The Problem of Suffering is Inherent in Theism

I have long been fascinated by Thomas Hardy’s diatribe against fate, Hap.

If but some vengeful god would call to me From up the sky, and laugh: "Thou suffering thing, Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy, That thy love's loss is my hate's profiting!"

Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die, Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited; Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain, And why unblooms the best hope ever sown? — Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain, And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan. . . . These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain

Hardy’s lament over life’s arbitrary nature is one of many polished verbal wedges in the triumphal arch of senseless suffering. Theologians call it theodicy: the obscene sight of people tortured to death by illness and starvation and war in the presence of an almighty but apparently indifferent God. As far back in time as we can go, people have tried to resolve the discrepancy between what Heaven promises and what Heaven delivers.

In the second millennium BCE, the author of the Babylonian Theodicy[i] complained to his friends that religion had been a great disappointment.

67~Your mind is a north wind, a pleasant breeze for the peoples. 68~Choice friend, your advice is fine. 69~Just one word would I put before you. 70~Those who neglect the god go the way of prosperity, 71~While those who pray to the goddess are impoverished and dispossessed. 72~In my youth I sought the will of my god; 73~With prostration and prayer I followed my goddess. 74~But I was bearing a profitless corvée [obligation] as a yoke. 75~My god decreed instead of wealth destitution. 76~A cripple is my superior, a lunatic outstrips me. 77~The rogue has been promoted, but I have been brought low.

The same lament is heard in the Psalms and the Book of Job (which it resembles). The conclusion is always the same: God is inscrutable, or as a friend of the Babylonian Job puts it:

254~O wise one, O savant, who masters knowledge, 255~In your anguish you blaspheme the god. 256~The divine mind, like the centre of the heavens, is remote; 257~Knowledge of it is difficult; the masses do not know it.[ii]

C.S. Lewis made somewhat of a career lecturing and writing on the mystery of suffering.[iii] As a confident Christian rationalist, he strove to make sense of suffering. Then his newfound love, Joy Davidman, died of cancer and all his rational answers imploded in an explosion of grief. The 1993 movie Shadowlands (and his originally anonymous booklet, A Grief Observed), explores the pain that purged his soul of rationalism and led him to reconsider faith itself.[iv]

From time to time, believers attempt to defend God against the never-ending insults and charges hurled towards Heaven by people scandalized by the idea of divine passivity in the face of egregious suffering but this is one aspect of life that no rational argument can touch.Theodicy is inherent in theism. Whether you argue that God really isn’t as powerful as we have thought[v] or that he is restrained by the freedom of choice that he has granted humans, you are only going to convince people who are not existentially touched by suffering.

In the above-mentioned Wikipedia article on Process Theology, process theologian David Ray Griffin lays bare the bankruptcy of any form of Christian rationalist attempt at explaining suffering.

One of the stronger complaints from [debate opponents] Sontag and Roth is that, given the enormity of evil in the world, a deity that is [merely] doing its best is not worthy of worship. The implication is that a deity that is not doing its best is worthy of worship. For example, in reference to Auschwitz, Roth mocks my God with the statement that “the best that God could possibly do was to permit 10,000 Jews a day to go up in smoke.” Roth prefers a God who had the power to prevent this Holocaust but did not do it! …Roth finds my God too small to evoke worship; I find his too gross.[vi]

The Bible gives vent to the same frustration that we find expressed in the Babylonian Theodicy referenced above, but it does not provide any more of an intellectual solution to the theistic conundrum than the Babylonian sage. The Bible’s solution is religious, not intellectual: you are simply told to trust in God.

Some Christians will take exception to my conclusion. They will point to Isaiah and Ezekiel’s royal taunts with their oblique references to an extra-biblical story about a heavenly being who was cast down from Heaven (Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28). When combined with Luke 10:18 and the Book of Revelation, it supposedly establishes that evil has a cosmic origin, and that the happiness of the entire world, if not the universe, depends on how the war with evil will be fought and eventually resolved. Human suffering, from this theological perspective, is collateral damage in an ideological war between good and evil. (Few people have done a better job at mining this Great Controversy theme for a rational solution to theodicy on biblical grounds than Sigve Tonstad in his 2016 book, God of Sense.)[vii]

Personally, I am not at all convinced that it is possible to braid the various strands of biblical and extra-biblical references to a cosmic conflict into a coherent, chronological narrative that accommodates all the biblical data.[viii] But more importantly, even if we could establish that the Great Controversy theme, bequeathed to us by the Ante-Nicean fathers and enhanced by Milton and Ellen White, was indeed the Bible’s salvific framework, we would be no closer to resolving the problem of theodicy.

