I’m not going to answer how they can co-exist. Sorry to disappoint.
Actually, my answer is that I cannot completely know why suffering and evil exist. There’s plenty of good answers that I believe cover areas of evil, such as how evil can result from human moral freedom, suffering can bring about greater good, etc. but sooner or later we reach what we would call pointless suffering–suffering that seems to serve no purpose.
But today it dawned on me that labeling suffering as pointless is presuming knowledge a human being cannot possibly possess if God does indeed exist. I just finished reading the book of Job, and the deeper I grow in faith, the more God’s answer seems completely justified:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
7 when the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Truly, who can fathom why God made the world the way he did? Can we see all ends and declare with utmost certainty that we know suffering is pointless, that God had no point in allowing evil? Logic is a powerful human engine, but even logic has its limitations. Can any one human being presume to see all ends and render judgment on whether suffering has a purpose or not?
What’s more, if we presume God exists, I would argue instead that no suffering can be pointless by definition. Any suffering we endure can be offered to the glory of God. I still don’t why suffering exists, but I now know what I can do with any and all suffering that comes my way. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said:
My personal trials have also taught me the value of unmerited suffering. As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways that I could respond to my situation: either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course. Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains. I have lived these last few years with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive.
It’s not an easy philosophy to carry out by any means. But I don’t think rejecting God makes the situation any better. In fact, I’d argue it makes it worse. Saying God doesn’t exist in response to the problem of evil doesn’t solve the riddle to why we suffer. It simply removes any right or basis we could possibly have for questioning why we suffer. Nature certainly doesn’t care one way or the other if we suffer and die.
The above may seem like an argument from ignorance. I don’t know, so I give up. Actually, I think it strikes a middle way: I don’t know, so I won’t presume to know in order to answer why we suffer. I think there’s much value in knowing what you cannot know, and if God exists, I definitely do not have the knowledge, either empirical or theoretical, to see all ends and explain why all suffering has ever happened and will continue to happen. But that ignorance doesn’t really bother me. As an atheist I said we shouldn’t invent answers where we simply don’t know, and I will continue to assert the same as a Christian. Better to say I don’t know than invent a false answer that presumes knowledge beyond my capacity.
As a final thought, I remember talking to a deacon who had given funerals for children. Parents often ask why their child died, and the deacon always answers, “I don’t know.” He said it’s the best answer because, truly, he doesn’t know, and trying to discern or invent an answer to a child’s death will do nothing but hurt already bereaved parents. I think that’s a good approach. There’s a real temptation for Christians to have an answer for all suffering because God is so often called to account. We should resist that temptation. Instead, let us weep with those who weep and remember that even the very wise, as Gandalf famously said, cannot see all ends.
13 thoughts on “Suffering, Evil, and God”
The account of the atheist reaction to the problem of evil seems problematic. It’s true that an atheist has no basis for asking what transcendent or divine reason there is for suffering, but we can still ask what caused that suffering and whose purposes it serves. Since an atheist has no reason to think there’s a transcendent or divine reason for anything else, and specifically no reason to think that all such ends are benevolent, there’s no puzzle to solve. Instead, there’s just a determination of whether the suffering is worth it for whatever progress it yields on goals of importance to that particular atheist, and whether avoiding it would be possible and preferable.
It’s rather like asking why Zeus threw a particular lightning bolt–while those who believe in him might regard that as a salient question, those who don’t see the question itself as irrelevant to the reasons it happened. Nor being well-positioned to ask why Zeus threw a bolt doesn’t put those of us who deny the existence of Zeus in a worse position with respect to that question, it gives us the clarity to investigate other reasons which might explain it. Even better, because we need not regard such bolts as necessary consequences of a will we cannot thwart, our investigation into causes and consequences naturally tends to occur in the context of a search for alternatives.
