With All this Pain, How Is God All-Powerful and Unwaveringly Loving? [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

In light of the terror visited upon Boston yesterday, Stan’s question seems appropriate for theological reflection this week. He asks,

Hi Tony, here’s the question haunting me to the point of possibly leaving the faith- In an existence full of such pain and evil, how can we still claim that God is both all-powerful and unwaveringly loving? When I’m given the standard answer that trials exist because “He has a plan we don’t know” that “has a purpose for the greater good”, all I can think is that an all-powerful god ought to have methods that cause less pain for those he loves. I can accept an all-powerful god who doesn’t completely love his creation, or an absolutely loving god who can’t control everything, but not both. Thoughts?

As it goes, you give Stan some answers in the comments, and I’ll respond on Friday.

  • dhuth

    It’s your second option (“an absolutely loving god who can’t control everything”) that keeps me in the game.

    This is the reason I continue to mull over process theology, despite Tony’s skepticism that it has any traction these days. Definitely doesn’t “satisfy” (I have a hard time imagining what might) but it does have the advantage of being in more continuity with the empirical evidence of the world — which “all loving, all powerful” clearly does not.

    Thanks for this question, it’s probably the ultimate question of the series, and one which definitely fits the criteria of “haunting.”

    • DRW

      I appreciate process theology for the same reasons. It loves and appreciates all truth without being side-tracked to make sure previous human-made doctrines have been adhered to. As well, when I am grief-stricken, usually by a child’s suffering or death, I find myself embracing paradox and grateful for a God who permits it. I think it is fair and okay to say: “I love God. I hate God.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/jake.litteral Jake Litteral

    I think we need an alternative to the Omni-God conception. Perhaps God is not an “all-powerful” and “all-loving” being. Maybe God is not even an item (to borrow John Bishop’s language) who may or may not exist.

  • Si Lee

    This is obviously the classical problem of evil. I don’t think there are any easy answers. There are gaps, and difficulties in traditional theodicies like that of Augustine and Irenaeus. I suppose part of the problem is the assumed Anselmian understanding of God. We are certainly not bound by this concept of God. While We may not have an ‘answer’, we do have some pieces of the puzzle. One, I would suggest is that God does not will such horrors to happen. They are not part of the divine plan. Can God do anything about evil? That is difficult to say. It certainly doesn’t look like it.

  • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

    I think the main question is framed correctly. What may (or may not, I don’t know) be ignored is the context of the fallen state in which we live our lives from day to day. If entropy is correct, and both science and Scripture inform us that it is (cf. Rom. 8:20), the unnatural disasters (not natural disasters, since nature is fallen) are expected. But what about the fallen state of mortals?

    If we do operate within the context of some semblance of “fallenness,” and I think we see evidence of such all the time, then my question would be, Why do we not witness tragedy more often? In other words, what force is restraining each one of us from acting out some of the worst, most heinous acts conceivable?

    I certainly appreciate what Patton Oswalt wrote, as quoted by J.J. Gould for The Atlantic: “So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.’”

    That is true. Far more good happens in the world every single day in so many places the world over than bad. Not only, How do we account for that? but also, Why do only bad, tragic events make news? Perhaps if we heard of all the good events that happen every single day in every single city on earth, we would have a far different perspective on evil.

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ Jesus Without Baggage

    I was hesitant about weighing in on this one, because I figured I would be blown out of the water (maybe I will be anyway), but dhuth kinda opened the door for me (thanks!). I really wonder if God is all-powerful. In fact, I wonder if he is the active creator of everything, as we have understood the concept.

    The main reason we believe God is the active creator is because of the Genesis creation story; other biblical references to God as creator are based on the Genesis story. If the Genesis story of the creation is not historical (and I believe it is not), then what basis do we have to think of God as the creator? And if God is not the creator, then how is he responsible for the pain that exists?

    I do believe that God has a remedy for the pain and sent Jesus to tell us about it. I believe that Jesus conquered death in his resurrection and provides for our eternal life in our own resurrections, but is God fixing a broken system of his own creation?

    At this point, I do not have answers–only questions.

    • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

      I have no “blasting out of the water” motives, haha. My question is, Do you also reject all other references throughout Scripture which state God as creator (Ps. 89:12, 47; 104:30; 148:5; John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16 et al.)? Also, what of the future? Meaning, what Scripture indicates God will do for the universe and all mortals in the future — a new creation? What of God finally reconciling all things to Himself in Christ, and finally putting all wrongs to right?

      Don’t view this as a challenge, but merely as more food for fodder, or for the further fine-tuning of your own thoughts.

  • http://www.postmodernpriesthood.blogspot.com Ross Christopher

    Is it possible that the most “all loving” act a person/or God can impart is freedom? Freedom doesn’t regulate or halt or constrict or mandate. The character of God can surely inform and persuade us to choose his way of love (and freedom), but does not require it.

    Thoughts?
    -Ross
    http://www.postmodernpriesthood.blogspot.com

  • Tom

    I like N.T. Wright’s position that the entire Bible is about dealing with the problem of evil. Evil exists because humans would rather decide for themselves what is good and what is evil (eat from the tree of good and evil) and not turn to God for answers. The person who set and detonated the bombs in Boston believed that what he/she was doing was “good” not evil. Despite what Hollywood portrays (and sometimes they get it right), humans justify their evil actions. No one decides to just do evil; they convince themselves that what they do is justified in some sense, that there is something to be accomplished. As Wright has said before, God doesn’t always save us from evil times, but he will save us in them, with the promise that “the new creation which began at Easter will one day be complete, and that with that completion there will be full healing, full understanding, full reconciliation, full consolation.”

    • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

      That’s good. Bouncing off that, John Lennox once asked people, Exactly how much evil do we want Him to stop? All evil? Some evil? My evil? Your evil? (I was paraphrasing.)

      Who gets to decide what evil He will stop? What if He considers something to be evil that we do not, necessarily, consider evil? Does He still reserve the right to stop that evil?

      • Ric Shewell

        this is the crux of the matter. While Wright is good at giving us another perspective on theodicy and reminds us about the future goal and hope of creation, he doesn’t answer directly why God intervenes in some instances and not others. It doesn’t make sense to us that God would be so arbitrary, so (like the questioner is tempted to believe) maybe the times when we think God is intervening, it’s really more like luck or chance.

        • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

          That is a good observation. But who can actually *know* why God would intervene in some instances and not others? I don’t trust anyone who claims to *know* why God does this or that, with regard to evil. But I will certainly listen to and read the opinions of others who want to wrestle with this weighty issue.

