Some Thoughts on Pain and Suffering

The story of Job, history’s most famous sufferer, raises questions that never go away. We naturally turn to religion to help us respond to these questions, but religion does not offer uniform answers and people do not always respond to their religious background in expected ways. If religion is a genuine resource to sufferers, we need to clarify its role and acknowledge its limitations. Although we often speak of “the meaning of pain and suffering,” that’s not something religion provides. The real concern of religion is not suffering, it is the sufferer. Pain and suffering have no meaning in themselves. But we can find meaning in our sufferings.

On two occasions, according to the Gospels, Jesus had the opportunity to explain why tragedy strikes (Jn 9:1-3; Lk 13:1-5). Why do some people suffer, while others go free? And both times he turned the discussion in another direction. The important thing, he said in effect, is not the reason for suffering, but our response to suffering, not why we suffer but what we do when suffering comes.

Paradoxes

The experience of suffering presents us with a number of perplexing paradoxes. For most of human history, disease and death were part of everyday experience. People faced the pain life brought, did their best to cope with it and move on. Ironically, however, the more effective our attempts have become to resist disease and death, the more perplexing they seem to be. Now, thanks to medical science, people suffer much less in life than they would have in the past, yet they are more upset by it than before. The less we have to suffer, it seems, the more our suffering bothers us.

Another paradox is the fact that suffering always seems to take us by surprise. Nothing is more obvious than the fact that everybody suffers. Yet nothing seems more incomprehensible than my own suffering. As Elizabeth Kubler-Ross says of death, it comes to thee and to thee, but not to me. The writer William Saroyan said, “I knew that everybody died. But in my case I thought there would be an exception.” And the fact is, there are no exceptions. Not even for nice people. Not even for religious people.

And this brings us to another paradox—the strikingly different effects that suffering has on religion. On the one hand, suffering poses a tremendous challenge to faith. Philosophers and theologians regard it as the greatest challenge to religious belief. One says it’s the only atheistic argument that deserves to be taken seriously. Another says that undeserved suffering is a greater obstacle to faith than all the theoretical and philosophical objections ever devised, all put together. It is the “rock on which atheism rests.” At the same time, suffering sometimes has a positive effect on religious belief. Many people find themselves drawing closer to God when they suffer. A young woman I know who spent several years as a hospice worker said that in her experience nobody died an atheist. Everyone she knew came to terms with God in the end.

Of course, the greatest paradox suffering presents us with is the apparent discrepancy between the power of God and the realities of life. If God is all-powerful, why does anyone suffer? An omnipotent being has power to create any kind of world he wants to, and change anything in the world he wants to instantaneously. If such a being existed, surely he would eliminate suffering, or prevent it, or at least limit it?

Historically, people have responded to this problem in two principal ways. One is to move suffering outside God’s will, to maintain that God is not responsible for suffering. The most popular version of this approach appeals to free will. God endowed his creatures with the capacity to obey him or to disobey. They disobeyed, and the world now suffers the consequences. So, it was human rebellion that ultimately accounts for the sorrows of the world. God did not cause it or will it. It was never God’s plan that we suffer.

The contrasting response to the problem of evil is to place suffering inside God’s will. Things may appear to be out of control, goes this line of thought, but God is nevertheless completely in charge of creation. And everything that happens has a place in his plan. We may not understand why God does things the way he does. But we can be sure that it is all for the best. Everything we go through, even the darkest chapters of our lives, is just what we need. God uses this painful process to develop our characters and bring us to moral perfection. In time, we will see that God’s will is perfect.

Now each of these responses generates a long list of questions. Some people can’t understand how creatures who were perfect at the moment of creation could ever rebel against their maker. Others wonder why an all-powerful creator couldn’t create beings who are free, but always use their freedom to do the right thing.

As for the other response, the idea that everything happens for the best seems contradicted by our experience. The soul-making, or character development, God is bringing about doesn’t seem very cost effective. Is it really necessary for us to suffer this much in order to learn the lessons we need to learn? History’s horrendous evils hardly seem to justify whatever lessons we learn from them—if indeed we learn any.

