All the Options to Explain Suffering

All the Options to Explain Suffering January 18, 2021

Quality commenter here, 3lemenope, recently provided us with his idea of the range of reasons that can be given to explain suffering in light of OmniGod:

1. Suffering is a lesson
2. Suffering is deserved
3. Suffering is a means to some other end

That’s it. None of the options speak well of an omni-anything. It’s a good thing, I suppose, that the Bible doesn’t even headfake towards omnibullshit. YHWH is just SuperZeus; once that sinks in, the whole narrative comes together. And we’re left with a deity unworthy of worship even if it did manage to exist.

To which Luke Breuer replied:

Nothing else seems all that effective in getting us to care about each other. And if we cared about reducing suffering as much as the intensity of your argument suggests, I think we’d drive it through the floor. But in fact, we could give zero ‮skcuf‬ about most suffering around the world. Curious that we turn around and blame God for not doing more about suffering … (Yes, yes, convert that to the subjunctive.)

3lemenope added:

This ends up being a sneaky argument in favor of atheism.

After all, if a thing is designed, we judge it on the basis of intentions, and the choices and trade-offs that are made to pursue that intention. If a thing emerges from randomness, then we judge it on the basis of it having existed at all. If the universe is an accident, it is a happy one. If it was intended, I have some questions.

The fourth option on the list, the one that theists who believe in a benevolent god really can’t reach for, is

4. Suffering is a randomly distributed contingency of being

Even the poetry of the Bible gives a nod here and there to this notion, what with the rain falling on the just and unjust alike, but it is generally incompatible with the idea that suffering is intentional and intended, and morally purposeful.

So the options are:

  1. Suffering is a lesson – either to those involved or to others (the latter certainly seeing humans being used instrumentally – consequentialism).
  2. Suffering is retribution and deserved.
  3. Suffering is a means to an end (humans are being used instrumentally – consequentialism). This might include collateral damage for some necessary feature (free will theodicy).

On 3.: This is arguably what 3lemeope’s number 4. was above. I think it still fits into the overall category here, but this can possibly be subdivided.

Are there any other options?

Talking of OmniGod, I have recently re-released a bunch of my previous writing on the topic in my reasonably priced paperback and ebook The Problem with “God”: Classical Theism under the Spotlight [UK].


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