          • Jonnie

            The presumption that God can just intervene, willy nilly, at any moment and in any context of the created order is what gets this puzzle going. An unfettered God whose only criteria is ‘God’s own will’ will alays leave you with an arbitrary sense of acts of intervention… unless you nuance how and intervention happens.

            • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

              Your comments led me to think of the Calvinist’s view of God’s “sovereignty” (the criteria of “God’s own will”) over and against that of the Arminian (my own view), that God allows us a large measure of freedom, even to the performance of evil, in spite of the fact that He also concurrently sustains the individual while he or she performs said evil. While the free will theodicy may not satisfy each one involved in this conversation, it maintains quite an appeal for many others.

              • EricG

                Free will doesn’t help with the problem of natural evil.

                I agree that one of the huge questions is why God would intervene in some instances and not others. To make it concrete, why isn’t he intervening in the death today of a young child writhing in pain from cancer? Why doesn’t he intervene in the awfully painful death of the baby in her mother’s arms? You can’t get around this stuff by asking “who am I to judge which circumstance?” Some of the circumstances are obvious, with no redeeming qualities to the pain.

                Like some above, I am also starting to see process thought as the only way out.

                • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

                  You’re right, I think: free will does not help with the problem of disasters from nature. We have Romans 8:19-21 for the explanation of the fallen natural order.

                  There is also the notion of our fallen human bodies. This would fall under the category of the problem of pain, rather than the problem of evil, since pain is not inherently evil.

                  • EricG

                    William, I’m not sure how you read Romans 8, but I think we have to read it consistently with science, which shows disease, cancer, and tremendous suffering were baked into the world and our bodies from the get-go.

                    • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

                      I don’t read Scripture in that way. If when He created the universe He declared it good, then I assume that before the fall, there was no disease, cancer, and tremendous suffering. So, when we discuss the problem of evil, and God’s relation to it, we also need to disclose our hermeneutic. Perspective is, after all, king.

                    • EricG

                      We’ll have to disagree on that. The science is pretty clear that all the suffering was there from the start. And there are many possible interpretations of Genesis.

  • Jonnie

    I’ll bite the bullet hard here Tony. God is not all-powerful in the traditional/categorical sense a classical theism claims (i.e. the Omni-God mentioned above). There’s all kinds of argumentative angles you can take to point to what all-powerful won’t work: Familial loving relationships necessitate openness and genuine freedom; the biblical witness is chalked full of instances where such categorical all-power just doesn’t make sense (frustrated plans, God learning things about people, changing plans in response to peoples actions). In the face tragedy and the sting of evil and pain though, I think all theodicy (even free-will ones that argue that evil is a necessary byproduct of the kind of world God wanted) falls flat…or even does violence. Best to morn with those who morn…like God does.

  • Joshua Gritter

    Great comments and arguments everyone. Not to be a theological simpleton here, and obviously there are tomes written on Theodicy, but I cannot help but feel saddened that none of you mentioned the reality of the incarnation in answering the question. I realize that one cannot merely namedrop “Jesus saves” and all is good and tidy. But in the wake of such absurdity, such mindless violence, such pain and sadness, I feel it incumbent upon us to cling fervently together to the resilient, pestilent, stubborn reality of hope. That we are homesick for something, for somewhere, yet somehow the place we are homesick for became already present in the incarnate Jesus yet not fully disclosed or consummated. That in some sense, and rather counter intuitively, we remember our future. We embody that which God will finally do because the incarnation and the coming of the Spirit have given the whole cosmos foretastes of that final reality.

    I do wish we could finally explain away pain. Some could offer trite and pithy biblical aphorisms like Job’s friends did, but those of us who live life on the ash heap don’t have time nor the the stomach for such hopeless and hapless words. I wish stories like Noah’s ark didn’t exist, because God seems small, insecure and impotent–like God woke up on the wrong side of the cosmos. But even amidst the chaotic and darkly brooding realities of this world we make arks full of the fullness of humanity. Frederick Beuchner put it this way,

    “The ark is wherever human beings come together because in their heart of hearts all of them–white and black, believer and unbeliever, hippie and square–dream the same dream, which is a dream of peace–peace between nations, between races, between brothers and sisters–and thus ultimately a dream of love” (Secrets in the dark, p. 48).

    In the belly of the sorrow of this world we must finally meet one who in his very body knew it as intimately as lover’s know one another. We must at least begin to speak of the one who while he in some grandeur mystery embodied the utter loomy transcendence of the creator God while simultaneously embodying the darkest and deepest immanence. It is on the darker and shadowy side of pain that we finally meet our home within the presence of the triune God. Apparently, and absurdly, this God, for whatever ridiculous and non-sensical reason, chose to forsake any definition of deity within God’s self that divorced itself from the drudges of human suffering. God refuses to let us speak of pain without speaking of God. So as we occupy the ash heap together in this sullen world, I ask with as much earnestness and humility as I know how, that we open our eyes to the one who dwells in the ashes with us, and that though this will never answer the problem of theodicy, it may quell our penchant for despair and instill within us hope that is as small as an olive branch in a doves mouth, but hope nonetheless.

    If you take huge issue with what I have said please feel free to ask questions or disagree.

    Great questions you ask, Stan.

    And thank you for posting them, Tony. I look forward to your response.

    Joshua Gritter

  • Ric Shewell

    it helps me to see the argument simplified down:

    Whereas an All-Powerful and All-Loving God necessarily produces a Pain-Free Existence;
    And Whereas a Pain-Free Existence is not present;
    Therefore an All-Powerful and All-Loving God must not exist.

    Christians try to save this by saying either “God is All-Powerful and All-Loving, just not All-Powerful like you think of All-Powerful” (process theologians) or “God is All-Powerful and All-Loving, just not All-Loving like you think of All-Loving” (reformed theologians).

    I think they’re both wrong, and I want to keep this comment short.

    But why do Christians take the first premise as self-evident? Why do we assume that an All-Powerful and All-Loving God necessarily produces … anything? The Scriptures don’t seem to promise such a thing from such a God.

    • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

      “Whereas an All-Powerful and All-Loving God necessarily produces a Pain-Free Existence . . .”

      But where did this notion come from? How did we begin at this crucial starting point for the syllogism? And how do we reconcile such a starter with Jesus and the cross? Jesus’ life was, certainly, not a pain-free existence.

    • EricG

      Ric -

      the traditional hard question isn’t “why not pain free?” But instead “why this much suffering? Why have millions died in awful pain and despair, including children? Why is a mother today holding her baby as he dies an awful death?”