First of all, it is only in the game that paper beats rock. When life clobbers you, no amount of paper theory will alleviate the pain. When your six-year old is wasting away with cancer or is killed by a drunk driver, and you know that God could effortlessly have saved your child, no excuse however high-minded will take even a bite out of your grief. Moreover, any suggestion that God is complicit in her death, that she is dying for a reason, will at best sound like justification of human sacrifice. You are free to tell a grief-stricken parent and a suffering child that God’s heart is bleeding for them, but even that will be a stretch under such circumstances. To suggest that they are collateral damage in a cosmic war that God hasn’t found it timely to put an end to, would be to pour salt in an open wound. It would be plain awful. Paper does not beat rock in the real world.

In a recent Atlantic Monthly article[ix], Molly Ball writes about Trump’s spokesperson, Kellyanne Conway: “She’s figured out that she doesn’t need to win the argument. All she has to do is craft a semi-plausible (if not entirely coherent) counternarrative, so that those who don’t want to look past the facade of Trump’s Potemkin village don’t have to.” I would argue that virtually all rationalist arguments that apologists have come up with to “get God off the hook” fall into the category of religious “spin.” You explain theodicy in rational terms in order to quiet the concerns of those who would like to believe the very best about the character of the Almighty, not to convince outsiders.[x]

We live in an age of science and it is understandable that believers want to appear rational, but it’s a risky proposition to wager your religious confidence and your faith on the integrity of rational syllogisms, be they philosophical or biblical. After when it comes to theodicy (“passing judgment on God”), the brutal truth is that the only philosophically satisfying explanation for God’s non-interference is a materialistic universe devoid of divine will. Only if you remove God or gods from the equation does it make sense that the innocent suffer and that the wicked prosper and that suffering drags on and on for thousands of years.

With God in the picture, there is no other answer than the one given by both Old and New Testament writers: doggedly trusting in God against all evidence to the contrary.[xi] The Bible’s approach to suffering is religious, not analytical.

[i] Translation W.G. Lambert. http://www.etana.org/node/582

[iii] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. HarperCollins, 2015. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780060652968/the-problem-of-pain

[v] Which is essentially what process theologians argue. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Process_theology

[vi] Wikipedia, art. Process Theology.

[vii] Sigve K. Tonstad, God of Sense and Traditions of Non-Sense. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016.

[viii] Neither the framing narrative of The Book of Job or Jude and 2 Peter’s references to The Book of Enoch, for instance, do not fit into either Ellen White’s or Sigve Tonstad’s version of the war between good and evil.

[ix] Molly Ball, Kellyanne’s Alternative Universe. The Atlantic Magazine, April 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/04/kellyannes-alternative-universe/517821/

[x] A good example is Timothy Keller’s 2016 book, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical. Keller claims to be addressing the skeptical but when you read it, you realize that it is an invitation to the believer to join him in singing loudly past the graveyard of the world’s skeptics. As a skeptic, who initially thought the book was supposed to be a conversation with me, I found it extremely frustrating.

[xi] Which, ironically, represents the antithesis of the theological approach to theodicy taken by proponents of the Adventist Great Controversy theory. Its entire premise is based on the fact that God needs time to earn the trust of the universe. The God of the Great Controversy has no trust in either angels or humans to recognize evil when they see it, and his solution is to turn the world into a reality show broadcast to the entire universe in the hope that thousands of years of episodes of satanically inspired mayhem will convince its inhabitants that God is the good guy and Satan is the bad one. This is a God who does not ask for your trust but for a few thousand years to convince you not to trust the bad guy. He is not, I would argue, not the God of the Bible, the one who did not hesitate to strike when people (unlike demons) needed to be struck.

Aage Rendalen is a retired foreign language teacher who has served the Richmond public school system in Virginia.

Image Credit: FreeImages.com / G Schouten de Jel

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7919
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Man has to invent language to explain pain, suffering, love, fear, hate, death, trust, even God. Those are some of the reasons for the Christ event.

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It is clear to me that nothing in the future will ever justify the suffering of this planet throughout its history. That is why “theodicy” cannot succeed. What MAY be possible is that there will be a healing of earth’s inhabitants because of the promises of God for the future where such suffering and death will no longer be possible. Living with the possibility of suffering and death is itself a suffering and a little death, until we do actually suffer and die. We are broken and vulnerable from start to finish. But if in the future we can live unbroken and invulnerable and have at worst a fading memory of the past (if that), I choose to believe that will be a “healing” of the nations. an achievement of God’s grace. Aage is so right that we must move beyond the “rational” to religious trust that in God’s inscrutable time the joy and brightness of our future banishes the anguish and darkness of our past, present, and hopefully, very limited future.

