I mean, even in the bible there is a number of instances where God first goes one way, and then changes his mind cuz He's annoyed by the result. First he creates man and woman and puts them in the garden Eden, then he gets annoyed when they eat the fruit (and let it be known here, too, that they were NOT kicked out for breaking the rules. Read the story. They were kicked out because God feared that if they ate from the second tree – the tree of eternal life – as well as from the tree of knowledge they would be LIKE HIM, and he just didn't like that idea!), then they are given the world to be fruitful and multiply, then he flies off the handle and drowns everything, then he sorta regrets it and makes Noah the promise to never get so pissed off again (hence rainbows), but then he feels the need to torture and kill his son (or himself, who knows) to wash us of our guilt… not to speak of the multiple contradictory prophecies about how he will punish or free his people from oppression all through the latter half of the old testament, only to completely change his mind regarding special dietary rules, political freedom and the special status of the heirs of Abraham in favour of this whole eternal NEXT life for everyone who believes the right stuff…

            No, neither consistancy nor disclosure are really His strength, no matter if you look at it from a biblical or from a purely empirical real life point of view.

            I have no idea why, but it seems very obvious that He simply didn't "give us enough to understand why we should trust Him". His approach seems to be a simple "here you go. Take it or leave it." Or to quote the emminently un-respectable Stephen King: "It comes down a simple choice, really. Either get busy living, or get busy dying."

        • Argy-bargy

          Part II

          I still haven't found a satisfactory answer. I'm sorry, but I haven't. At least, I should say, I have found the explanations and evidence and revelation that I have accepted up to this point in my life are insufficient. They are lacking. And I can't ignore my dissatisfaction or profound unease in that realization. It's not that I'm not capable of a leap of faith. I have taken them countless times. This one has me stymied. There are many leaps of faith that I COULD make in this situation. Which one is really the right one?

          • FreeFox

            "I have found the explanations and evidence and revelation that I have accepted up to this point in my life are insufficient. They are lacking."

            Can you say what exactly they are lacking?

      • FreeFox

        I just read the list of deists you linked to. Well, hm, yeah. I suppose I can live in the company of these men, even if it includes Mr. Robespierre. So, thanks. ^_^

  • FreeFox

    "If God is omnipotent and omni-benevolent, then why does He permit pain and suffering? The only satisfactory answer is not an explanation, just a conclusion: We must accept on faith that He wants best for us, and that it will turn out for the best. And that is what I struggle with accepting. "

    What I don't understand is why God has to be omni-benevolent? What in this world makes you think so – other than the claims of a bunch of rich, powerful churchmen? Why not accept that God made this world complex, deeply unfair, and often very, very painful. And if you accept that, you get to live, you know, life, with all the joys that entails.

  • Argy-bargy

    …If God doesn't exist, then as Tildeb points out, we have to make things right on this Earth ourselves. It doesn't matter whether He exists or not. WE have the responsibility. No afterlife. Doesn't matter if we would be profoundly disappointed to find out there isn't one. We're simply worm food.

    But what if He does exist and He doesn't like my questioning of Him? And further, what if He's capable of getting really pissed off, and further, that He can (and does) get really pissed off at me?

    *gulp*

    • FreeFox

      What if He exists and doesn't like you NOT questioning Him? What if is capable of getting really pissed off at you being timid or cowardly or passive? ^_^

    • Wink364

      The Bible seems to invite our scrutiny of God and the testimony of His word. The Bereans were skeptical. They studied to test if the teachings of the apostles were right or not.

      When I go shopping for a used car, if the salesperson gets his jockeys in a bunch when I ask if I can take the car to my mechanic, I walk away, never to return. Such behavior betrays crooked business ethics. Any God worth following is not threatened by our skepticism.

      • Diana A.

        “Any God worth following is not threatened by our skepticism.”

        Amen! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  • blueberrypancakesfordinner

    Free, i would have appreciated a warning about that photo. i understand why you posted it and it made your point. but wow

    • FreeFox

      Yeah, apologies for that. Sort of. It WAS exactly the point I wanted to make… but, yeah, well… sorry…

      (Edit: Ah, I see that Mr. Shore has removed the link. It was indeed a beastly photo. It's beastliness didn't make it any less true though. I wish Mr. Shore would have added how such things fit into his sunny assertion that God is not responsible for this sort of suffering, how blaming it on free will is sufficient to exculpate Him, how it is instructional for those who suffer in this way, and tell them "how fantastically better [they]’re going to get"… apparently once they become "angels"… a particular facet of his faith I can find neither scriptural nor empirical evidence for.)

      • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

        FreeFox,

        I missed the photo (but I wouldn’t say I am missing it, exactly). I look at photos and videos of starving children and people and I see them as an indictment of us, not God. God, as I see it, has moved in and handed us absolutely everything we need to remove this type of suffering from our human existence. The fact that this type of suffering persists is completely on us and our choices. It’s like we’ve prayed for God’s help in solving a problem and he’s handed us a solution (a la the rich young ruler) on a silver platter but we hate his solution. We hate his answer to our prayers. So we pray for a solution whereby we do not have to give or sacrifice.

        In a sense, I feel we ignore God’s answer (choosing wide-screens, new church buildings, new carpeting in the sancuary, etc.) and then we become frustrated with God for allowing this situation to persist. It’s like we’re a dysfunctional sports team that refuses to listen to our coach and then blame the coach in the interviews.

        • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

          And yet here you are, a Christian, repairing washingmachines and chatting with gits like me, instead of leading the economic revolution or at least doing relief work in Africa. And I’m betting you are one of the better – i.e. humanitarian, helpful, positive – humans on the planet. I am reminded of the picture you posted on your bloke of the homeless “statue”.

          It is a cute, theological argument for peeps who will never starve in their lives. But while we talk peeps die out there. Could humanity pull together and end all this suffering? Probably not, but yeah, sure, we could make it a whole lot better. And I see a lot on Jesus message that tells us to do exactly that. But the way the world is created – and that includes the way we are created – that will not happen in a long while. And all that time innocents suffer in for us unimaginably horrible ways.

          To claim God doesn’t want us to suffer (as in, he is doing all he can in an ethically responsible manner, weighing free will vs. the need to relieve, etc.) and that he didn’t create the world with pain – senseless, meaningless pain, that doesn’t teach us anything except that life sometimes hurts – built right into it, is just wilful blindness. Not just wilfull blindness towards that suffering, but much more, wilfull blindness to God and Creation.

          I cannot imagine that God gave us eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to feel compassion because he wanted us to ignore the cries of those that suffer.

          • DR

            I cannot imagine someone as smart as you suggesting that one can’t post a few comments on a blog while at the same time, providing some relief in Africa.

  • Argy-bargy

    Maybe it's me and my relative ineptitude, but I am having tremendous problems with commenting and reading comments on the blog. Either my replies time out, or they time out but show up minutes later (even after refreshing, etc.), and when I click on the last comments section it takes me to the top of the blog post, but not the specific comment. Poor John's probably having to delete my multiple duplicate comments.

    Is anyone else having the same problem?

    • John Shore

      Is anyone else? (AB: [as you know], I've forwarded your comment to the WordPress and Intense Debate people. THANK YOU for drawing my attention to this. Without this sort of input, I might never know such concerns exist. Which would be … bad. So thanks!)

  • Wink364

    What gives with this new comment system? I tried to leave Shadsie an encouraging response to a reply from me I feel she misunderstood. When I hit submit, it said, "deleted by administrator". Hmmmm

    • http://johnshore.com John Shore

      Wow! How sucky is that? I totally didn't delete any comments. I've forwarded this comment/complaint (along with two others recently in) to the guys at WordPress and Intense Debate. We'll see how/if they respond. If this system keeps hinking up, of course I'll ditch it. Sorry for current problems. (Believe me.)

  • Argy-bargy

    Haha, Shadsie. That's exactly what I asked John in an e-mail. This system has some reeeeally nice features, but still trying to understand its idiosyncracies.

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com/ ric booth

    (A reprint for some suffering friends.)

    I guess you should edit this intro/caveat to something like, (A reprint for some suffering friends but, well, screw that. Why don't you debate theology instead.)

    My take on John's initial point(s):

    God didn’t cause our suffering. – True. The Fall (as it is called) was humanity's choice.

    God never, ever wants us to suffer. – True. If God truly wanted us to suffer he would not have bothered with the pre-Fall option of Eden or the post-fall option of the Cross. He would neither offer eternal life free of suffering nor would he give us the resources to live life to the fullest here and now.

