When Asking “Why?” Doesn’t Work

I used to have a rather shallow, unexamined view of how human suffering fit into my faith. Mentally I put it in a glass jar to protect and preserve it. Then I created a label, “Human Suffering and God,” screwed on the lid, and placed it in a distant corner of my brain to gather dust. That was before I left graduate school for the real world.

Early in my first year of pastoring, I learned that a young, dedicated, Christian mother had contracted cancer of the stomach. I visited their small family regularly. Over the next three months I watched as her abdomen swelled and her slight frame withered. She eventually died in Intensive Care. It was the first time I had ever been so personally involved with such heart wrenching hurt and loss.

Cracks began to appear in the glass container where I kept my ill-considered understanding of suffering and religion.

On another occasion, the phone rang at 1:00 a.m. “Hi pastor, I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m down at the emergency department. They just brought my wife in with severe chest pains. Don’t bother coming down, but I would appreciate your prayers.”

I rushed to the hospital and found the husband sitting alone with his head in his hands. “It doesn’t look good,” he said as tears filled his reddened eyes. After an hour, the doctor came out and told us that she had, in fact, died. We traveled back to his home and friends quickly gathered. The couple had one son at home and a daughter in college, about two hours away. It was decided that I should be the one to give her the devastating news in person. We arrived at the dorm about sunrise, entered the dean’s office, and called the young lady down. As she entered the room, she could tell something was seriously wrong.

“Linda,” I began hesitantly, “your mother was taken to the hospital earlier today.” And the story unfolded. She collapsed, sobbing, into the arms of a relative who had come along.

Several much larger cracks spread across my glass faith and suffering jar.

During my third year pastoring, the phone rang at 2:00 a.m. in the middle of winter. “My son shot himself!” a woman shrieked. “He shot himself, and he’s dead, right in our back yard!!”

I sped to the parent’s house. There were two police cars and an ambulance out front with lights flashing. When I entered, I saw several friends consoling the parents. Suddenly, all conversation stopped, every eye turned in my direction, as if to say, “So, Mr. Spirituality, what does God have to say about this?!”

Years later, another urgent, early morning phone call. “Kim, Mike is dead! I found him dead in our bed, right next to me!” It was his panicked wife. I threw on my coat and sped to their home, a short distance away. Mike was one of my very best friends. We had worked closely together for years. We were kindred spirits. He had an amazing mind and a heart filled with Christ-like empathy and kindness.

The police had not yet arrived. I knocked and his wife let me in, barely able to talk. She pointed upstairs. I took two steps at a time, ran into the bedroom and found him lying there, completely still. He had died during the night. Purple patches appeared on his back where the blood had pooled. It was ruled an inadvertent overdose. At the funeral I gave a testimony but someone had to stand with me to keep me steady.

The walls of my glass container were now crisscrossed with deep fractures.

At some point, as part of my interest in the history of World War II, I read the unnerving book Night by Elie Wiesel. I began to reflect more deeply on the stark reality that over 1.3 million Jewish children were murdered during the Holocaust.

As time went on, I paid much closer attention to the suffering I saw everywhere — terrible, undeserved woe.

It wasn’t long before I heard a loud “CRACK!!!” and my glass jar shattered into a thousand little shards. It had taken time and a variety of experiences to break open the simplistic views that had informed my faith for so many years. I ultimately lost all pretense of understanding the place of evil in God’s universe. I felt completely naked, exposed, speechless.

Fearing that without a satisfying answer to the problem of suffering I might lose my hold on God, I searched in earnest for a way to reconcile human hurt and an all-powerful, loving Deity. I was seeking for what theologians and philosophers refer to as a “Theodicy.” It can be defined as a, “Defense of God's goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.”1 Another definition says, “The explanation of why a perfectly good, almighty, and all-knowing God permits evil. The term literally means ‘justifying God.’”2

There are several different kinds of theodicies. For centuries, people have found profound solace in one or more of these attempts at an explanation. I fully support whatever helps them cope and endure.

Unfortunately, for me, each of the theodicies I examined ultimately fell short. They had too many downsides. I struggled on without direction. My quest for answers was spiritually exhausting. “Surely there must be an explanation somewhere,” I thought. The journey became more and more unsettling.