There are responses to these questions and further questions about these responses, and so on, in an endless cycle of philosophical point-counterpoint. I admit that I enjoy such discussions. I think they serve an important purpose. But their value in showing the meaning of suffering is limited. Each one gets us part way down the road, but none of them goes the distance and provides a satisfying solution to the problem of evil. And the obstacle that brings even the best of them to a halt is concrete human suffering. All the theories in the world can’t stand up to the misery of a single sufferer.

One of the most powerful expressions of this insight comes from Dostoyevsky. In one passage in The Brothers Karamazov, the skeptical Ivan is challenging his brother Aloysha, a tender soul who has become a novice monk. “Imagine that you are building the edifice of human destiny with the object of making people happy in the finale, of giving them peace and rest at last, but for that you must inevitably and unavoidably torture just one tiny creature, … raise [the universe] on the foundation of her unrequited tears—would you agree to be the architect on such conditions? Tell me the truth.” “No, I would not agree,” Aloysha said, and neither would we.[1] Theories founder on the shoals of human suffering. No explanation makes it intelligible.

There are times when religious beliefs seem to make suffering even worse. I once heard two physicians agree that their religious patients had a more difficult time coming to terms with a serious illness than non-religious ones. The believers had all sorts of why-me and why-God questions that did not perplex unbelievers. Unbelievers had fewer expectations, so they were less inclined to feel that life had let them down.

Something is obviously wrong when solutions turn out to be problems, and our attempts to make things better wind up making them worse. When we’re not getting good answers to our questions, the problem isn’t always the answers. Sometimes it’s the questions we are asking.

The Christian Story

The cross and the resurrection of Jesus are central to the Christian story, and they are indispensable to a Christian perspective on suffering. According to the Gospels, Jesus approached the cross with fear and apprehension. During the last night of his life, he asked his closest friends to watch with him, and he fervently prayed that God would spare him the bitter cup that lay ahead. His hopes notwithstanding, he endured the agony of the cross. And his cry of desolation, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me!” reveals the depths of anguish to which he sank. With his resurrection, of course, Jesus broke the power of death, reversed the condemnation of the cross, and reunited with the Father.

The cross points to the inevitability of suffering in this world. Jesus did not avoid suffering, and neither can we. At the same time, Jesus’ anguish confirms our basic intuition that suffering is wrong. There is a tragic abnormality to our existence. We know that we are susceptible to suffering and death; we also sense that we were not meant for them.

The cross also affirms Jesus’ solidarity with us in our sufferings. It reminds us that we are never alone, no matter how dark and oppressive our situation may be. Because Jesus endured the cross, nothing can happen to us that he has not been through himself—physical pain and hardship, separation from family and friends, the loss of worldly goods and reputation, the animosity of those we try to help, even spiritual isolation—he knew it all.

If the cross reminds us that suffering is unavoidable, the resurrection assures us that suffering never has the last word. Jesus could not avoid the cross, but he was not imprisoned by it. The empty tomb is our assurance that suffering is temporary. From the perspective of Christian hope, the time will come when suffering will be a thing of the past.

For Christian faith, cross and resurrection are inseparable, and we must always see them together. Without the resurrection, the cross would be the last sad chapter in the story of a noble life. Jesus’ death would simply illustrate the grim fact that the good often die young, with their dreams unfulfilled and their hopes dashed. In light of the resurrection, however, the cross is a great victory, the central act in God’s response to the problem of suffering. So, the resurrection transforms the cross. It turns tragedy into triumph.

In a similar way, the resurrection needs the cross. Standing alone, the resurrection seems to offer an easy escape from the rigors of this world. It would lead to us to look for a detour around the difficulties of life. If God has the power to raise the dead, then surely he can insulate us from pain and sorrow; he can prevent us from suffering. But before the resurrection comes the cross. And this forces us to recognize that God often leads us through perils, rather than around them. He does not promise to lift us dramatically and miraculously out of harm’s way. Just as Jesus had his cross to bear, all his followers have theirs as well (cf. Mt 16:24). Jesus’ promise to be with us in our sufferings also calls us to be with him in his sufferings.

