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Why does God allow suffering?

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  1. Hi Tim,

    Socon writes: "We know that suffering is redemptive. Even God himself chose to experience suffering by becoming a man and being crucified. He didn’t remain in the clouds or in an ivory tower. He came down into the trenches. Through this ultimate evil — deicide — he brought about the ultimate good: our salvation."

    The theology behind this view is so pervasive, that we sometimes fail to really see how utterly idiotic it really is.

    Jesus' suffering and death is supposed to have redeemed us from our sins. In other words, the sins of one party (i.e. humanity) can be assumed by another (in this case, Jesus) through an act of torture and death. How can it ever be moral to punish an innocent party (i.e. Jesus) for the sins of another? This treats guilt like a negotiable instrument, something that can be traded and bartered to somehow "trick" god into ignoring the sins of the guilty party. I fail to see how this is either just or moral. Is it not a basic tenent of justice that the guilty are punished and the innocent are unharmed?

    Laying this absurdity aside, let's examine it from another angle. Jesus was simply following the will of his father - even though he knew obedience to his father's will would result in his own physical death. OK - but Jesus was also god and Jesus knew that his death would not be permanent (i.e. he would rise up on the 3rd day). With this knowledge, how can we even pretend that Jesus sacraficed anything meaningful at all? And why would god accept a sacrafice from his son when he knew that it was no sacrafice at all? More absurdity.

    Lastly, Jesus was only following his father's will. He did nothing more and nothing less than what his father asked of him. If this is true, what does this say about a god who commands his son to be tortured to death as a means to redeem the guilty? Why not ask Jesus to make a sacrafice that was inherently good (e.g. build a hospital, build a school, eradicate poverty etc...).

    Remember - god is supposed to be omnipotent. He can set up the rules of redemption and sin and guilt in any way that he wishes to. Why adopt such a barbaric code of justice (the innocent are punished and the guilty are set free)? Why demand a sacrafice of Jesus that is not really a sacrafice? Why demand a sacrafice that is inherently wicked? Why demand a sacrafice at all? Why not simply forgive sinners directly, or let people's own good works compensate for their own wickedness?

    Socon's article adds nothing and answers nothing. If anything, it merely reminds us how idiotic the entire notion of redemption, suffering, and sacrafice really are. Socon's only response is that "suffering is a mystery". We must simply accept the nonsense of "redemptive suffering" as true, and at no time are we closer to seeing a theology of real justice or morality.

    Seriously Tim, if we were not already steeped in this theology, and we were only seeing it for the first time, we would laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. It sure as hell would not convince me, and I am pretty certain it would not convince you either.


  2. The question of theodicy bother me tremendously throughout my believing career. I can't remember home many long and involved theological and philosophical arguments I read and attempted to accept in those years. While one can perhaps make some progress on the issue of human caused suffering, suffering caused by "acts of God" , in my opinion, belie explanation in a religious context.

    In a non religious context the answer is simple, one can skip the mental machinations as to the why and devote those brain cycles to seeking to mitigate the suffering.

  3. Martin: I believe deep within my being that expiation is an effective agent/force in the world. I have witnessed it in life in the self sacrifice of some for others. I have witnessed its power to transform experiences that would crush some into one that has deep meaning, depth and personal significance. I have seen it deepen love and change the lives of others. It is real to me.

    The difference is in our experiences. We both began our thought processes by assuming what we believe to be true. Life has taught me one lesson; you another.

    I know that I am building my theological argument on the Platonic foundation of forms by assuming that what has meaning in this existence imperfectly, exist perfectly in another. I believe that your faith previously was similarly anchored. For me, nothing has happened in life that has caused me to change my opinion. The same cannot be said for you.

    IMHO, there is no harm (spiritual or otherwise) in either of our convictions in this life or any another. We are each making the best interpretation of what we have experienced and according our behavior by what we hold to be true, good and beautiful. Since we are still on the same journey and walking the same way, is it not likely we will end at the same place?

    That's the benefit that faith and reason bring to me. I believe that they will bring the same expiative merit to you as to me due to nothing more than the grace of Jesus Christ.

    It's kind of my own Pascal's wager.


  4. Hope the above makes sense. Hard to type on an iphone with a font that's easily read while holding an entire paragraph on one screen at the same time... not to mention my thick thumbs combined a small touchscreen keyboard.


  5. Hi Tim,

    I share your frustration with using the iPhone or the iPad to post a blog entry. For me, the darn auto-correct function frequently interferes with what I am trying to write. Oh well, at least we can agree that technology is a 2 edged sword.

    I note that expiation is the act of atoning for one’s guilt or repairing the damage from one’s transgressions. As I have pointed out above, Jesus’ atonement for our sins is inherently absurd. It is simply unjust to punish the innocent in place of the guilty. As we both know, this theology reflects 1st century notions of blood sacrifice which are alien and irrational to those of us in the 21st century. It is curious how god is always bound by the human understandings of the time in which he reveals himself. He never seems to rise above the limitations and ignorance of his audience. To a skeptical mind, this is clear evidence that god is a creation of man (and not the other way around). To the apologist, it is clear evidence that god tailors his message to his audience. Unfortunately, the apologist’s answer falls short of what we would expect from a loving, omnipotent and omniscient being who should have either:

    a) foreseen the shortcomings of a “blood sacrifice” theology to future audiences and said something truly radical that would ring true throughout the ages; OR

    b) subsequently updated his message to reflect a more mature understanding of justice and morality.

    Your response states that you see many moving examples of people atoning for their own misdeeds. No argument there my friend, but atoning for my own transgressions is quite different from having someone else trying to do it on my behalf. Perhaps you mean that the example of Jesus’ atonement somehow inspires people to atone for their own transgressions. That may be so, but I have also seen this behaviour in non-Christians (and even atheists) without any reference to Jesus’ odd example. So…our human ability to recognize our own misdeeds and to seek to repair them is definitely independent of a belief in Christianity. It is merely human.

    I find your assertion that my own experiences (which you claim have led me to question the core tenants of Christianity) to be irrelevant. I freely admit that I was once a believer, and that through a combination of life experiences and introspection, I have come to see Christianity as inherently absurd. True – I have had and continue to have sorrows in my life – but no worse than most other folks my age. Your assertion is irrelevant because you focus on me personally, while ignoring the content of my questions. I had hoped that you would address my comments directly – but I sense that this is an area most believers would rather not go. To think about redemption, suffering, expiation et al in any depth is bound to create doubt which is best papered over with such blandishments as: “suffering is a mystery” or “god’s ways are so above our ways that we can never understand them”.

    If you are up for the challenge, then I invite a response to my questions/comments. If not, I understand perfectly. After all, the core theology of Christianity does not bear close scrutiny, and for the wavering believer, it is best left untouched.



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