      • Ric Shewell

        I think the amount of pain is a relative issue. If we didn’t have things that were horrendous to us, then the next pain or suffering would appear horrendous. The argument needs to say “pain-free” or it doesn’t hold water. I mean, what would an appropriate amount of pain look like?

        • EricG

          Ric, it can’t be that simply because pain from scraped knees is ok that cancer and AIDS and tsunamis are too. Suffering is not just all relative – try telling that to a real person dying of a painful disease, as you complain about your minor hip pain.
          When talking about the problem of suffering, you’ve got to deal with the whole thing, all of the suffering that goes on – not some abstraction of the problem.
          The fact that I can’t get out a protractor and measure how much less pain would be appropriate doesn’t somehow mean that the current level of horrendous pain is justifiable.

          • Ric Shewell

            All that I am saying is that this problem, the problem of evil, theodicy, is still there even if horrendous pain was gone. I am not equating skinned knees to cancer. I’m only saying that if there was no cancer and only skinned knees, this problem would still exist. The theodicy questions, this proof of God’s non-existence depends and the premise creating a pain-free existence.

            • EricG

              Ric, the problem of suffering does not depend on the premise of a pain-free existence. Many philosophers – and ordinary pew sitters – can accept skinned knees, no problem. Nobody is going to leave the faith over that. They will question faith, though, when they see children dying a painful death.

              Also, I don’t think the problem disproves God – it just raises questions; it makes the existence of God less explainable. The explainability gets much harder as the suffering gets worse.

  • Keith Titus

    If we believe in a God who gave us that most precious gift; free will, then we have to accept that there will be evil; i.e. bad choices. The alternative is Eden and who wants to live there… not me.

    • EricG

      But why all the terrible natural evil, like disease, which clearly didn’t arise from our exercise of free will?

  • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

    Stan,
    You’re right to reject the standard syllogism (good for you!):

    God is all-good
    God is all-powerful
    There is evil
    Therefore, god does not exist

    You’ve got three options as I see it:
    Calvinist’s solve the problem by rejecting God’s benevolence, Catholics (via Augustine) claim evil does not exist, and Process folks reject God’s omnipotence.

    I personally lean toward a blend of Augustine (privatio boni) and Process metaphysics. “Good” and “Evil” are subjective, and the dualism is not particularly helpful. Lastly, God is absolutely all loving but not all powerful in the sense of being coercive. This power is a persuasive power, a potential, a power, as John Caputo puts it, of “perhaps.”

    • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

      I think we need to also realize that admitting to a concept that God is “all-powerful” is not synonymous with the notion that God actually does always use “all” that power: “But I restrained myself . . .” (Ezekiel 20:22 Common English Bible).

      • Jonnie

        If he has it, refraining from using it to stop evil is what makes God seem complicit with horrendous evil. Thus, its still God’s having all power that creates the problem.

        • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

          “Creates” the problem? How? Not stopping the evil should not be tantamount to creating the evil.

          So, John Lennox’s original question remains: How much evil should God stop? All evil? Some evil? Your evil? My evil?

          • EricG

            Well, how about for starters if he at least started by stopping the immense suffering of children from disease? The infinite regress/slippery slope argument just doesn’t fly.

            • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

              So, you want Him to eliminate all disease. How would He accomplish this without first renewing the fallen condition of this world, which He promised to do at a specific time in the future?

              • EricG

                William, if God were all powerful, the “how” of ending immense suffering of children from disease would not be a barrier at all, here and now.

                • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

                  But His power or capability is still operative within the confines of a fallen condition (this imperfect world). Were He to end all suffering of children (through disease), someone else would complain that He lacks the power to end the suffering of adults, or that He doesn’t love adults, only children. This is a never-ending complaint. It seems to never be enough, unless God brings a utopia — a utopia that is promised for the future.

                  Please don’t think that I don’t understand or empathize with you and others on the problem of evil and pain. I’m just not satisfied with the other options I’ve studied. For me, Arminianism presents the best answer. I also realize that this answer does not satisfy many others.

                  • EricG

                    William, your argument goes too far; it could be used to justify any level of suffering, just by saying “who is to say too much.”
                    It’s also akin to someone who put their boot on my neck, choking me, and asking how much less pressure would be the right level to apply.

                    Also, as an aside, Arminianism doesn’t help much with this stuff – it still holds out a sovereign God.

                    • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

                      “. . . it still holds out a sovereign God.” Tell your Calvinist friends that, lol. (We’re always told by them that we deny God’s sovereignty. Oh, the irony!)

          • Jonnie

            ‘Creates’ the problem of conflict between God’s having power to save and stop evil that God isn’t using. Not ‘creates the evil. Arminianism doesn’t help this problem, unless you say that God cannot stop the evil (for whatever reason).

            • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

              Jonnie,

              Respectfully, Arminianism “doesn’t help this problem” from *your* perspective, but you cannot make such an absolute statement for the rest of humanity. While I find the Calvinist version of God decreeing evil to be heinous and unbiblical, I am comforted by Arminianism, in that God suffers alongside us. Yes, He could make everything dandy in candyland should He so will it. One day, He will — He promised.

              • Jonnie

                I hear you William and I respect that working for you. My only point is that it creates a special dispensation (not in the eschatological sense!) where we find that our moral categories and expectations are totally befuddled by this “can but won’t” situation. There are much more fulfilling options in my opinion that can keep us out of this dilemma: strong open theisms and process thought.

                • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

                  Jonnie, I couldn’t concur more.

      • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

        William,

        The notion that God is all powerful in the traditional sense, but limits Godself, is still not appealing to me. I wonder two things: 1) I still question God’s benevolence then. I withhold some of my power to let my son learn a lesson on his own sometimes, but if he’s about to be hit by a car, you can bet that I will NOT holding back anything to stop that tragedy 2) I question God’s immanence. God withholds some of Godself? Sounds a little like deism to me. Part of what I like best about Process Theology is that God’s immanence is restored because God is present in every moment, constantly luring us, beckoning us, creating new novelties from the shell of the old in each experiential burst of existence.

        • Jonnie

          Word Jesse.

        • Ric Shewell

          “constantly luring us, beckoning…” but ultimately impotent. Process teaches that all of creation can respond to God’s love (every rock, molecule, and atom has free will to reject God’s instruction). God does not have coercive power over anything. God cannot make anything do anything that it does not want to. Things without minds reject God’s will. This is how they explain devastating weather patterns. The weather is rejecting God’s will.

          If the weather can say no to God, then it turns out everything has more power than God. Anything can thwart God’s will. That’s an impotent God. Now, it makes theodicy no problem, but it welcomes a host of other problems.