I take this to be at the heart of the discomfort with Mother Teresa–I’m told that she regarded suffering as part of God’s plan, and thus not to be prevented but experienced for the glory of God. As a result, she refrained from alleviating some of her patients’ suffering. To an atheist, this result seems perverse, but it seems to me the natural result of the tension between accepting suffering and avoiding it. The more emphasis you put on one, the less well you’ll do the other, I expect. I hypothesize that atheism will tend to be more appealing to people who face more opportunities to avoid suffering, while those who mostly suffer in ways they couldn’t prevent are better served by beliefs which help them accept suffering.
Genuine question. What does this mean?
If mom puts me in time-out, am I supposed to sit there and think about what a fantastic parenting she’s practicing? When mom won’t clean my scraped knee, should I tell all my friends how great and caring she is? Now I have this great knee scar to go with all my mumps scars because she loved me enough to avoid vaccination! Offer this suffering to the glory of mom!
See how that sounds crazy if you end the sentence with anything but God, which somehow makes it ok?
Does the phrase mean the MLK quote, which is essentially taking lemons and making lemonade, and does not need or presume God at all? MLK is, in fact, using the suffering as a gift to improve himself and to help people he’s campaigning for, not to praise God at all. (“I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people”) What does God plan to do with all these sufferings offered him, anyway? Does he have a big wall of collected sufferings like glorious elk antlers?
The phrase “offered to the glory of” is very strange.
“Since an atheist has no reason to think there’s a transcendent or divine reason for anything else, and specifically no reason to think that all such ends are benevolent, there’s no puzzle to solve. Instead, there’s just a determination of whether the suffering is worth it for whatever progress it yields on goals of importance to that particular atheist, and whether avoiding it would be possible and preferable.”
Right. Atheism solves the problem of evil by saying there’s no problem. Suffering happens. If you can avoid it, good. If you can find a purpose or improve yourself in the suffering, cool beans.
The issue is that this kind of suffering has never bothered anyone. Nobody is bothered by suffering in which we can immediately see a purpose or that improved us over time. We are bothered by suffering in which we cannot discern any meaning, and I don’t think the answer offered by atheism is that great of an alternative to Christianity. With God, we can struggle with purpose, know we are limited, and trust in the goodness of God. Atheism would say that if you can’t find a meaning, there is no meaning.
The above may seem somewhat infantile on the part of Christianity, but if God exists, that trust is merited, and what’s more, people have attested to the power of trusting in someone or something higher than yourself. Viktor Frankl wrote from the depths of the Holocaust:
< And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another upward and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking about his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look . . . . A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth-that love is the highest goal to which man can aspire . . . . I understand how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss . . . . In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way-an honorable way-in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to under-stand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in divine contemplation of an infinite glory.”>
“I hypothesize that atheism will tend to be more appealing to people who face more opportunities to avoid suffering, while those who mostly suffer in ways they couldn’t prevent are better served by beliefs which help them accept suffering.”
Seems logical enough. The question then becomes: What does an atheist do when unavoidable and seemingly pointless suffering knocks at their door?
“Genuine question. What does this mean?”
Good question. The answer is long and the topic of numerous treatises, so I’ll try to give a short answer.
1) Suffering contributes to Christ’s mission
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking[a] in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,”
What does Paul mean? From the footnote in the RSVCE:
“What is lacking: I.e., the suffering that remains for believers in the trials of life. Suffering is a mission for all the faithful as a means of conforming ourselves to Christ (Rom 8:17; Phil 3:10), but suffering is a special calling for ministers of the Gospel like Paul, who endure many afflictions in the effort to bring salvation to others (2 Cor 1:6; 4:11-15) (CCC 307, 618, 1508).”
By suffering, we become like Christ who suffered, and missions for Christ will often involve suffering, suffering we should not seek to avoid. The glory of God comes before comfort.
2) Suffering tests our faith
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
-1 Peter 1:6-7
Yes, it does. Some people may find this idea kind of cruel: What kind of God puts his creation to the test? And yet, since we have free will, it’s entirely reasonable. We profess faith in God, but if that faith is only the result of comfort, happiness, and good digestion, it’s not really faith. Furthermore, maintaining faith in the midst of suffering glorifies God. If our faith cannot be broken by the worst suffering, we attest to the truth of God’s existence and the truth of Christ’s resurrection.
