January 30, 2005

God. Suffering. Why?

Slightly more thoughtful second entry... Quite busy at the mo still, and haven't yet got into the habit of posting.. Will at some point

There is an inconsistency. Put simply, it is this:

I’m Christian. The basic ‘rules of engagement’ with the world for me go something along the lines of ‘Love EVERYONE. Do all you can to help people – no holding back. Don’t worry about yourself – I’ll take care of making sure you’re ok – just make sure you’re doing Everything you can do for the others.’

And this command isn’t in any way optional. God basically says ‘I care a lot, and you should too’. If there was only one Christian in the entire world, that one man would basically have to fight a one man war to show love to everyone. I’m glad I’m not that one bloke.

(Note that I’m talking about what God wants Christians to do, not what they actually have managed and manage to achieve and ‘achieve’.)

But here’s the thing. This ‘no holds barred’ approach of love to the world that we are commanded to show isn’t followed by God. Cos if it was, there would have been no Tsunami. There would have been no Pompeii. Natural disasters just wouldn’t happen – no one would die of anything but old age or human inflicted causes. (We can hurt each other. God’s given us free will, etc. We use it. It’s not good, but I can accept it without problems with faith – the ‘would you like to be a God-controlled robot’ argument is quite strong, as far as I’m concerned.)

God, who commands me to alleviate any and all human pain and suffering however, wherever and whenever I can, doesn’t live by that rule himself. Which, if I’m honest, looks at first like it’s not particularly fair, and the words ‘divine hypocrisy’ are kinda floating in there. There is a rather large ‘Why’. I’d really, really, really like an answer. But I don’t have one.

So does God lack the power or the will to prevent these things? Can’t take either of those on board and still be a Christian, at least as I understand it. I could do what someone I know did the other day, and walk out, basically saying ‘oi, no, this doesn’t work at all, must have made a mistake’. Hopefully the above makes it clear I can appreciate his point.

But here’s the thing. I’m not taking that route; abandoning my faith and attempting to live a ‘good’ life without any attached ‘superstition’. I can see that path, but I’m not gonna go down it. The second half of this is me figuring out why.

There are logical ideas about why God allows ‘natural’ suffering. I need to read up on them, cos I don’t remember them that well, and to be honest, while my faith isn’t giving up and wandering off because of the recent events, the vague points I have stored in a few brain cells somewhere isn’t the reason.

What it comes down to is faith, and the fact that faith in God, though widely misrepresented, isn’t ‘believing something without proof’. Faith more or less equates to trust on a larger scale – knowing God well enough to know he’s not gonna let you down.

The ‘inconsistency’, under closer examination, comes down to this. I know God loves me, and I know he loves everyone else as well. (That’s my experience talking– while I would love to be able to pass it on to everyone else, I’m talking about My life and faith, etc – if you feel I’m trying to pressure you into believing what I do, I’m not.. sorry if I give the wrong impression.) And this isn’t only ‘because the bible tells me so’ – I can tell stories of how God has shown his love for me in a variety of situations and ways, and I could get a large load more from people I know if I ever needed to. Some are simple, small stuff. Some aren’t so small.

But as well as all the good things I’ve seen him do, there is an extraordinary amount of times when he doesn’t step in and sort it all out. This doesn’t seem to fit with the idea of an almighty and loving Lord, and so there is a conflict between what I see now and what I’ve seen before.

That God cares enough about humans to go through more suffering for us than anyone else could ever have experienced is a cornerstone of my faith. He knows what it’s like to suffer as no one else could. That’s not an answer to ‘why’, but it’s one of the things that helps me deal with the fact I don’t have that answer. And that’s where faith comes in.

I’ve got to trust God to have a good answer, and part of that is accepting that it wouldn’t be trust if he bowed to my demands and told it to me. And that in the long run, me being to some extent forced into having that trust (having already told God in becoming a Christian that he can do with me what he likes) is better for me, and everyone else, than me having an answer.

And this is blind faith, if I understand it right. Not ignoring the suffering (God himself would object if I did that) or ignoring the ‘inconsistency’ I’ve rambled on about so ineloquently above. But to face up to and accept the fact that I don’t know the answer, and still believe that God, despite this, is all the bible says he is.

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  1. Had a bit of trouble working out what you're getting at there.

    A good friend of mine has reasoning for natural disasters.