What ultimately renewed my spiritual energy and gave me hope was when I dramatically changed my focus. I came to understand that, for me, rather than asking, “Why suffering?” I should instead be asking, “How do you survive spiritually when there are no answers?” Substituting “how” for “why” provided a much-needed path forward. I gave myself permission to completely abandon the old search and pursue a fresh perspective.

As a result, my current reply to “Why suffering?” is that I have no idea, none at all. I choose to no longer expend any mental or spiritual energy in that direction. It only depletes me. I have instead chosen to add the problem of pain to my list of what I call “Christian Unknowables.” There were a number of items on the list already.

For instance, my brain cannot fathom how the size of the universe can just go on and on and on without end. I find it completely inscrutable and my mind hurts when I think about it. The universe is also filled with so many seemingly chaotic events. Galaxies crashing into each other. Stars exploding. Black holes sucking in everything around them. Uninhabitable planets. Poisonous atmospheres. None of it squares with my perceptions of an orderly God. It makes no sense. And yet, there it is. I accept it, glaring contradictions and all.

My brain cannot make any sense of the idea that God has no beginning, is infinitely powerful, knows all things past, present, and future, and is fully present everywhere at once. The incarnation of Christ lies outside all known biological processes. Yet, by faith, I accept all these things as true even though my brain shouts “No way!”

“Why Suffering” has now officially joined that personal list of mysteries.

I have discovered two keys that enable me to live with hope and promise in the presence of these potentially unsettling Christian Unknowables.

First, when confronted with things that are inscrutable, I hearken back to the basics of Christianity. In the past, I have studied and thought about these foundational issues at length and keep returning to them for assurance. For instance, I believe scripture is divinely inspired. I believe God exists because of the mindboggling intricacy of the human body and brain and a concept called “irreducible complexity.” I believe God exists because something cannot be created from nothing. I have faith that Jesus was real and the cross and resurrection are historic events. I believe Jesus was who He claimed to be, God in human flesh. When Unknowables start battering my faith, I make a tactical retreat to these affirmative statements, plus others, and continue to move forward.

Second, I accept the fact that our fabulous human brains are actually severely limited when it comes to supernatural things. Our perceptions only carry us so far. Striving to understand things that are beyond our capacity only leads to overload, discouragement, and misunderstanding.

I am especially helped by the famous novella by Edwin A. Abbott entitled, “Flatland,” originally published in 1884.3 Abbott imagines what it would be like to live in a two-dimensional world where there is only width and length but no height or depth. He also imagines what would happen if a basketball-like, three-dimensional sphere passes through the two-dimensional realm. Someone who lives in two dimensions would see, in sequence, a point, a small, flat circle that grows larger, shrinks back to a dot, then disappears. The sphere could, in fact, hover right over the person’s head and he would have no clue it was there. It would be impossible for him to conceive of life in three dimensions.

From God’s perspective, we are like those two-dimensional citizens. To take the analogy even further, physicists theorize that our universe might have many more dimensions than the three we know so well. Matt Williams writes,

The theoretical framework of Superstring Theory posits that the universe exists in ten different dimensions. These different aspects are what govern the universe, the fundamental forces of nature, and all the elementary particles contained within.4

If the universe God created might have ten, why couldn’t God Himself inhabit twenty or fifty or… who knows? Clearly, our minds are only built to conceptualize relatively little about the nature of God and how He functions.

In his article, “Theodicies and Messy Desks,” Hugh Hunter writes, “If you imagine all the possible solutions to a problem stretching infinitely onward into complexity, there is some cut-off point beyond which a human mind can no longer follow the solution.”5

The scriptures inform us that because God is infinite, “His thoughts are not our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). One day, in the world made new, with vastly expanded mental capabilities, we will repeatedly exclaim, “I never thought of that before!” “I never saw it that way!” “I never imagined that was possible!” I therefore choose to believe that after the second coming, Christ will unveil answers to the problem of pain that are inconceivable to us now. I choose to believe that the Trinity will lead us into understandings of fairness and justice that are unknowable to us now. I choose to believe that one day God’s explanations will leave us fully satisfied and at peace.

Notes & References:

Kim Allan Johnson retired in 2014 as the Undertreasurer of the Florida Conference. He and his wife Ann live in Maitland, Florida. Kim has written a number of articles for SDA journals plus three books published by Pacific Press: The Gift, The Morning, and The Team. He has also written three sets of small group lessons for churches that can be viewed at www.transformyourchurch.com (this website is run by the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists). He is also the author of eight "Life Guides" on CREATION Health.

Photo by Milan Popovic on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10343

this infinite aspect of god is something i always seem to come back to, realizing that any kind of relationship means he’s making an endless accommodation that he doesn’t seem to tire of making - even my worship of him is a bottomless concession on his part…ultimately, i think this means we can only trust, especially when we can sense that we have no way to understand what we can only suspect we don’t and can’t understand…

perhaps we naturally place too high a premium on understanding things…the stark reality is that the infinite quality of god means that understanding him cannot be the basis of our worship or walk…


Pastor Kim, thank you so much for such a strong, good and personal explanation of your own grappling with the apparently insolvable problem of human misery and pain. My family and I have suffered a wide variety of awful things over the years, and from 1986 to 1989 I hated every day of my life because I could not wrap my confused little head around a Creator God who allows such ongoing worldwide suffering and demands with unwavering loyalty that I call Him my “Loving Father.”

Then in 1989 I had a dramatic encounter with the Holy Spirit, and for the next three years it felt like I did get some partial answers as to this huge mess of human agony and torment.

1- In the beginning in Genesis 1 God made everything good, and God gave His perfectly made Adam and Eve a very easy test to stay away from just one tree. So the problem of suffering entering into our world’s is humankind’s fault and not God’s.

2- There is no God #2. If you don’t like the way God runs things down here on Earth, there is no other God to pick from. So if I have any hope of going to Heaven at all, I might as well stick it out with this Christian Creator God who confuses me.

3- All this crap of life is TEMPORARY and I only have to endure about 80, 90 or maybe 100 years’ worth of living on our dark broken planet. After that if the Bible is true and I believe it is, I can expect to enjoy trillions and zillions and quadzillions of years of endless eternal bliss and happiness with a brand new and perfect body and mind.

4- I have learned just as you have that it is okay to say “I DON’T KNOW.” Back in 1844 the Great Disappointment was so painful to our Adventist forbears that a curse came upon us Adventists, and that curse is it was so painful to be wrong that we became obsessed with BEING RIGHT. And in the process of our obsession to having all the right answers to all Biblical and Spiritual questions that we forgot how to LOVE. And now I have also learned Wisdom as I stand with you and say “I don’t know.”


This resonates so much with what have come to think in recent years. What started it for me was a book by physicist Michio Kaku, Hyperspace. He starts out by describing his childhood trips to the Japanese Tea Garden in San Fransisco where he would watch the carp swim under the lily pads. He was intrigued by the idea that the carp had no idea about the world right above them. The carp “scientists” would know only about the carp world under the lilies. He imagined, "what would happen If I reached down and lifted one of the carp scientists out of the pond. I wondered how this would appear to the rest of the carp. To them it would be truly unsettling.

Kaku continues: I often think that we are like the carp swimming contentedly in that pond. We live out our lives in our own “pond”, confident that our universe consists of only those things we can see or touch…We smugly refuse to admit that parallel universes or dimensions can exist next to ours, just beyond our grasp.

Like the man says, “one day God’s explanations will lead us fully satisfied and at peace”.


It is amazing how easily problems can be solved when the question is formulated in a manner where we assume responsibility on how to answer the question. It happens all the time during therapy sessions.


Michio Kaku’s Hyperspace was a revelation for me, also, @Sirje. First, the cover art was mad cool:

Hypertext cover

And, I recall the carp illustration, well. However, in my case, as perhaps in this author’s, Abbott’s Flatland had already made the idea of higher dimensions abundantly gripping.

What I got from Kaku were two other proposals:

a) The degree to which hypotheses and conclusions by researchers of earlier eras might be used to solve models of future ones, even hundreds of years later. This was a novel concept, for me, at the time, and put the issue of “research for research’s sake” in a safe and secure intellectual context.

b) Kaku includes a subchapter, in Hyperspace, titled, "From Ice Cubes to Superstrings."

On page 212, he asks the following:

Consider an ordinary ice cube sitting in a pressure cooker in our kitchen. We all know what happens if we turn on the stove. But what happens to an ice cube if we heat it up to trillions upon trillions of degrees?

The subsequent six, brief paragraphs are some of the most mind-blowing science writing I’ve ever taken in.

However, regarding the reason we’re all here:

I think Kim Allan Johnson’s essay is great, because I think it’s really pastoral. I think that concerns about theodical matters are, for the most part, pastoral, not philosophical, though they certainly are that, also.

