Thursday, June 28, 2007

what is suffering?

12:09 PM Posted by: M., 13 comments

what is suffering? I have been hearing about "suffering" since I was a kid in church, but I don't think I ever understood it--nor do I still, because I really have not suffered at all. I feel like a lot of times, we throw around suffering as more a theoretical concept, than something that is actively happening and is actually grotesquely horrific.

I think it would be almost crazy for someone to hold onto their faith after they have truly suffered--but I guess it would be admirable if they could also. I met a couple torture survivors when i was in college. They were part of this organization who promotes the survivors of torture telling their story publicly as part of healing. I went to one of these presentations and I was confronted with suffering head on.

One man from Rwanda lost 17 members of his family in the genocide including all 5 kids and his wife. He saw his wife raped in front of him and killed, his kids killed also. After the genocide, he was imprisoned by the new government for helping his former enemies. He was in jail and tortured for 2 years. He could barely speak about what happened, he could barely even move any parts of his body. That is suffering. Now he is alone. I have to admit I would think him crazy to say, "well, this is part of God's plan."

I am reading a book about the war in Bosnia. Here is a passage...

"For a moment I could see nothing in the smoky gloom. My torch began to flicker, dimmed and died. I beat it back to life on my thigh and looked again. Three women looked back at me. They were kneeling in a small box-shaped pit sunk into the stone floor, huddled together in fear, their arms and hands entwined in support. Normally the hole would have been used to store grain and covered with the wooden trapdoor that now lay upright on its hinges behind their backs. It would have been the ideal place to hide. Close the lid and the pit would be nearly invisible. There would have been just enough room for three people to lie beneath it. What gave them away? I wondered. A cough? A sob?

Two of the women were in their twenties, the third was an old lady. Someone had shot her in the mouth and her shattered dentures cascaded with her own teeth down her front like mashed melon pips. One girl had been shot repeatedly in the chest. It was difficult to tell whether the other had her throat cut or been shot; a great gash of blood cresented her neck. The expression on their faces had survived the damage. It was so clear. A time-valve that opened directly on to those last moments. So you saw what they saw. I hope beyond hope that I never see it again."

He also describes a man whose youngest daughter was raped beside him when he was on his death-bed.

I am sorry--this stuff is depressing--but this is suffering. Suffering is not just being in debt or something, suffering is unimaginable to me. I cannot, cannot, cannot justify the suffering that we talk about so nonchalantly. I cannot even begin to fathom how a good God would use this to his glory? That makes me sick that God would allow this suffering for the express purpose of people worshipping Him--how is that not the most selfish thing?

What is suffering? Why doesn't God stop suffering? If God wants all to be saved, why would he let muslims be brutally pillaged and massacred before they could convert? Why did he allow Adam to commit the first sin? Why is THIS SUFFERING a just punishment for one man disobeying God? WHY?

I asked God. He said nothing.


Heather said...

**That makes me sick that God would allow this suffering for the express purpose of people worshipping Him--how is that not the most selfish thing?**

I don't think there's any good answer to this. I've meet many who have said that God works for His glory above all else. Here's my problem with that answer: have you ever met anyone who always put their glory first, and you wanted to be around? Or didn't you find that person selfish and self-absorbed?

zilch said...

There are two good reasons not to believe in God. One of them is that there is simply no evidence for His existence.

The other one is what you said: if God is good, this kind of suffering makes no sense.

exapologist said...

I agree. In March of 2004, a 14-year-old girl was gang-raped, bludgeoned, dismembered, and then burned -- while still conscious.

I'm unable to reconcile facts like this -- including the other horrendous horrors you mention -- with the hypothesis of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god.

Another nasty version of the problem of suffering has to do with the perpetual world war among biological species. Why would God set things up so that each carnivorous creature must fight to the death just to have something to eat? In order for a carnivore to eat, something else must suffer immeasurably. Why didn't God set things up so that no conscious suffering need occur in order to fill one's stomache? Since one wouldn't expect such data on the hypothesis of theism -- and indeed one would predict some opposite, non-competitive biological economy on theism -- it's a particularly powerful piece of disconfirming evidence against the hypothesis of theism, by my lights, anyway.