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I dispair at seeing another railing at God for the natural consequences of living. Did anyone promise you a perfect world, a perfect life, a painless existence? Where do you get off thinking that life/death shouldn’t happen to you? or your kin? You suffer only because you think it should be otherwise. It is purely meta-physical: tt’s all in your head, whether intellectual or emotional.

I’m not talking about the pain of a broken arm or the nausea of ingested poison or delirium of sunstroke. Those things happen, being in the ‘wrong’ place at the ‘wrong’ time. Except it is you that claims that that place and/or that time are ‘wrong’. It is you that knows good and evil, by your choice. You can’t blame God for how you feel about it.

HA! if you think you know better. Heck, the animals don’t suffer. You just think they do. Get over your bad self.

Lord, have mercy.

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This article is a very good presentation of the problem and the various answers given by many religious thinkers. Yet, Aage, you are not railing against believers, but just pointing to the weaknesses of their arguments. The tone is just right. Kudos for a balanced view on the matter, even though I would disagree with you.

EGW even says somewhere that reason itself, must bow at some point bow to the Almighty.

I have been a believer since the ninth grade when I read DofA, and fell in love with Jesus who had loved me first. I became, then, a believer based on experience with his beloved, not from a rational commitment or thought (although that was there as well), but by meeting one who was altogether lovely. Since I had met God, I knew he existed and doubts have not troubled me so much.

Reading the Bible, one sees that God’s beloved do not always have an easy way, and in fact are sometimes the worst off. I think of the little maid in 2 Kings 5, who, though torn from the arms of her mother, nevertheless felt sympathy for her leprous master. Or Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers , yet faithful, or Paul in the Philippian jail, singing hymns. These knew something that changed them so that they could be as they were in bad situations.

As a believer I read Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov”, and was particularly interested in the atheist brother, Ivan. I remember reading of his description of a young girl thrown into a privy (an episode Dostoyevsky had read about in a newspaper, an actual happening) as punishment, and her pitiful calls for help, and how Ivan sees such suffering as a foundation of God’s salvation, that is, her suffering is allowed so that in the end God might save. Ivan says then, to his believing brother, “It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket.” Ivan will not accept salvation based on such horror.

I think this statement a bit of an exaggeration. There is plenty of evidence for God: The beauty of nature. The intricate machinery of the cell. Only a great and wise craftsmen who was keenly interested in his handiwork would have taken such pains as we see there.

i have seen love in all its wonder. I saw a young mother last week at the clinic with her child. He was fretful and agitated, but she caressed and comforted him with such tenderness and love that it was a wonder to behold. And I have seen two young lovers wholesomely attracted sexually to one another, and also married couples with years of experience, and see the love in their eyes, glowing still, and realize what a gift it is. Even our sense of touch is a gift, because touching another can mean so much.

No, there is evidence of God, it is not all to the contrary. I acknowledge the other evidence as well, but yours is too jaded a view.

Edit:

I have written a long post already, but reading on the site Uncommon Descent this AM I found this post on the theory of Evolution and the evidence of evolution often presented in the variations of species (Thread: Scott Minnich: Reinterpreting Long-term Evolution Experiments, comment 14):

"Let’s take the peppered moth as an example. The fact that there was an observed change in the ratio of light and dark moths in a population tells us exactly nothing about how the moths came about in the first place. It also tell us exactly nothing about whether the moths were in the process of changing into anything else. The only actual evidence we have is that the population exhibited minor, temporary variation while still remaining moths.

Now one could imagine that these kinds of minor variations could eventually turn the organism into some other organism, or that these kinds of minor variations were responsible for turning some other organism into the moth in the past. But that is pure imagination and is a wholly unwarranted extrapolation.

A different, perfectly reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the peppered moths, or finch beaks, or Lenski’s bacteria, or any other such observations — indeed the only conclusion actually supported by the observational evidence — is that populations have the ability to undergo minor, temporary oscillations around a norm, while avoiding large-scale change. Even when subjected to strong selection pressure and across thousands of generations. That is what the evidence shows.

Any claimed conclusion beyond that is simply unwarranted. Fanciful imagination and extrapolation is fine for novel writers and storytellers, but is inappropriate and irresponsible in academic and scientific contexts.