However, for some reason—maybe it’s because I’ve not suffered enough—the problem of evil has not been a stumbling block, personally, for me. Maybe it’s because I don’t have children, or have never had to watch a child I loved die…or, especially, die slowly.

However—and it occurs to me that these may be linked—I’m not a person who tends to pray fervently for the healing of others, either.

I’ve prayed fervently for my own healing. I can recall a period, about a dozen years ago, when my regular, Saturday night routine was to walk to the Ethiopian spot on Broadway and order a bowl of kitfo, or beef tartare:


I did this so regularly, I started calling myself “The Kitfo Kid,” referencing War’s 1973 hit record. That is, until the night I got a bad batch. Writhing on the bed in pain that weekend, I promised God that, if He’d let me live, I wouldn’t touch the stuff again. Obviously, He did, and I haven’t.

(I still enjoy sushi, for what it’s worth, and have never had a bad experience…which may mean I’m overdue for one.)

However, when it comes to most people’s severe illnesses, I ask for God’s healing, and I ask that His will be done. I rarely get worked up about this, however. Again, with a child, it might be different.

An aspect of this, I feel, is I don’t think, for the most part, that God heals people with fatal illnesses or conditions. Of course, He can. But I don’t think that He tends to do so. I think that most people will die, and that this is the nature of the space; i.e., that this is, actually, what is going on here: Death.

Also, I see the core theodical issue being free will. I’ve long thought: If God really kept us from experiencing pain and suffering, what should happen as you’re about to stuff your mouth with a Twinkie?

Should your arm be frozen in mid-air, unable to proceed? Or, perhaps, that golden sponge cake treat should mystically float out of your hand, go back into a self-reassembling cellophane wrapper, be sped out your self-opening front door, then float along highway and byway, back to the store, and onto the shelf, as a credit is mysteriously made to your checking account?

Put another way, without a planet made of metals, we would have never had an Iron Age, and would still be living in one made of stone. But because we have metals, we can make metal buildings, metal cars, and also make metal devices that explosively accelerate metal slugs into and through our own brains.

Every 23 minutes in the United States, 24-7, somebody does this. The resultant social terrain is always a horrible mess. No one ever accepts this glibly, or without deep, convulsive questioning, especially of the reflexive sort: Could I have stopped her? Did he give off clues that I missed?

But to the question, “Why did God allow this?,” I think that one might as well ask, “Why did God allow me to have the sex that made my child?”, or, even, “Why did God allow me to make this casserole?” In other words, free will, cause and effect.

Maybe what God was trying to tell Job is that, at a certain level, there is no “answer.” As I said to my Dad, some years after my Mom had died from cancer, when he suggested there might be a “reason” his wife had lost her life, “Yeah: She had a crappy disease.”

Johnson seems to share the thinking of my Dad. He closes his piece by saying:

Suppose God just says, “The kid was depressed, and had easy access to guns. Plus, he lived in an environment that had cast suicide as heroic.” Suppose that’s the “explanation”?

I like the way @eborg says it:

My father thought that there might be some deeper, more profound logic behind Mom’s demise, maybe locked in the heart of God.

My take was, maybe. For example, watching my Mom die, her faith in God untouched, her never asking, “Why me?”, was awesomely inspiring; her final lesson to me. (I even got to tell her this.) So, I consider that a blessing of God, and her testimony is one I bear, that serves me now, and may aid me later in life. It’s there, as a “reason,” if you will.

But I think my larger question is this: Given where we reside—Mortal Coil, U.S.A.—and the way so many people die, then why isn’t the logic of the disease—or the bullet—enough?

Isn’t it?



Pastor Johnson, your stories are poignant and powerful.

On this Passover Friday, as my multiple Jewish friends are celebrating Seder, the meal to commemorate their freedom from Egyptian slavery,
we recall that God engineered plagues on the Egyptians.

The final worst disaster was the killing of all firstborn sons in the land of Egypt. Many a loving father must have lamented the loss of these innocent first born babes!

Yes, God is capable of monstrous, malignant, murderous methods when meting out punishments He deems necessary.

IMHO his cruelty to the Egyptians was only exceeded by his cruelty to the Israelites, supposedly his “ chosen people “, engineering their enslavement, not for fourteen years, not for forty years, but for four hundred years!. Slavery, as our own American experience exhibited, is not an enjoyable entity.