There is a small chapel on the Appian Way a short distance from Rome whose front wall bears the inscription, “Quo vadis, Domine?” According to legend, Peter was fleeing Rome during a time of persecution when he encountered Christ heading toward the city. “Where are you going, Lord?” he asked. And Jesus answered, “I’m going to Rome, to be crucified again.” With that, Peter realized he was traveling in the wrong direction, so he turned around to be with Jesus.

How shall we face suffering?

People who are suffering need to know, first of all, that suffering is real and suffering is wrong. Suffering involves the loss of good things. Our instinctive response to suffering is “Oh, no. This isn’t right. This is not supposed to happen to me.” We should affirm that insight. We were not meant to suffer.

We add insult to injury when we tell people their problems are not so bad, compared to what others have gone through, or that their difficulties are all for the best, or that this was supposed to happen for some inscrutable reason—because they need it, or deserve it, or will somehow benefit from it, or perhaps worst of all, that they are being punished through it.

If there are any benefits that accompany suffering, they come not because suffering is good, but in spite of the fact that suffering is bad.

The biblical book of Psalms, the longest book of the Bible, gives full expression to the depths of human woe. In fact, more than half of these ancient religious songs concern what one writer calls “the wintry landscape of the heart.” There is great comfort in these poems, because suffering people need to know their sufferings are acknowledged.

Church historian Martin Marty describes losing his wife to cancer after nearly thirty years of marriage. During the months of her final hospitalization they took turns reading a Psalm at the time of each midnight medication. He read the even numbered psalms, she read the odd numbered psalms. “But after a particularly wretched day’s bout that wracked her body and my soul,” he writes, “I did not feel up to reading a particularly somber psalm, so I passed over it.” “What happened to Psalm 88, she said, why did you skip it? I didn’t think you could take it tonight. I am not sure I could. No: I am sure I could not. Please read it for me, she said. All right: I cry out in the night before thee. For my soul is full of trouble. Thou hast put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep. Thank you, she said, I need that kind the most.”

“After that conversation we continued to speak,” Marty recalls, “slowly and quietly, in the bleakness of the midnight but in the warmth of each other’s presence. We agreed that often the starkest scriptures were the most credible signals of God’s presence and came in the worst time. When life gets down to basics, of course one wants the consoling words, the comforting sayings, the voices of hope preserved on printed pages. But they make sense only against the background … of the dark words.”[2]

Marty’s experience affirms the right of people to face their suffering openly. People need to know that their trials are appreciated.

In a book responding to the loss of his son, philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff describes the struggle to “own his grief,” as he put it. “The modern Western practice is to disown one’s grief: to get over it, to put it behind one, to get on with life, to put it out of mind, to insure that it not become part of one’s identity.” To see his point we have only to think of the facile way newscasters talk of “healing” and “closure” just hours after some terrible tragedy has occurred. “My struggle,” Wolterstorff said, “was to own [my grief], to make it part of my identity: if you want to know who I am, you must know that I am one whose son died.”[3]

In a similar vein Gerald Sittser speaks of embracing the sorrow that engulfed him when he lost three members of his family in an automobile collision. To deal with the tragedy effectively, he found he could not go around his grief, he had to go through it. He had to penetrate its depths.

Although it is important to acknowledge that suffering is real and suffering is wrong, it is equally important to insist that suffering does not have the last word. Suffering may be an inescapable part of our story, but it is not the whole story. We can be larger than our sufferings.

