Discussion Forums - Religion & Spirituality

Topic: Why Does God Allow Suffering?

Club rule - Please, if you cannot be courteous and respectful, do not post in this forum.
Page:   Unlock Forum posting with Annual Membership.
Subject: Why Does God Allow Suffering?
Date Posted: 3/27/2008 8:57 AM ET
Member Since: 10/2/2007
Posts: 1,278
Back To Top

I've begun reading Bart Ehrman's new book, God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer. It's fascinating and, like Ehrman's previous book, Misquoting Jesus-the Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, it's well-written.

If you believe in a god, why do you think your god allows suffering?  From the Holocaust to Darfur to Hurricane Katrina to birth defects and cancer and AIDS and more--why?

Date Posted: 3/27/2008 11:38 AM ET
Member Since: 2/27/2008
Posts: 30
Back To Top

I think God allows suffering for two reasons.  First, barring a few miracles, he plays by the rules he made up.  God allows our free will to make choices and set the universe as a neutral "playing field".  It's cause and effect, action and reaction.  If God "miraculously" stepped in every time to prevent bad things happening, there would be no consequences, no physics, and no morality.  It follows then that there would be no need for faith, creativity, or love.  Everything that defines us as humans and seperates us from the rest of the natural world would be effectively lost.  Second, with our free will, we humans are inherently wicked beings.  Deep down, every human who ever existed is prideful, selfish, and desperately greedy.  We are not animals though, and we have amazing abilites to control these primal urges.  Some do better than others, but no one is perfect, so it hardly matters.  While it may seem fair or unfair to us relatively, there is really no unjust punishiment in this world.  As the Bible puts it, we're all sinners and the wages of sin is death.

Basically if I say  (1) I believe that God  (defined as all knowing, all powerful, and omnipresent) is perfectly good, and (2) that he created the universe the way it is, it follows that the creation as it exists is the perfect model from all of the infinite possiblilites it could have been.   Finally, any deviations from the model that we humans come up with may have the best of intentions ("If I were God I would not have allowed any wars to take place"), but are ultimately presumptuous, unless you yourself can claim to be God as defined above.

It's a bitter pill, but without it we would not need God's saving grace.  I got most of this from C.S. Lewis's Problem of Pain.  I'd be interested in checking out Ehrman's book to see the flipside. 



Last Edited on: 3/27/08 11:44 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 3/27/2008 11:57 AM ET
Member Since: 10/2/2007
Posts: 1,278
Back To Top

Jeffrey, your thoughts are interesting. I'm not sure I understand, though.

If you're saying that God will not intercede to stop humans from causing other humans to suffer, that seems reasonable.

But what about non-human caused suffering? Are you  (or is C.S. Lewis) saying this is punishment? When a child is born with birth defects, for what is the child being punished?

When faithful, dutiful believers suffer from a natural disaster, why has God caused this?

You posit that God is 1) all powerful and 2) perfectly good. How can you reconcile these two things with the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 225,000 people? Was God mad at those people?

Date Posted: 3/27/2008 5:05 PM ET
Member Since: 11/28/2006
Posts: 2,087
Back To Top

I always find it interesting when God gets the credit for something good.  If someone survives an accident, for example, we say "God was really watching over them."  But if someone is killed in an accident or some natural disaster occurs and people lose their lives, then you never hear someone say, "God really screwed us on that one."  

 



Last Edited on: 3/27/08 5:08 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 3/27/2008 8:17 PM ET
Member Since: 2/27/2008
Posts: 30
Back To Top

Why should God stop non-human-caused suffering (i.e. natural disasters, birth defects) any more than human-caused suffering?  My point was that we all deserve punishment for our wickedness no matter how "good" we try to act.  God isn't mad at anyone, the Christian God is loving, but since he is perfectly good, he must separate himself from our evilness.  It's not about God being mad as much as it is God abandoning us because of our refusal to submit ourselves to him.

Date Posted: 3/27/2008 8:27 PM ET
Member Since: 12/19/2005
Posts: 5,091
Back To Top

why do you think your god allows suffering?  From the Holocaust to Darfur to Hurricane Katrina to birth defects and cancer and AIDS and more--why?

I'm afraid the question doesn't really have meaning to me, in any way that I can find.  My "God" doesn't "allow" or "prevent" things from happening.  I don't believe in a God that causes or interferes in the way things occur.  People sometimes do evil things and sometimes people get diseases, but God neither allows nor causes them to happen.  The issue in Taoism isn't so much "why do these things happen" as it is "things happen.  How will you react?"

