Suffering continually makes the A-list of objections against the existence or benevolence of God. It has never been much of a problem for me. I mean this in both senses: I have neither suffered much, nor have I found it much of an obstacle to belief in God.

The infliction of physical pain or death has been elevated to the gravest of sins in our day. Why is this? Let us be excessively rational for a moment. There are so many things that cause greater devastation to human beings. Killing someone only robs that person of the time they have left before they die naturally. Perhaps we are increasingly unwilling to acknowledge the inevitability of death? Perhaps murder and torture are the only things most of us would not do. By condemning them vigorously, we can continue to believe in morality while remaining thoroughly righteous ourselves. Moreover, if we wouldn’t kill or inflict pain, how can we worship a god who does?

Let us now stop being so rational. One may invent reasons why suffering exists. One might say that God allows suffering because of the wonderful fruits of compassion and forgiveness that come spilling out. Instead of giving even the slightest pause to that thought, consider this: that so many of the complaints about suffering, evil, and the terrible god who is behind it all, come from very comfortable people.

I have occasionally heard the story of a man who stopped believing in God because of his suffering, but only occasionally. I have heard countless stories of people who lost their belief in God because of other people’s suffering. I have heard even more stories of people who came to believe in God in the midst of their personal suffering. The question of suffering, in my experience, is rife with irony.

Religion continues to decline in the developed world, and it continues to explode in the undeveloped world. It is more likely to thrive in places where people suffer than in places where people have everything. This cannot be blamed on ignorance or scientific illiteracy. There is another explanation: that people are willing to reach for God when they have little else to reach for.

How can I account for the misery that I have experienced when all my needs, save for the very pinnacle of self-actualization, have been met? How arrogant must I be to defy God for making me watch the suffering of others, who themselves do not deny him, and whose experiences are not my own?


8 Responses to “Suffering”

  1. Very interesting; I’ve never thought of it in such terms before.

    [What’s this? I double-clicked on the comment and it opened up. It’s letting me type in somebody else’s comment. This is ridiculous! Is it really going to let me save me remarks as if they were somebody else’s? It shouldn’t. I could be such an evil person.]

  2. Poppycock. If someone believes, or comes to believe, in God because they are suffering it doesn’t mean God exists. Likewise, if someone stops believing in God on account of suffering it doesn’t mean God never existed, either. You could just as well have written in Lilith, Allah, Bob, Mary, Jane, and Dick instead of God, and you would have been just as interesting.

    The last two self-centered tongue-in-cheek semi-rhetorical questions that constitute your last paragraph are a testament to your lack of empathy and emblematic of the arrogance you mentioned in the first question. You may want to stick to being rational, because you suck at being loving. What was it Paul said about that? Oh yeah, you’ve got jack squat. Pompous twat.

  3. I think you’ve misread me. I did not suggest that God is any more likely to exist because of these observations, but that suffering is raised as an objection to his existence primarily by the people who are not, themselves, doing the suffering.

    As to your second paragraph, those are wonderfully caustic accusations, but I’m afraid I can’t respond, because I can’t figure out why you made them.

  4. As to your response to my first paragraph: cool. I’m glad I misread you. The alternative is that you are so un-empathic that you cannot understand why people who are cognizant(on a visceral level) of the suffering of others that they would quit the faith in protest. I’ve held dying children/adults/grandfolk in my arms and pleaded to God in vain. I understand human suffering on the visceral level. “Where are you, oh my God?”

    To the second: I’m not surprised you don’t get it. It is a quality of the arrogant to misapprehend themselves. However, I’m hoping it is your penchant to write, and write anything at all because it is your love and craft(you write much better than most), which makes you say the things you say, and not a quality or defect in your character. Love, mate; it makes the world go ’round.


  5. If I may say, holding a dying person in your arms counts as personal suffering. My observation was about complaints that are far more armchair-oriented. Nonetheless, that’s a fair point, and I suppose it might be worth revising my wording.

    It’s also possible that I didn’t get it because there was nothing there to get 😉 – just because I am the type of person who is naturally inclined to arrogance does not mean that I will accept the criticism anytime, anywhere, from anyone. You still have to catch me in the act. There was nothing arrogant about this particular bit of writing, unless you took it in a way that I did not intend it.

    I’m not often accused of arrogance in a supremely arrogant fashion, but that’s quite the tactic.

    Thank you for the partial compliment.

    • Please, Lord, don’t let me be misunderstood. Holding the dying is suffering, yes. Vicariously, only. Empathy is a matter of mirror neurons, in my biologically humble opinion. A worthy point, but only so much sound and fury for all it demonstrates of the affected and disaffected’s truth claims.

      Yup. It’s possible that you don’t understand–because I’m bad at getting the point across or I’m right(but hopefully wrong). I’ve been accused of arrogance, too. It’s the result of not being able to put myself in the shoes of another’s point of view, which, if one is honest with themselves, is a hard thing to do, absent an intrinsic empathy; either from experience or nature.

      That said, it has been my experience that if one is often accused of arrogance that there may be something to the claim. And, thusly, there is something worth pondering. Whether that is because the claim is true or ones is most often right is a matter of self-reflection. In any case, still worth considering.

      Of the compliment. It wasn’t partial. You are a gifted writer.

    • Type mistakes were made. The fault is mine. 300 mL of whiskey in under an hour will do that.

  6. The emotional responses to vicarious suffering make good sense; I would only ever question the concomitant intellectual conclusions.

    Certainly, there is something to it–however, I only need have it pointed out to me where it is unequivocally exemplified. Granted, this was not always the case.

    I rarely perceive arrogance in others, except when they decide that there is no need to explain why they are right.

    I called it “partial” because it seemed to be a compliment of my form and a criticism of my content. Upon a second reading, I presume that you were commenting more so upon the way it reads.

    Empathy is not a fixed thing, I’ve found. Other people make it grow. However, I cannot empathize with 300 mL of whiskey in under an hour. That’s too expensive.

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