Becky said...


you ask tough questions. It is hard to image a loving GOD who allows people to suffer. I wish I had an easy answer but I don't. I know what it is like to suffer not at gun point but to suffer in the mind, to suffer in the soul and to hurt deeply. Like many things in life suffering is to each person. I know in my journey GOD has used my pain to help others in pain. GRACE is a difficult concept to understand; I still don't get it but I keep searching and hope that I will find my answers.


Mystical Seeker said...

I have been deeply influenced by process theology in my take on this question (also, the book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Harold Kushner is a good reference on this subject). The solution as I see it is not to reject the concept of God, but to reject the concept of divine omnipotence. The idea of God as some sort of powerful magician in the sky who can alter the laws of nature at "his" whim seems to me to be a relic of a pre-Enlightment view of the universe. I think the reason God "allows" evil to happen is that God has no power to force anything to happen. That isn't the way God operates, and it isn't in God's nature. To me, God isn't a Big Man in the Sky who "makes" things happen, but an active presence who acts through the laws of the universe rather than against them, who offers the best possibilities at all times but who never controls the outcome. To ask God to prevent evil by forcing a positive outcome is to engage in magical thinking about God, in my view.

maybeitsnonsense said...

Have you heard of "voice of the martyrs"? they are an organization that helps and tell the stories of persecuted christians.

it is true that many american christians have suffered nothing in comparison to survivors of rwanda. but there are christians who suffer greatly in parts of the world and maintain their faith.

personally, as much as i doubt i refuse to rationalize their experiences and sufferings. i refuse to analyze their reasons for keeping faith even after they have been burnt, abused, raped, tortured ect. ONLY because of their faith.

i encourage you to check out the website (voice of the martyrs) if you have not already. there is also, foxes book of martyrs, tortured for christ.

maybeitsnonsense said...

***personally, as much as i doubt i refuse to rationalize their experiences and sufferings. i refuse to analyze their reasons for keeping faith even after they have been burnt, abused, raped, tortured ect. ONLY because of their faith.****

the downside of blogging is that so much is removed from communication, and misunderstandings can result- thus CLARIFICATION---
I DO NOT mean that you should not question these things- I DO MEAN, that this topic of christians suffering for their faith is just something i have not been able to really face yet.

Paul said...

Marie, I dealt with this same issue and also blogged about it. I'm gonna offer three things that stuck with me:

1) A friend told me "Paul, if you really want to know something about this suffering question, ask it of the Christians I've met in the Sudan who'd had limbs hacked off by machetes, were living in squalid refugee camps, and who bring Heaven to Earth because of the beauty of their faith and worship." Your question is important, but it can't just be theoretical - you can't just be overcome by horror without asking the survivors. Ask Eli Wiesel and Viktor Frankl about hope and God after surviving the merciless and systematic brutality of the Nazi concentration camps. Ask the Sudanese Christians. Ask Job.

2) I came to realize that our reactions to these horrors only serves to underscore the point that we as humans really truly believe that there is good and evil - deliberate cruelty and deliberate good. And instead of debating with myself about why God would allow this or that, I simply asked myself "What side do I want to be on?" These horrors force a metaphysical choice, even if we can't theoretically reconcile the question. There is no "answer" here because these horrors are beyond logic. There is only a choice.

3) Simply, Jesus of Nazareth. The Christian faith doesn't hinge on theoretical discussions of God's nature. It hinges on a man who not only claimed that God lives and identifies himself as one and the same with the tortured, raped, outcast, and prisoners, but who even went further -- all the way into his own torture and death (and Hell, according to the creeds) to shatter the horror from the inside out. Horror isn't something you fix from above - it's something you redeem from the inside out. It's crazy talk, I know. Why else is and was the idea of Jesus so offensive?

As my favorite author, Frederich Buechner puts it, the symbols of God in the other major world religions - lotus, star, moon - are all symbols of light. Only one world religion has as it's symbol an instrument of torture and death. God doesn't fix - he redeems.

John W. Loftus said...