People transcend their sufferings in several ways. One is courageously refusing to let suffering dominate them. This is the central point in Viktor Frankl’s well-known book Man’s Search for Meaning. When every freedom is taken away, one freedom always remains—the freedom to choose our response. When we cannot change our situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. And of course, the greater the challenge, the greater our courage must be. Frankl quotes Dostoyevsky: “There is only one thing that I dread, not to be worthy of my sufferings!”[4] No matter how desperate our situation, we can surmount it by refusing to let it define our significance. We can be greater than our sufferings.

This call to courage rests on the conviction that our suffering does not diminish our value as human beings. This is a message that caregivers can provide. This is especially important when we remember what our society relies on as the basis of personal worth. We glorify the young, the healthy, the athletic.

We also honor productivity, or usefulness. In fact, we identify people with what they do. Have you noticed, whenever a newspaper mentions a person’s name, it always follows it with an occupation? We ask children what they want to be when they grow up. We describe older people in terms of what they used to do. We speak of them as retired schoolteachers, bus drivers, or dentists. It’s as if children are not yet fully human and older persons are fully human no longer. One of the biggest concerns of people who are suffering from illness or injury is the fear of losing their usefulness. My father-in-law underwent bypass surgery for the second time last summer. One of his post-operative complaints was the fear that he could no longer be useful. If he couldn’t be productive, life wasn’t worth living.

We also transcend our sufferings when we realize that we do not suffer alone. God is with us in our sufferings. According to Christian faith, the story of Jesus is God’s own story, and its great climax is the crucifixion—a moment of indescribable anguish. Some people believe that Christ suffered so we won’t have to. But the cross represents solidarity as well as substitution. Christ not only suffers for us, Christ sufferswith us.

From the Christian perspective, this is a testimony to the fact that God is with us in our suffering, that everything that happens to us makes a difference to him. St. Paul’s letter to the Romans contains the ringing assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus—not trouble, or hardship, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword. Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation—nothing can separate us from him (Rom 8:35-39).

I used to believe that nothing could separate us from God because he is always there for us on the other side of the ordeal, no matter now bad it gets. But there’s another way to look at it. None of these things can separate us from God, not because he is waiting for us after they are over, but because he is with us while they happen. In the words of the most famous passage in the Bible, “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me” (Ps 23:4).

Suffering does not have the last word for those who have confidence for the future, so a final element in the Christian perspective on suffering is hope. One form of hope is the conviction that suffering counts for something, that it contributes to the achievement of some worthy goal. We have an instinctive desire to redeem tragedy by using it for some good purpose. Think of the good things that families often do to respond to the loss of a child, for example. We have an inherent desire to make our suffering and the suffering of those we love count for something. They must not lie there, gaping holes in the fabric of life. We must somehow mend them, learn from them, grow beyond them. And religious faith sustains this hope with the assurance that in everything God works for good (Rom 8:28).

For many people, hope also takes the shape of a future beyond death, a realm of existence where suffering is a thing of the past. It is possible to claim too much here. And it is possible to claim it in the wrong way. Any assurance of life beyond must take into account your own faith stance and that of the patient. *But Christianity offers the assurance of a love that is stronger than anything, a love from which not even death can separate us.

My uncle died of Parkinson’s disease and was bed-ridden for the last four years of his life. My aunt cared for him day and night during that entire time, with the exception of a one-hour visit each day from county caregivers. The other night I asked her the questions that form the title of our conference—What hurts? What works? One of the things she mentioned was the fact that his caregivers allowed him to contribute to them. In spite of his situation, his good nature, his faith, his sense of humor, came through, and they made an impact. In fact, not long after he died, one of the caregivers made a life-changing decision in part because of his influence.

What is the meaning of pain and suffering? Suffering has no meaning. But we can find meaning in, through, andin spite of suffering. And religious faith is our greatest resource for doing so.

Richard Rice

Loma Linda University

[1] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov.

[2] Martin E. Marty, A Cry of Absence: Reflections for the Winter of the Heart (HarperSanFrancisco, 1993), pp. xi-xii.