There's a Taoist tale:

A farmer's horse runs away, and all his neighbors say "Oh how terrible!"  The farmer says "Perhaps." 

Later, the horse comes back and brings another horse with him.  All the neighbors say "Oh how lucky!"  The farmer says "Perhaps."

The farmer's son tries to ride the new horse and breaks his leg.  All the neighbors say "Oh how terrible!"  The farmer says "Perhaps."

The next day, government officials come and conscript all the young men in the village, but the farmer's son is spared because of his broken leg.  All his neighbors say "Oh how lucky!"  The farmer says "Perhaps."

Good follows bad and bad follows good, but we are rarely able to tell one from the other.  I could give a global hypothesis why a tsunami that kills hundreds of thousands of people could be a good thing.  I obviously don't need to give a hypothesis why it is bad.  I would not presume to say that I am wise enough to know what's best for the world, or even if there is such a thing.



Last Edited on: 3/27/08 8:29 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 3/27/2008 8:38 PM ET
Member Since: 4/20/2006
Posts: 5,634
Back To Top

LOL at Beverly.  :)

Kari, the first time I read that story was in the kid's book Zen Shorts.  I read the whole book to my husband.  I love that book!

Date Posted: 3/27/2008 8:41 PM ET
Member Since: 2/27/2008
Posts: 30
Back To Top

I guess I'm speaking quite generally about mankind to side step the emotionally charged questions on innocent babies or faithful people who's lives end in tragedy.  We all want to live long happy lives on Earth, but is that really the point of it all?  I think mankind is hopelessly lost.  God has divorced himself from us, but on a personal level we can find hope through the one provision God provided through Christ's sacrifice.

Even still, everyone suffers, some more than others, no matter what you believe or how good you try to be.  However, Christians are pretty lucky in that they believe this life on Earth is just a blip in time, while their souls are eternal.  WIth this mentality, it's easy to pick a human life of suffering over an eternity in Hell. 

Date Posted: 3/28/2008 11:22 AM ET
Member Since: 5/23/2005
Posts: 6,143
Back To Top

I'm not going to pretend I have all the answers.  I agree with much of what Jeffrey already said, and I'd like to add that I don't believe that baby's are born with birth defects, or that natural disasters happen because we are sinners and God is mad.  John 9:1-3 says:

1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 
3"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

I'm sorry for quoting scripture at you--I know many of you don't believe in the Bible, so it's like I'm quoting to you from a fictional book, but I only do so to explain my belief. :)  I believe that God does work through things like this, and we may not always see it or see why, but that's because we can't see the bigger picture.  I believe God is weaving a huge tapestry, and all we can see is a tiny part of it.

Date Posted: 3/28/2008 7:40 PM ET
Member Since: 7/31/2007
Posts: 2,689
Back To Top

I personally believe that this is one of those questions that people have asked since the beginning of time and we will never know the answer this side of heaven but, we can all have a hypothesis on why it happens.

If a person drives down the road at 100mph and crashes into a tree and is terribly hurt, is this God's fault or the consequence of stupid actions by the person driving the car?  Sure God could have prevented it but, would we learn to not do stupid things if He always prevented the bad consequences from happening?

There is also (this is my belief) two forces working in the world...God and Satan...sure there is nothing that Satan can do that God can't overrule but, wouldn't that confirm Satan's allegations that God isn't fair?

I don't even pretend to have the answer...but, I do know that when bad things happen to us we have the choice whether to grow and learn from the experience or we can let it make us a bitter and negative person.

I agree with some of the things posted here but, the one that sticks out the most to me is what Brenda said..."I believe that God does work through things like this, and we may not always see it or see why, but that's because we can't see the bigger picture.  I believe God is weaving a huge tapestry, and all we can see is a tiny part of it."

Date Posted: 3/28/2008 9:36 PM ET
Member Since: 10/2/2007
Posts: 1,278
Back To Top

Every day, approximately 16,000 children die worldwide from hunger-related causes. That's one child every five seconds. This is part of God's tapestry? This is how God works?