    He hates it when we hurt. – True. So much so, he is willing to do everything necessary to put an end to the madness. He became one of us. He wept. He healed the guard's ear. He died. (I might be leaving out a couple of key events.)

    • BlackEyed_Susan

      Beautifully expressed.

      • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

        Thank you, BlackEyed_Susan.

  • Argy-bargy

    And to some above who have posed questions to me, I'm having trouble making some of these things go through, so I hope to be able to respond. You've made some really good points!

  • http://johnshore.com John Shore

    I'm going to lose this system, and revert back to the old one. Bummer! But … this is a fail. (They say they're fixing all these problems; I'll upload it after they've launched their overhaul—or just move to a whole other system—soon.)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    Back to normal!

    • Susan

      *happy dance*

  • Don Whitt

    Whew…back to the good old system.

    Like.

    Here’s my jam-packed opinion about this notion of God and suffering.

    “Natural Evil” is an oxymoron. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods? That’s not evil – that’s context. That’s they way it is. I don’t mean that in the Sam Kinison way of, “Hey, dumbass, if you’re starving, move where there’s a McDonalds!!” I mean it in that there are fundamental processes and methods in the world that are what they are. Placing value on it is ridiculous. “Hey, the sky isn’t the right shade of blue!” is how I interpret the “Gee, life is hard” sorts of interpretations and perspectives about life.

    Does God want us to suffer? No, God wants us to LEARN and changing, growing and learning are what we experience as pain. We can only hope people learn from that pain.

    This notion that God is looking down and moving things around and making us suffer is a childish, naive concept and misses the whole point. This is it. This is life. This is the context within which we live. The “suffering” part is OUR interpretation. Perhaps I align with Buddhists a bit in that respect. Suffering comes from the desire for things to not be the way they are.

    • Don Whitt

      Replying to myself, I have to say that there are MANY things that WE – humans – construct that we SHOULD not accept as a fact of life such as repression, violence against the innocent and the promotion of stupidity as a political platform. You can’t stop a tornado and you are not immoral for failing to try. But to promote anything but freedom, love and acceptance is unconscionable.

      • Don Whitt

        And to address what John Shore actually wrote (sheesh), I most identify with “Suffering clears a way for God.” Those are the best little chats, aren’t they?

        “Okay God. I get it. I see what happened there. Boy, was that stupid of me. I pretty much did some major damage there, didn’t i? Thanks for pointing that out so clearly…and “yes” I promise to do my best and not do that again. Blessed be you, over and out”

    • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

      The “suffering” part is OUR interpretation.

      Well, Mr. Shore doesn’t let me link to those images directly, but just picture google “starving child” and tell me again that suffering is interpretation. That God just wants us to learn and change through the experience of pain. Seriously? How cynical are you, mate?

      • http://farfromthisshore.wordpress.com Don Whitt

        Freefox,

        I didn’t say suffering doesn’t exist. And I didn’t say we shouldn’t help to ease people who are suffering. I just don’t think that suffering is God’s doing. What is important is the answer to that question re. suffering. “What then shall we do?”.

        • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

          Sorry, mate, but to quote your poignant last line: “Suffering comes from the desire for things to not be the way they are.” And, not sound too aggressive or anything, but that is bollocks. It sounds nice, it looks great under an inspirational nature fotograph framed in black on a shrink’s office wall, but suffering comes from peeps being in pain, dying, suffering unspeakable hardships, diseases, mutilations, humiliation and injustice, loss of loved ones. Dressing it up in sounding words is an insult to those who suffer. As is blaming it on some mystic “fall”.

          “God wants us to LEARN and changing, growing and learning are what we experience as pain. We can only hope people learn from that pain.”

          If God really intentionally causes all the suffering on the planet as a TEACHING TOOL, He is the most fucked up bastard imaginable. But I don’t believe that. Not because it would be horrible, but because it doesn’t make sense: Too many bad people are left alone, too many good people go through hell on earth. Too many fucked-up people get confusing, unhelpful lessons in pain, while too many stable people are getting their lives fucked-up by sudden tragedies that do not tell them anything but life ain’t fair.

