Is the Existing Theology on Human Suffering Adequate?

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A little boy was playing in his parents’ driveway when his father backed out of the garage and ran over him. Miraculously, he was uninjured. There was great rejoicing and people spoke of his guardian angel intervening. Three weeks later, he was walking with his mother down the street when a car mounted the pavement, and he was crushed to death.

A young mother who had two small children lay dying of cancer in a hospital bed. Many people prayed for her recovery. In the next bed an elderly lady of eighty-five lay wracked with sickness. She begged God to take her home to Him. Two days later, the mother died; the old lady lingered on for another six months.

The tsunami struck without warning and 250 000 people perished and many more were cosigned to misery.

The hurricane Katrina destroyed the city of New Orleans, and smashed is people.

The earthquake in Pakistan killed 70 000 people and sentenced a similar number to slow death by hunger and cold.

The Nazis exterminated Six million people in vile ways.

Why does God allow this suffering, especially were the young and the innocent are involved? Was Shakespeare right when he wrote,”

"As flies to wanton boys, are we to th’gods, They kill us for their sport”?

There has never been a satisfactory answer given by theologians and philosophers to the problem of suffering. There are three answers that are totally unsatisfactory. The first is that of the unctuous clergyman who tells grieving parents who have lost their young child after a painful and tormenting illness,” It is God’s will” I am a peaceful and timid person but, if I were given comfort like that< I would be inclined to punch the mealy-mouthed speaker in the mouth.

Sickness is NEVER God’s will. Jesus did not tell sick people,” It is God’s will!” he healed them.

The second is,” This a punishment from God!” I have actually heard evangelists tell people that their cancer is god’s punishment on them for their sinful lives.

The third is,” These things show that God is planning to destroy humanity because of the sinful behaviour of humanity.” This line has been peddled since Jesus ascended into Heaven. There was some excuse for St Paul and the other writers getting this wrong, as they sincerely Jesus was returning very soon. For people to believe that this present Age is more evil or immoral than previous ones, and that God will certainly act soon, is not only naive but also arrogant.

So how does one reconcile human suffering with our belief in a loving God? A rabbi who was in a death camp and saw the horrors inflicted on the prisoners cried out,” Where is God? God is dead!” For many, the sufferings of humanity are incompatible with the idea of a loving and compassionate God.

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Ahh interesting question. I don’t have the significant Catholic background that some of you do, so I will try and answer this in more of a broad sense.

Suffering in and of itself needn’t be incompatible with a good and loving God. Without going into greater detail, I think that your question should be rephrased to read:

“Is pointless suffering incompatible with a good and loving God."

If that is what you are asking. We can make some headway. I think that what you are looking for in this instance (or at least the best refuting argument to this I have seen) is something called the “GE Moore Shift.” I googled it and could not find a good example, but Moore provides a good counter argument to Rowe’s “Argument from Evil” which is precisely that which you had mentioned.

If you cannot find the text anywhere, then I would be happy to type out a summary, but I’d rather not just to save time.

[quote=maklavan]Why does God allow this suffering, especially were the young and the innocent are involved? Was Shakespeare right when he wrote,”

"As flies to wanton boys, are we to th’gods, They kill us for their sport”?
[/quote]

Sufferings that spring from natural causes are not due to the direct will of God. They are the result of living in an imperfect world. Those that come from evil men are to be corrected and punished, as were many who participated in the horrors of the holocaust. If someone who has done such evils in this world never comes to pay for them here, he certainly will in the next, if he is unrepentant.

There has never been a satisfactory answer given by theologians and philosophers to the problem of suffering. There are three answers that are totally unsatisfactory. The first is that of the unctuous clergyman who tells grieving parents who have lost their young child after a painful and tormenting illness,” It is God’s will” I am a peaceful and timid person but, if I were given comfort like that< I would be inclined to punch the mealy-mouthed speaker in the mouth.

Sickness is NEVER God’s will. Jesus did not tell sick people,” It is God’s will!” he healed them.

The second is,” This a punishment from God!” I have actually heard evangelists tell people that their cancer is god’s punishment on them for their sinful lives.