Date Posted: 3/28/2008 10:23 PM ET
Member Since: 5/23/2005
Posts: 6,143
Back To Top

Like I said, I don't have all the answers.  Sure wish I did, cause that would make things a lot easier.  I also don't know everything God knows (by far), and can't presume to speak for Him.  I stand by my bigger picture statement, though, and if that seems like ignorance or ridiculousness to you, I can't help that.  It doesn't bother me that you don't believe it, so don't let it bother you that I do believe.  :) 

T. -
Date Posted: 3/29/2008 2:20 AM ET
Member Since: 1/21/2007
Posts: 9,989
Back To Top

I don't believe "God" is involved in our day-to-day lives.  We are not like an ant-farm in a huge planetary aquarium where he looks down and says "Good ant" or "Bad ant."  Ok, that's a crappy metaphor, but it works.  My idea of "God" is an Ultimate Divinity, in which we all carry a spark of (our souls) and that our job on earth is to learn  all the lessons of the universe and we are reincarnated many times until we are evolved enough spiritually to rejoin Divinity.  So my goal is the same as others--to be One with Divinity.  I don't judge what others believe or their path because I do not know how far their souls have traveled or how far they have left to travel.  We are each on that individual path to enlightenment and all paths are valid.  It just kinda sux when others condemn other's paths--but then again, that's part of their path, intolerance.  Gotta live it to learn it, I suppose. 

T. -
Date Posted: 3/29/2008 2:22 AM ET
Member Since: 1/21/2007
Posts: 9,989
Back To Top

I didn't answer the question.  Suffering has nothing to do with "God."  Suffering is a human condition from all kinds of factors.  Stuff happens--it isn't because of sin or piety.  It happens because of neglect, greed, carelessness, etc.  and sometimes because of nothing at all.

L. G. (L)
Date Posted: 3/29/2008 2:59 AM ET
Member Since: 9/5/2005
Posts: 12,412
Back To Top

I dunno.  I truly believe we create our future - through our choices, but then what about children born in to suffering?  Are they merely a product of their parents' choices?

It's all about learning.  Learning about life and learning about love.

Before my BIL died of (extremely painful) cancer, he said he found himself thanking the cancer for all it had taught him - about love, life and talking care of himself.  Pretty profound.  Too bad we cannot fully learn from the life experiences of others.  Maybe one day, we will.

 

 



Last Edited on: 3/29/08 3:01 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 3/29/2008 3:17 AM ET
Member Since: 12/19/2005
Posts: 5,091
Back To Top

One of the nice things about reincarnation, is that you can imagine a reason why people would be born into suffering - I don't mean that they deserve it because of a previous life (although that's possible) but that they may have made the choice to take suffering on themselves to spare someone else the pain.  In a sense, this is what both Christ and Buddha did - accepted suffering to help others avoid it.

T. -
Date Posted: 3/29/2008 4:02 AM ET
Member Since: 1/21/2007
Posts: 9,989
Back To Top

Kari,  taking on suffering or suffering for something in a past life (or reaping the rewards of doing good) is Karma.  While I do believe in reincarnation, I don't believe our Karma follows us from lifetime to lifetime.  I think that's where my beliefs and the Eastern religions part ways.  I don't see life's ups and downs as punishments and rewards.  The ups and downs and tragedies and victories are more simple, in my mind.  They are individual experiences, which bring out individual responses--and those responses can vary greatly from every individual, depending on where they are on their path to enlightenment or oneness with Divinity.

For example, two women each born a child and the child has a severe birth defect.  For this example, say, Down's Syndrome.  Woman #1 feels burdened, cursed, resents the child and the demands of the child.  She abuses the child and it is eventually taken away and placed in a foster home. Woman #2 feels blessed, delights in the little things the child accomplishes, and while this may not have been the ideal situation that she imagined for her life, she loves her child and gets busy with the job of living. 

Both women are put in the same circumstance, but both have different outcomes.  Was woman #2 more enlightened spiritually?  Who knows.  What I do know is life is more about how you take it than what happens.  There will always be tragedy and heartbreak and hardship---life is about learning to cope with those things, isn't it?

Date Posted: 3/29/2008 5:59 AM ET
Member Since: 12/19/2005
Posts: 5,091
Back To Top

I understand the concept of karma, I just failed to use the word in my post.  But I wasn't talking about karma.  I was trying to get at a different idea.

I was talking about the Buddhist idea that it is better to suffer yourself than allow others to suffer.  I'm not a Buddhist, so I apologize if get this wrong, but my point was this:  Buddhists believe that the world is pain, to live in the world is to experience pain and to achieve enlightenment is leave the world of pain behind forever.  When an enlightened being chooses to be reborn, they are accepting pain that they don't ever have to experience again because they have escaped the cycle of rebirth into the world; but they come back in the hope that they can help others to escape as they have.  They accept pain in order to help others escape from it.