Is God the originator of this latest pandemic, just as He engineered the plagues in Egypt multiple millennia ago?

In the intervening millennia there have been a plethora of plagues / pestilences / pandemics, an enormity of egregious epidemics.

Millions succumbed to the “ Black Death “ — Bubonic Plague —-
and multiple millions to the “ White Death “ —
tuberculosis, which still infects millions on our planet.

To what end do all these lethal calamitous catastrophes lead?
How many more pandemics must humanity endure ?

God could have curtailed every cholera epidemic by fast forwarding his Second Coming, like wise for the Black Death, thé Spanish Flu, the Ebola contagion.

He seems to delight in inflicting misery on mankind, millennia after ensuing millennia.

Christ on the cross proclaimed : IT IS FINISHED— implying that the entire act of atonement was achieved.

Apparently not, since two millennia later, we still suffer sin and sickness.

If truly compassionate, God could in a heartbeat, consummate the Calvary cross atonement and take us all home, by fast forwarding the Second Coming…

WHY He chooses not to, has been the exasperating enigma of every era since Christ died, supposedly to save us from sin and sickness!!


About kitfo - In the early fifties, our family emigrated from Sweden to the US via Hamburg. There were a couple of other Estonian families on board and so we ate together in the dinning room. The server realized none could read English well, so he decided to help out deciphering the menu every day. One day he was able to tell them he wouldn’t be serving dinner so, to be safe, they should choose anything with “beef” from the menu. At supper the entire group ordered a beef dish as they were advised. The waiter looked incredulous but filled the order. Out came a plate full of raw meat, topped with a raw egg and lots of black pepper. Coming from a Scandinavian palate, it didn’t go over well. :nauseated_face:



That’s hilarious, @Sirje. I can just see the group of you, looking at this dish, as it came out, trying it, and getting sick. So nauseated that, nearly 70 years later, you still recall this single meal!

But, also, what’s fascinating to me is that it did not fit your tastes…though it absolutely fits mine.

In other words, wherever one goes in the world, there’s going to be a group of people who find some given phenomenon utterly real—some food, culture, or language—that someone else will find unreal.



Yes, the problem of human suffering is a huge vexing problem when we are asked to believe in an all-powerful, always good, all loving God. It almost breaks one’s brain trying to reconcile a Loving God and what seems like endless suffering. This is truly a tough nut to crack for us Christians trying to convince unbelievers to give their unwavering devotion, love and obedience to such a mysterious God.

As I have endured a wide variety of suffering myself, I have tried for many years to find a satisfying answer to what seems to be an unanswerable problem on this human side of eternity. In the process I have learned a few things that have given me some comfort.

1- No one has any better ideas. Not the Jews, not the Muslims, not the Hindus, not the Cults, not Buddhism, not Sikhism, or any other belief system that has ever existed on our broken planet. Therefore, as a Christian I don’t have to be ashamed that I can’t provide any deeply satisfying solution to Earth’s great sufferings, because nobody else knows any better answer either.

2- Near Death Experience (NDE) stories. My first wife of 34 years suddenly divorced me in October 2008 and it was the greatest crisis in my life that I have ever experienced. I made the HUGE mistake of making her my everything, so when she left it felt like I had lost everything because she was the dominant force that kept our family functioning smoothly. And now she was gone!

I cried out to God to help me get through this crushing disaster of her divorce and God did help me. One of the things my Heavenly Father did was lead me to a variety of web sites that share literally thousands of Near Death Experiences (NDE) of ordinary people. I know that we SDAs don’t believe in life after death and it doesn’t matter to me what the scientific explanation is, and yet I personally believe God “parted the veil” for these thousands of individuals to return to us a huge message of hope and courage and a much greater sense of how much God truly loves us all. Most of those people during their NDEs asked God why He/She allowed so much suffering and they all received very satisfying answers. They didn’t remember the answers when they returned to life, because apparently it is very important to God that we “live by faith.”


3- Where did all the Good Things come from? If God truly is cruel then where did all the good things come from? If the God who made our world is cruel, then He/She must surely be a very stupid and careless God to have allowed so much good to come leaking through. Since that argument is so weak, I can only conclude that behind all the pain, there must indeed be a Good God.



Thank you for your lovely, loving heartwarming response.

