Questions.. Implications from Suffering, for the Character of God
--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:
- Rev 13.8 says that at least the Son experienced His suffering from the
beginning of time--"the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the
- and then I can remember an early reference to pain caused by us in Gen
6.6: "The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his
heart was filled with pain. " ['filled with pain' is a rather strong
statement--it blows my mind to even contemplate it]...
- I Sam 15.10: "Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel:
11 "I am grieved that I have made Saul king, "
- 2 Sam 24.16: "When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem,
the LORD was grieved because of the calamity " (NOTICE that God even
grieves over His own judgments!)
- Is 63.10: "Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit."
- Jer 42.10: "`If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear
you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I am grieved over the
disaster I have inflicted on you. " (notice again...he grieves over
judgment that somehow is required by His own LAW--did you ever read the
Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis?...the scene at the Stone
Table comes to mind)...
- Ezk 6.9 paints this grief as that of a spouse's abject betrayal--"Then in
the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will
remember me -- how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which
have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after
their idols. "
--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:
- We are wiser from the pain--we know what to avoid
- 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)
- We are more sympathetic to others in those situations, with the result
that the community of persons is somehow enhanced...
- The endurance exercise solidifies our character--we become 'more' of
what we 'were' when we STARTED the experience...
- We learn commitment--when we stick it out through suffering FOR SOME GOOD
CAUSE (special cases), we develop deeper levels of commitment...
- Suffering causes us to transcend ever-so-briefly the material
world...we ask questions like YOU are asking, about meaning and value..
- (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'
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:
- 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...
- 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)...
- 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
- 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
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
(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..)
- There appears to be a written message from this God telling us that
- He is good
- There are malignant intelligences in the universe (angels, humans)
that destroy and sabotage his world on a consistent basis,
but that their work will NEVER be 51% or more of the
- To authenticate His message He does miracles (resurrection,
fulfilled prophecy, Incarnation, lives changed, etc.)
- We see humanity take VAST amounts of good stuff and twist it for
evil...weapons, exploitation, psycho-torture, environment, gross
We have somehow been empowered (also documented in the above message) to
affect our world for good or ill..
- 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)...
- 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
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...
The Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.christian-thinktank.com]