Saturday, November 21, 2009

Theodicy: Can Suffering be Redemptive?

ALAGIR, Russia - Sarmat Kapisov ran all night through the forest with his family, fleeing the fighting in South Ossetia and headed for the Georgia-Russia border. On his back, the 17-year-old carried his brother, who has cerebral palsy.

"It wasn't easy," Kapisov said, huddled alongside his mother and seven siblings, who have taken refuge here at an Orthodox convent across the Russian border.

The convent director, known as Mother Nonna, said thousands have passed through since the bloodshed began one week ago in the pro-Russian separatist province claimed by Georgia.

Most were South Ossetian women and children on their way to a refugee center set up inside a summer camp by Russian authorities. Many of the fathers and older brothers stayed behind to fight.

Mother Nonna said she had never seen so many terrified children clinging to their mothers' skirts.

"The most difficult thing was to answer their question: Where was God?" she said. "They had so much fear in their eyes."

Read it all here.

Voltaire (1694-1778) was a French Enlightenment philosopher who enjoyed nuanced debate about the nature of the world, humanity, and God. In his youth he advocated a hedonistic lifestyle, stating that “True wisdom lies in knowing how to flee sadness in the arms of pleasure.” In this view, Voltaire follows the Greek philosopher Epicurus (342-270 BC), who taught that the goal of life is to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.

Voltaire became less effusive in his advocacy of pleasure after the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. The earthquake was followed by a tsunami and fire which destroyed most of the city and devastated outlaying areas. The death toll is estimated to be between 60,000 and 100,000 people.

Voltaire wrote a moving poem about the destruction of Lisbon, titled Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne ("Poem on the Lisbon disaster").The disaster struck on the morning of All Saints, a Catholic feast day observed in Portugal. When word of the devastation reached other European countries, it became a topic of heated discussion among the intelligentsia who pondered how to reconcile the existence of such evil with God’s goodness.

Voltaire used the Lisbon earthquake in his novel Candide. His character Candide attacks the notion that all is for the best in this "best of all possible worlds", a world closely supervised by a benevolent deity.

The Lisbon disaster suggests either God is not good, or God is not in control, or there is no God. The modern German philosopher, Theodor Adorno, an Enlightenment scholar, wrote that "the earthquake of Lisbon sufficed to cure Voltaire of the theodicy of Leibniz" (Negative Dialectics 361). Liebniz believed, as did the ancient Stoics, that everything that happens constitutes “the best plan of the universe, which God could not fail to choose… Far from being true that this conduct is contrary to goodness, it is supreme goodness which led Him to it.” (Read Elizabeth Anscombe's response to Leibniz' theodicy here.)

Many Enlightenment thinkers rejected this solution to the paradox of theodicy. They rejected the Judeo-Christian idea of God as good, instead taking a deistic view. Deists believe that an impersonal and amoral God created the universe, set it in motion, and then withdrew from earthly affairs. They regard God as having chosen to allow what He set in motion to run its natural course without divine intervention.

What I find interesting about this, is how many who call themselves Christians seem to think that God's goodness and human suffering are irreconcilable. What about the suffering of Jesus Christ? Why is the day of His crucifixion called "Good" Friday? Didn't Jesus tell his disciples that they could except to suffer in this life?


Unknown said...

I would also like to add that human suffering could coincide with a Christian's test of faith. For instance, in the Bible, the book of Job descibes this test. Job was a believer in God and was obedient and satan believed that if you take everything away from a human that his faith in God would fail. God allowed satan to take away Job's house, belongings, money, and his kids. God allowed satan to take took everything away but his wife. Three of Job's friends came to him and asked why Job hadn't cursed God for doing this to him. Job stayed true to God and kept his faith, hence proving to satan that Christians who are completely faithful to God will take any type of human suffering thrown their way, in knowing that once their lives end they will be joined with Christ in heaven.

Unknown said...

I have never been religious. I do have my thoughts on things, but I choose to avoid bringing it up in conversation. I know people will voice their opinions, and that's cool, just not me. I have seen people questioning if there is a God or not when it comes to good and bad things happening. What I have observed is that people praise God when good things happen, but when horrible things occur, they question him. Why would God cause this to happen? Thank God for bringing you back to me. It's one way or the other..or some will bring the devil and his evils into things when they are disliked. I'm not really sure on why the day Jesus was crucified was called "Good" Friday...that's a little bit strange to think about. What exactly is so good about it? The so-called son of God was nailed to a cross and tortured...what is good there?