          “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” (William Goldman, The Princess Bride)

          For millennia peeps have tried to figure out pain. Nobody ever found any rhyme or reason that held up to scrutiny. In the book of Job God says so himself as he rebukes Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, who have berated Job for doubting the wisdom and justice of God. And God gives the answer himself, doesn’t he? He says quite clearly: Buzz off, matey. Who are you to question me? I am doing with this world what I please? Why? Because I can. And you can’t do a damned thing about it. So can it and learn to suck it up. And Job cans it and sucks it up.

          All the other tips Mr. Shore gave us, talking about it, informing yourself, and seeking out the help of others, even prayer – as long as it is understood that prayer serves to help yourself, not to beg God to change the world – are all great pointers how to deal with it. Brilliant. Really. And if you get away with a bit of wisdom from your suffering, so much the better. But the suffering is real. It is built into the fabric of creation as He created it for His inscrutable reasons. It’s not divine retribution, it’s not all man made, and it’s not a bloody teaching tool. It just is.

          • Don Whitt

            I understand your perspective, but I disagree. I think it’s all made-up by us. Sure, we suffer, we experience intense pain and anguish, but all that’s a human construct, not what I believe God created. And I get how infuriatingly arrogant or stupid that might sound to you. All we can do is deal with it and evolve to deal with it better and better.

            There are people who view your life as inherently and exquisitely fucked-up because it doesn’t fit into their thought or values paradigm. And that’s my point – one person’s pain and anguish is another person’s fact of life. And at some point, it’s all a given. What we do about it is what’s important. Label me a shameless existentialist, idealist or whatever.

  • denver

    If I may be so bold, I think what John was going for was that God is not a sadistic bastard, who wants us to suffer for the sake of suffering; but that suffering is part of being human and necessary to teach us things that we need to know. Jesus became a human and suffered; it’s part of the human experience, but it serves a purpose.

    At least, that’s how I see it. :)

  • http://williamely.name/ William Ely

    So, God made and designed everything that exists, but he/she/it is not responsible for the suffering people face? Sounds like that claim is flawed to its very core.

    If God did create everything like you are claiming, then he/she/it has a lot to answer for. There is a lot of needless suffering that an all powerful being could stop if it wanted. Perhaps human suffering and confusion is entertainment for this entity?

    • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

      No, you see, it’s our own fault. Because of free will. And, um, and Eve. Or it’s for our own good. Like, spare the rod, spoil the child, you know. The pain is trying to teach us something. Or something. Anyway, it’s all for the best. Must be. How else could He be omnipotent, omniscient and loving? Screw logic.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore
        • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

          Or not. Exactly. ^_^

          • http://williamely.name/ William Ely

            This is a despicable line of thought. If God did exist and he cared about people, he would have made everything a little different. We did not have to be capable of such pain and suffering. It was the choice of God for us to be that way. He wanted us to be in almost constant suffering.

            Wow, it is pretty terrible that you are defending such a being.

            Also, I am not getting email updates on new comments, is the comment plugin broken, of am I doing something wrong?

          • shadowspring

            Or evolution and recombinant DNA was a great plan for creating a world with diversity and grandeur, the laws of physics and chemistry being what they are, the ensuing living creatures need to adapt and learn in order to survive. Hopefully humanity will one day adapt to love and support one another and create a world where love is the highest commitment. Following the words of Jesus would bring us to that place, and also many other faith leaders who envision creation finally reaching its highest potential in love.

            A micromanaging creator who suspends the laws of physics to make sure no creature experiences anything but bliss? Doesn’t exist. But I find great fulfillment in knowing the creator who does exist. Whether you like him or believe in him or think he/she/it should have done a better job is not even relevant. God loves you, and one day, you’ll experience it.

            We all will.

          • Diana A.

            Beautiful!

    • DR

      Why would a loving, intelligent God create human beings that didn’t have the dignity to choose? Suffering is mostly at the hands of other people who are making choices to create it. (People born with ailments are certainly the exception to that rule, of course).

      • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

        Yeah, well, while I doubt that they are as small an exception as you seem to imply, and while I would say there are many more exceptions… it IS one… how do you explain the existence of childhood leucemia, of cystic fibrosis, of female haemophiliacs, or muscular dystrophy, or countless other inborn diseases that kill thousands of innocents worldwide in horrible, lingering, painful ways, often before they even reach puberty.

        Free will?

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    Just catching up on reading your blog after a really rough several days, and I’m glad I took the time to go back a few posts. I really needed to read this today, John. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tom.brisson1 Tom Brisson via Facebook

    Very helpful…


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X