Yes, genomes exhibit impressive error-correction processes. But mutations still slip through. In humans there are estimated to be about 130 mutations per complete duplication of the genome. Mistakes can and do happen and we can see the catastrophic effect of some in the diseases they cause. (quoting another poster)

Agreed.

No-one is disputing that mutations happen. And no-one is disputing that mutations can cause catastrophic effects. Indeed, the evidence is that mutations essentially always cause deleterious effects or cause no discernible effect.

The Darwinian paradigm is built on the idea that mutations also cause positive effects on a vast scale and scope over time that can account for the entire biosphere. Again, this is contrary to the actual evidence at hand and is just wishful thinking.

The fundamental, bottom-line Neo-Darwinian claim is that we can build a highly-scalable, massively-parallel system architecture, based on a 4-bit digital code, incorporating storage, retrieval and translation mechanisms, utilizing file allocation, bit parity and concatenation algorithms, all operating under a protocol hierarchy — that all this can be built by introducing random errors into a database. (emphasis mine)

It isn’t just a questionable claim. It is patently and laughably absurd.

But it is precisely what evolutionary theory has to demonstrate mutations have the power to do. Not that mutations occasionally slip through the organism’s error correction filters and cause disease.

The peppered moth, the finches beaks, the nylon-eating bacteria and Lenski’s citrate-metabolizing bacteria are all illustrations of processes that must exist for evolution to happen at all. If we did not see them then you might have an argument against evolution. But we do and you don’t.

No. You are failing to distinguish between what the evidence shows and what you would like it to show. Again, you cannot simply extrapolate and assume that the kinds of minor variations we actually observe in populations are responsible for the grand evolutionary claims.

It simply doesn’t follow. It isn’t logical." (end quote)

Sorry I have posted so long, but this post seemed relevant to whether there is evidence for God.

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" the brutal truth is that the only philosophically satisfying explanation for God’s non-interference is a materialistic universe devoid of divine will. Only if you remove God or gods from the equation does it make sense that the innocent suffer and that the wicked prosper and that suffering drags on and on for thousands of years."

And yet…there is still beauty in a world devoid of a God(s) and that is enough for me. I have accepted that it is not my place to understand everything and that has given me peace.

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Apparently, the argument from suffering is such a great way to instill doubt (why in the world would anyone want to?) that now we’re gonna just pretend the argument hasn’t been thoroughly debunked?

I get this from atheists a lot, but it’s usually cause they don’t know any better; most these days are philosophically illiterate. Nor is it entirely their fault since the average theist they interact with is not much better.

But when I hear the same argument from people familiar with the biblical explanation, I can’t help but wonder what exactly is this sick fascination with DOUBT? Why would a sound minded person ever prefer to exist in a state of doubt when they have all the necessary elements for FAITH?

And if at least some cogent effort was made at a counter argument. ‘It doesn’t help someone who is suffering.’ Really? You think a mother who’s child is dying of cancer will be more comforted by the idea that there is no rhyme or reason to the universe?

Yes, an all powerful and loving God can allow evil to exist, temporarily, if this ensures that non-omniscient, free-willed beings will thereby be convinced never to choose evil again for the rest of eternity.

This is a perfectly sound theodicy and it is not the apologist’s responsibility to convince people who don’t want to be convinced. The burden of proof is on the one who disagrees to point out the logical flaws in the system.

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Thanks Aage for a great article.

The problem with the Christian notion of ‘theodicy’ (theistic faith) is to be found in its genealogy. It is steeped in a theological language that sees God as the ‘wholly Other’; a world-renouncing primordial God, coming to light in the classical Augustininan tradition. It is a God of radical transcendens who has left behind a profoundly disenchanted world. As you, Aage, correctly point out: «a materialistic universe devoid of divine will».

This is the God that Nietzsche, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, named the «dead Body of God» - a Supreme and Sovereing world-negating power overshadowing the realm of conditioned human existence with its disciplinary morality and alien judgements. Benjamin Schwartz argues that the deep cultural roots of this notion of God is to be found in «the melding of Greek, Jewish, Roman (and perhaps Persian) elements in late Western antiquity» and «it seems to have produced a much more radically «world renouncing» orientation than anything we find in the original strands of this «triangle» during the age of breakthrough». For Nietzsche, this God is best described as a repressive or «Satanic» power, which lead Ivan (The Brothers Karamazov) to «respectfully return him the ticket.»

The problematic aspects of the notion of theistic faith is closeley linked to a Christianity that has placed the meaning of life in a transcendental realm of un-existence, negating life itself in favour of a transcendental bliss; human life itself no longer viewed as the location and constitution of meaning, but only as the precursor to a ‘trascendent beyond’.

A theodicy locked up in the straitjacket of classical theology is, therefore, mildly speaking, a ‘reasonable excess’, and brings neither ‘salvation’, nor satisfaction to our curiosity about the meaning of life. One way out of this dilemma, could be to leave ‘theodicy’ behind in favour of ‘cosmodicy’: the problem of how to justify human existence as meaningful in face of extensive evil, suffering, and disorder. This is the human immanent point of view.

That’s why ‘cosmodicy’ must always be prior to any notion of ‘theodicy’.

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An all powerful and wise God would know how to delude creatures who must have their curiosities satisfied. He knows how to keep His secrets for them who love Him.

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When Genesis was written to introduce monotheism and to genealogically link the Israelites to this very God, it recorded that this new God declared to the first humans that ‘to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ is to die.

Genesis also recorded that Adam blamed God for introducing Eve who handed him the fruit, and Eve blamed God for introducing the Serpent who ‘beguiled me,’ and the Creator declared the Serpent would die. In the meantime the Creator commissioned the humans to perpetuate life through birth and nurture.

And that is the path humanity has forever taken.

And perhaps the most dramatic testimony of Jesus Christ is that the human life from birth to death has meaning worthy of Almighty God fully experiencing it in the life of Jesus Christ. The gospels do not contain a theodicy, but confirm that Jesus’ life as a whole is God’s theodicy for us confirming that our experience is worthy of God’s full participation.

Is this, perhaps, sufficient for us to break our addiction to the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13 offers that knowledge, as well as spiritual practice and prophecy, are all temporal. The ‘better way’ is to replace them with what endures, namely faith, hope and love. That, it seems, is akin to where you have arrived Aage. What a relief, compared with the alternative marching under burning brimstone of Revelation 14.

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The problem of suffering is inherent of life in this world. Suffering is a given. No matter what worldview, theology, religion or philosophy one takes, suffering exists. The narrative of mankind is the story of humanity’s suffering. Each of us has to decide what explanation for suffering fits reality as we see it. Which view provides a answer? Do we blame God, gods, fellow humans, nature, DNA or random fate? For me, in believing we are spiritual and reasoning humans, the Biblical narrative, the epic battle between good and evil, the Great Controversy provides a reasonable explanation for the diagnosing the condition of our world and its future solution. But I am a simple man looking for reasonable answers. I am in awe of the feel of a rose petal between my fingers, the curving shape of my grandchild’s ear, the sparkle in the eyes of my grand daughter. Surely, we are not here by accident. We live in an amazing world that hints of future glory. Epic.

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To address Aage’s thoughtful inquiry is to teach a course on hermeneutics. We can begin with Heidegger. We cannot interpret the meaning of suffering in a subject/object relationship in the sense that we can position ourselves on a bluff and interpret the river below. That is because we are in the middle of the river, having been “thrown” there. Each one of us is a Being-in-the-world. We have been historically conditioned by the world, including the waters of suffering that have swirled around us. Our understanding of the river is a pre-reflective and pre-interpretative fore-understanding. The temperature, smell, color, and feel of the river is discerned instinctively, not through an act of interpretation. And this subjective fore-understanding impedes the kind of objective interpretation that might be possible if we could situate ourselves on a bluff overlooking the river.

We then move on to Heidegger’s student, Gadamer. What should we do with our fore-understanding, our prejudgment, our prejudice? Gadamer affirms that our prejudice is a good thing. To presume that we can interpret the river we are situated in free of prejudgment is alien and self-deceiving. Meaning for Gadamer lies in the fusion of horizons–our horizon with the horizon of whatever we seek to interpret. And it is only shared prejudice that allows for that fusion of horizons to occur. For Gadamer the fusion of horizons results in not only meaning but truth. Truth is not in the biblical text but comes to be as a result of the fusion of the biblical text with what the reader or interpretative community contributes. As offered by Iser who alludes to Gadamer’s fusion of horizons, meaning lies in a virtual reality that exists between the text and reader, because the reader necessarily contributes details, fills spaces, and brings to life a heretofore inanimate object. We can see that the Christian tradition makes a contribution to Iser’s phenomenology in the urging that we participate in Christ’s suffering.

It is understandable that Bultmann and the rest of us would respond to Gadamer by stating that we should dispense with the bad prejudices and keep the good ones such as the presupposition that the Bible is divinely inspired. So I don’t think we can dispense with the Cartesian notion of the Bible as an object that can be studied. The presuppositions we bring to the Bible change and mature as we absorb its teachings. The audacious claims the Bible makes about itself come to fruition as we read it and are lead out of the river. This is the hermeneutical circle at work, the back and forth of text and reader. All hermeneutical thinking is circular with the goal and expectation that a spiral to greater understanding occurs.

The hermeneutical circle also functions in the back and forth of the part of the text and the sense of the whole. We can clearly discern from the Bible that suffering has meaning, that suffering is not an absurd Sisyphean phenomenon. But before we articulate a theodicy, a vindication of God, we must first determine what the meaning of suffering is. That the various points on the hermeneutical circle the Bible provides with respect to the meaning of suffering may not seem to be satisfactory or dispositive is because no points on the hermeneutical circle with respect to anything are. We have to continually make our way around the hermeneutical circle. That we should do so with respect to the meaning of suffering is not problematic, unusual, or remarkable.

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When EGW plagiarized blind British poet, Milton’s PARADISE LOST, she added a TOXIC twist to her theodicy which she labeled the "Great Controversy "

She stated that the whole saga of human sorrow and suffering was so that God would be " VINDICATED " before “the universe”,

Her " universe " comprised the Angelic hosts ( the " good " Angels ) and the inhabitants of "unfallen worlds ".

She thus conferred on God an extremely SELFISH reason for prolonging the perilous, pathetic, pitiful plight of humanity---- the more the holocausts, the greater the genocides, the famines, the plagues, the wars, the atrocities, hopefully, Satan’s reputation would be further tarnished, he being the supposed perpetrator of these evils!

Problem is, in order to be adequate jurors in this " controversy ", people on other planets would need to have " live streaming " of the egregious events on earth to adequately arbitrate the outcome.

If I have to change channels on the evening news, because of the calamitous content, can we truly believe that " inhabitants of unfallen worlds " would still be tolerating six thousand years ( and counting ) of harrowing human HORROR?

Are we truly to believe that the Angels, supposedly a higher order of beings that ourselves, with MORE compassion, would not be CLAMORING to God to end the CARNAGE?

Would Angels LONG AGO, have been convinced of Satan’s evil, when viewing his calamitous effect on our planet?

Did the victims of the Nazi Holocaust all have guardian Angels, or are only the " last generation " Adventists so blessed?

How could an Angel "guarding "a Jewish child be in equanimity as the smoke of the incineration exited the chimneys of the crematoria?

How can Angels remain silent, when their protégés perish from Ebola, Zika and other plagues, not to mention the millions murdered by the " BLACK DEATH " – bubonic plague -in medieval Europe when one third of Europe perished?

There are only three plausible explanations:

ONE: Angels are robotic automatons, devoid of feelings or compassion.

TWO: Angels are only assigned " guardian " duty for thirty minutes every century, so as not to bond with their human protégés.

THREE: The inhabitants of "unfallen worlds " are not sentient intelligent beings, but are primitive primates , as depicted in the movie PLANET OF THE APES.

EGW’s " Great Controversy" pictures God as having every motive, every incentive, to prolong the " controversy " so as to be maximally "vindicated ".

Not particularly an image of a loving, caring “Savior”.

EGW, your “Great Controversy”, depicts a God, consumed, obsessed, with selfishly fostering his "vindication " while humanity endures endless milenia of anguish agony and atrocities.

If He truly cared, He could have abbreviated the heinous, harrowing horror, by expediting His Second Coming, which He should have done centuries ago!

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J"“the brutal truth is that the only philosophically satisfying explanation for God’s non-interference is a materialistic universe devoid of divine will. Only if you remove God or gods from the equation does it make sense that the innocent suffer and that the wicked prosper”"

This reasoning forgets the Cross; non-interference is not what Calvary and the garden testify to. The unimaginable pain of a planet, the weight of the sin of the world on God as Jesus. Your are right “all we can do is trust God” but the cross shows us that God does care.

In a materialist atheistic view suffering does makes sense because nothing makes sense!!

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The Problem of Suffering is all throughout the Old Testament.
Beginning with when Eve delivered her First Child.
Then the suffering when they interred Abel into the Ground. Did they place a marker where they put his body? It may have needed washing of blood off it.
The pain with Cain. Did he ever believe he could return and visit Adam and Eve, his parents, possibly
other sisters? Apparently Seth had not been born at that time.
Every generation being buried by the next one.
Abraham seeing those two cities going up in smoke. Thinking – If only I had asked for 5.
The Psalms describing the horrors done to the Israelites by surrounding nations, and wishing all
described retribution on them.
But THEN we have God’s MERCY and GRACE. The men who threw Jonah to the sea. The Assyrians
who repented. Evil, heartless Nebuchadnezzar who wrote a whole chapter for the book of Daniel.
The idolatrous Cyrus, who let Israel return to Jerusalem.
The pain when Ezra and Nehemiah split up families when they arrived in Jerusalem.
With OR Without a Theism - a belief in the Creator God, there IS Suffering.
But the Creator God says, I am with you IN the Suffering.
You are NOT alone.

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All pain, and all suffering were not created equal. Biological pain is built in to the biology of life, in various degrees. If God created our bodies as intricately functioning machines, pain was part of that creation. Adam needed to know when he stubbed his toe so as to be more careful next time. Most diseases, say the medical profession, are preventable - which means we do things to ourselves and our kids that produce the disease, the pain, and that suffering. When thousands are killed by the tsunami, or the vapours from the local volcano, it’s because somebody built their huts next to those fire producing mountains, and on the shores of fault lines. Even death is only horrifying to those who can anticipate it; and those who are attached emotionally to those who are dying. It might be safe to say - that it’s only love that makes death as horrific as it is.

If we eliminate a Creator God, and make the universe a product of natural causes (how ever they came into being), it’s understandable that anything biological would die physically and suffer pain through its nervous system; but what had to click into place for that biological system to know anything… What had to develop for that conglomerate of cells to be able to conjure up the words W-H-Y… and then answer that question by coming up with the concept of a GOD…

When Adam was told he would die if he ate the “apple/pomegranate/banana/whatever”, was it about his heart stopping or his telemeters shrinking; or was it his spiritual compass shifting into manual control… Was this the point at which he took over the decision making for his life based on his personal needs - survival. Was this the point at which he saw his environment as a threat rather than a gift… Did he see others as a threat rather than comrades…

We suffer because we know “what could have been”. -not necessarily the SDA, or even Christian version of what might have been. Where there is a functioning frontal lobe, there is the concept of future; and with that, hope. God jumped in there answering that hope. We couldn’t have come up with that with only a conglomeration of cells that just happened to fire in some meaningful way. If cognizance is just an accident, then the God concept is just as meaningful as accidental big bang; and no thought in the human head is more believable than another.

The world we live in now was not created by God. Humans created this world, and our spirit calls out for redemption.

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A few thoughts (not necessarily connected) that perhaps may benefit someone:

The Lord deemed it unwise to share His methods with Job, a godly man who was ‘blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil’. Why do we assume He should do so with us? Still, the book of Job gives us a glimpse into one purpose of suffering: to mold and transform us into vessels of service to God and so, a believer must conclude that God allowed Job’s suffering for good reasons (Job 42:8 helps here) both during the remainder of Job’s long life and, I believe, perhaps more importantly, in preparation for his service in the future.
St. Patrick was a teenager when kidnapped by raiders and taken to Ireland. He endured slavery there for six years. As a captive “he came to understand the Irish Celtic people, and their language and culture with a kind of intuitive profundity” which served his and God’s purposes well in his later return as a missionary. We see here that God repeated his method of the oftentimes painful training of Joseph in Egypt. Sometimes it’s all one can do to survive it at the time but shouldn’t we, like they, learn something from our suffering?

Several authors are quoted in the article. In my view, here are three others whose lives and works are worth consideration: Lina Sandell, Fanny Crosby and Horatio Spafford. Some really tragic things happened to them and as a result I’m sure they went through some very dark periods of suffering. But somehow, through (because of?) the pain, they came to a place of deepened faith from which they produced hymns which have comforted and inspired countless others. I have benefitted by some of Hannah Whitall Smith’s writings (‘The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life’ and ‘The God of All Comfort’ come to mind. Neither is an intellectual treatise but both, in my view, are valuable pragmatic but spiritual guides to a positive life in a fallen world). One wonders how Mrs. Smith’s faith could not only survive but be strengthened through her many personal tragedies. Last week in my local newspaper I read of a young mother whose two year old daughter was killed in a car accident at a Bible camp. It has taken her four years to work through it but she has now written and had published a Christian book for children. What did these people find?
I have never suffered as some mentioned above have. Perhaps they could identify with Paul who said, ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.’ (Rom 8:18)

Physical reality and spiritual faith intersect and interact at certain points but yet seem to operate on very different planes of existence.
In the article I counted the word ‘rational’ alone or as a root word some eleven times. Our mind wants to constrain God within the rational constructs it has set out. So, seen this way, if God is loving and all powerful our suffering isn’t logical. Ergo, because we suffer, either God really doesn’t love us, is not powerful after all or doesn’t exist. Thus the range of options open to the logical wisdom of the natural mind.
’…no one knows the things of God, except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, so that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God. These things also we proclaim, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ (1Cor 2:11-14)
God is Spirit and operates beyond the physical and rational. His Spirit communes with and teaches our spirit. But our rational mind has been educated in the ways of the world and wants to be in charge. It does not want to serve our spirit. Sometimes I think that when Christ said to take up my cross daily and follow Him, He really meant that to do so means that the ego of my rational mind (which demands everything fall within its understanding) must be nailed to the cross.
Scripture says that Christ suffered (1Peter 4:1), learned from it (Heb 5:8), and is an example for us to follow (1Peter 2:21). This appears to be the way to life that God has set out for us.

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Humans have speculated and devised their many answers to how humans inhabiting this world came about.

In truth, no one knows for certain but many answer according to the sacred books they wrote and followers read.

Why is it incumbent on mere humans to think they can explain what cannot be explained? Why not simply live in this world without the necessity of explaining the millions dying of starvation, as well as those who are living in luxury? Did either deserve their status? Does any child have a choice of her parents and place of birth? You cannot explain; why expect God or your explanation to be more than mere empty words?

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Thank you, Aage. Your careful thoughts make for good conversation and a helpful learning environment. I appreciate the interviews you have done recently too.

Might I suggest that when theologians chose to locate their apologetic arguments in natural philosophy they started us down a track that has generated modern atheism? The better apologetic data would be the witness of holy people and the experiences of survival and joy of those ordinary people who love God and become more than conquerors in the midst of horror. There is a mystery to God and His ways. We can ask the questions but it is folly to think we will come up with an explanation for the unexplainable. Evil exists. Love exists. Seeing people cope with dignity and love----that is the most powerful witness for the God in whom I believe.

I don’t know how to reconcile the contradictions. I have heard it said that if God is all powerful and chooses to do nothing—then He could be likened to a babysitter who could have stopped the child from running in the road and didn’t. We would not trust such a babysitter. Therefore, I am coming to the conclusion that the emphasis on God’s power may be a train of thought that has become overdeveloped. A lot of theologians can point to textual/translation issues in the Old Testament in which words have been translated into omnipotence or other terms with power connotations when, actually, the root Hebraic word could also be viewed as term which refers to succor/comfort/nurture. I am no expert, but “I’ve heard it said.”

So, for me, I see strength in notions of God’s love, presence, comfort, and mystery. Jesus, as God, submitted to a mob death and demonstrated a God who will choose to identify with victims. Powerful visual.

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The one issue I have is that I don’t think that we can always categorize suffering as something intended for character building, or to fit us for greater usefulness. What greater usefulness was there for those incinerated in the ovens of Auschwitz or Dachau? What character building resulted from the masses exterminated in Pol Pot’s killing fields? And if we want to be Christian specific, believers who died fiery deaths in the 9/11 attacks grew spiritually…how? And, if we say that future generations and families of victims were the ones who somehow grew into greater consciousness and spiritual awareness as a result of such atrocities, are we prepared to say that the sky high human cost was the only way for God to teach moral lessons?

Additionally, at the end of Job, no conclusion can be drawn about the reasons for Job’s suffering other than that Job admits he has no understanding. Not a word is said about his future usefulness and his sufferings’ impact on such. That is our Christian conjecture into the text.

For these reasons, I am very wary of trying to impose such one size fits all answers onto the why of human suffering. This is exactly what Job’s friends were guilty of. It is what much of the Christian world still does, assuming an all wise and all powerful God intends and controls all outcomes. An all controlling and all powerful deity is what Jesus’s contemporaries wanted as well. He frustrated those desires. It is why he was crucified.

I believe that God will one day intervene to set things right. I believe the biblical hope in that sense. I also believe that he has already intervened in Christ, showing that God himself validates our suffering by entering into it himself. He also validated our questioning and pain by asking why his father had forsaken him. IOW, where was God when it hurts?

While we have every right to ask this question, I don’t believe the bible gives us clear answers in this present age. “Now we see through a glass dimly, now we know in part…” But, while we can’t often make sense of things at this time, we can resolve to comfort and encourage one another as we journey forward. We can be each others wounded healers.

Thanks…

Frank

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