[3] Nicholas Wolterstorff, "The Grace That Shaped My Life," in Philosophers Who

Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of Eleven Leading Thinkers, ed. Kelly James

Clark (InterVarsity, 1993), pp. 273-275.

[4] Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Washington Square, 1985), p. 87.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7707
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Thank you, great resource for Sabbath School lesson. Shame only discovered it 15 minutes before leaving for church!

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Thank you Richard, and thanks Spectrum also.This service to our community is appreciated by many. Jim (Aussie)

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The older I get ( I am eighty) the more I see sado-masochistic elements in Christianity.

Christ almost seems to EXULT as He tells his followers: “Follow me and you will be persecuted for my sake”

Visions of Christian families being thrown to deliberately starved ravenous beasts in Rome’s Colisseum, martyrs being burned alive at the stake, Peter being crucified upside down, rival in violence and brutality the ISIS atrocities.

Why would a “loving” God encourage people to follow Him, knowing that this would lead to incalculable atrocities, anguish and agony? He seems to delight in the prospect!

On a cruise in South America, I once stopped at a small port on the Brazilian coast. The only site of touristic interest in the town was a museum of torture instruments from the Spanish Inquisition. Foolishly, I paid the admission fee, only to emerge five minutes later, horror on my face, after having glimpsed the ghastliness of the torture instruments.

Why would a “loving” God, gloatingly desire these ghastly atrocities for His followers?
Seems that a sadistic element prevails. And those Christians who revel in their persecutions are surely masochistic?

Pain and suffering have huge sado-masochistic overtones.

It would be interesting for the psychiatric Department of Loma Linda Medical School, to analyse God’s seeming sadism and Christians’ masochistic willingness to undergo suffering for their religion.

A very warped and weird picture of God emerges when we see the absolute STENCH of abject MISERY arising from this planet over multiple millenia. God does not appear to find this foul odor offensive, obnoxious, or loathsome.
He clearly finds it delectable and delicious, otherwise why if His nostrils were offended by it, would He not have taken steps to end mankind’s misery eons ago?

The timing of Christ’s return is totally at God’s discretion.
If Christ had returned in the first century AD ( He did say in Revelation 21 He was coming SOON and surely the Atonement was completed at the crucifixion?). how much suffering, MISERY, agony and anguish would have been eliminated? Two further millenia of misery for mankind was clearly very pleasing to God otherwise the world would have ended a long time ago!

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Perfect. “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.”

From a developmental stage we begin to understand our ever-changing role. And as it turns out, it has more to do with accepting our role than blaming our Creator. Kubler-Ross described it best. We start with shock and denial, become angry, engage in bargaining with our Creator, experience the loss of all our dreams and aspirations by undergoing depressive episodes until we accept the inevitable, where we neither get sad nor angry. Then we give praise to our Creator for giving us the gift of life. Just like Job.

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But Epicurus’ question has never yet been answered by all theologians, philosophers, and many books written on suffering:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence comethi evil? Is he neither able or willing? Then why call him God?”

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This morning
the bell of my alarm clock was set for “very early” to read the comment timely before going to the “Teachers Meeting” before class. I was a little helpless, espsecially when on schedule to guides us teachers.

Thank you very very much for your blessed help personally for each of us, Richard Rice ! IIt for all of us was a great help also to literally quote you !

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This becomes a problem only when we continue to make the mistake of attributing to GOD our human characteristics and motivations. GOD, as the old man with flowing white hair (due to his very old age), sitting on a velvet throne, pushing men and nations around the globe, has got to go.

We have such an inadequate idea of who GOD is. A parochial view of Christianity hasn’t helped with the invention of a completely inadequate view of the TRINITY, with Jesus constantly begging his dad to be kind to us, and ultimately “save” us because he suffered so much for us. Our kids are taught to pray to Jesus, not God, because God is so scary. You seem to have bought into this image.

It seems more possible that the curtain can’t come down on this world, until it’s obvious mankind is on its back like a turtle, unable to right itself. Any intervention before that, is going to leave an element that can say, “We could have fixed this.”