I give you Easter hugs !!

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I heard that Trump sent “Eastern Hugs” to people in Eastern Europe.
No “Western Hugs” thoug! … :rofl:

The major issue with Western perspective on suffering, which creates the dissonance with our view on God, is the fact that we reify the concept of suffering into something that it’s not - some reality that exists outside of our perception and “internal feeling”.

Just to give a glimpse into what I mean by that, my son was rolling around in agony today, because we limit his tablet screen time to 1hr. There is obvious physical context for what he experiences when we yank and cut off his access to that particular experience. He is rolling around on the ground crying in some extreme fits of that experience. It’s not different in a sense from some other instances of emotional or physical suffering, which is difficult to draw a line between. Yet, in a comparative sense, 30 years ago we had no tablets. We had no VCRs where I was growing up. TV had 4 channels in my area and watching a film or a cartoon was a rare treat.

Suffering is a comparative phenomenon of human psyche. I know it is, because in certain instances it can be flipped to joy, given the very same circumstance, but a change in perspective.

The generic position in Western society is that we are owed certain level of baseline experience as humans. We owe it to each other, and we are owed to by nature from which we take… and I’d say even steal, or leach. So, it’s a very immature position in regards to ontology.

I would like to say that we generally don’t have adequate introspection about who we are in order to appreciate the nature of conscious experience, which is not owed to us… anymore than my son’s gaming experience owed to him. In fact, suffering may be the very baseline state of any experience, in which case it’s not only expected… it’s normal. And it allows us to progress to something else as a mechanism that motivates us to move towards some teleological context in which suffering as a state is diminished. Something that we likely wouldn’t do, since all of our motivation revolves around elimination of future suffering. So, suffering is more like a map of reality structured with certain rules, rather than it being some arbitrary “bug in a system” that got accidentally unleashed.

So, I personally don’t see suffering as a problem, again, given that it’s extremely immature to think that we are owed some subset of comparative human experience that our limbic region of the brain communicates as desirable. Hence, suffering isn’t some external state of the world. It’s very much internal to our experience and perspective.

And the moment one understands it, it’s the very moment one gets to let the suffering be the teacher that perhaps God structured into our reality as a guiding mechanism, as opposed to it being something “a bug in a system” that God didn’t account for, and it makes such God somehow irreconcilable with concept of good and love.

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In a sense, we perhaps have the wrong model of God as it relates to this issue.

I personally find the simple look at the etymological trace of this concept to be revealing. We get the word suffering from Latin sufferre, “su” meaning from below, and ferrer - to bear. And that idea is conceptually linked to Christ suffering and bearing the cross.

I speak a couple non-Latin languages, and etymology is slightly different when it comes to semantic conceptualization of suffering. In Slavic languages, for example, suffering originates from the word “trying, or achieving”.

What we typically understand as suffering in the West, in those Eastern languages exists in different semantic context which it loosely resembles the concept of “obstacle”.

So, from a POV of broader human experience and conceptualization of that experience as we progressively described it and tried to understand it, suffering isn’t just some arbitrary concept we link to undesirable consequences. From etymology itself it becomes apparent that suffering is something that we viewed as a process in which we are trying to achieve something, and in which we are faced with obstacles on our way. So, it’s very much teleologically-oriented concept that doesn’t, and can’t be contextualized apart from our imagination of some comparative future in which we have something without which we otherwise suffer when we are aware of it.

I can understand your assertion when suffering is equated with a mild, subjective episode. But, try explaining that to someone in extreme intolerable pain from cancer, the parent whose child is tortured with the realities of a severe developmental condition, the family who have no food to feed their starving bodies. I don’t and can’t accept that suffering is ‘the teacher that God structured into our reality as a guiding mechanism’ and wonder if this means that your experience of suffering has been limited? Many of us could be very grateful to not have experienced the full force of suffering faced by many in our imperfect world.

No matter how we dance around the semantics, and even if suffering is experienced internally and cannot be cross referenced in any objective way, there are horrific degrees of suffering which are intolerable.

Which leads me to say, I’m only able to conceive of a loving God whose plans for me and others are an end to suffering. Even though it requires a leap of faith to accept that we do not have the answers to the question ‘why?’

Perhaps I misrepresent your thesis here?

