I would like to take a crack at something. I have been thinking a lot about the basic philosophies of Christianity. The issue of suffering is a huge one. How many times have we heard someone say that they could not believe in God because of suffering in the world? I don't know if there is ever an adequate philosophical response to this question, but I wanted to share some thoughts.
A lot of people blame suffering in the world on God, and conceivably so since he could stop all of it. Makes sense. So what if God took away suffering? What would that look like?
We have to agree that while suffering is universal, the definition of what constitutes as suffering is not.
Picture a room, and in it, we will put those who suffer.:
A woman raped.
A young girl who did not get the lead in the school play.
A wealthy socialite with a chemical peel gone wrong.
A man that loves a woman that does not love him.
A child whose hands have been cut off.
A woman who’s husband was shot in front of her.
A child who did not receive a toy they wanted.
A man who lost his job and has a family to feed.
A man who lost his job, but has no family.
We may scoff at the woman and her chemical peel, but could you blame the child with no hands not understanding why a man who lost his job was in the room with him? Is it ridiculous for the rape victim to roll her eyes at the tearful cries of a man unloved?
The girl that did not get the lead in the school play may feel shame; self hatred; anger; bittnerness- and feel them quite hotly. We can say she is young and immature in what causes her suffering, but it does not change the fact that her response is, indeed, suffering (and also that we are arrogant for believing that our vantage point of what constitutes as suffering is the ultimate authority).
Does the acknowledgement of sex slavery in the world lead you to cry less when someone has broken your heart? Probably not.
So. If God was Good, then there would be no suffering. But that means no suffering, of any kind.
I think a response to this would be the idea that there should not be rape, or AIDS, or cancer or murder, the ‘tragic sufferings’ maybe.
But lets say those things did not exist. But if we could still feel pain, there would simply be different scale of sufferings.
Imagine a world where the only health problems anyone ever had was the common cold. That’s it. No other diseases.
People would say that if there was a God, he would not allow people to have colds. The indignity of nose blowing and the harrowing torture of a sore throat would cause people to question his existence and goodness. People would lose their faith after catching a cold, or perhaps find God in the midst of their sickness, needing Something to comfort them in their distress and anguish.
We think that is silly only because we know the range of suffering pertaining to health. If the range was a cold only, it would be the worst thing in the world. And we would be right back where we started.
Let’s continue with this line of thought.
A world with only colds. No rape or murder, no adultery, or stealing.
So now, in this new world where all extreme suffering is removed- we would have new extreme sufferings.
People would be atheists because they could not believe in a God that allowed broken nails; bad break ups; boring jobs.
Philosophers would write books on the spiritual cruelty of acne and bad hair. They could not accept a God that did not make all of creation aesthetically pleasing. Ugly people means an ugly God.
Again, these things seem petty (maybe) to us only because we understand the spectrum of suffering.
So, all suffering would have to be erased. And not only would God have to take away the things that make us suffer, but he would have to take away our very faculties that process suffering.
We would either all have to get what we want, or not be able to process pain of any kind. One is not possible, because what we want often hurts other people, so two could be the only logical conclusion.
So the following words would be incomprehensible to us: worry; anxiety; pain; fear; abandonment; rejection; neglect; hurt; anguish; misery; annoyance; disturbance; etc.
Without those words, or the ability to understand what they refer to, the following words are also meaningless- happy; joy; love; kindness; forgiveness; gratitude; contentment; ecstatic; delight; acceptance.
Without suffering, of any and all kind, we also would not be happy. We would have no concept of the word.
So I wonder a few things.
I wonder if God has saved us from suffering even more greatly than we can imagine.
The same way we laugh at a world that dismisses God based not getting parking spots or coveted jobs, is there another world that would laugh at our suffering of rape and genocide as petty?
I can think of nothing worse than being strapped to a bed and raped. But I wonder if God’s response to that would be: “There was the possibility of me creating a world where men could literally rip out your essence, eat it, and you would be trapped in their body for the rest of your life.”
Again, ridiculous. As ridiculous as American missionaries explaining video games to south American natives. Just because it is incomprehensible does not mean it could not be true. That would be putting ultimate authority in our cognitive faculties, which is a little arrogant. If God is blamed for all disasters, I wonder if there are disasters he has kept us from?
There is one suffering we know exists, that only one Man felt. When Christ was in the garden, and on the cross, He was completely cut off from God. It hurts when we lose relationships with those we cherish, even if we may have only known the person for a few months.
But what of the pain of losing our spouse of 50 years?
Christ (going on the assumption that he was who he said he was) lost the companionship of God that he had had for all eternity. He felt cosmic abandonment. Intense. Intense enough for him to cry out “Llama sabachthani” My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
When I hear stories of Christian martyrs, it strikes me that they died more bravely and perhaps seemingly more faithful deaths than of Christ. I can only image that Christ’s sufferings went far beyond the physical, into another spiritual realm that I can only think of as science fiction.
But I think we can all admit that at least some of our sufferings have produced good in our life, in the form of character; patience; grace; etc. So if we can see some good coming from suffering and evil, isn’t it possible that God can see good coming out of all?
I suppose I am comforted that the justice I desperately want on this earth is not pointless, it is promised in the form of heaven. That the heaven Christ talks of is not just one of consolation, but of restoration.
Last random thought: maybe we feel pain because God does. Not just Christ, we know he suffered. But God, in the Old Testament, suffered. Pain and suffering exist in God’s realm just as much as this one. God is not separate and detached from our pain, it is found in Him. We are made in his image, and that may be somewhat physical, but it seems primarily emotional to me. God feels hurt; abandonment; rejection; pain. The Christian faith is that of the God Who Suffers. God was so moved by our pain, that he sent Himself to take it on. It did not alleviate all of our pains here on earth, but Christ’s sufferings and his desire to be with us, can help us suffer well and come out of it stronger and wiser. And if our sufferings lead to death- our desire for what we want on earth, is now found in the hope of resurrection and heaven.