Listen to Gary Paulsen’s depiction of wolves who had captured a doe: "Wolves do not kills 'clean.' (If there can be such a thing.) It is a slow, ripping, terrible death for the prey. Two wolves held the doe by the nose, held her head down to the ice, and the other wolves took turns tearing at her rear end, pulling and jerking and tearing, until they were inside of her, pulling out parts of her and all this time she was still on her feet, still alive.... She was still on her feet though they had the guts out of her now, pulled back on the ice, eating and pulling, and I wanted it to end, wanted it to be over for her." [Woodsong, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990).

der Scheinende said...

--if God is good, this kind of suffering makes no sense

It is less than superficial to think that a human animal in distress somehow affects the foundation of the enigmatic idea of god, even the vengeful god of Christian mythology.

Breckmin said...

"What is suffering?"
Something that is logical to exist in order to teach you what its contrast is.

"Why doesn't God stop suffering?"

Someday He will for those who cry out to be saved from eternal suffering and accept His forgiveness for their transgressions. In fact, it is this temporary creation that is part of the plan to PREVENT suffering from touching those who
are redeemed in heaven for all of eternity.

"If God wants all to be saved,"

If everyone is saved..then NO one is saved..because there is nothing REAL that exists to actually be saved from. Someone has to suffer the eternal consequences in order to even KNOW that these consequences even exist.

"why would he let muslims be brutally pillaged and massacred before they could convert?"

God does not remove the choices of those who brutally pillage and massacre. This temporary creation is filled with choices. Each choice is both a cause and an effect.

"Why did he allow Adam to commit the first sin?"

It was inevitable to take place anyway without knowledge that has to be learned. It is a great example of an infinite determiner, btw.. but that would be a long discussion on infinite determinism and sunergeism.

"Why is THIS SUFFERING a just punishment for one man disobeying God? WHY?"

It is the consequences of "dying ye shall die" in the Hebrew that make God's judgement not only two-fold regarding spiritual and physical death (which will eventually take place), but also
makes us logical "enemies" of God with respect to us being "sons of disobedience." These statements, however, will only lead to more logical questions. Question everything with critical thinking..but when you question..pray for protection.

"I asked God. He said nothing."

Perhaps someday He will answer you when you finally pray for protection from lies and invalid reasoning which is not from Him.

Perhaps God is patiently waiting for you. You will "choose" one way or the other. If God brings circumstances that teach you and lead you to TRUTH (the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus as a Perfect Atonement) then it will be by God's Grace and God's Grace Alone that you finally "chose" correctly.

You will still choose...for if you could not choose..then you could not LOVE.

Breckmin said...

"That makes me sick that God would allow this suffering for the express purpose of people worshipping Him--how is that not the most selfish thing?"

That would make me sick also, if that was somehow the reason that God allowed suffering.

People worship, thank and praise God because He "saves them" from themselves and their own choices and the consequences of their own choices.

This will of course lead to a logical discussion on "why?" they choose to be the way they are, or how they were "created." Very important to discuss and answer the circumstances which they are born into - including Adam's.

We don't worship God in order to somehow appease Him. We don't worship God because He somehow "needs" us to worship Him to make Himself feel better. We don't worship God because God is somehow a proud God that wants everyone to idolize Him for His Own validation...nothing could be further from the truth.

We worship the Creator because we CHOOSE to do so and it is actually GOOD for "us" to do so. When we worship God we are in fellowship with Him.

Since this fellowship can only exist with moral perfection that would mean that the only people who could truly "worship" the Creator are either angels who have never fallen, or people who have Jesus' moral perfection in their place.

All other worship would be logically meaningless because there would be no fellowship without moral perfection in the place of your incredible moral imperfection and sin.

People who DO worship receive the "peace" of God that surpasses all understanding. Worship is for
US because we were logically created to glorify the Creator through our choices (once we learn and are delivered from the consequences of evil).

People don't worship God for suffering... they worship God because He has saved them from the suffering that they know they too "could have" ("should have" is imperfect as well)received for their bad decisions.

If we present worship incorrectly or present Christianity incorrectly then we are not going to "see" the incredible TRUTH that is exclusive to being consistent with God's locial omniscience.

日月神教-任我行 said...