Unknown said...

Part of my upbringing was being in church each week. We learned how Christ suffered and how we as Christians would suffer (riducule, exclusion in some cases) because of our belief and love for Him and His teachings. As an adult it is easier to deflect criticism of my religious beliefs and although in some eyes I may "suffer" by not having the same amount of "fun" or the same type of fun I feel that I will be rewarded after death. This is what the Bible teaches; eternal life in Heaven is the reward for serving God during our time on Earth.
For what it's worth, while Good Friday is a confusing name for the day Christ died on the cross if you think about it this is the day that God gave up his son for the sake of man. That is a good thing (take from this what you will).

Nikki said...

The life I was modeled as a child, included church, prayers, and a study of God, the bible and Jesus Christ. Suffering is part of God’s plan, it was written in (Luke 24:25-27, 46) “The Christ will suffer and rise on the third day” Jesus Christ suffered and laid down his life for man’s sin’s. Man struggles to embrace his faith when suffering occurs. We start to wonder “where God is”. The trick is to embrace God in our time of fear, sadness and with suffering. God will show us the way. Good Friday is called Good Friday because Jesus Christ was crucified for the redemption of our sins. Christians honor the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. I am not sure we will ever know exactly why Good Friday was given its name - but for me it was a Good Friday indeed.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Patty B has asked me to post her comment. Here it is:

I feel that God's goodness and suffering is reconcilable. Jesus suffered and while he suffered, he showed goodness by not saying a word and he prayed for them before he died. The bible says that in order to reign with him (God/Jesus) you have to suffer with him. Those individuals who are questioning people "Where is God," are suffering right now but they also should know that God is with them. I know that as a christian, that even though we as a nation are not suffering like them, but our time to suffer is coming and we are going to probably going to ask the same question "Where is God?" The bible says that God won't put no more on you than you can bear. Even though they are suffering, they should think back that Jesus went through the same thing. After all that suffering that Jesus went and after the suffering we are going to have to go through, there is hope in the end that we'll reign with God if we living for him on earth.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Shahanah has asked me to post this comment for her. Here it is:

Religion is a very controversial subject which I too choose to stay away from in conversation. I believe that people can believe what they choose. Although if their belifes go as far as harming another person then their should be some action taken to prevent this from happening. If a person is very happy in their religion or beliefs and it works well for them without harming others then let them be with their own beliefs without argument. I do feel that others should not try to push a religion onto someone else but if they choose to with the consent of the person simply inform them about a new religion so that person can see if it fits for them. I am not very big on what happend to jesus and I don't read the bible but from what I know it seems as though authorities of that time felt thretend by him which is why they did what they did. In all I try not to enter in a conversation about god or religion mostly because there are many people who get a little angry over it.

Susan said...

Far too many church organizations use the “health and wealth” philosophy. Some will stoop to promising good health in exchange for “donations”. Others demand donations and issue “guilt” trips for those who have failed to give. It is not consistent with the statements and life of Jesus Christ. He lived a humble life on earth among the sick and the poor. Jesus did not require anyone to pay or buy his or her way into Heaven. Jesus apparently did not approve of lotteries, raffles, or the selling of material goods within the church. In Matthew 21:12 Jesus tossed the moneychangers out of the church. This act alone speaks for itself.
God does not require monetary compensation nor does he require humans to suffer. Faith in Him and good works toward ones fellow man is all he asks of his followers. God does not send earthquakes, tornado, or any other kind of natural occurrences to bring suffering upon humanity. However, he did send his only begotten son, Jesus, to suffer and die upon the cross to set all sinners free from sin. In addition, for this reason the day of His crucifixion is called Good Friday. Although, it is sad that Jesus had to die, it is good that all who believe in Him can receive everlasting life through His death. We must only ask to receive our forgiveness for our sins and live in His footsteps of goodness and mercy. Jesus already paid the “price” with his life.
Much of the sufferings of this world are the results of humanity. We are a selfish and egocentric society. As Christians, we are weak. We set back and shake our heads while the world around us crumbles farther into Satan’s grip. The end rewards can be disastrous. Jesus warned his disciples that they would suffer in his namesake from nonbelievers, and in this world, all would see troubles. (John 16:2, 3, & 33). Stephen was stoned to death, (Acts7:59). John the Baptist was beheaded by King Herod. (Mark 6:25). Paul persecuted Christians in the name of the Roman Army, but after finding salvation through Jesus became persecuted as a Christian leader and teacher himself. He stated, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us”. (Romans 8:18).The list is endless of followers throughout history who were willing to suffer and die for the life they chose with Jesus. Modern day missionaries are tortured for their faith.
One wonders where our disciples are today. Who will lead and in which direction will the multitude follow? The Bible, The Ten Commandments, and other Christian traditions are disappearing from the American scene. Parents wonder why they cannot deal with their own children. Permissive sex, abortion, pornography, and drug use is the “in thing” in our society. Yet, there are those who can still wonder where God is.