    • EricG

      The Augustinian answer never seemed helpful to me. You say evil is subjective, but I don’t think it provides any answer for the terrible suffering of children and others throughout the ages. To me, it comes off as an abstract philosophical response that doesn’t meet the reality of a 6 month old dying in awful pain.

      • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

        EricG,

        When I say Evil and Good are subjective, I mean that that dichotomy is not helping to make things better, i.e. labeling people (or situations) “good” or “evil” might not be the best way to go about living ones life. There is no “good” and there is no “evil,” it’s all just life. Sometimes life can be amazing, sometimes it sucks tremendously.

        I tend to hold to the Eastern Orthodox/Pauline formula of “Death causing Sin,” not the weird Protestant formula of “Sin causing Death.” It actually makes a big difference when you think about it ;)

        • EricG

          Jesse,

          I agree that “death causes sin” makes much more sense than the reverse.

          As for your explanation of subjectivity of good/evil, I guess I’m ok with that, but how does it help answer the problem presented by all the suffering?

          • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

            Good question EricG.

            Right, so human suffering does still exist and it’s terrible. In Process thought God cannot violate the laws of physics, just like you and I. So suffering is something we must accept. But here is the good part–the beauty that we find in the Christian tradition is that God, as Whitehead says, is the great companion–the fellow sufferer who understands. This is no more evident than in the Cross of Jesus.

            I’ve heard it said one time that we encounter God in suffering, i.e. it is in those times of despair and abandonment when we actually experience the Divine love to the fullest extant. All the good stuff in life–joy, love, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, righteousness–are all residual side effects from that Divine encounter.

            Q: When a child falls off her bike and skins her knee, what does a parent do? A: perhaps the most loving, compassionate thing a parent can do is kiss the wound of that child. This action symbolically says “I will not turn away from your pain. You’re pain is my pain.” This, I feel, is what God does.

            • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

              That’s a great description of how we should treat each other Jesse. In the end, that’s all we have. We can pretend like there is some utopia coming and it will all make sense, someday, meanwhile, all we can do is kiss each others’ boo-boos. If there is a god, apparently he is just sitting there idly watching and saying how sweet that is.

              • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

                Lausten,

                Yeah except God is the one kissing our boo-boos. I don’t concieve of God as sitting by “idly watching.” On the contrary, God is intimately involved in every moment of existance, constatnly luring us forward, calling us to participate in taking what was destroyed and making it into a new creation.

  • Chris Eidson

    God has given us freedom to live however we decide to see fit in this life. In the Boston incident, the pain and wrongdoing was caused by man, not God or nature. I picture God looking down asking the same kind of questions that you are, but about us.

    • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

      I like that.

  • Mich

    I like Jonnie’s thoughts. What does an All-Powerful God look like?
    Jesus Christ crucified on the Cross.
    If an all powerful God is nailed to the Cross in suffering, then He meets us in our deepest sorrows. He suffers with us to the point of Death.

    • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

      That’s nice! Before he was “the apostle Paul,” he was Saul, murdering Christians — and Jesus said to him, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:5) I trust in a suffering God.

  • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

    I’m not usually so chatty Cathy, but this subject fascinates me.

  • Chad

    The whole “free will” argument only goes so far. What about evil/suffering that is not man-made? Tsunamis, earthquakes, famine, war, pestilence, etc. How does that fit in?

  • Pax

    “all I can think is that an all-powerful god ought to have methods that cause less pain for those he loves…Thoughts?”

    Thoughts, but maybe not completely coherent:

    My problem with a hypothetical “less pain” approach to our formation is that in such a world, if there is still /some/ pain, our goal post for an acceptable amount of pain would be different. Then, we’d still say “why couldn’t God form us with less pain” … apply this over and over… infinite regression … and we end up with the only acceptable form of existence is where there is no gap between creator and creation. So then there’s nothing that’s not God, which means none of us would exist. But if existence other than God is good, then the gap between the two has to be set somewhere. So, maybe we’re in a unique existence where we’re the kind of creatures who have the optimal balance between pain and free-will/greater-good-outcomes/whatever. Or, maybe there are lots of other typs of beings that exist with varying arbitrary gaps between them and God, and we just happen to experience this one.

  • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis G.

    The fact that we even contemplate life without pain shows how far we have insulated, and numbed, ourselves from reality. Pain is always a necessary component of life. If you do not feel pain, you are dead. Which do you prefer: death or pain?

    There is pain that is gratuitous and unnecessary. There is pain that can, and should, be prevented and avoided. But not all pain.

    The fact that God allows pain is probably our last hope at having some vestige of a link to reality, and to real, abundant, whole living promised by Christ.

    • EricG

      Curtis – I think I agree that some pain is necessary, but the question remains: why *so much* pain, misery and suffering?

      • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

        “So much?” Do you think there is pain and anguish in the world than there is good? If so, based on what?

        • EricG

          William – I assume there is a “more” missing in your sentence? What I am saying does not depend on whether there is more suffering than good. My point is that an all powerful God could create with less suffering.

          • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

            Yes, “more,” haha! I’ve enjoyed our exchanges today. I just wanted you to know that.

            • EricG

              Me too – thanks William

      • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis G.

        Many women will say childbirth is the most excruciating pain they will ever feel. The first reaction of a baby after birth is to cry — The first experience of the world as a free, autonomous being is so excruciating that shrieking is the natural human response.

        It is pathological to like pain, yet pain is as necessary to life as oxygen. I think we agree on that; the only debate that remains is one of degree. I don’t know the answer, but I do know people have survived even the most severe, unimaginable pain, and are still whole, full people.

        If we can survive, and live a full and abundant life, why are we asking for anything more than that?

        • EricG

          Curtis G,

          I’ve encountered a lot of people who have been very scarred by suffering and would not consider themselves “whole” as a result. What of the 5 year old dying an agonizing death on a cancer ward? The infant dying of a congenital problem? What of the many who are not “surviving” with an “abundant life,” as you say?

          • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis G.

            A person who does not experience and acknowledge the fullness of their pain is not whole at all. The presence of pain defines human wholeness. A person in pain is experiencing human wholeness. A person without pain is not whole at all.

            But you bring up the interesting phenomena of, not only the personal experience of pain, but the human capacity of experiencing the pain of others, or empathy.

            A 5-year-old experiencing agony is certainly tragic enough. But adding to the personal experience of that 5-year-old is the pain and agony we all feel, ourselves, just by knowing about the 5-year-old’s agony. We feel deep pain and agony, even though we are not in any way physically afflicted by the 5-year-old’s ailment. That is empathy.