Not until we all have had enough of all this, will we see an end to the suffering.

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Last quarter, it seemed like much of the Sabbath school discussion was spent on homeless people and how to relate to beggers.
I wonder if this 14 SS lesson will be mostly spent on just suffering.

I see several points on coping in this article. What I thought about other than bible texts on suffering and SOP insights were the school shootings and how grief counselors show up right away.

Anyone know the basic training that grief counselors get and how they help the students cope ?

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For the question (proposed answer) of Epicurus is no valid answer available. This lays in the question itself which subordinates God to human logic.
BUT: God manifests himself as superior to human logic - being and remaining a mystery to a certain (huge) part. And anybody who expexts to be able to explain God during lifetime as an human being is in error. "For now we see in a mirror dimly, … " (1Cor 13,12.)
Hiob - the suffering man studied in the SS-Lesson actually - he found the answer in accepting his limits and by humbling himself under a god whom he trusted but whom he could not “understand” (and needed not to understand).

And, by the way, I want to thank for the thoughtful and valuable (in my opinion) article from Richard Rice. I found it strange to see such an answer (comment) like Epicur.

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“Suffering” of one kind or another, of greater or less intensity is, up to this point of human existence a given. Jesus submitted to physical suffering which transcends by far what one may expect in life. Crucifixion was one of the most barbaric forms of torture then existing. To what end, we may ask? The usual answer is as a blood sacrifice for human sin.What is not known is exactly how the Master’s suffering could have absolved human sin? Other non-Christian systems of belief couch suffering in terms of Karma or wrongdoing in a past life which one did in a previous lifetime and must now suffer for. In these systems a spiritual master can assume the burden of suffering on behalf of a presently worthy devotee, thus absolving him/her of the need to suffer from wrong deeds in a past life. Good fortune therefore represents good deeds/actions done in a previous live. BUT what may be very amazing is the total acceptance of such suffering by spiritual masters including The Master Jesus. Lamas have been executed by warlords invading Tibet, by tieing their four limbs to four horses which were then beaten to go in four different directions . During this quartering not even the slightest sound of distress could be heard by those suffering this gruesome fate. SO, we do not know how spiritual Master such as Jesus managed such extremes of physical suffering with such equanimity. SOME speculators opine that they had long developed the ability to exit and -enter their body at will via the silver cord. Other than that the rest of us indeed suffer at lesser levels of intensity daily, due to uncountable reasons: mental /psychological interpretationof various events interactions and so-called frustrations , illness and so on. We are MADE with capacities to both inflict suffering

The human lower brain can,and does, generate the expression of instincts which are akin to many of tnhose of lower animals. The difference here is that we are endowed with a capacity of neo-cortex which can enable us to so think as to overcome such socially divisive behaviours and also be amenable to instructions from our creators which assist us in performing right behaviours.The Bible is one locus of such instructions although it does contain many examples of behaviours originating in the instincts of the lower brain. BUT we as humans have to power to thihk and choose, thereby reducing self-inflicted suffering.

“For the question (proposed answer) of Epicurus is no valid answer available. This lays in the question itself which subordinates God to human logic.”

We are limited to our human knowledge and must try to understand only with the knowledge given us.

Epicurus is not strange at all; it was not new when it was first recorded but has been asked for millennia and is uppermost for many today who cannot conceive of the God as described in the Bible.

When Christians introduce God to those who may have once attended church as a child, or never were taught any religion, how is Job explained as a loving God? Or how does the story of eating an apple bring such misery if God created the earth and humans? Why expect them to readily believe such stories? In fact, having heard them for 90 years, they make no sense at all; although as a child there was not yet reason to question.

Would you not question an individual claiming to have powers of both good and evil and use them indiscriminately to send plagues, sickness and death, while also the power of giving and maintaining life? Not to question but even elect to follow such a leader would cause more, or less respect and admiration for those who follow either a snake oil salesman or Elmer Gantry.