And I realized this list is already getting long, so if you want some more explanation, this article does a good job summarizing:
“See how that sounds crazy if you end the sentence with anything but God, which somehow makes it ok?”
Yes. It is crazy to end that sentence with anything but God because no human is worthy of the trust we place in God. Humans commit evil. Why trust in their goodness completely and utterly, like a child? Humans lack power. Why trust completely and utterly in their ability? Humans lack complete knowledge. Why trust completely in their foresight? It would be insane to place the same trust in a flawed and limited human being that we place in an all good, all powerful, and all knowing being.
“Seems logical enough. The question then becomes: What does an atheist do when unavoidable and seemingly pointless suffering knocks at their door?”
The same thing Frankl did: Make lemonade. We can argue forever about WHY to do, but WHAT to do with suffering is going to be the same for any of us.
“It would be insane to place the same trust in a flawed and limited human being that we place in an all good, all powerful, and all knowing being.”
In my example, mom is essentially God to a small child in suffering. It does seem crazy for the kid to praise mom for his suffering. “Humans commit evil” after all. But God is also committing evil, by knowing about it and watching it happen when God could stop it. So the differentiation between God and humans has broken down. God doesn’t seem so trustworthy anymore, let alone praiseworthy.
“maintaining faith in the midst of suffering glorifies God”
Again with the glorifying. What possible value could “glory” have to an omnipotent, omniscient character? Clearly, none, so God’s valuing glory must mean it has some value to people, who he loves. Suffering glorifies God; suffering is of some value to God, why? because suffering is of some value to us. We’ve closed the loop and come back to lemonade. Atheists just skip the detour through God and say suffering can be valuable to people directly.
Christian unqualified praise for suffering as a glory unto God is indeed very problematic. The Mother Theresa example is a great one. And how many charlatans have used Christ’s words to bleed their flocks dry, appealing to the limitless value of suffering. There is evidently no upper range on how much suffering God wants you to experience, given how God designed his son’s died a horrible death, and continues to teach us that it was a great idea.
When I visit the doctor, he reminds me that exercise is good, but not too much. When I start ultramarathoning it’s good for friends to step in and have a word. It would have been trivially easy for God to add a similar clause about how suffering a horrible painful death is to be avoided and prevented as serving no purpose, but no, pointless agony glorifies Him.
I think this is actually covered in one of the most important verses in the New Testament on the issue of suffering, sin, temptation, etc. That’s Matthew 18:7:
To me, the meaning of this is that we should accept suffering that cannot be avoided, but only the suffering that cannot be avoided. We should neither inflict suffering (on ourselves or others) nor through inaction fail to alleviate suffering (in ourselves of others). It’s the old: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
FWIW, Mormon scripture is even more clear on this. Mosiah 24:7 (Book of Mormon) reads:
The injunction is repeated again in the Doctrine & Covenants.
Also, there’s a serious problem with your mom analogy, which is that God isn’t just like a parent. This is especially true when you’re making the analogy from the perspective an adult, because in that case you’re little on par with your mom as equals (more or less) in terms of power, knowledge, etc.
The analogy actually does work quite well if you keep the perspective of a very small child, however, and therefore maintain a little more of the distance between the parent / God’s power and understanding and the child / human’s power and understanding.
There are lots of things that seem like outrageous suffering to very small children that are a part of healthy, normal parenting. You can only fully appreciate this once you’ve actually had kids, but anything from bed time to refusing to purchase a toy can, to a toddler, feel like extreme cruelty. And that’s to say nothing of what it feels like to have to literally hold your 5-year old down so that doctors can stab him with needles (i.e. vaccinate him). There’s absolutely nothing restrained or limited about the anguish and fear and hurt that a child can feel in that moment although, thankfully, it usually doesn’t last.
I don’t really think any atheist will be convinced by an analogy like this, but I do think that if you take it seriously the analogy can work quite well. But only if you take it seriously and suppose (1) that the parent is actually doing the right thing and (2) that the child is very young and can’t understand why the pain is necessary.
