G-d, Interrupted

 

Over a lifetime, I’ve met lots of people who wonder why G-d “lets us suffer.” Or why G-d lets perfectly innocent people, especially children, die from catastrophic illnesses. Or why G-d lets bad things happen to good people.

I think these people are asking the wrong questions, and they are looking for help to come from the wrong source. I’ve also heard the comment that G-d doesn’t give us more than we can handle, and I think this belief doesn’t frame people’s struggles in a way that helps and empowers them, or strengthens their relationship with G-d.

I was inspired to think over these kinds of issues in reading a piece this weekend written by the late Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, where he discusses how Joseph was able to reconcile with his brothers, where instead he could have felt bitter and rejected by how they had treated him. Rabbi Sacks suggests that a factor for Joseph might have been his reframing his situation, realizing that G-d had a role that He wanted Joseph to play. I would also add from my own perspective that although many things happened to Joseph that he couldn’t control, he also had free will to make many constructive choices, which is the very special gift that we are all blessed with.

He also wrote about Viktor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy. Frankl survived the concentration camps, and probably saved many lives through his own philosophy:

We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.*

The problem for many of us is that G-d wants us to know that we have free will, but we don’t pay attention to his message. Instead, when our lives are difficult, we prefer to blame someone or something for our circumstances. We find ourselves complaining, claiming victimhood, and we choose to be miserable instead of embracing our lives, just as they are. I certainly have found myself taking the “blame course.” I thought of some examples of victimhood in the last few days, and I want to share them with you.

*     *     *     *

For some reason, I was reminded of two people with whom I was not well-acquainted, but who participated in two different Zen Centers where I was a member. One of them was suffering from a debilitating condition that caused her constant pain. The other person was devastated when he realized that the woman he loved didn’t return his love. Both of these people committed suicide. Now I realize that choosing to take one’s own life is a complicated decision. But in these circumstances, the people who committed suicide must have felt that they had no other option. They were overwhelmed by their situations and didn’t realize that they had other choices. And in their decisions, of course, they likely traumatized others. Also, Zen Buddhism has many positive beliefs, but a connection with G-d is not one of them. I suspect that the very thought of being empowered by free will as a gift from G-d didn’t enter their picture.

*      *     *     *

The reason I am perplexed by the statement, “G-d doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” is that I am skeptical about whether some of our suffering and burdens are “given by G-d,” and that He decides just how much adversity we can handle. Life provides many challenges that I believe are part of being alive, and I think G-d can offer us consolation, strength, even encouragement to deal with our struggles, but ultimately, He counts on us to take care of our burdens as best we can. Part of our decisions have to do with how we frame our struggles, how we choose to understand them in our lives, and how we decide to act.

*     *     *     *

Recently I came to realize that as a hospice volunteer who contacts people who are suffering from the loss of a loved one, my phone calls have taken on a whole new meaning. First, I don’t just call these folks; more and more I am connecting with them. They are confiding in me more often. They are sharing stories. We even laugh together (always initiated by them). And I realized that I am experiencing my time with them in a way that is new, intimate, and vibrant. Besides my own maturing, what has changed?

I think that the barrier I was erecting to protect my own psyche is slowly diminishing. Also, I’ve had a number of health challenges, and although my suffering is tiny compared to theirs, it has nurtured my ability to empathize with them.

So I have grown past the point of just making sure I say the right things, although I try to be fully present to each call and the words I choose. But I am less self-conscious. And as we talk, my gratitude for them in helping me through my own challenges only deepens the time we have together. Strangely enough, I am also learning more about dealing with my own struggles.

*     *     *     *

So, when G-d is trying to remind me that I am empowered to look at my situations with fresh eyes, I try to pay close attention. I try not to interrupt his message to me. And I will continue to do my best to reframe my challenges as moments when I can learn and grow. My hope is that not only will my own life be more satisfying and peaceful, but I will continue to have peace and empathy to offer those around me.

If your views on these topics differ from mine, I hope you will share them. I’m still learning!

*from Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Susan Quinn: So, when G-d is trying to remind me that I am empowered to look at my situations with fresh eyes, I try to pay close attention. I try not to interrupt his message to me. And I will continue to do my best to reframe my challenges as moments when I can learn and grow.

    Amen!

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: So, when G-d is trying to remind me that I am empowered to look at my situations with fresh eyes, I try to pay close attention. I try not to interrupt his message to me. And I will continue to do my best to reframe my challenges as moments when I can learn and grow.

    Amen!

    And so nice to see you, Arahant!

    • #2
  3. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Susan Quinn: The reason I am perplexed by the statement, “G-d doesn’t give us more than we can handle,

    I agree wholeheartedly that this statement is unhelpful to the suffering. In our family’s suffering, I changed it to “God doesn’t give us more than He can handle.” I would not have survived my kids’ medical crises except by the grace of God.

    Suffering is allowed so as to teach us our utter dependency on God. It’s a hard lesson, but necessary for our sanctification.

    I know we have different faith traditions, Susan, so I hope you’ll read this in the spirit it is offered. I have shared with my suffering children that the only thing that makes sense of suffering is Jesus on the Cross. Suffering can be redemptive, if you let God work through it. You have two choices, it seems to me. Become bitter through your experience, or grow closer to God and who He made you to be.

    And since Pope Benedict XVI is on my mind and in the hearts of the Catholic faithful today, he was known to say that faith is not so much a philosophy or an ideology, but a relationship with a Person. That’s what you’re experiencing in your work with hospice. Whatever you do to the least. . . God bless you.

    Today’s first reading on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God:

    NUMBERS 6:22-27

    22The LORD said to Moses, 23″Say to Aaron and his sons, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, 24The LORD bless you and keep you: 25The LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: 26The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. 27″So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: The reason I am perplexed by the statement, “G-d doesn’t give us more than we can handle,

    I agree wholeheartedly that this statement is unhelpful to the suffering. In our family’s suffering, I changed it to “God doesn’t give us more than He can handle.” I would not have survived my kids’ medical crises except by the grace of God.

    Suffering is allowed so as to teach us our utter dependency on God. It’s a hard lesson, but necessary for our sanctification.

    I know we have different faith traditions, Susan, so I hope you’ll read this in the spirit it is offered. I have shared with my suffering children that the only thing that makes sense of suffering is Jesus on the Cross. Suffering can be redemptive, if you let God work through it. You have two choices, it seems to me. Become bitter through your experience, or grow closer to God and who He made you to be.

    And since Pope Benedict XVI is on my mind and in the hearts of the Catholic faithful today, he was known to say that faith is not so much a philosophy or an ideology, but a relationship with a Person. That’s what you’re experiencing in your work with hospice. Whatever you do to the least. . . God bless you.

    Today’s first reading on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God:

    NUMBERS 6:22-27

    22The LORD said to Moses, 23″Say to Aaron and his sons, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, 24The LORD bless you and keep you: 25The LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: 26The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. 27″So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

    Your comment brings tears to my eyes, WC. I’ve spoken to you often about the courage you have demonstrated in your relationship with your family. In some ways, our approaches may differ, but we both rely on our relationship with G-d to see us through. I’m always touched by your deep faith. I especially liked the words of Pope Benedict and highlighted them above. Thank you.

    • #4
  5. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    My wife and I were just discussing how so many of our challenges prepared us to better connect with others. 

    We learn from those experiences and always try to do and be better.

     

     

    • #5
  6. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Susan Quinn:

    The reason I am perplexed by the statement, “G-d doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” is that I am skeptical about whether some of our suffering and burdens are “given by G-d,” and that He decides just how much adversity we can handle.

    I’ve often thought, as someone who is skeptical about the existence of God, that among the 3 Omnis [God is omniscient (all knowledgeable); God is omni-benevolent (a perfect moral being); God is omnipotent (all powerful)] that best one to question would be the all powerful part.

    If God isn’t all powerful, then if he didn’t remove the cancer from the 6 year old, it is because God was not powerful enough to do so, not because he didn’t care and didn’t want to remove the cancer.

    Some people say that a God that isn’t all powerful wouldn’t be a God worth worshipping.  I’m not sure about that, especially if God is a perfect moral sage.  That kind of God, even if he lacks the ability to solve all of our problems, would be someone worth our admiration if not our worship.

    • #6
  7. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn:

    The reason I am perplexed by the statement, “G-d doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” is that I am skeptical about whether some of our suffering and burdens are “given by G-d,” and that He decides just how much adversity we can handle.

    I’ve often thought, as someone who is skeptical about the existence of God, that among the 3 Omnis [God is omniscient (all knowledgeable); God is omni-benevolent (a perfect moral being); God is omnipotent (all powerful)] that best one to question would be the all powerful part.

    If God isn’t all powerful, then if he didn’t remove the cancer from the 6 year old, it is because God was not powerful enough to do so, not because he didn’t care and didn’t want to remove the cancer.

    Some people say that a God that isn’t all powerful wouldn’t be a God worth worshipping. I’m not sure about that, especially if God is a perfect moral sage. That kind of God, even if he lacks the ability to solve all of our problems, would be someone worth our admiration if not worship.

    The problem with this is it’s unreasonable, in the sense of illogical. If you can imagine someone or something more powerful than God (someone who could solve all our problems who isn’t God), you’re misunderstanding who God is. 

    So the question to be asked is why a God who is omnipotent doesn’t cure the 6-year-old of cancer? That’s a question worth exploring and the Christian (especially Catholic) tradition offers answers (Jesus came to suffer in his humanity  (and in which we may participate in union with him) and to redeem suffering for the salvation of souls; the world was broken in The Fall when death (and suffering) came into the world; God brings (ultimate) good out of all things. . .)

    • #7
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    God isn’t all powerful, then if he didn’t remove the cancer from the 6 year old, it is because God was not powerful enough to do so, not because he didn’t care and didn’t want to remove the cancer.  

    Unless you can read the mind of G-d, you have no idea why he does or doesn’t do something. Who should he save? The 3yr old? The six yr old? Everyone who suffers? Doctors? Nurses?

    • #8
  9. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn:

    The reason I am perplexed by the statement, “G-d doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” is that I am skeptical about whether some of our suffering and burdens are “given by G-d,” and that He decides just how much adversity we can handle.

    I’ve often thought, as someone who is skeptical about the existence of God, that among the 3 Omnis [God is omniscient (all knowledgeable); God is omni-benevolent (a perfect moral being); God is omnipotent (all powerful)] that best one to question would be the all powerful part.

    If God isn’t all powerful, then if he didn’t remove the cancer from the 6 year old, it is because God was not powerful enough to do so, not because he didn’t care and didn’t want to remove the cancer.

    Some people say that a God that isn’t all powerful wouldn’t be a God worth worshipping. I’m not sure about that, especially if God is a perfect moral sage. That kind of God, even if he lacks the ability to solve all of our problems, would be someone worth our admiration if not worship.

    The problem with this is it’s unreasonable, in the sense of illogical. If you can imagine someone or something more powerful than God (someone who could solve all our problems who isn’t God), you’re misunderstanding who God is.

    So the question to be asked is why a God who is omnipotent doesn’t cure the 6-year-old of cancer? That’s a question worth exploring and the Christian (especially Catholic) tradition offers answers (Jesus came to suffer in his humanity (and in which we may participate in union with him) and to redeem suffering for the salvation of souls; the world was broken in The Fall when death (and suffering) came into the world; God brings (ultimate) good out of all things. . .)

    I understand that Christian theologians have responses to “the evidential problem of evil,” as it is often labeled in the philosophy of religion.  It’s just that there is a huge debate over whether this Christian response is just another version of Divine Command Theory.  

    People often think to themselves, “If I was really, really powerful.  Powerful enough to where I could wipe out childhood cancer, I would do it in a heartbeat because that would be the moral thing to do.”

    If we knew of a physician who had available to him some pharmacological method of curing a 6 years old’s cancer, but withheld this treatment and allowed the child to suffer and die with the child’s parents watching in misery, we might question the morality of the physician.  

    But there is a Chrisitan response to this called skeptical theism.  A skeptical theist is someone who believes in God and believes that God might have morally sufficient reasons to, for example, allow a 6 year suffer and die of cancer rather than intervene and remove the cancer.  

    In philosophy of religion this is often called the no see ’em defense.  Just because you can’t see bacteria doesn’t mean bacteria doesn’t exist.  Just because you don’t know of a reason why God would allow the 6 year old to suffer and die of cancer doesn’t mean God doesn’t have a reason.  Of course, skeptical theism is debated in philosophy of religion circles too.  

    • #9
  10. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    If we don’t understand why G-d does, or allows, something it is because we do not understand G-d. And that is not a bad thing as G-d is beyond understanding. It is the task of mankind to pursue, but not achieve, understanding. If you are tired if the journey, reconsider your path.  

    • #10
  11. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    I don’t like it when people call  cure or an enexpected good outcome a “miracle.” If we attribute that to an intervention then why isn’t every outcome the result of a divine decision, a decision we can second-guess?

    I think the object of it all is to affirm our lives in toto in the presence of God, to live our roles in the grand drama as fully as possible and not to offer suggestions on script revisions and thus use prayer as a nonmonetary lottery ticket or wish magic.

    • #11
  12. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    God isn’t all powerful, then if he didn’t remove the cancer from the 6 year old, it is because God was not powerful enough to do so, not because he didn’t care and didn’t want to remove the cancer.

    Unless you can read the mind of G-d, you have no idea why he does or doesn’t do something. Who should he save? The 3yr old? The six yr old? Everyone who suffers? Doctors? Nurses?

    Yep.  That sounds like the skeptical theist’s defense.  

    • #12
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    think the object of it all is to affirm our lives in toto in the presence of God, to live our roles in the grand drama as fully as possible and not to offer suggestions on script revisions and thus use prayer as a nonmonetary lottery ticket or wish magic.

    Indeed. That is a life well lived.

    • #13
  14. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    God isn’t all powerful, then if he didn’t remove the cancer from the 6 year old, it is because God was not powerful enough to do so, not because he didn’t care and didn’t want to remove the cancer.

    Unless you can read the mind of G-d, you have no idea why he does or doesn’t do something. Who should he save? The 3yr old? The six yr old? Everyone who suffers? Doctors? Nurses?

    • #14
  15. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Susan, interesting post.  I have a couple of thoughts, from a Protestant Christian perspective.

    Part of your phrasing of the main issue is:

    Susan Quinn: Over a lifetime, I’ve met lots of people who wonder why G-d “lets us suffer.” Or why G-d lets perfectly innocent people, especially children, die from catastrophic illnesses. Or why G-d lets bad things happen to good people.

    There are no innocent people.  There are no good people.  All are sinners, deserving of condemnation and death.

    Some argue that children are “innocent” before a certain point.  I’m not certain of that, but even if it is correct, then from God’s perspective, such children who die escape from a sin-scarred world full of suffering, into Paradise.  This is hardly a catastrophe.

    Also, the Christian view is that suffering is not necessarily a bad thing.  Suffering can be a great teacher, and enduring suffering both develops and demonstrates Godly character.

    I like C.S. Lewis’s idea of “God in the Dock,” the title to one of his essays.  The basic idea is the wickedness and pride of any one of us presuming to sit in judgment upon Almighty God.  Who do we think we are?  That’s the temptation in the Garden, to “be like God.”  It’s the rationale of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, something like “I’d rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

    I think that people who think like that get Hell, though they don’t get to rule.

    Lewis seemed to think that this was a uniquely modern phenomenon:

    The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that man is on the bench and God in the dock.

    • #15
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Susan, interesting post. I have a couple of thoughts, from a Protestant Christian perspective.

    Part of your phrasing of the main issue is:

    Susan Quinn: Over a lifetime, I’ve met lots of people who wonder why G-d “lets us suffer.” Or why G-d lets perfectly innocent people, especially children, die from catastrophic illnesses. Or why G-d lets bad things happen to good people.

    There are no innocent people. There are no good people. All are sinners, deserving of condemnation and death.

    Some argue that children are “innocent” before a certain point. I’m not certain of that, but even if it is correct, then from God’s perspective, such children who die escape from a sin-scarred world full of suffering, into Paradise. This is hardly a catastrophe.

    Also, the Christian view is that suffering is not necessarily a bad thing. Suffering can be a great teacher, and enduring suffering both develops and demonstrates Godly character.

    I like C.S. Lewis’s idea of “God in the Dock,” the title to one of his essays. The basic idea is the wickedness and pride of any one of us presuming to sit in judgment upon Almighty God. Who do we think we are? That’s the temptation in the Garden, to “be like God.” It’s the rationale of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, something like “I’d rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

    I think that people who think like that get Hell, though they don’t get to rule.

    Lewis seemed to think that this was a uniquely modern phenomenon:

    The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that man is on the bench and God in the dock.

    Since you and I have discussed similar topics many times, I will respond in brief:

    Since Judaism doesn’t believe in original sin, nor do I, I don’t believe we all are sinners. The disobeying of Adam and Eve is on them.

    Suffering can teach us, but I don’t think we have to embrace it. 

    God should not be “in the dock.” But we can argue with Him and disagree with Him, as several did in the Torah. (Moses and Abraham are two examples.)

    • #16
  17. Henry Racette Moderator
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    I’m not spiritual, but I like religion. That is, I have no metaphysical faith of which I’m aware, but I am favorably disposed toward Judaism and Christianity, thinking both hugely beneficial, perhaps even essential to the kind of civilization in which I wish to live.

    Susan, you’ve asked the Great Question: Why does G-d allow bad things to happen? In my younger days, when I was a man of at least modest faith and when I was seeking to strengthen that, I found this question as perplexing as many people do. I read a lot, trying to find some answer that didn’t strike me as, frankly, sophistry. I never found such an answer.

    Before abandoning faith entirely, I rejected the concept of eternal punishment as fundamentally incompatible with the concept of a loving, just, omnipotent creator: had I remained a believer, I’d have adopted the universalist perspective of salvation for all. While the idea of G-d allowing terrible things to happen to innocent people is challenging, the idea of eternal damnation for anyone poses a far greater challenge to any coherent conception of justice, mercy, and love. (I reject Jerry’s notion, stated above, that there are “no innocent people.” To believe that would require a redefinition of innocence in such a way that a newborn baby wouldn’t qualify as being “innocent,” and I think that simply renders the word meaningless.)

    I have no desire to challenge anyone’s belief. As I said, I think Judeo-Christian belief is valuable, and perhaps essential. But I don’t believe that, for the believer, there are any truly satisfying answers to the hard question of human suffering, much less any sensible defense of the idea of eternal damnation. (I also think a pretty good biblical case can be made that the concept of eternal punishment has been misunderstood.)

    • #17
  18. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    While the idea of G-d allowing terrible things to happen to innocent people is challenging, the idea of eternal damnation for anyone poses a far greater challenge to any coherent conception of justice, mercy, and love.

    You need to read more C.S. Lewis, especially The Great Divorce

    • #18
  19. Henry Racette Moderator
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    While the idea of G-d allowing terrible things to happen to innocent people is challenging, the idea of eternal damnation for anyone poses a far greater challenge to any coherent conception of justice, mercy, and love.

    You need to read more C.S. Lewis, especially The Great Divorce.

    That was one of my first stops, WC. I didn’t find it compelling.

    • #19
  20. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    While the idea of G-d allowing terrible things to happen to innocent people is challenging, the idea of eternal damnation for anyone poses a far greater challenge to any coherent conception of justice, mercy, and love.

    You need to read more C.S. Lewis, especially The Great Divorce.

    That was one of my first stops, WC. I didn’t find it compelling.

    Really? You don’t find it descriptive of anyone you know? People so convinced of their own righteousness that they believe themselves morally superior to God? 

    I think it was Lewis who said hell is locked from the inside. We speak of “punishment,” but hell is definitionally a separation from all that is Good and Holy — from God. And it’s a free-will choice. God gives us the freedom to choose His will, or our own.

    • #20
  21. Keith Lowery Coolidge
    Keith Lowery
    @keithlowery

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    the idea of eternal damnation for anyone poses a far greater challenge to any coherent conception of justice, mercy, and love

    @henryracette

    This may offer a unique and perhaps unconsidered perspective on the question you raise.  I don’t know how active your consideration of these issues still is, but that book offers an alternative point of view on eternal punishment that a lot of people haven’t known about.  I certainly wasn’t aware of it before I read it.  Just FWIW.

    • #21
  22. Keith Lowery Coolidge
    Keith Lowery
    @keithlowery

    The more life experience I have the less confidence I have in the explanatory power of the narratives we all operate with where suffering is concerned.  The world is vastly complex and one thing I know to be true is that we humans are given to superstition whenever observing something whose complexity exceeds our grasp.  (e.g. One of the most pressing, unsolved issues in artificial intelligence as neural networks have grown in complexity is the question of “explainability”.)

    There are some things that I think we can know and that are axiomatic regarding our existence, but some things we simply do not have visibility into.  Here are things I have come to believe.

    1. Freedom is a necessary precondition for the existence of love. 
    2. There is both a visible world (apprehensible to our senses) and an invisible world.  Love exists in both worlds. Accordingly, there are free actors in both worlds.
    3. Not all free creatures use their freedom for good.  But their sinister acts do not necessarily cause God to revoke their freedom. 
    4. God has delegated “authority” in both the visible and invisible worlds. He does not revoke that authority merely because it is sometimes misused. (e.g. every child has an imperfect parent but not every child is taken from their parent(s) by God.)
    5. There is no single explanation for the origin of suffering. The biblical text certainly suggests that God himself may cause suffering for a variety of reasons (e.g. motivated by the kind of love that animates a father’s proper discipline of a child). But it’s also the case that free actors in the non-visible world, in their freedom, cause suffering in the visible world.  There are plenty of biblical references to both of these phenomena.  
    6. The visible world is a battlefield of on-going spiritual conflict.

    [I have to post this in two parts because of length restrictions]

     

    • #22
  23. Keith Lowery Coolidge
    Keith Lowery
    @keithlowery

    Many (most? all?)  of the sufferings we observe are in some way, directly or indirectly, the downstream effects of moral freedom.  I would even propose that at least some  of the things we perceive as “natural disasters” have a sinister actor behind them (e.g. the entire premise for the book of Job)

    Given all these complexities, I lack confidence in the explanatory possibilities of framing the problem of human suffering with questions such as “why does an innocent child die of cancer?”

    I think it’s important to remember, even (especially?) in our own suffering that suffering is not all there is.  I think Lewis grasped at a similar idea in The Problem of Pain.  Especially his comment “we are never safe, but we have plenty of fun” resonates with me.  

    “The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and pose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bath or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”

    • #23
  24. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Keith Lowery (View Comment):

    Many (most? all?) of the sufferings we observe are in some way, directly or indirectly, the downstream effects of moral freedom. I would even propose that at least some of the things we perceive as “natural disasters” have a sinister actor behind them (e.g. the entire premise for the book of Job)

    Given all these complexities, I lack confidence in the explanatory possibilities of framing the problem of human suffering with questions such as “why does an innocent child die of cancer?”

    I think it’s important to remember, even (especially?) in our own suffering that suffering is not all there is. I think Lewis grasped at a similar idea in The Problem of Pain. Especially his comment “we are never safe, but we have plenty of fun” resonates with me.

    “The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and pose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bath or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”

    Yes, I’ve often thought God allows* us to suffer so that we don’t get too attached to this world.

    *My only disagreement with your comment #22. I don’t believe it is in God’s nature to cause suffering (Job is a great example), but He allows it, that’s for sure. This world isn’t heaven, but we can get glimpses of it from here.

    • #24
  25. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    What a wonderful way to wake up to such thoughtful and intelligent comments! Here are my thoughts in response–

    @henryracette –in my personal experience, study has been very important. But I found it could also be a barrier to connecting to G-d.  Before I even began to study, I experienced G-d–not in any magical way, but His presence was there and continued to deepen for me. I found Him everywhere, often in subtle ways. A person could say that I was just imagining His presence–could be–but there was a profundity to that experience. I don’t know how that happens for people. I can say that one of my prayers every day is for Him to provide me with wisdom and insight that I may better serve Him through my writing. 

    @keithlowery— I so appreciated all of your points. I wonder if the visible and non-visible world, rather than being separate, are somehow intermingled or overlapping? I think it would be our tendency to see them as separate, but I think they are possibly more connected. I especially appreciated your reminder that “suffering is not all there is.” So true for me! I choose as much as possible (although sometimes it’s very hard) to let suffering have “its say” for a period, or I seem to be unwilling to free myself from it, but I work very hard not to indulge it, not just because it’s so miserable, but it prevents me from being my best self.

    @westernchauvinist— I especially liked this comment:

    I think it was Lewis who said hell is locked from the inside. We speak of “punishment,” but hell is definitionally a separation from all that is Good and Holy — from God. And it’s a free-will choice. God gives us the freedom to choose His will, or our own.

    Judaism has little focus on hell. I remember a Rico narrative from a long time ago where we talked about the opportunities to “redeem” ourselves, a kind of purgatory purification process. I’d need to look it up to get it right, but rather than making sure we don’t go to hell, Jews focus on being good in this life, and the rest will take care of itself. I think that’s true for many Jews and Christians.

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  26. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    While the idea of G-d allowing terrible things to happen to innocent people is challenging, the idea of eternal damnation for anyone poses a far greater challenge to any coherent conception of justice, mercy, and love.

    You need to read more C.S. Lewis, especially The Great Divorce.

    That was one of my first stops, WC. I didn’t find it compelling.

    HR, I think those who think that an all powerful, all knowing and perfectly moral God is compatible with the enormous amounts of suffering we observe in our world already accept some premises that you and I do not.  

    Here you wrote:

    I reject Jerry’s notion, stated above, that there are “no innocent people.” To believe that would require a redefinition of innocence in such a way that a newborn baby wouldn’t qualify as being “innocent,” and I think that simply renders the word meaningless.

    The idea that a newborn baby is guilty such that he or she is deserving of eternal conscious torment in hell is a premise that some accept and some, including us, do not.  

    I think we both would argue that if a baby is born and then dies 3 days later, this baby does not deserve to be tortured eternally.  

    Once the Christian accepts that premise and the non-Christian does not, of course we will reach different conclusions.  

    • #26
  27. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    When it comes to God, I think we should grapple with the question of whether and under what circumstances we should believe in something that we can’t see.  

    If I can’t find my car keys and, upon telling my wife, my wife responds, “Gremlins took your car keys,” I am not going to find this to be a satisfactory answer.  I tell my wife that I don’t think that Gremlins exist because I have never seen one.  But my wife (in this hypothetical discussion) tells me that Gremlins are invisible, inaudible, do not emit heat or smell or touch.  

    I can’t prove the non-existence of these Gremlins my wife speaks of.  Still, I think they don’t exist and I think it is better to proceed with the belief that Gremlins don’t exist for pragmatic reasons. 

    Let’s say I find my car keys in the kitchen counter later.  I think that this demonstrates that it wasn’t Gremlins that took my car keys, but that I simply forgot that I put them on the kitchen counter while I was unloading groceries yesterday.  But my wife could say, “No.  The Gremlins moved your car keys.”

    I might ask, “But what would motivate the Gremlins to move my car keys?”  My wife could then say, “Only the Gremlins know.” 

    This is the sort of discussion the believer in a God that allows people to spend an eternity in hell and the skeptic are having.  The believer has accepted a set of premises that the skeptic has not accepted.  

    An all powerful being, God, provides enormous explanatory power for almost anything that happens.  Why did your nephew get accepted into that engineering school?  God made it happen.  Why did your friend’s daughter get killed in a tornado last week?  Only God knows.  

    These are interesting explanations.  But to the skeptic, they aren’t ultimately convincing.  

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  28. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    How does an intellect capable of apprehending the mind of God lose its car keys?

    • #28
  29. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    An all powerful being, God, provides enormous explanatory power for almost anything that happens.  Why did your nephew get accepted into that engineering school?  God made it happen.  Why did your friend’s daughter get killed in a tornado last week?  Only God knows.  

    These kinds of generalizations about people’s beliefs are not meaningful. First, we have no way of knowing G-d’s role in ANYTHING. If I believe that my writing is blessed somehow by G-d’s intervention, what is the problem with that? Obviously I had a role, too, so as @iwe would say, I’m happy believing we partnered. Why do you care? Maybe G-d had a role getting someone into a school or not; the student had great grades and test results, too. Why do you care? 

    I don’t get your struggle. I’m fine with your not believing in G-d, as long as you are an ethical and moral person.

    • #29
  30. Autistic License Coolidge
    Autistic License
    @AutisticLicense

    I’d always thought that hell was voluntary and that purgatory was a perfect memory paired with a working conscience.   As for God permitting suffering, I’ve tried Boethius but I defer to Agent Smith.  “The first matrix was designed to be a paradise.   It was a disaster!”

    • #30
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