What reasons are given for such personalities? “True Believers” are found in all world religions. What makes one more appealing than the others? Is it with the leader, or the needs of each individual?

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This is the fundamental question - do we accept God how He is revealing himself (complex and plurivalent) or do we only accept a God who is understandable with the knowledge and intellectual capacity given to us?

[quote=“ageis711Oxyain, post:13, topic:12205”]
Epicurus is not strange at all … [/quote]
Not strange at all - but simply wrong if his statement shall apply to the living God

Yes an individual - but as long as we are not aware that God is not an “individual” like others, we are in a position similar to Job at the beginning of the story (maybe not so blameless, upright and fearing God). If we accept God also where we are not able to explain (like Job’s friends tried to do) then we are true believers in the living God.

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But then making claims about the “goodness” of God makes no sense.

The problem of evil makes claims about the good, loving nature of God into statements of hope and optimistic thinking, not any sort of truth based on supporting evidence, IMO.

That isn’t to say that the problem of evil proves there isn’t a good God either. It’s possible there is a good God whose way of being good often doesn’t mesh with our human understanding of good. It’s possible. But it’s also possible there is a God who isn’t good and we just want very much to think he is (because the problem of evil is evidence for that.) Or it’s certainly possible there is no deity at all and we have created one for our own purposes.

I think too often believers jump conveniently between the God one can know enough to confidently proclaim him “good”, and the God one can’t know when evidence to the contrary surfaces. Being a “good” God needs to mean something, and this God gets to be called good when he seems good, and unknowable when he doesn’t. Nice for him. How do we know this unknowable God is good when there is reasonable evidence to the contrary?

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One must begin with a premise of a good god to justify that he is good in spite of the evidence to the contrary. How is it possible to simply rely on the evidence, even on the Bible writers who described God as one who sends rain on the just and unjust, who sends evil to punish who he chooses? Fear rules, not love when obeying an arbitrary god.

How can it be explained otherwise: simply trust God to do what is right despite all the evil that is claimed for His actions, such as Job’s suffering? Is it really a simple matter to have all one’s children destroyed and replaced by the same numbers? What parent could honestly say that?

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To me, this is why a text such as the prologue to Hebrews is so important. It says that God spoke and revealed himself in fragmentary and shadowy ways through the Hebrew prophets. This includes the book of Job. But, in these last days, it says, he has revealed himself through his son, the fullest representation to us of what God is really like. Any contemplation of a good God must begin with what one sees in Jesus and his self giving love displayed at Calvary. This is what Hebrews, John, and texts such as Philippians 2:5-11, zoom in on over and over. If we want to see who God is, the Torah and the prophets are no longer our primary reference point. It is Jesus who is. Everything else must be read, filtered, and understood through him.

In no way does this explain away all our questions about God’s goodness in the face of suffering and evil. But it does show a God who personally and painfully engaged with it himself, in the mud so to speak, not just from a far away celestial location.

Thanks…

Frank

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That’s how I understand the living God. I think this means to believe.

Yes, I agree - that’s the alternative… A clear decision to decline such a God, somehow strange to us / our values.

But what I see as problematic is to make God somehow cosy - following our values, instead of humble accepting His (sometimes not understandable) behavior.

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It cannot be explained but it can be humble accepted.
Drastic example in the bible: Job.
So I think this is the right conclusion drawn by you: simply trust God to do what is right despite all the evil that is claimed for His actions

However this is not the only aspect about God revealed in the bible - we can see that He is suffering with and for us (human beeings) - in Jesus (during his life and death). So the challenge is to see and accept the multitude of attributes revealed about God.

This could be explained by Melanie Klein’s “paranoi-schizoid” object relationship where the fantasy splitting of objects by an infant, initially with the mother then with his world, affords him a healthy development as he incorporates a core sense of self. The tension develops when reality sets in as the maturing child discovers that the good mother and bad mother were really but one mother.

So does our understanding of God.

@ageis711Oxyain @GeorgeTichy

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