The third is,” These things show that God is planning to destroy humanity because of the sinful behaviour of humanity.” This line has been peddled since Jesus ascended into Heaven. There was some excuse for St Paul and the other writers getting this wrong, as they sincerely Jesus was returning very soon. For people to believe that this present Age is more evil or immoral than previous ones, and that God will certainly act soon, is not only naive but also arrogant.

So how does one reconcile human suffering with our belief in a loving God? A rabbi who was in a death camp and saw the horrors inflicted on the prisoners cried out,” Where is God? God is dead!” For many, the sufferings of humanity are incompatible with the idea of a loving and compassionate God.

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You mean, there is no Protestant understanding of suffering that makes any sense or is adequate enough. For the Protestant God is understood according to what they want to understand about him/accept about him, not necessarily what is true about him. Catholics see God as one whose plans for each of us is set in his heart. Suffering is redemptive, not reductionist because of the sufferings of Christ to whose sufferings we add ours.

When very bad things happen to us we abandon ourselves to him and do not ask why, since the why may be beyond us–for many reasons having nothing to do with what God wills/willed. IOW, we don’t waste time banging our heads against walls. Instead, we ask ourselves what God wants us to do in this situation. What can we do to alleviate suffering in others, how can we be of help.

That was the attitude of many a Catholic who have also found themselves in prisons and concentration camps around the world for nothing worse than attempting to practice their Catholic faith. God granted them the grace to offer up their sufferings for the redemption of others–a grace only available to those who wish to keep their eyes on Jesus rather than blame anyone or try to undo what cannot be undone.

The difficulty in dealing with the problem of suffering stems from our human insistance that things make some sort of sense. This leads to attempts to find logical, rational explanations for apparently undeserved suffering understandable to the human mind.

There aren’t any.

The entire book of Job is a treatise on this subject. God’s answer is essentially, “I am God, you are not, and thus you cannot understand this problem in your humaness.”

Sickness is not created by God, but He permits it. Where God’s will lies in the matter of a child’s death is not in the form of the death, but in His calling His child home.

God allows us to suffer for His own reasons. Sometimes when we suffer we are passing through the refiner’s fire and God is conforming us to Him. Sometimes it is the natural consequences of our actions, like a smoker developing lung cancer. Sometimes there is no reason we finite creations can understand. We must simply trust that God knows better than we do and has His reasons.

Is this satisfying? Not to human rationallity. The answer to suffering is faith and trusting that God is indeed who He has revealed himself to be.

I am not as well versed in the Catholic Faith as I would like to be, but I will try to answer you the best I can until someone else does.

When Adam sinned against God in the Garden of Eden (and every time that we sin) he offended God in an infinite degree. St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest theologian ever, taught that the minutest sin committed is punishable by death!

Now, because God was offended infinitely, it required an infinite sacrifice to appease Him. That sacrifice could only be offered by an infinite being, namely, Our Lord Jesus Christ. However, God requires from us a small suffering (small in comparison to Christ’s) as well. This is symbolized in the Holy Mass when the priest fills the chalice with wine and then adds a single drop of water. That water is the suffering of mankind, offered in atonement for our sins.

No matter what happens though, God certainly knows what he is doing. St. Augustine was once trying to understand the mysteries of God when he happened upon a little boy on a beach. The boy had dug a hole and was attempting to fill it with water from the ocean. St. Augustine stopped him and inquired what he was doing. The boy told him that he was planning to fit the entire ocean into the hole. The saint proceeded to explain to him that that was physically impossible, the boy however, replied that the same held true when trying to fit the Infinite God into our finite minds!

I hope this helps, and I wish someone will be able to explain it to you better than I.

My own words and the space provided on this thread are insufficient to answer your valid question. I recommend you read Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter “Salfici Doloris” for the Catholic perspective on suffering. You can find it at:

vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris_en.html

By His CROSS Christ Redeemed Our Sinful Souls.
Our Crosses Relieve Other Souls’ Sufferings.
Sin brought suffering and death into the world. This was the choice of man, foreseen by God, and used as a springboard to raise us, created lower than the angels, to higher than the angels through the opportunity to unite our suffering to that of Christ’s and share in His redemption of man. Did He need our suffering to accomplish the redemption of mankind? No. He chose it as a method of raising us to share in His Divinity.
No one has the mind of God and therefore no one can say why this or why that except God. We only know that His ways are Loving and Just. Faith, revealed by First Angels In The Heavens touching their harps of gold and singing peace on Earth to men of goodwill, requires that we rely totally on God for His ways are not ours.