    And are you thinking that you can't lead a good and largly selfless life unless you have faith?
    I'm not getting arsey – I was just wondering.

    Why should there ALWAYS be an answer anyway?

    30 Jan 2005, 23:59

  2. Tbtb

    To be fair God is no Foleh, Does God drink you under the table? No, Does God do fun runs with his Dad? Probably Not.

    All in all you should look to Foleh for advice and answers, in Nottingham is where the tracks should lead you.

    In all seriousness, i wish you well in your faith troubles and that you find some (better) answers. Its a screwed up world out there, but you can make a difference.

    31 Jan 2005, 00:03

  3. Gavin:
    Sorry – will attempt to make future posts clearer!
    I wasn't trying to deny the existance of reasons why God would allow natural disasters to occur – it's just that my responce to suffering, highlighted by the tsunami, hasn't really involved that kind of logical search – I read up on arguments in this area a while back and satisfied myself that they could stand. Possibly one of the reasons I haven't really covered them here is summed up in something a mate of mine said – "The book described my problem exactly and didn't help me at all". For someone in hard times, it's cold comfort to know that God's got good reasons for letting it happen.

    I'm not thinking you can only live a 'good' life if you're christian, or in fact with any faith whatsoever – I do think it helps, but I'd never try to deny the massive amount of good done by 'Unbelievers'.

    Final point – if God is a person who acts on rational grounds, a reason for his actions should exist, though sometimes only he knows it.

    Next – Tbtb
    When I was writing this I was trying to tread a line between not minimising the seriousness of suffering, and saying despite this belief in a loving God can be sustained. To be honest, if I hadn't dealt with the issue I'm not sure I'd have blogged it.
    My faith in a God who 'is love' is still strong (no credit to me). But the existence of suffering seems to cause trouble with this, and was an issue that had to be examined.

    31 Jan 2005, 15:38

  4. Steven Carr

    It is a good question. Why does God pass by on the other side when disaster threatens humanity?

    And why was God unwilling to save any children when a tyrant like Herod wanted to kill them? Well, God warned the parents of one child that their son was in danger, so I can't really say that God didn't save children. He saved one from imminent death, which is better than saving none, of course.

    Would God allow evils like Christians believing in Heaven and Hell, because he has a good purpose in allowing them to believe all of that?

    Compared with God, we are like children. Are we really wicked for allowing our children to believe in Santa Claus, so that they will behave better, so that they will get presents from Santa? Of course, we aren't!

    If there is a God, he might well want us to falsely believe in Heaven and Hell, so that we have an incentive to love one another.

    People might think of that as an evil, but is it really worse than allowing a tsunami to kill 300,000 people?

    And getting people to love one another is a really good answer to the question 'Why did you allow people to believe falsehoods?'

    We could no more hold that against God than we hold our parents as wicked for allowing us as children to believe in Santa Claus.

    I have some comments on all of this at link

    10 Dec 2005, 10:28

  5. Interesting…

    One point I'll reply with is that the bible does not use 'heaven/hell' as motivation to be good – though this would be an obvious control technique. Rather than the identity/salvation of a Christian proceeding from thier 'good works', the 'good works' proceed from the identity which follows from their salvation/adoption as a "child of God". The phrase "be good or you'll go to hell" has undoubtedly been used in a multiplicity of sermons for centuries, however it's still completely the opposite of the original message recorded in the NT.

    If you want to continue this, please first define 'good' and 'evil'!!

    10 Dec 2005, 12:47

  6. Steven Carr

    The Bible certainly does use heaven/hell as a motivation to be good.

    Matthew 5:20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

    ….But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

    How much more clear can somebody say that somebody who acts wickedly will go to Hell?

    Or Matthew 25 :-

    34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

    Clearly there is a reward for doing good.

    My point was that once you say God has good, but unknown, reasons for allowing the evils you know about, then there might be good, unknown reasons for allowing the evils that you don't know about.

    One of those possible evils you don't know about might be a false belief in Heaven and Hell. If God allows tsunamis , then he can allow people to believe falsehoods , surely?

    It is just so easy for me to make up a theodicy about why God would allow people to believe falsehoodsl, that I get suspicious when I read a theodicy about how God passed by on the other side, when 300,000 people were killed by a tsunami, and 100,000 killed by an earthquake in Kashmir.

    Why does God pass by on the other side?

    10 Dec 2005, 13:54

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