Susan said...

Patty B,
As Jesus did, it is good to pray for your enemies. In that they too might find salvation. An enemy that finds salvation is therefore conquered in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Susan said...

I love the book of Job. It gives me strength when I am down.

Susan said...

Hi Folks,

Susan is actually Dora and is my middle name. I had to log in under another Google account to get on the blog. Sorry, if this is confusing.


Alice C. Linsley said...

There are no guarantees with out birth into this world that we will not suffer. Some people seem to suffer less than others. Some suffering is brought on ourselves by our actions. Some comes to people who have lived good and decent lives. Suffering is simply a part of life. What matters is how we deal with it. Do we allow it to destroy us or to transform us? Do we become bitter or do we become compassionate toward others who suffer? Do we sink into dispair or radiate joy?

It is interesting to compare the tsunami that destroyed Lisbon on a Christian feast day and the tsunami that struck South East Asia on Dec. 26, 2004. The latter killed more than 225,000 people in eleven countries and inundated coastal communities with waves up to 30 meters. With a magnitude of between 9.1 and 9.3, it is the second largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph.

In one community the Christian population was completely spared because the Muslim majority had required them to celebrate Christmas high in the mountains. Not a single Christian was lost.

Watch a video of that tsuanami here:

Shannon Christopher said...

Like most others, am a Christian. I believe in God and feel that for everything that happens whether it be good or bad, there is a reason or a plan explaining it. Obviously, when bad things happen it does sometimes make me wonder why? As I consider specific situations and circumstances, I see that sometimes what we may consider to be bad....ends up bringing about better things in the long run. Just like the song says, "Sometimes I thank God, for unanswered prayers." There is always a higher power that knows that what we may feel at the time is the best plan for us, really is not and better things are to come. I'm not saying that pain, mysery, and death are God's way.....some things simply cannot be explained. That is what life is all about. We can't blame things on God when they go wrong, sometimes things just don't go as planned. Although, with all of this being said, I realize that some people do thank God for the good things in life and praise him along the way. While when things go wrong or something bad happens people have a tendency to question him for it. This situation, I can't completely grasp. Sometimes bad things happen in order for the better things to prevail. For this reason, I have no negative or positive opinions- I choose to stay neutral. I can see both sides of this, even though I choose to believe in all things happen for a reason. I will not be the judge of God or his actions in his life or after his physical death. "Good Friday" is the day of rememberance for God's resurrection. Why was this named as a Good Day? I'm not sure, I feel like it may be a little off base but there is always the belief that this was the day God arose for the people. Could it be called by a different name? I most certainly believe so, he was tortured on this day and there was nothing "good" about that part. So maybe the name describes the aftermath of his cruel treatments. Again, I'm not certain!! One of the many mysteries of the times.

SirLazenby said...

The problem of reconciling what we simply define as “good and evil” with God’s “goodness” is basic semantics. Tragedy, pain, loss, disaster; these threads of existence are as necessary as love, pleasure, happiness and joy as they apply to the pursuit of meaning in our lives. As the pursuit of meaning is the purpose of this existence, its whole would be synonymous with God’s “goodness” and, therefore, not only completely compatible but, also integral. Possessing the freewill to make personal choices as they apply to these things provides the opportunity for us to decide the integrity of our souls. This is why any attempt to artificially direct others towards what we simply define as “good and evil” (i.e. laws) is intrinsically “evil” (as it applies to God’s “goodness) and will always ultimately be self-defecting serving to propagate that which it claims to dissuade.