The book of Job is a good place to start if you want to have some understanting of suffering from the Bible:

Job 38:1-4

1Then the LORD addressed Job out of the storm and said: 2Who is this that obscures divine plans with words of ignorance? 3Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers! 4Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.

God has it all under control, don’t worry about suffering. When it comes your way, take it up like a cross and follow the Lord.

[quote=furlan1985]When Adam sinned against God in the Garden of Eden (and every time that we sin) he offended God in an infinite degree. St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest theologian ever, taught that the minutest sin committed is punishable by death!
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This is so funny. According to the Bible Satan actually rebelled and fought against God, and that did not offend God to the same degree - he did not punish rebellion with death.

A little disobedience however, offended God much more. Add to that that Satan was allegedly aware of his “wrongdoing” while Adam and Eve were NOT (they could not have been!) - since they did not know good from evil, right from wrong. They were just like a child who does not understand why the parents forbade him to touch the cookies the parents left in front of their eyes, deliberately tempting him. What a despicable behavior. God has his priorities messed up, real bad!

[quote=Hitetlen]This is so funny. According to the Bible Satan actually rebelled and fought against God, and that did not offend God to the same degree - he did not punish rebellion with death.

A little disobedience however, offended God much more. Add to that that Satan was allegedly aware of his “wrongdoing” while Adam and Eve were NOT (they could not have been!) - since they did not know good from evil, right from wrong. They were just like a child who does not understand why the parents forbade him to touch the cookies the parents left in front of their eyes, deliberately tempting him. What a despicable behavior. God has his priorities messed up, real bad!
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No room for atheists here. You don’t believe in God, Satan or Adam and Eve so why comment on what they may or may not have done!!

[quote=thistle]No room for atheists here. You don’t believe in God, Satan or Adam and Eve so why comment on what they may or may not have done!!
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I think the idea is that his hilarity is supposed to cause you and me to see the folly of our ways, roll over, and snap out of it. Or something.

[quote=5-Decades-a-Day]I think the idea is that his hilarity is supposed to cause you and me to see the folly of our ways, roll over, and snap out of it. Or something.
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That would be nice, but I will not hold my breath. :slight_smile: It is hovewer interesting to see the “responses” to these mildly provocative questions. So why did God get soooo upset when Adam and Eve disobeyed a little, and shrugged off the actual rebellion of Satan? Care to make a guess? I think not, but I am ready to be pleasantly surprised.

[quote=thistle]No room for atheists here. You don’t believe in God, Satan or Adam and Eve so why comment on what they may or may not have done!!
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No, I don’t believe any of these stories, but I know that the Bible DOES exist. And as an existing phenomenon it is open to rational analysis and criticism. It is not my fault that the Bible is choke full of wildly unbelivable stories.

ok, you are God.

God says, let there be no more evil.

silence, silence, silence

all of mankind is gone.

[quote=Hitetlen]This is so funny. According to the Bible Satan actually rebelled and fought against God, and that did not offend God to the same degree - he did not punish rebellion with death.

A little disobedience however, offended God much more. Add to that that Satan was allegedly aware of his “wrongdoing” while Adam and Eve were NOT (they could not have been!) - since they did not know good from evil, right from wrong. They were just like a child who does not understand why the parents forbade him to touch the cookies the parents left in front of their eyes, deliberately tempting him. What a despicable behavior. God has his priorities messed up, real bad!
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You are seriously misreading the relative severity of these punishments. Adam and Eve received a temporary sentence. Satan’s is permanent.

The nature of death is the separation of the spirit from the body. Satan has no physical body for his spirit to be separated from, so he cannot die in the same sense that humans can. Satan cannot be punished in this way.