More specifically, i was thinking about tong-len, the Tibetan Buddhist principal of accepting the suffering of others and sharing your happiness with them.  It's a meditation technique, but I was taking the idea a step farther - what if somone at the point of rebirth, having achieved enough enlightenment to accept that pain is inevitable in life, chose a life of pain?  Basic, this accepts that someone is going to be born to the abusive parent or with a birth defect or whatever.  And one individual on the point of rebirth, says "Let me have that life, so that someone else can have a life with less pain."  They choose that pain, so that someone else doesn't have to experience it.

It's too late for me to be sure that I'm making any sense at all, so I'm probably not.  But I hope you can figure out what I'm trying to say.



Last Edited on: 3/29/08 6:01 AM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 3/29/2008 6:11 AM ET
Member Since: 12/19/2005
Posts: 5,091
Back To Top

Also the whole question seems to posit that people are not supposed to suffer, that a state of non-suffering happiness is natural and that pain or suffering is unnatural.  I don't think that's the case.  Suffering is an inevitable part of living.  We can use that pain constructively or we can use it destructively, we can try to limit the amount of suffering we and others experience, but we can't avoid it.  It's just part of the order of things.

Once you accept that suffering is inevitable, you start looking at it differently.  When something bad happens we tend to ask "Why me?"  I always think "Well, why not me?  What's so special about me that I should not suffer in this way?"  I also ponder all the good things in my life and ask "Why me?  Why am I so lucky that I have a wonderful marriage?  Great parents?  The world's handsomest dog?  What did I do to deserve all this?"  The answer to both questions is the same - nothing.  I didn't do anything to bring the suffering on myself, and I didn't do anything to bring me the good things that I have.



Last Edited on: 3/29/08 6:11 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
T. -
Date Posted: 3/29/2008 8:51 AM ET
Member Since: 1/21/2007
Posts: 9,989
Back To Top

Kari, I understand now ;0)  I like what you've said. 

Date Posted: 3/29/2008 5:37 PM ET
Member Since: 7/31/2007
Posts: 2,689
Back To Top

I don't believe "God" is involved in our day-to-day lives.  

Oh Wow!! I'm glad that is not something I believe...for me God is involved in every minute detail of my life, sometimes I forget to consult Him on decisions and those are the times I can point to being major mess ups in my life.

I didn't do anything to bring the suffering on myself,

Not sure if I understand you correctly but, I do believe that we contribute to the bad things that happen in our lives.  We make bad decisions and for those we suffer the consequences...we drive too fast and get a ticket, that was our fault.  We drive drunk and have a wreck and get injured, that was our fault. 

Date Posted: 3/29/2008 8:44 PM ET
Member Since: 12/19/2005
Posts: 5,091
Back To Top

Oh I don't mean that I've never done anything wrong, or that people don't ever do anything to bring suffering on themselves.  Obviously we do contribute to our own suffering, both through bad decisions and how we react to them.  I'm not talking about those kinds of things.

I meant when something happens out of the blue - you're diagnosed with a herditary cancer, or your company goes out of business and you lose your job, a hurricane destroys your house, or you had the bad fortune to be born into an abusive family.  That sort of thing isn't anyone's fault.  It just happens.  Why should I expect that kind of bad luck suffering to only happen to other people?

Date Posted: 3/30/2008 12:07 AM ET
Member Since: 7/31/2007
Posts: 2,689
Back To Top

Oh ok, thanks for the clarification...I was kind of baffled by what you meant earlier....I agree things like a hurricane destroying your house or your company going out of business, those kinds of things I personally believe are the devil trying to discourage us but, it isn't anything that we've done personally to bring it on ourselves.

Date Posted: 3/30/2008 4:17 AM ET
Member Since: 12/19/2005
Posts: 5,091
Back To Top

And now that I've had time to think about it, it's the parents' fault if a child is an abusive household.  That example was probably not well chosen.  :)

T. -
Date Posted: 3/30/2008 6:03 PM ET
Member Since: 1/21/2007
Posts: 9,989
Back To Top

things like a hurricane destroying your house or your company going out of business, those kinds of things I personally believe are the devil trying to discourage us

To me, the idea that things happen because "the devil did it" is ridiculous.  Hurricanes, tornadoes, etc...um, nature, um science?  NOT the DEVIL.  You live seaside, you risk hurricanes.  You live in a trailer park, you risk tornados.  Ok, the tornado in a trailer park is just me being stupid, but you see what I mean.  As for a company going out of business, again, NOT THE DEVIL, this happens for a myriad of reasons, none of which are supernatural. 

 

Page: