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Thread: Philosophically Speaking, "Is Suffering a Challenge to God's Existence?"

  1. #61
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Thinking about the post I just wrote got me thinking about one of my favorite short stories, by none less than Leo Tolstoy,"The Three Hermits".

    Here's a link (if you like sappy, religious stories as much as I do, and haven't read this, it takes 15-20 minutes to read and is one of the masterpieces in this genre of world literature. You owe it to yourself to read it: http://www.online-literature.com/tolstoy/2896/

  2. #62
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    If God doesn't promise that there will be no suffering in this life, why would the existence of suffering disprove His existence?

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    It wouldn't (and it doesn't). But it's still a mystery for a God who is both omnipotent benevolent.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    It wouldn't (and it doesn't). But it's still a mystery for a God who is both omnipotent benevolent.
    I guess I don't understand where the notion even comes from. Just about every major figure in the bible that I can think of suffered. Why would believers in the Bible believe that suffering shouldn't exist? It's a bit like saying that Napoleon couldn't have existed because there are flashlights in the world. (To my knowledge) Napoleon never said that there would never be personal lighting implements.
    I think this is a matter of people projecting their ideas onto God. Something like : "if I were God I wouldn't allow suffering, so if God allows it he must either not exist, or not be good." But then we have become God haven't we?
    It totally boils down to faith. If you believe God is just, and He allows suffering in this life... then this has to be taken into account when making up our definitions of just, doesn't it? At least as far as God is concerned?
    I mean, if someone believes God is who he says he is, (all powerful, all knowing, all wise, knowing the end from the beginning, completely just, full of mercy, etc) then really nothing presents a barrier to His existence. I think it is when we try to understand the fullness of God with our limited capabilities, and place Him inside of our parameters concerning concepts like justice, mercy, compassion, etc that we end up with unanswerable questions.

  5. #65
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I agree with you, easy. However, the argument goes like this: 1) If God is described as "omnibenevolent", that must mean something other than "whatever God does is good by definition". Otherwise, it is tautological. 2) We think preventing suffering is "good", and God doesn't do it. Conclusion: God cannot be omnibenevolent and omnipotent.

    This seems like a self-centered (human-centered) view of what constitutes "goodness' to me, but it makes some sense to say that if we are to call God omnibenevolent, it is reasonable to infer SOME meaning from the word.

  6. #66
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    I agree with you, easy. However, the argument goes like this: 1) If God is described as "omnibenevolent", that must mean something other than "whatever God does is good by definition". Otherwise, it is tautological. 2) We think preventing suffering is "good", and God doesn't do it. Conclusion: God cannot be omnibenevolent and omnipotent.

    This seems like a self-centered (human-centered) view of what constitutes "goodness' to me, but it makes some sense to say that if we are to call God omnibenevolent, it is reasonable to infer SOME meaning from the word.
    Thanks Ecurb, that at least gives framework to the discussion. I read this entire post and I think it would be an understatement to say that I am way out of my intellectual depth here (Lol. but seriously, I am). Nevertheless.... I had never heard the term Omnibenevolent before, so I went to Wikipedia. From what I read there it doesn't seem to be a term used by many people (citation needed, heh, heh).
    I guess the question would be then, is there evidence that God claims to be omnibenevolent? or maybe just "regular" benevolent instead? As in: God is benevolent, He sends the rain on both the wicked and the just. Or: God is benevolent, but those Amelekites are going to continue to be a problem, so go wipe them out.
    I guess what I don't understand is how we got to the idea that God has to be kind and charitable to everyone and everything always? Is this omnibenevolence something that people put on God so that they can complain or derride Him?

  7. #67
    Registered User easy75's Avatar
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    God said that He created evil. Doesn't that sort of rule out omnibenevolence?

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    Quote Originally Posted by easy75 View Post
    I read this entire post and I think it would be an understatement to say that I am way out of my intellectual depth here (Lol. but seriously, I am).
    From what I know of you, Easy, I doubt that.

    But sometimes it helps to keep things simple. Does Wilm's tumor, a fatal kidney cancer that usually affect young children, sound consistent with a good and just God whose omnipotence means that He could have prevented such a thing? How about a serial killer who kidnaps children and tortures them for months before killing them?

    I reject the notion that these things mean that God does not exist, but I consider the persistence of natural and human evil to be a mystery.

    Quote Originally Posted by easy75 View Post
    It totally boils down to faith.
    Yes, that's the short answer. I have faith that we will understand then what we do not or cannot understand now. Meanwhile (for me) it's a mystery.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 07-08-2015 at 07:02 PM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  9. #69
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    Thanks for posting the story, Ecurb. I heard it as a humorous anecdote about 20 years ago, but didn't know about the Tolstoy version until now. It's interesting that Tolstoy says he is picking it up from oral sources, too. I wonder if the version I got had passed through the written form or was extra-Tolstoyan. Probably it was just from someone who knew Tolstoy, but it's still cool to think that it could have been an oral tradition that reached us both over time.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Some Fundamentalists seem to think they merit Grace, because of their faith. This seems unbiblical, to me.
    Yes, it's an interesting phenomenon. Evangelical Protestantism was founded on the Reformation idea that Grace was a free gift and could not be earned. Most Evangelicals understand that, and virtually all claim to understand; but you are right that the practices of some don't always reflect it. Many will tell you that to be justified you need to accept Jesus as your personal Savior (the original Reformation version was to have faith in God's promises to Abraham); and some also insist that you say a prayer to prove to them, um, I mean Him that you really mean it. For me, the prayer seems like just another pietistic work. Grace is completely up to God; an omnipotent God is inevitably able to grant Salvation to anyone He chooses (Christian or not, by the way); and an omniscient God already knows all about your faith choices.

    But okay, that part doesn't really bother me: the prayer does no harm that I can see; Christians ought to accept Jesus as Savior; and maybe it's important to some people to say things out loud. Fine, fine. But what is harmful (in my opinion) is the subtle expansion of what is supposedly required for Justification. Accepting God's promises to Abraham becomes accepting Jesus as Savior (as I said, for a Christian, that's fine by me); but then accepting Jesus goes on to mean accepting (supposed) Biblical literalism. And then, if you don't do what I claim the Bible tells you to, I know you don't really accept Biblical literalism; and therefore you don't really accept Jesus; and therefore you don't really have faith in God's promises to Abraham; and therefore you are not justified; and therefore you are damned to hell. Have a nice day!

    At this point, I am reminded of a New Yorker cartoon in which a minister is shaking the hands of his parishioners as they leave his church. The man whose hand he is shaking in the cartoon is saying to him: "You go to hell, too." Heh.

    I hasten to add that this is not a monolithic attitude among Evangelical Christians. Many know their own traditions well enough to recognize the above for what it is: a return to pre-Reformation Neo-Pelagianism that refastens the chains that the Reformers tried to break for good. But some Evangelicals don't see it, or don't understand, or don't care.

    Why not? From my experience it mostly has to do with anger (ignoring instinctive feelings will do that to you); also pride (in a destructive sense); and sometimes just envy or fear that someone else may be better off or better educated. It's a nice feeling (to some) to think that people like that are going to hell and they're not. As usual, there are idiots in every group.

    Again, that is not a general indictment of Evangelical Christians. I grew up near Boston, but I spent my boyhood summers in rural Iowa, where most of my friends (and family) were Evangelicals. The adults were among the kindest, warmest, and (sometimes) wisest people I've ever known; and the boys were just as wild and the girls as cute and curious as their East Coast counterpoints. The main difference was the sense of community, which was much stronger in among Evangelicals than it was back East. I have a strange story or two, but on the whole I keep a special place in my heart for the Evangelical Christians I knew in those days. I will always think of them as family.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 07-09-2015 at 12:21 PM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  10. #70
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    I reject the notion that these things mean that God does not exist, but I consider the persistence of natural and human evil to be a mystery.
    I agree that it is a mystery. I also agree that lack of understanding is not a good enough cause for disbelief. Many things in relation to God are a mystery. God didn't really answer Job regarding the question of suffering. He asked questions of Job to illustrate how far God's thoughts were from the mind of man. Again if God is who He says He is, and we are just men, it is unimaginable that we could even comprehend a fraction of His design.

    We do not know what the effects of tragedy are, especially the far reaching ones. We also do not know the outcome of millions of possible alternate realities. We also really can't conceptualize the idea of eternity, or operate outside the boundaries of time. If life is eternal, and you suffered through every single day of this particular life, say eighty years or so, after a million years would it even matter to you? Especially if you were made to understand why? Paul said : "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Again, this illustrates the idea, a main theme of the Bible, that suffering exists, persists, etc.... For a time.
    So ultimately I guess it depends on what deity is being discussed. The God of the Bible does not make any promises regarding a lack of suffering in this life, so it doesn't hold that the existence of suffering would disprove His existence.

  11. #71
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    Thanks for posting the story, Ecurb. I heard it as a humorous anecdote about 20 years ago, but didn't know about the Tolstoy version until now. It's interesting that Tolstoy says he is picking it up from oral sources, too. I wonder if the version I got had passed through the written form or was extra-Tolstoyan. Probably it was just from someone who knew Tolstoy, but it's still cool to think that it could have been an oral tradition that reached us both over time.



    Yes, it's an interesting phenomenon. Evangelical Protestantism was founded on the Reformation idea that Grace was a free gift and could not be earned. Most Evangelicals understand that, and virtually all claim to understand; but you are right that the practices of some don't always reflect it. Many will tell you that to be justified you need to accept Jesus as your personal Savior (the original Reformation version was to have faith in God's promises to Abraham); and some also insist that you say a prayer to prove to them, um, I mean Him that you really mean it. For me, the prayer seems like just another pietistic work. Grace is completely up to God; an omnipotent God is inevitably able to grant Salvation to anyone He chooses (Christian or not, by the way); and an omniscient God already knows all about your faith choices.

    But okay, that part doesn't really bother me: the prayer does no harm that I can see; Christians ought to accept Jesus as Savior; and maybe it's important to some people to say things out loud. Fine, fine. But what is harmful (in my opinion) is the subtle expansion of what is supposedly required for Justification. Accepting God's promises to Abraham becomes accepting Jesus as Savior (as I said, for a Christian, that's fine by me); but then accepting Jesus goes on to mean accepting (supposed) Biblical literalism. And then, if you don't do what I claim the Bible tells you to, I know you don't really accept Biblical literalism; and therefore you don't really accept Jesus; and therefore you don't really have faith in God's promises to Abraham; and therefore you are not justified; and therefore you are damned to hell. Have a nice day!

    At this point, I am reminded of a New Yorker cartoon in which a minister is shaking the hands of his parishioners as they leave his church. The man whose hand he is shaking in the cartoon is saying to him: "You go to hell, too." Heh.

    I hasten to add that this is not a monolithic attitude among Evangelical Christians. Many know their own traditions well enough to recognize the above for what it is: a return to pre-Reformation Neo-Pelagianism that refastens the chains that the Reformers tried to break for good. But some Evangelicals don't see it, or don't understand, or don't care.

    Why not? From my experience it mostly has to do with anger (ignoring instinctive feelings will do that to you); also pride (in a destructive sense); and sometimes just envy or fear that someone else may be better off or better educated. It's a nice feeling (to some) to think that people like that are going to hell and they're not. As usual, there are idiots in every group.

    Again, that is not a general indictment of Evangelical Christians. I grew up near Boston, but I spent my boyhood summers in rural Iowa, where most of my friends (and family) were Evangelicals. The adults were among the kindest, warmest, and (sometimes) wisest people I've ever known; and the boys were just as wild and the girls as cute and curious as their East Coast counterpoints. The main difference was the sense of community, which was much stronger in among Evangelicals than it was back East. I have a strange story or two, but on the whole I keep a special place in my heart for the Evangelical community I knew in those days. I will always think of them as family.

    That sounds like a wonderful experience! I have experienced that feeling of community once as well, and I have always remembered it.
    And wow. I have always been skeptical of attending/belonging to an Evangelical church for the same basic reason. It feels ironically Catholic to me in most situations. The traditions of men weighing on the congregation. The sharp edges of all of the denominational differences being harped upon, separating believers into Baptists, Reformed Baptists, Methodists, Jehova's Witnesses, Presbyterians, etc, all based on works, despite what they say. I've always preferred to fellowship with my barber, and my brother, and my mechanic, and my friends, and it has been more uplifting to me. A community in miniature.

  12. #72
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    Quote Originally Posted by easy75 View Post
    Many things in relation to God are a mystery. God didn't really answer Job regarding the question of suffering. He asked questions of Job to illustrate how far God's thoughts were from the mind of man. Again if God is who He says He is, and we are just men, it is unimaginable that we could even comprehend a fraction of His design.
    Yes, but as Mona and I were discussing, this gets us into an even deeper dilemma; because if we cannot understand God's mind, then how can we live hope to live morally? How could a Bible written in Greek and Hebrew, or a Sutra written in Pali, or the Book of Mormon written in English ever communicate it to us? It seems to me that would require a direct experience of o logos tou theou: the mind or word of God (itself). That is something, of course, that the Gospel of John says Jesus is (and I accept it). But if Christians have really had the experience of Logos, then why don't we understand (for example) the problem of suffering? Or is the experience of Logos part of the "then" when "we will see clearly?"

    Quote Originally Posted by easy75 View Post
    Paul said : "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Again, this illustrates the idea, a main theme of the Bible, that suffering exists, persists, etc.... For a time.
    Well yes, maybe this gets at something we haven't considered yet. I don't just mean Afterlife (although that is part of my faith). I was raised a Christian, but to be honest, when I grew up and started to think about it, God was a lot easier to believe in than Afterlife. It annoyed me that people assumed that the existence of one would necessarily imply the existence of the other--although I now believe it does. The Judeo-Christian God is a God of love and justice, and the way I see it, there is even less justice in this life than love. And even the justice we try to make is grossly imperfect (to be a little Platonic about it). But the problem of suffering (though not the persistence of evil) is easier to understand if "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us," when that glory includes--as Jesus asserts it does--radical justice in the life to come. So the suffering and injustice of this life imply either: that there is no God of love and justice; or: that there is existence beyond this age, in which suffering and injustice are redressed. And as I have already said, my faith is in God.

    How does that work? Is there universal forgiveness? In there a hell? Was John of Patmos (the author of Revelation) experiencing o logos tou theou--or was he just bitter about what the Romans were doing to the Christians under Domitian? Would a loving God allow the horrors he describes? Does the Kingdom of God come to us or do we go there? Is Afterlife the way I want it to be, in which I introduce my wife to my mother, and we all drink lemonade and laugh together (while my old greyhound Connor shakes his head in joy, and the spit flies over all of us )? Or is it like the paintings you see of Heaven? Or is it something (like God) that we can't really understand right now?

    Unfortunately, I'm afraid every person reading this sentence knows exactly as much as I do about those questions.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 07-09-2015 at 05:05 PM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  13. #73
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post


    Accepting God's promises to Abraham becomes accepting Jesus as Savior (as I said, for a Christian, that's fine by me); but then accepting Jesus goes on to mean accepting (supposed) Biblical literalism. And then, if you don't do what I claim the Bible tells you to, I know you don't really accept Biblical literalism; and therefore you don't really accept Jesus; and therefore you don't really have faith in God's promises to Abraham; and therefore you are not justified; and therefore you are damned to hell. Have a nice day!

    .
    That's inevitably going to be a problem for "faith alone" or "scripture alone" theology. It is impossible to determine what someone believes; we can know only what he says he believes. To the extent that religions establish communities, fundamentalist evangelicals reject basing membership (as Catholics or Orthodox Christians or Episcopalians base membership) on baptism, communion, or the other rituals of the Church. Yet, because there is no way to determine faith, they search for statements and behaviors that either confirm or contradict the member's faith. As a result, some Evangelical groups seem to require an entire set of statements to confirm "true" belief, including global warming denial, anti-abortion and anti-gay-marriage positions, etc.

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    Quote Originally Posted by easy75 View Post
    I have always been skeptical of attending/belonging to an Evangelical church for the same basic reason. It feels ironically Catholic to me in most situations.
    Some believe that the Reformation failed because Calvin (as they say) re-Catholicized the Church. I don't agree completely. I see the Reformation as mostly successful; and Calvin's theology is--complicated. I would also insist that "re-Catholicizing" is only a problem for those of us who choose a different approach to the religion than our Catholic brothers and sisters do (not that you were saying otherwise). But I sure know what you mean about the irony, and have often felt the same thing. For all its smaller failures, the Reformation was supposed to be about Christian freedom. In my opinion (and apparently yours), some traditions need to make that more than just an ideal. I recognize, of course, that there are many ways to approach our faith.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    Yes, but as Mona and I were discussing, this gets us into an even deeper dilemma; because if we cannot understand God's mind, then how can we live hope to live morally? How could a Bible written in Greek and Hebrew, or a Sutra written in Pali, or the Book of Mormon written in English ever communicate it to us? It seems to me that would require a direct experience of o logos theou: the mind or word of God (itself). That is something, of course, that the Gospel of John says Jesus is (and I accept it). But if Christians have really had the experience of Logos, then why don't we understand (for example) the problem of suffering? Or is the experience of Logos part of the "then" when "we will see clearly?"

    But isn't it possible that there is a level of morality that is not available to us? Godly Morality? I think there is. We can understand our own Moral duties as part of God's creation because God tells us what to do. Every major religion establishes practices for right living for us. Love your neighbor as you love yourself, and love God with all of your heart, soul and strength. I don't think we can or that we need to understand the whole mind of God in order to live morally in this life. We know that Justification and Sanctification are a process, or at least for most people they are. Again I think it hinges, for Christians at least on trust. God does not want us to necessarily question why, He wants us to trust him completely. Think of the myriad things that we don't understand when we are babies or toddlers, or even adolescents. At our youngest stages we simply cannot process anything beyond the immediate scope of our feelings no matter how hard our parents might try. How much more God?
    I think for the most part we are too "young" to understand the mystery of the existence of suffering.

    Well yes, maybe this gets at something we haven't considered yet. I don't just mean Afterlife (although that is part of my faith). I was raised a Christian, but to be honest, when I grew up and started to think about it, God was a lot easier to believe in than Afterlife. It annoyed me that people assumed that the existence of one would necessarily imply the existence of the other--although I now believe it does. The Judeo-Christian God is a God of love and justice, and the way I see it, there is even less justice in this life than love. And even the justice we try to make is grossly imperfect (to be a little Platonic about it). But the problem of suffering (though not the persistence of evil) is easier to understand if "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us," when that glory includes--as Jesus asserts it does--radical justice in the life to come. So the suffering and injustice of this life imply either: that there is no God of love and justice; or: that there is existence beyond this age, in which suffering and injustice are redressed. And as I have already said, my faith is in God.
    But why can't God be just and good without having to be nice to everyone?
    But seriously? He created some vessels for honor and some for dishonor..... Shall the clay say to the potter why have you made me this way? Some people vehemently say that this scripture only applied to a handful of people like Pharaoh, but given the rampant amount of evil in the world I think that is a childish view. I think people have to decide who God is to them, but the danger there is that we create a god that we think is just. Then he falls short because he doesn't live up to our expectations, either because it is impossible, or because we can't understand the possibilities.

    How does that work? Is there universal forgiveness? In there a hell? Was John of Patmos (the author of Revelation) experiencing o logos theou--or was he just bitter about what the Romans were doing to the Christians under Domitian? Would a loving God allow the horrors he describes? Does the Kingdom of God come to us or do we go there? Is Afterlife the way I want it to be, in which I introduce my wife to my mother, and we all drink lemonade and laugh together (while my old greyhound Connor shakes his head in joy, and the spit flies over all of us )? Or is it like the paintings you see of Heaven? Or is it something (like God) that we can't really understand right now?

    Unfortunately, I'm afraid every person reading this sentence knows exactly as much as I do about those questions.
    The only one I would hazard a guess at is the question of Kingdom. A Kingdom is anywhere the king has dominion. Jesus said it is inside of us. Makes sense. If we are Gods people then the Kingdom of God is mobile and it travels everywhere that we go.
    Heaven I would think is also beyond our comprehension, but if we imagine that the joy of heaven would completely eclipse the suffering, sickness, sadness, and death of this life it has got to be pretty great. Actually better than great. The best thing ever.
    The rest I don't have a clue...

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