Kind regards


Robin, my pleasure and I always love a good hug!

thank you for a well-thought stimulating article. i too have ‘suffered’ from God’s response to suffering. i have concluded that God, who is capable of being ‘almighty’ and capable of creating worlds, walking on water, etc., has opted to be ‘Jesus on earth’ without the miracles. it is more than obvious God does not intervene when a church full of christians is burnt to the ground, nor does He stop natural disasters which claim millions of lives, He does not save a child from being sawn in two by isis, nor does he stop millions from going to death camps, and neither does He stop pandemics, not now anyway. He, for now is a God of weakness. think Jesus the cross. He CHOOSES not to be almighty, He CHOOSES not to intervene in human affairs, He allows the stalins, hitlers, pol pots of the world to do whatever they please, He CHOOSES to be a God of weakness, like being born a vulnerable baby in an animal manger. Not until sometime in the future - and who knows when that will be? - will He decide to exercise His divine powers and leave His Jesus-on-earth mode and truly bring suffering to an end. til then, our lesson is to endure as Jesus did, to participate in suffering as a victim and as a solution. He is incarnated into us and uses us to fight suffering. That is His current response as opposed to jumping in Himself and dealing with the problem. We are on the cross until that time we come forth from the grave of this earthly existence to the life promised. for now we have the ‘assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’


…but Greg, since He isn’t currently talking about the reasons for what He is not doing (or doing) isn’t the best a believer can do is live with not knowing? We can draw inferences from scripture about the reasons for suffering and the apparent inaction of a Higher Power until the cows come home, but still not be certain. I do agree with you that as humans we can be certain of human suffering and the need “to participate”, to do our darndest to help alleviate it.

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I wouldn’t attempt to explain this to people who need comfort in time of distress. It requires certain conceptual baggage to understand properly… plus if properly understood, none of this stops the dysphoric feelings.

In the end, we are still discussing desires of individuals which are contextualized in “here and now”, and not in any broader reality in which importance of such desires diminishes in its significance. And, as I’ve said, no one owes us what we want, and that’s the case with lack or a loss. No one owes us life and experience. No one owes us certain quality of that experience. In the end, it’s up to us whether we want that experience and whether we want to make the best of it no matter what the circumstances are, or if we decide to live in constant distress.

I actually have a routine that I do every morning I wake up. I ask myself “Do you want to live today?”. And the second question is “How do you want to live today?”.

I did experience quite a bit of pain and suffering. I still live in a great amount of pain. But, compared to what some people live with, I don’t think it’s fair for me to complain about my conditions. On top of that, these are in part result of my own choices in life. It’s not the case with everyone, but we do have the choice and options when it comes to perspective on those things.

Semantics is important, because otherwise you will have hard time defining what you are talking about. You can’t just generically throw out “suffering” as some vacuous concept. You’d have to explain to me what you mean by that, and it’s not really as simple as you think when we consider comparative degrees of what you would call suffering, yet what other people would be glad to have given comparatively worse conditions that they will have . It can be quite paradoxical.

Some people would call it suffering to only eat once a day, for other people it would be amazing. It’s all comparative. And we can quickly adopt and expect certain conditions as normative. I live with sciatica every day 24/7 only with temporary relief during during exercise or when I don’t notice that pain as I’m submerged in other activities. So, for me that becomes the baseline of my experience. It’s normal. I don’t complain about it. It’s just something that’s there. Likewise, after my college and pro sports experience my deteriorating body issues are expected. My knees have no cartilage left among some issues. The best I can do is manage the pain I live with.

So, it’s very difficult to define what suffering is in that particular comparative context. It seems like suffering has more to do with our expectations than anything else.

Well, I’m not so sure that it’s both incorrect perception of what God is, and a pipe dream invented by religion as both control and a coping mechanism. Any reality structured about rules and expectations will have a suffering component if we are expected to do anything at all in such reality.

In short, we could very well invent some chemical way of making everyone exceedingly happy and euphoric no matter what happens. We sort of doing that to some degree already. But is it really what we want? There’s a point to our suffering if we are willing to learn from it.

mickey, the problem is we don’t know, hence all the theodicies trying to figure it out. Jesus didn’t know he would rise the third day, yet he persisted anyway. if He knew he would rise the third day, who wouldn’t do that to save a loved one? not knowing seems to the substance of faith (hebrews 11:1). suffering is our world and we have little choice but to endure and look for our own solutions. apparently, that’s how God would have it.