Questions.. Implications from Suffering, for the Character of God


Vincent writes...

--It is said that suffering makes us stronger, helps us grow, is good in some way. But if God never experienced suffering (that is, before Christ came to earth), how did God conceive of suffering/pain in the first place? How would something so alien to Him occur to Him when he was conceiving of how to create the world, how to write this story? Did God suffer in some way before that? How would that be possible, if he is in complete control of everything?

Like us, God has the ability to suffer through anticipation...the scene of agony by the God-Man in Gethesame, anticipating His separation from the Father, is a vivid point...but we know of at least a couple of previous points of explicit pain for God:

There are other references to the 'softer' word 'grief', but when sorta amplified by His immensity, it takes on a rather staggering notion:


--How, really, does suffering help us grow? I wonder if that's just a maxim we tell ourselves to comfort ourselves. I don't think my suffering helps me in any way.

A couple of quick points here...this is NOT a distinctly 'Christian' position, of course...even the rather seriously anti-God Nietzsche has that famous quote "that which does not kill us, only makes us stronger"...

This maxim is variously understood:

  1. We are wiser from the pain--we know what to avoid

  2. We are stronger from the exercise of our endurance...(we develop inner strength to deal with OTHER similar situations subsequently, MORE CALMLY--it increases our efficiency (this position assumes the giveness of regularity of such pain)

  3. We are more sympathetic to others in those situations, with the result that the community of persons is somehow enhanced...

  4. The endurance exercise solidifies our character--we become 'more' of what we 'were' when we STARTED the experience...

  5. We learn commitment--when we stick it out through suffering FOR SOME GOOD CAUSE (special cases), we develop deeper levels of commitment...

  6. Suffering causes us to transcend ever-so-briefly the material world...we ask questions like YOU are asking, about meaning and value..

  7. (there are a lot more of these, but you get the idea)...

There are entire philosophical schools that deal with the justification of suffering (the dominant one today is called the 'Soul-making theodicy' school)...

But so much of the value is PROBABLY dependent on the attitude of the sufferer--the old 'better or bitter?' alternatives...

[The above response is a bit brief, given the amount of literature on the subject today, but maybe it will get us started...]

--Why is it that I am so super-sensitive to the pain of my own suffering and the suffering of others, so that it seems to ruin any goodness that I might see in the world? I must be honest in saying that I'm much more sensitive to my own suffering than to that of others. But given the maxim that suffering improves us somehow, isn't my suffering supposed to change that? (I guess it's mostly large episodes of evil that I am sensitive to--I'm sure you can think of what they are.)

Coupla points here:

  1. I personally think that the answer to your 1st question above is that it counts SO HEAVILY against the Goodness of God which you would REALLY, REALLY, REALLY like to believe in! So far, you have not figured out how a tender-hearted God could allow suffering (nor have you discovered a reason to give Him the benefit of the doubt yet--the Cross is somehow still 'suspect' for you)...so I think that generates the super-sensitivity...

  2. By the same token you haven't given the 'good' adequate weight in the equation...for example, IF birth is 'good' and death is 'bad', then at ANY GIVEN MOMENT in the history of humanity, there have been more live births than deaths (since someone is still living)...This hyper-simplistic (and maybe inaccurate?) example is merely to point out that 'good' is probably much more pervasive that you realize (or see)...

  3. I don't believe that suffering improves us ALWAYS,but I think it is allowed to happen (in many cases) because it has the POSSIBILITY of doing so--I CERTAINLY do not believe it is automatic...I think it is mostly a matter of attitude of the one experiencing it...Plus, it is difficult to really judge (IMHO) between what kind of suffering affects you the most...As a parent, my children's' sufferings are ALWAYS much harder to handle than my own, but my own physical pain is more vivid...There are so many added elements (e.g. feelings of powerlessness) that make such comparisons difficult...

  4. The large episodes of evil that I know of fall in the category of man's inhumanity to others...the Holocaust of Hitler, the religious torture of the Inquisition in Spain under Torquemada, the cruelties of the Assyrian invaders....These are hideous manifestations of who we are...(which ALONE makes me suspect of any of our attempts to judge God's morality and goodness! you know?) And even the large episodes--they stand out so horribly BECAUSE THEY ARE unusual...This is an important clue...They are EXCEPTIONS to the normal course of affairs...I recently checked the rates of violent crime in the US (as an example) in 1991...It was less than 760 cases per 100,000 inhabitants...One would have to increase that by an order of magnitude to even break into single-digit %...That, of course, does NOT 'explain it' or 'trivialize it' or de-horrify it...but it DOES 'size it'...There is so much GOOD that I have never recognized (personally) until I started probing into some of these questions...

My pathological fear is that the touches of beauty we see in the world--the fragility and aroma of a Freesia in spring--are merely tantalizing glimpses of something better, something to give us an unsatisfied and unsatisfiable desire. Another form of torture.

I have always understood those as evidences of God's love for beauty and his willingness to share that with us...Acts 14.16ff: "In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." ...some of the rather BASICS of life are pleasures...

I do think they promise ADDITIONAL beauty later...but something that is DEFINITELY satisfiable (because of God's work on the cross)...

Consider two ways of looking at the data:

The Data: a beautiful flower, and one deformed

Option One: God is 'good' and made the beautiful one, but something "ELSE" entered the system and 'caused' the malformation of the other...

Option Two: God is 'bad' and made the deformed one (gleefully), then made the beautiful one to either deceive us or to cause us to despair forever (gleefully)

(Notice that this ASSUMES that the 'mal-formed' flower has LESS value than the other--which is a VERY, VERY questionable assumption--one that I personally would NOT agree with..)

Additional Data:

  1. There appears to be a written message from this God telling us that


  2. We see humanity take VAST amounts of good stuff and twist it for evil...weapons, exploitation, psycho-torture, environment, gross insensitivity, greed... We have somehow been empowered (also documented in the above message) to affect our world for good or ill..

  3. A human claiming to be God--comes to earth, lives a very quiet and non-spectacular life, and is executed as a common criminal--after insuring that his message of the highest possible standards of love, kindness, justice, truth is entrusted to his followers...(without giving the slightest hint that he was out to trick us with a disguise)...

  4. This God, if he is evil, DOESN'T EVEN bother to hide it! He allows people to discuss this on email, knowing that someone has 'outsmarted' Him and seen through His infinitely clever attempts to trick the mortals...or, this God, if he is good, patiently endures a quiet grief of being misrepresented/doubted/almost slandered, and maybe prompts a discussion/exploration of the issue...in hopes that His non-invasive kindness will eventually be discovered...

Now, to me...when I back as far back as I can...and look at this all at once...I personally HAVE to reject the conspiracy theory (as explaining the data MUCH LESS adequately than the Honest-God approach)...

But hopefully, we can work through these alternative explanations more carefully...

I think that is your main challenge...that you have to evaluate BOTH positions as to HOW DO THEY EXPLAIN THE DATA of experience--not just 'is it POSSIBLE that God is malicious'...the issue is what does the DATA indicate is the MORE PROBABLE scenario...

More later...glenn


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