            So God gives us, not only the capacity to experience agonizing pain ourselves, but to experience agony and pain, brought about by the knowledge of the agony of others. It is bad enough we have to suffer our own pain, we also suffer the pain of others. Either God is unrelentingly cruel, causing us to feel pain even when we are not personally afflicted, or something else is at work.

            I would argue that empathy is the mechanism that binds us together. Empathy extends pain, beyond the physical perception of the ailing individual, and makes pain the foundation that causes people to attend to one another and form close, bonding attachment to one another. Human love and community would not exist without pain, and the shared experience of pain, which we call empathy.

  • Alan K

    Does the love and power of God require the removal of pain? Cannot the love and power of God be demonstrated by God having solidarity with us by joining us in the pain? Does not incarnation cut across theodicy?

    • EricG

      Alan – I think this helps, but works only if you go all the way to process thought. God’s solidarity with us goes only so far if he could prevent this much suffering and chooses not to.

      • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis G.

        God could prevent so much suffering if God killed us, or didn’t will us to exist in the first place. But I think the cure you are looking for is worse than the disease.

      • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis G.

        Remember, God does create life that does not experience pain. At least 99% of life on the planet falls into that category. Would you rather be some autonomic life form, with no conscious concept of pain, or a life form capable of asking questions on an internet blog? God created humans to be the latter, not the former. Whether that was an unwaveringly loving decision is open for debate. But here we are.

        • EricG

          Curtis, that is a false dichotomy, if God is sovereign. He could have created us with far less suffering if he is all powerful.

          • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis G.

            That is like saying God could create heat without cold, or light without shadows. It is not possible to experience consciousness without pain within the physical world that God has created. God can do anything God wants. But God would not can not invert and contradict the very thing that God creates. That is like saying God can destroy God. It doesn’t make any sense.

            • EricG

              Curtis, that is only true at the most abstract level, without considering the suffering of real people. Sure, you could say that some abstract level of pain is necessary. But that doesn’t explain why we have so much pain – cancer and AIDS are obviously not necessary for consciousness, for example.

              • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis G.

                Death, in every form it presents itself, is necessary component of consciousness.

                If we are concerned with degrees of pain, there is a well-developed field of medicine that deals exclusively with pain management. Doctors can, in large part, tailor how much pain a person perceives. Of course, the drawback is that the more you numb pain, the more you numb other aspects of consciousness as well. Which re-enforces the point that pain and consciousness cannot be separated.

                We seem to have arrived at agreement that some pain is necessary. If the concern is degree of pain, there is a pill for that. After all, how do we know there is not an even more excruciating pain that God has already insulated us from, out of God’s unwavering love?

                • EricG

                  Curtis, for most of the world and history of human suffering, there has not been “a pill for that.” And if you think the pain of death is so easily handled by medicine, you should read Dr. Sherwin Nuland, How We Die, which debunks that myth.
                  All this suffering – cancer, AIDS, tsunamis – cannot be explained as necessary for consciousness.

        • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

          Hopefully Internet blogs are not the ultimate expression of humanity. We were driven by our hormones and automatic responses for a few million years before we evolved into homo sapien sapiens with more control over those impulses. Not sure how that fits into “God’s plan”.

          • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis G.

            Of course not. The ultimate expression of humanity is love and belonging. Internet blogs are an example which seem appropriate given the context.

          • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis G.

            Yes, humans have autonomic responses. And the predecessors to humans had autonomic responses for millions of years before the human capacity for consciousness developed. This consciousness the center of God’s plan. It is highly doubtful than any other living organism, lacking consciousness, has any awareness or concept that God exists. Without human consciousness, God would be a big tree falling in the forest. Impressive, to be sure, but pretty much meaningless, at least in terms of how humans define “meaning”.

  • EricG

    In addressing this question, I think too many people approach it from too abstract a level. I think it is helpful to focus on a few examples of real suffering – like the kid who dies today a miserable, painful illness as her mother cries to God for help. None of the answers provided above really suggest why God allowed that particular suffering (or the countless others like it).

    The other problem I see is that when we give abstract, philosophical answers it doesn’t meet the reality of the person who is suffering. Our bullshi* theology gets repeated to a mother whose kid died from cancer, and it is a lifeless, hollow answer that only serves to anger.

    Maybe Moltmann was right that we should not give answers to this question, because it cheapens the problem and prevents us from sitting in solidarity with those who suffer.

    • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

      You also have to consider that just because *you* find such alleged “abstract, philosophical answers” to be bull*#$% theology, does not mean that others do, including that grieving mother who lost her child. Do we really need to be reminded that God the Father once lost a Child, whom He subsequently raised from the dead, so that by grace through faith in Him we could — in a very real and ultimate sense — be delivered from this fallen condition?

      • EricG

        William, I am part of a large community of terminally Ill cancer patients, where someone dies at least once a week. So I feel fairly familiar with the typical reaction of a sufferer when someone tries to give them a theological “why” explanation. It is one thing to say “God loves you” – it is entirely different and wrong to try to give a theological explanation for the loss. That was one of the mistakes of Job’s friends.

        And the theological abstractions that people spin here do get repeated to people who are suffering. Tony talks about the importance of practical theology, and I think this is a place it is particularly important.

        • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

          I see. I agree. I, too, have heard stupid comments given to the grieving. Have you read the late Henri Nouwen? His work, I think, is quite relevant to our conversation.

    • http://gravatar.com/natehardee Nate

      As far as practical theology, I am reminded of scene from Lars and Real Girl. In the scene someone is ill and some church ladies from a local sewing club come be with Lars:

      Sewing Circle Lady 3 – Hazel: Well that’s how life is, Lars.
      Mrs. Gruner: Everything at once.
      Sewing Circle Lady 2 – Sally: We brought casseroles.
      Lars Lindstrom: Thank you.
      Lars Lindstrom: [Lars looks around the sewing circle. The three ladies are knitting and doing needlepoint] Um, is there something I should be doing right now?
      Mrs. Gruner: No, dear. You eat.
      Sewing Circle Lady 2 – Sally: We came over to sit.
      Sewing Circle Lady 3 – Hazel: That’s what people do when tragedy strikes.
      Sewing Circle Lady 2 – Sally: They come over, and sit.

      That scene is always comforting to me for some reason. Words aren’t necessary, just sitting. No reasons, just sitting. That is what a christian should do, go sit with the person, and bring a casserole.

  • Stan

    Hi everyone, I’m Stan. First off, thanks Tony for the posting. And thanks to everyone for the great thoughts and ideas.

    I wouldn’t call this a trick question, but I will admit that when I posted it, I didn’t think there was a solid answer. And I still don’t think it has a real answer, but I think it is one of the important questions of life that we benefit from asking ourselves. It’s also one of the first times that I’ve allowed myself to ask it. After years of always brushing it away in the back of my mind, I just couldn’t continue on honestly in ministry or theology without confronting it. And I thought this would be a good place to ask it, and I agree that yesterday’s tragedy in Boston makes it a relevant time to ask it.

    Even though I don’t believe this question has an answer, I come to a similar conclusion to those of you who reference Jesus’ place in pain and evil. While the “all powerful/unwaveringly loving” tension causes me to have a great distrust in god, I still have a trusting connection in Jesus. This may be cheesy or oversimplified for some, but his submission to take part in our pain, tragedy, and evil earns my trust. In fact, as I’ve confronted this question, that has become my favorite thing about Jesus. Who knows why pain and evil exist, but at least Jesus bit the bullet and went through them with us.

    It’s not an answer, but it’s how I cope in the meantime.

    • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

      Stan,

      Be encouraged for having the boldness to ask this most thorny question! There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with the wrestling.

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ Jesus Without Baggage

    Thanks, William, for your observations. I do not ‘reject’ other references in the Bible regarding creation, but I suspect they are influenced by the Genesis creation story. I do beleive that God at some point will heal our pain make all things right. I think ‘new creation’ is a good term for this.

    • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William W. Birch

      I shouldn’t have said “reject.” That seemed harsh, upon reflection. Yes, I, too, like “new creation.”

  • John C. Larson

    I think it ultimately comes down to free will and the fact that free will cuts both ways, as a blessing and as a curse. People can choose to do good, to be loving or they can justify and rationalize all kinds of terrible actions. Even the Pharisees, in deciding to seek Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, probably believed they were combatting blssphemy. Throughout history mankind has fought, tortured and killed in the name of all manner of “good” causes. Again, whose good? As long as people allow fear and ego to rule their hearts atrocities will continue. But as has been commented on above, good works far outnumber evil. As someone once said, “the problem with evil is it’s so noisy.”

  • http://www.blessingsframed.com Framed Prayers and Blessings

    @John C. Larson – Very well stated. I have to agree.

  • Pete

    My dad left the priesthood because of this very question. For me there had to be a better explanation. I really like Dr. Eben Alexander’s NDE. He mentions that God allows evil to exist because without it we can’t have free will and free will it what allows us to move forward to grow spiritually. I think that once we die the bigger picture of what our lives mean and how we all fit in will make more sense. For now though, most people will have to be satisfied with asking God a question that he just won’t be able to answer in a way that makes sense to us whilst we’re alive on earth.

  • Theodore Bosen

    I found this diatribe enlightening and way beyond my simple religious education. I lead a teen class in an Eastern Orthodox church near Boston and will be dealing with this question from my students this Sunday. The haunting image paraded on the TV screen locally has been the picture of the 8-year old boy, Martin, whose life ended in the bombing yesterday, holding an artistic poster he had made in school, imploring that we stop hurting each other and seek Peace. I will be asked why God allowed such an innocent to suffer and die while he stood waiting in gleeful anticipation of seeing his father cross the finish line at the Marathon. All I have for them is what I have been taught to believe myself, –that God loved him from the very moment He first thought of him, Christ, who suffered and died for him in His love for him, was nonetheless with him even through his suffering and death on the streets of Boston, and is with him still, holding out His hand to him in the promise of eternal life in His loving resurrection. Our faith in this experience of Christ leaves the reasoning behind his earthly fate a mere academic exercise that will likely remain a mystery in this lifetime, but will nonetheless not require solving for our salvation. I’m not sure of the label, but that is pretty much the teaching as I understand it. And we will see where it goes in discussion.

    Thank you all for your fascinating insights. I will have to revisit often.

  • Timbul Butar Butar

    When I read the Old Testament it is clear that God allows the consummation of evil activities. And ultimately in the New Testament in the consummation of the evil plans where the evil’s cup runs over and ended in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ which at the same time resulted in the birth of the New Israel / New Jerusalem for all of us His Children.

  • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis G.

    Pain is an integral part of human existence. But God does not create human life, capable of experiencing joy and pain, and then leave us alone to wriggle around in our cosmic petri dish like some kind of sick science experiment. No, together with the pain and joy, God created other human capacities as well. The capacity for love. The capacity for belonging to one another.

    God’s answer for pain is not to take away pain. If God took away pain, God would also be taking away life, which would not be a gift at all. Instead, God gives us the capacity to endure pain through love and belonging.

    Life without pain would be meaningless. It would be the life of the worm being devoured by the robin outside my window.

    Life with pain and joy is full of meaning. But a life of pain and joy alone, and nothing more, would be a schizophrenic nightmare. The nightmare of being left alone to vacillate between the extremes of life, full of anxiety, with no grounding, stability, or certainty for the future.

    Life with pain and joy and love and belonging is the fullness of life’s experience, together with the certainty, comfort, and warmth of those around us. We can not live life without pain. But we can endure pain because God has given us something more, the capacity to love and and belong to one another.

    • EricG

      Again, Curtis, the hard question isn’t “why not a world without pain,” but instead “why a world with *this much* pain?” Saying pain is just part of life’s experiences doesn’t make sense when you are talking about the worst of human suffering. These abstract answers don’t get to the heart of the problem.

      • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

        “The nightmare of being left alone to vacillate between the extremes of life, full of anxiety, with no grounding, stability, or certainty for the future.”
        Certainty for the future is attained by understanding the past. I’m pretty sure the sun will come up tomorrow. If not, I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to explain why.
        And, the inability of anyone here to define how much pain there should be to make sense of the “why” question should tell you something.

        • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis G.

          Our past makes it clear that we all will suffer at some time, and we all will certainly die.

          If the past is all we know, it does not give us anything to relieve the anxiety of not knowing when we or our loved ones will die, not knowing what will happen to us when we do die, and not knowing how we will survive the pain when it comes.

          If all we have is our consciousness, and our history, we are not left with what we need to live a fulfilled life in this moment. We are only left with anxiety and uncertainty.

          Fulfillment only comes when we can experience love and belonging. Those, alone, are what make the extreme, necessary, worrying aspects of life tolerable. Those, alone, make life worth living.

          • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

            very nice

  • http://gravatar.com/natehardee Nate

    This is the first time I have commented here, and the first time I have tried to put my thoughts into words about this. So here it goes:
    I tend to view the dynamic nature of creation as integral to having a world like the one we inhabit, a world that was capable of having life evolve here. Could there be no earthquakes, maybe, however, earthquakes are necessary for the carbon cycle. Could there be no tornados, maybe, but I imagine the weather would have to be radically different, and then if it was radically different would the planet be able to sustain life let alone allow life to evolve. In order for creation to evolve, the creator would have to allow for some “chaos” to exist. Sort of free will from the beginning. Many, “natural” evils exist because we live in a dynamic ecological system. This amazing system allowed life to develop and continues to develop. An amazing system where planets are created and suns are destroyed, and in all of it, we have this amazing planet where life exists. In a way, evolution has made it easier for me to believe. Additionally, we need to take some blame for natural evils due to not taking care of the amazing place we live.
    I don’t believe God intervenes currently, I do believe he intervened in the person of Jesus Christ and proceeded to change the history of mankind. Why not anymore? I’m not sure, but I have some thoughts I am still fleshing out. Some random thoughts I have: Jesus didn’t really worry about pain and evil, he didn’t come to heal everyone. He came to show others how to live and love. What if creation doesn’t exist to make us happy, but to make us holy? What if creation is going through a natural sanctification? Again, these aren’t fleshed out but ideas going through my head.
    As far as “so much evil”, how do quantify pain? So if 6 million Jews died during the holocaust, would it be less evil if only 3 million died? What about 1.9 million? You can’t draw a line in the sand and say well as long as it doesn’t go this far it isn’t as bad. If only one died it is evil.

    • Jonnie

      Jesus didn’t “worry” about pain and evil, but he certainly actively alleviated pain and suffering in many peoples lives right? Whether the evil perpetrated on those socially ostracized by their physical deformities or ritual uncleanliness, or the pain of physical suffering (hemorrhaging woman, etc.), didn’t Jesus do quite a bit of healing?

      • http://gravatar.com/natehardee Nate

        And as Christians, I think that should be our mission as well

        • http://gravatar.com/natehardee Nate

          I wasn’t completely clear in the above post, Jesus seems more interested in dealing with the effects of pain and suffering, than the root cause. And as Christians, while deep questions are nice to ponder, our goal should be to deal with the effects of pain and suffering.

  • EricG

    Nate – it is good to see a first time commenter!

    On your last point, if you had the keys to the concentration camp for a time, wouldn’t you let out at least as many as you could? As you say, each life has value – wouldn’t we sacrifice everything just to save one? The less suffering the better. I don’t think we can justify suffering by saying “where is the line?”

    I would agree with your comments about science and the inter-linked nature of things justifying suffering *if* that were the only way God could create. But if God is sovereign he could create without all these ill effects.

  • http://gravatar.com/natehardee Nate

    Thanks for your comments, something about this statement doesn’t sit well:

    “But if God is sovereign he could create without all these ill effects.”

    I feel is assumes too much, for instance ex nihilo, what if God didn’t create perfect from the beginning because the raw on materials didn’t allow for perfect from the beginning.
    Maybe, we are trying to come up with a scenario that isn’t a logical possibility, like the problem, could God make a square circle or a rock big enough even he couldn’t move? Is that like the idea that creation outside God could be dynamic, creative, and imbued with free will, without being chaotic at points. If it wasn’t a bit chaotic then it would be God, but only God is perfect. Right? You might say (sorry for putting words in your mouth), “If God is sovereign then it should be less chaotic.” But maybe this is the less chaotic version. Maybe, this is the least amount of chaos that could be allowed to exist and still meet all of God’s goals(whatever they are) for his creation.
    Maybe, the only safe place is within God himself, all else is chaos. Maybe creation is God wrestling chaos and taming it to a degree.

    Maybe….I don’t know

  • Sarus

    Im not very good at explaining things I’ve heard or read, but I recently listened to a podcast that brad Jersak did on this topic, round about the time I was asking the same question, it’s called a theology of consent
    http://www.beyondtheboxpodcast.com/2012/01/a-theology-of-consent-with-brad-jersak/

  • http://keithbrenton.com/ Keith Brenton

    I have no answers. I can’t see a greater good in permitting my wife to battle terminal cancer while our teenage daughter fights severe depression. I want to trust that there is one.

    My wife says, “We either trust God or we don’t.” She’s right. There’s no middle ground there.

    I don’t suppose that Jesus’ disciples could see a greater good in the two days after His crucifixion. So I understand that the fact I don’t see it doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

    There has to be a reason why God iswilling for trust in Him to be so difficult.

    And there may be no way to discern it in this life.

    Maybe faith is being willing to trust “in spite of,” rather than “because.”

  • Eve Fisher

    God is all powerful, God is all good, bad things happen to innocent people – the three don’t go together, no matter how it’s argued, because they don’t fit, and we know they don’t fit. We know that life is unfair, that it is full of cruelty, pain, bad things – and we know that this is wrong. (By the way, this is probably the ultimate proof of God, because you would certainly never learn from the world around us or the history of the world that life is unfair – that’s a gut reaction to what we see.) Personally, I deal with it (sort of) as follows: At one time this earth may have been paradise, but then things fell apart, infecting the entire creation (as Romans says), probably through a complete bungling of free will, and now we are in a really difficult, hard training school, in which the tests keep ramping up in difficulty and suffering, and in which terrible things, unbelievable things, happen. (I have often screamed at God, “Look we take matches away from children. What are You thinking?!!!) But, this is not all there is. There is something beyond this – a place of justice, compassion, mercy, love, peace, beauty, joy – which we yearn for, long for, desperately need, even if we have never experienced it. And somehow… it’s coming. Indeed, Keith is right: faith is being willing to trust “in spite of”, rather than “because.”

  • Adelaide Kent

    I think God is like a wise parent who knows a kid will get into trouble,but allows the kid to makes mistakes. I believe that God values free will more than a docile and passive assent to God. God is a passionate lover who weeps over our suffering, self- caused or not, but is
    willing to wait for a full and passionate assent from the beloved.

    • Sven

      What of the pain and suffering caused by things that have nothing to do with free will or making mistakes? Tsunamis and tornado and earthquakes and floods?
      If I saw my child in the path of a dangerous moving object, one that my child could not avoid by himself, I would try to intervene.

  • Neal Rovick

    Whether symbolic or metaphoric, the difference between God and man was apparent from the beginning in the Garden of Eden. If you expect God to intervene, how do explain the refusal to intervene at the very first divergence of humanity and God–when all of this could have been avoided.

    We live in a world of imperfection and constant change and challenge.

    There is a self-centeredness (either personal or tribal) in the reaction to events like that in Boston. How could that happen to us, or people like us? Yet the world and history is full of example of similar and worse. Millions or even billions of people have suffered and died thinking, “Why have you forsaken me?”

    The fact is that God’s message of “Love your neighbor, as you love yourself”, if truly enacted would go a great distance to relieving suffering. But that still does not change the fact that we live in a restless world where we cannot control everything, regardless of technology or weapons or plans.

    We in the west, especially in the United States are all about control–controlling who we associate with, where we live, what we eat, on and on. We live with the delusion that there should be a way of controlling what can’t be controlled. We buy guns and security systems, live in safe neighborhoods with safe schools, eat safe foods, but bad things still happen to (good?) people. So we then also expect God to do our bidding and make our lives safe. Why should WE suffer? Why should people like us suffer?

    Unfortunately, this is the world we live in. It has always been that way. Are we that special to expect and deserve no suffering or pain?

    If you believe in a God who created the universe, this is the universe that he created. If you believe in a loving God, you, like God, can love someone that is in pain, suffering or dying. If you believe in a eternal God, God will be there when your finite life in this vale of tears (and flowers) end.

  • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

    The idea of a QTH is to respond to what is troublesome. This question is basically Euthyphro’s dilemma and some of the responses are classic answers to that. i.e., God is not one or the other of the two horns of the dilemma. Some responses here are just repeating what the question says, that he doesn’t find “He has a plan” satisfying. Answers like that are why people are leaving Christianity.

    Neal almost gets to the point where he realizes he might have to consider that we are not special, but then returns to, just believe and God will be there. If that answer still worked for people, there wouldn’t be a QTH series.

    • Neal Rovick

      Why does everyone think that God is accountable to them?

      I want answers now, God !!? Why isn’t the world the way I want it? I’m good, aren’t I. I don’t deserve this!!

      The two sides of the “things always happen for a purpose” coin: “only good things should happen to good people”, and “bad things happen to bad people”.

      What then does it mean when bad things happen to you?

      God is there,l but many people have suffered and died crying out to God. “Why have you forsaken me ?”

      Gimme’ answers now. I can’t live with mystery and chaos.

  • Theodore Bosen

    I am reminded of a forum held some five years ago at the Holy Cross Orthodox Seminary in Brookline Mass on Spiritual Healing. Panelists included a mix of medical practitioners and theologians. One presenter showed videos of charismatic healngs administered by one known in Brazil as “John of God” where researchers examined the some of the subject recipients’ medical records from both before and after the “healing” to find that they had indeed recovered from their afflictions. One question posed by the researchers was why had God apparently intervened to heal only some of those who sought out this charismatic healer while others were allowed to suffer and die. An monk on the panel, an elder from Mount Athos, when confronted with this question, questioned in turn why the researchers would presume that all of the healings were necessarily acts of intervention by God and while those that went on to suffer and die were necessarily neglected by God. He added that the devil, as well, has the power to heal your physical body if it suits his purposes in a grander scheme to perpetrate his evil and ultimately steal your soul, while God may have actually “intervened” with those who went on to suffer for what was perhaps a greater spiritual reward than the physical alleviation of their pain. The monk then concluded that it would take more examination of the resulting circumstances to determine whether a particular outcome had been a blessing by God, but that it was likely to reveal itself to those with their eyes open.

    Needless to say these lay researchers were dumbstruck and quite unable to respond after that. I think this same monk would look at our discussion and ask why we necessarily assume that a loving and salvific God has not intervened just because physical pain and suffering are allowed to happen.

    • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

      Of course they had no response. The monk created a system that offered an explanation for anything, but offered no explanation for what the God or Devil are or how to determine when one or the other is at work. He then tops it off with one of the most offensive statements that is used by anyone who has such a system. If you are not offended by it, go read a website about aliens or gov’t conspiracies. They will tell you that YOUR eyes are NOT open to whatever “truth” they are claiming.

      I treat all people equally. I accept that no one can have researched the details of every question, so we must be patient with each other when presented with any observation. We should not be telling others that there is something wrong with them because they don’t see things our way.

  • http://keithbrenton.com/ Keith Brenton

    Lausten, I think we have to at least consider the possibility that God is not in the business of providing answers or even preventing evil – but in restoring our relationship to Himself at whatever cost … even if it is His own Son.

    And that restoring our relationship may cost us, too. It may cost us comfort, satisfying answers to haunting questions, our jobs, our firends – even our lives.

    I don’t have to like that possibility.

    But I do have to recognize it as a possibility.

  • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

    When did I say I did not consider the possibility? I said don’t tell people they can’t see simply because they ask a question.

  • Ric Shewell

    I’m trying to work as I am listening to the manhunt in Mass. I remember that the problem of evil is also known as the problem of God’s justice. Where is the justice in this presence of evil?

    As I think about justice, I wonder what could possibly rectify the loss of life? What can truly make this right? The only thing I can think of is the restoration of those lives. Resurrection those lives. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

  • http://keithbrenton.com/ Keith Brenton

    It’s not an accusation, Lausten; just an observation addressed to someone I thought might entertain it. :)

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  • Savoi

    Great questions and it sounds like you are on the right path. Any question equals seeking and looking for an answer. I will do my best to respond:
    1) First and foremost I want to say that Jesus did not die on the cross to start a religion. He didn’t give it a name or call it a movement. He died because he loved you and I unconditionally. There is no belief or religion where heaven, forgiveness, enlightenment or wholeness (whatever term they use) is given away freely without having to do something to EARN it besides Christianity. The Beauty of what Jesus accomplished was he paid the price so we could be free. He did not make us earn it. he earned it and gave it to us freely. Free is as simple as you can get. As humans we have a hard time believing that someone would love us enough and give us something we don’t deserve as free. We feel we should have to earn it. In answer to your first question the conditions are accept a free gift and you don’t have to jump through hoops to try and earn it. He earned it for you. God does love us all unconditionally. He loves us no matter what we do or what we believe. The Bible even says that is is not His will that any should perish. He loves us. But there cannot be true loved received and expressed without a choice. We are not robots and just like you wouldn’t want someone programmed to love you without a choice He doesn’t either. God gave us free will to love Him or not to love Him. To accept His gift or be our own God and do deny and reject His love. The choice to be punished forever is our own to make not His will. He died and paid the price for all so He loves all without condition. The same ones that drove nails through his hands and beat Him he forgave at the cross. Now that’s love.


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