C Will said...

While I grew up in Catholic school, my views have transformed as I have grown older. I used to ask why god would allow for things to happen the way they do. But then I realized that it didn't matter. I was only along for the ride. No matter the event, people are always going to judge that event through their own perspective. In an effort to blame situations on something, good comes from god and bad comes from the devil. We are in a society focused on placing blame on something. I personally don't like to discuss religious topics as it is such a touchy subject.

Ashley Francisco said...

I am a Christian myself and from going to church all of my life I have come to believe that good and bad things happen to all people. We can not blame the things that happen to us upon God. I do believe that God can take us through anything that we may face if we only believe and trust in Him.
As a Christian I have went through several tests of faith and I know that each individual does but that is when we should become stronger in our faith. I have never set under a preacher in church that has preached that I am exempt from human suffering. I've only heard all of my life that if we have the faith to be healed God can do it, but I also believe that if it is our time to die then we are going to die. Dying should be a good thing if we know that our hearts are right with God because there is Heaven to look forward to where there will be no more pain or suffering.

Unknown said...

I, like many others I know, was born & raised in the church. I was taught that if I believed in God and followed his will, then I would live eternally in heaven. As an adult, when bad things have happened to me or things happened that I didn't think was fair my initial thought is not "Why did God let this happen?" but "What have I not been doing right?" or "what have these people been through that has caused them to act so horific?". I think it's an "easy-out" to blame God for bad things happening, but what we really need to do is look at society around us and search into the people's backgrounds to see what events have occurred to cause them so much pain and hatred to want to commit an evil act.

One saying has always helped me to keep my faith in God when bad things happen and that is: Everything happens for a reason and God has a reason for everything. I realize that I may never know that reason until I have a chance to ask him for myself, but until that happens, I'll just have to be content and keep the faith that God knows what he's doing.

debl said...

Why does God allow suffering? I ask myself that every time I see an abused child, or a homeless person, or when I read about a murder. As a Catholic Christian, I was taught we suffer because of Original Sin. It seems we humans like things rough and tough! Perhaps it is the way we are hardwired? I think we are wired in such a way that acknowledging a higher authority is necessary for us, and that includes the conception of suffering for one's sins. Ultimately, we must accept life on blind faith. We do the best we can and pray for God's Divine Intervention. If we don't see God's touch, we pray some more.

Unknown said...

As a Christian, I have been taught that no one is perfect and everyone has sinned. Jesus gave his life, so if we choose to follow him we will be rewared with heaven. The suffering is part of our earthly lives, if we hold true to God through the suffering we will be able to go to heaven after death. I agree that God has given us free will and a lot of people have suffering due to their poor choices. I also believe that there are times when bad things happen to good people for no reason, but when that happens one just has to have faith that God will take care of them.

Kristen Carey said...

Where was God ?

This is a question that has been and will be asked many times. There will be many answers given to this question also. Let us start with some defining issues. God is everywhere. God knows each and every one of us. But in order to have faith in God many will need some kind of proof that there is a God. The definition of faith is : Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. If you look at this definition you will see that faith is believing in something that is not seen. That is what God asks of us to have faith in Him. To put His name with disasters or tragedies is to put Him with something that is seen. This is not to say that God does nothing when it comes to His children here on earth. There are many documented cases of miracles that have occurred. But to blame God or ask why he would let something happen is not how to think of these catastrophes. There is nothing easier than to blame God for anything that does not seem to fit with the teachings of love that God has given us. We all have free will. The definition of free will is this: The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will. So, to the question of where was God? The answer that I would put to you is that God is everywhere. He is the one supreme being of all things seen and not seen. But there is no way for us to give those that are not going to believe any proof that He does exist. I would even say that the problems that Georgia and Russia have had is not of God but of people. God did not come down from heaven and start killing people. The people, as terrible as it is, did it themselves.

Kyle Carey said...

I agree with most that people must pay for their sins with suffering. I think that everyone should have their own choice and shouldn't be forced into believing something they may not want to. However, I enjoyed my religion class in college just because there are so many different beliefs around the world.

Someone above posted, what is so good about Good Friday. I believe it was good because god sacrificed so we don't have to. I believe all that tragedy brought about the greatest good there could be.

Valerie Cornett said...

Being a Christian, I have total faith that God knows what is best for us. God knows the future. I too see the evil and suffering that humans must endure and bear, but humans create it not God. Since the very first sin, humans were destined to cause pain on themselves. Why does God allow this, I don't know. Humans have limited brains, we can't see the future. God is the Creator of all things, he knows best. One day it will all be revealed so one understands. If one does not like evil and suffering, then remember not to create it. As my grandmother always said, " we reap what we sow."

Unknown said...

Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He suffered so that we would not have to. By that I mean we will not have to spend eternity suffering in hell if we allow Jesus into our hearts and let Him handle our sins. The Lord has given us our free will to behave and believe as we choose and in some cases, Jesus is still suffering. It hurts Him to see His children wandering into the dark. I think that it is called Good Friday because what He did for us was remarkable and courageous.

Alice C. Linsley said...

I appreciate all these fine comments. This thread is now closed.

Please respond to the Week 5 Discussion Topic here:

Michelle Riddle said...

I have always lived by the thought that everything happens for a reason. There is always something to be learned, taught, or done in every situation. Some believe God controls everything we do. I believe God gave man free will for a reason. People everyday are faced with choices and for each choice made there are different outcomes. Does God know and control each of these outcomes? Only He knows that. Is the suffering of mankind redemptive? I believe that depends on the person. Most of the suffering done by mankind is brought on by mankind. Even natural disasters. The Earth is a living thing and we are the organisms that depend on it. Yet we are also killing it and expecting it to keep on providing as it always has. So, in my opinion, suffering can be redemptive, but it depends on the person and the suffering. Even with natural disasters, the suffering can be redemptive, but we as humanity need to look at our lives and make decisions as to what choices we want to make, what paths we want to take. Everything happens for a reason even if we may never know what that reason is.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Tammy has asked me to post this comment for her. Here it is:

"I also feel that God’s goodness and human sufferings are reconcilable. Everyone is given freedom of choice; whether or not to follow God. As it has been said for many years, good and bad things happen to good and bad people. As long as there are people here on earth, there will be human sufferings. God promises the people who ask for forgiveness and repentances of sin shall have an everlasting life with Him in Paradise. The Book of Job is a perfect example; God does not cause things to happen to us. But he does allow things to happen to us whether they are good or bad. People do tend to praise God when good things happen to them. But when something bad happens, the first thing people tend to say is, “Why did you do this to me?” The crucifixion of Jesus was a terrible price that he paid just so we could get forgiveness of our sins and have everlasting life. Jesus died for all of our sins."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Carol W. has asked me to post this comment for her. Here it is:

"Are Christians exempt of Evil and Suffering? We as Christions were made to suffer, its like a test, and if you who prolaim to be child a true child of God, a child of the King, then you will make it through pain, suffering,evil and the many situations of life that will come our way. As a christiand a true believer, we are suppose to hae strong enough faith to endure to et end. Just knowing we as Christians will come out a winner in the end is a blessing in its self. So are christians exempt from srufering? No!
Jesus suffered for us for our sins so that we might have the right to the tree of life. Jesus suffered on the cross. God even suffered because he gave up his only begotten Son for us. So what makes people think they sould be exempt. No one especially Christians are exempt from suffering.
Read Mark 8:31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be regected of th elders, and of the Chief Priests, and Scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. See the hope. I also read Hebrews 11:25, Choosing rather to suffer afflictions with with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. See suffering won't last, but I rather suffer with God on my side to bring me out than to live the sinful life only for a season. A short while and it will all come to an end with no rising again."

Unknown said...

I also agree that human suffering and God's goodness is reconcilable. Throughout the Bible there are many examples and teachings from Jesus about suffering, who Himself suffered persecution and crucified and how to handle each situation from Genesis to Revelations;from Moses and the children of Israel to Paul and Silas being beaten and tossed into jail; to the exile of John in Revelations. Also Job who lost everything but was able to see God's goodness in His infinite wisdom.

Jenny Adkins said...

suffering is a great hermeneutic.