Your assertion that Adam and Eve did not know what they were doing is flatly contradicted by the story. They may not have had informed consciences, but they had been clearly directed by God not to eat the forbidden fruit and informed of the specific consequences.

The punishment of Satan is more severe then that of Adam and Eve. Satan has been given no oportunity for repentance, Adam and Eve, and their offspring, have. Death is a temporary state, Satan’s is permanent. The Bible teaches universal resurrection, so even the un-repentant will be freed from the consequences of death.

Humanity has been given the opportunity, through the work of Christ, to repent of its rebellion. Those who choose to do so and demonstrate their sincerety in their efforts to live out God’s Law will be brought into the presence of God to stay for eternity. Those who choose not to repent of their rebellion will be cast from the presence of God for eternity, just as Satan.

The punishment of Satan is far more severe than that of Adam and Eve. Their sentence is temporary dependent on their behaviour. Satan’s sentence is eternal. Adam and Eve and their offspring have the opportunity to choose to return to God’s presence, Satan does not.

We are a people essentially on parole. Satan has a life sentence with no chance of parole.

[quote=Lapsed]You are seriously misreading the relative severity of these punishments. Adam and Eve received a temporary sentence. Satan’s is permanent.

The nature of death is the separation of the spirit from the body. Satan has no physical body for his spirit to be separated from, so he cannot die in the same sense that humans can. Satan cannot be punished in this way.

The punishment of Satan is more severe then that of Adam and Eve. Satan has been given no oportunity for repentance, Adam and Eve, and their offspring, have. Death is a temporary state, Satan’s is permanent. The Bible teaches universal resurrection, so even the un-repentant will be freed from the consequences of death.

Humanity has been given the opportunity, through the work of Christ, to repent of its rebellion. Those who choose to do so and demonstrate their sincerety in their efforts to live out God’s Law will be brought into the presence of God to stay for eternity. Those who choose not to repent of their rebellion will be cast from the presence of God for eternity, just as Satan.

The punishment of Satan is far more severe than that of Adam and Eve. Their sentence is temporary dependent on their behaviour. Satan’s sentence is eternal. Adam and Eve and their offspring have the opportunity to choose to return to God’s presence, Satan does not.

We are a people essentially on parole. Satan has a life sentence with no chance of parole.
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Not according to the Bible and the posters around here. The torture in hell is eternal, while Satan got off scot free. No torture and he kept his power to do exactly what he wants to do.

[quote=Lapsed]Your assertion that Adam and Eve did not know what they were doing is flatly contradicted by the story. They may not have had informed consciences, but they had been clearly directed by God not to eat the forbidden fruit and informed of the specific consequences.
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So what? Can you expect a child to understand (who is ignorant about the questions of life and death) that tasting a cookie has dire consequences? According to the believers, death was a direct consequence of the original sin, therefore no one could have known beforehand just what this death is! So this warning simply could not have carried any meaning for them. The punishment was way out of proportion compared to the act.

Dear Hetetlin,

I would like to apologize that perhaps certain persons here are treating you uncharitably because you are an atheist. The question of human suffering is a terribly difficult one. Although I would say that Della and many others here have nailed the head of the nail, so to speak: Christ has now turned suffering into a Redemptive possibility. Now, there need be no meaningless suffering, for, if we suffer for things that are not our fault, we can offer them up (provided we have the state of grace) for others and gain graces for them. I consider that to be beautiful and ultimately hopeful.

If there is some terrible pain or suffering or injustice that you have gone through that has left you angry and hurt, I am very sorry about that. Whatever it is, I will put you now into my prayers and offer up my cold that I currently have for you so that you can know how much God loves you and that we love you.

Sincerely,
Scott

[quote=spauline]Dear Hetetlin,

I would like to apologize that perhaps certain persons here are treating you uncharitably because you are an atheist. The question of human suffering is a terribly difficult one. Although I would say that Della and many others here have nailed the head of the nail, so to speak: Christ has now turned suffering into a Redemptive possibility. Now, there need be no meaningless suffering, for, if we suffer for things that are not our fault, we can offer them up (provided we have the state of grace) for others and gain graces for them. I consider that to be beautiful and ultimately hopeful.

If there is some terrible pain or suffering or injustice that you have gone through that has left you angry and hurt, I am very sorry about that. Whatever it is, I will put you now into my prayers and offer up my cold that I currently have for you so that you can know how much God loves you and that we love you.

Sincerely,
Scott
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Agreed.

Hetelin, like I said in a previous post, if you want a good argument that is not a Christian argument (an Agnostic argument), then you would be good to check out Moores response to Rowes ‘argument from evil’ which reduces it to whether a belief in God is properly basic. Then you can go from there.

I would like to ‘correct’ or maybe the correct response is, to reply to the sentencing and suffering of Satan versus Adam and Eve.
Satan and his followers sinned and were banished to the Earth.
Eve first sinned and then, in the knowledge that she had been lied to by Satan, she herself lied to Adam tempting him to sin. Adam put the love of the woman over his love for God and followed her into sin rather than obeying God.
They were banished to the Earth.
Jesus became man, lived, suffered and died for the salvation of all including Demons and men if they so choose to accept His atonement. The demons did not. Some men have not.
The key to understanding God is Love, mercy, justice in that order.
God loves all His creation, including demons and disobedient men. God made all to share in His Life and Love.
God saw man’s fall before creating man and created the remedy so that man might be raised higher than the angels.
God’s justice, demands that if you do not accept the payment and atonement made for your sins, then you must pay the bill. A task only possible for God.
No one including Satan goes to Hell by any means except the refusal to believe Truth and the teller of Truth who is God and accepting His grace and salvation. God who is love continues to love His creation while only hating the sin.
Sharing in His love and His salvation and being imitators of Him are all that He asks. God bless all.

[quote=spauline]Dear Hetetlin,

I would like to apologize that perhaps certain persons here are treating you uncharitably because you are an atheist. The question of human suffering is a terribly difficult one. Although I would say that Della and many others here have nailed the head of the nail, so to speak: Christ has now turned suffering into a Redemptive possibility. Now, there need be no meaningless suffering, for, if we suffer for things that are not our fault, we can offer them up (provided we have the state of grace) for others and gain graces for them. I consider that to be beautiful and ultimately hopeful.

If there is some terrible pain or suffering or injustice that you have gone through that has left you angry and hurt, I am very sorry about that. Whatever it is, I will put you now into my prayers and offer up my cold that I currently have for you so that you can know how much God loves you and that we love you.

Sincerely,
Scott
[/quote]

You are most kind, but there is no need for apologizing for others. I don’t find their posts disrespectful at all, they simply express their feelings in strong terms, which is agreeable.

Personally, I never had any terrible pain or injustice inflicted upon me, far from it. My life was very enjoyable so far and I have no complaints at all. My interest in these matters is purely hypothetical.

Indeed we must differentiate between necessary and meaningless pain and suffering. A usual good example is the pain a doctor may inflict upon you during a healing process. Such a pain or suffering is integral part of the process.

To wit: suppose you and your doctor friend are taking a trip in the wilderness, and you are bitten on your little finger by a poisonous snake. If the only remedy is amputation without anasthesia, it is not cruel to cut off the affected finger, even though it causes pain. But! If the doctor happens to have a poison antidote, and does not use it, the pain thus inflicted is needless. Do we agree so far?

Now to deny that there is needless pain and suffering in the world, consider the following: when a father spanks his child for a misdeed, it is not necessarily needless pain, it can be argued that it is part of the education process. Well and good. However, such spanking should stop when the level of pain reaches the proper point. One fewer slaps would be insufficient. Every slap after this is unnecessary pain and suffering. Do you or anyone else wish to assert that in each and every instance a father spanks his child he will stop at the proper moment and thus does not inflict unnecessary pain? I don’t think you can argue that.

The consequence: there is unnecessary pain and suffering in the world.

There can be one argument against the example I brought up: Maybe you wish to assert that the “extra” slaps the father metes out have some other, unknown beneficial effects. If you care to argue so, please do, but don’t just tell me that we cannot know what those beneficial effects are. You must be specific.

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