The Problem with Suffering
- Suffering is a faith deal-breaker for many people. Comments at times of suffering are varied.
- I don't believe a good, loving God would causeallow people to suffer.
- Why did God take my loved one?
- Faith gave me no comfort during the time of my suffering. I was better off without it.
- A good friend of mine died of pulmonary hypertension. A slow, painful death.
- Over the last three years of her life (she was about 80) I wrote her, and we talked about her impending death.
- It was a very honest conversation. And it was marked by its faith in a God who loved her.
- Even the funeral, which I conducted, was full of joy and hope, despite the suffering process.
- A worldview governed all that.
- On the Acropolis he found streets lined with altars and statutes to all the gods, including the unknown God.
- They didn't want to leave any god out lest s/he be angered and punish them.
- A worldview reflected in the statuary!
- I have friends that were childless at age 40. "God doesnt want you to have any children," they were told. They agonized over that.
- A little later they gave birth to two children, both from their own bodies.
I. The Classic Argument about Suffering:
- Epicurus is credited with the classic argument about the impossibility of the co-existence of God and evil. His argument went this way.
- If an all-powerful and perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.
- There is evil in the world.
- Therefore, an all-powerful and perfectly good god does not exist.
- Religious dualism says that there are two gods or supreme beings, one good and the other evil.
- The "good" god is thought of in terms of Light and the evil god thought of in terms of Darkness and are coeternal and coequal in power. Neither can defeat the other.
- Contemporary Christians in large numbers have been bitten by this bug. Use of "yin" and "yang" is an indication of this.
- In this view, good and evil exist in equal proportions, and are necessary for balance in the Universe.
- Naturalism is another alternative to Christian theism: "Nothing exists outside the material, mechanistic natural order," said Carl Sagan: "The universe is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be."
- For the naturalism the universe is analogous to a sealed box.
- Naturalism and the Christian faith are natural opponents. If one of them is true, the other must be false. Few naturalists seem to realize how their relativistic approach to good and evil disqualifies them from being proponents of the problem of evil. Outside the "box" of naturalism there is no transcendent truth, no transcendent standard of good and evil, nothing.
II. Five Possible Solutions:
- There are five classic responses to suffering. They are outlined in this point.
- Atheism is the outright denial of the existence of God.
- Pantheism is a denial of theistic claims. For example, theism is the belief in a personal God that transcends (is separate from) the world.
- Pantheists deny the existence of a personal God.
- They deny the existence of a minded Being that has intentional states and associated capacities such as the ability to make decisions.
- Modern naturalism and ancient polytheism are a denial that God is all-powerful. Ancient polytheism limited God's power by splitting God up into many little gods, some good, some evil.
- Idealism denies the existence of real evil. Advaita Hinduism, Christian Science, and New Age thinking are examples of this all of which say evil is an illusion of unenlightened human consciousness.
- Biblical theism (orthodox Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) affirm all four propositions: God exists, God is all-good, God is all-powerful, and evil exists. It also denies that the four propositions are self-contradictory.
III. Five Key Terms for Understanding Suffering:
- Evil. Two common misunderstandings about evil are that 1) it is a being and 2) moral and physical evil are undifferentiated.
- Evil is NOT a being or part of a dualism. If evil were a being, then the problem of evil would be unsolvable. But evil comes from the will. It is to put the wrong order into the physical world. Augustine defines evil as "disordered love, disordered will." It is the unconformity between our will and Gods.
- Sin, the exercise of human free will, is the origin of evil, evn physical evil.
- The fact that we praise, blame, command, counsel, exhort, and moralize are indications of our belief in free will. We would not praise or blame a robot, for example, because it has no will that accounts for its actions.
- Absent free will, we are an animal or a machine. Free will is part of our God-like essence.
- The truth is that God DID create a world without sin.
- Evil's source is man's free choice.
- Then why didn't God create a world without human freedom. To do so would have been to create a world without love.
- The shallow meaning creates the problem of evil.
- The shallow meaning is subjective. In this case, a "feeling."
- The shallow meaning is present and temporary.
- The shallow meaning is largely a matter of good luck and not under our control.
- The shallow meaning is external, like winning the lottery.
- True happiness is a permanent state.
- Deep happiness is in the spirit, not the body or the feelings.
- Paradoxically, to be spiritually happy we sometimes have to be deprived of physical happiness. Take, for example, Mother Teresa.
- Now for some final thoughts that will tie up a few of the many loose ends.
- Sin, on the one hand, comes at the hands of our free will. We choose to disobey God.
- On the other hand, we cannot undo or change the guilt for our sin. So we are unrevocably guilty. God provides the way out through His grace.
- That is the best answer to suffering.
- God loved us and entered into our suffering through the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
- Dear Father, our suffering is difficult to endure and to understand. But when we gaze on the cross, we know that you are the One who supplies grace, meaning, endurance, and ultimately, joy. Please dont let us lose sight of that. In Jesus name we pray this. Amen.
Bruce W. Logue. (2011). Sermons of Bruce W. Logue.