Don’t think that the analogy works 100% even in that case, fwiw. I have my own take on theodicy which I’m not going to get into at the moment.
When I use “meaning”, that reflects what I take to be a three-place relation: x means y to z. Frequently we can leave out some of those as understood, which is what I take to be happening when someone says something like “suffering has meaning”: that’s essentially the same as saying that suffering has some meaning or other to God. That should help explain why I think you’re approaching the question in a way which attributes some very odd pieces to atheism. It’s true that some suffering doesn’t serve anyone’s purpose, but that’s true of lots of things for atheists. I’m not used to thinking of anything as having objective meaning, or meaning for God–there’s just a patchwork of individual purposes, some of which I endorse. Most things fall outside that patchwork, and since there’s no reason to see suffering as more in need of explanation than brain-melting amoebas, that’s normal.
With an omnipotent Christian God, it isn’t. Suffering is special, because it seems like an evil when it’s not necessary for some purpose. So we have the appearance of evil done by a good God–there’s an obvious tension there. This isn’t even really distinctive of atheism–if you believed that God had all of the usual Christian properties except omnibenevolence, suffering wouldn’t be a problem at all. If you expect God to be sort of a jerk sometimes for no reason, the problem of evil would just evaporate. You still might not know why God decided to be a jerk on the day you got cancer, but it wouldn’t challenge your world-view. Does it make sense to you that evil not caused by humans poses a special problem for those who believe in a perfect God which it doesn’t pose for those who believe in an imperfect God or none?
Switching gears a bit, I also think there’s a problem with the claim that, if there is a God, then trusting him is merited. That’s not how most belief justification works–you can believe a true thing for bad reasons. I’m uncommitted on what evidentiary value we should place on things like revelation, because I can’t imagine how I could be justified in the belief that my memory of a revelation was an accurate reflection of God rather than being attributable to another cause, but I don’t rule it out, so I’m not certain that one couldn’t be in a position from which trust in God is justified. But being right certainly doesn’t get you there.
Ryan, I agree with much of your position, but I’d be happier if we could all be chilled out about it. Bryan’s view sounds totally wrong to me, but it has an extremely long and impressive intellectual history, so I’m more comfortable in my expectation that I may be doing it a disservice than I would be in ridiculing it. For example, I don’t really understand what glorifying means any better than you do. I don’t know what it means to dedicate suffering to God. Could I dedicate my suffering to something else, and if so, what difference would it make? It seems to me that you stop there; and point out how little content there seems to be. I think the conversation would be more productive if you presented that as a source of confusion for you, but humbly and explicitly invited correction. There might be more there than you expect.
All of which is my prelude to saying I’m with you on the answer to the question of what an atheist might do with meaningless suffering. You suffer, and try to mitigate that suffering in whatever way works for you. Sometimes that means you fall into self-destructive patterns like addiction, other times you accept comfort from your loved ones, lose yourself in video games for a while, and put the pieces back together when you can. What you never have to do is deny your experience of that suffering as terrible. Sometimes, stuff just sucks, and your sense that it sucked was right on.
“Does it make sense to you that evil not caused by humans poses a special problem for those who believe in a perfect God which it doesn’t pose for those who believe in an imperfect God or none?”
Yes that’s a special problem for Christianity. I’ve had discussions before on the nature of natural evil, and it quickly gets beyond anything a human being can reasonably predict in my opinion. If we tried to make it so natural evil could never happen, we’d end up in a scenario so radically different from our own actual world that I don’t even know if it’s possible. Gravity causes me to trip and break my leg. Do we get rid of gravity? But we can’t get rid of gravity because otherwise we’d float off into space. Do we make humans immune to damage from natural forces instead? I can only imagine that’d have numerous implications. Mutations cause cancer. Mutations are also the only reason we can adapt and evolve. Do we get rid of mutations? Etc.
My best answer is somewhat analogous to free will: The natural world needs to function according to its own laws in order for human beings to be able to interact with it in any meaningful way. The function of those laws can be helpful or harmful human beings.
“What you never have to do is deny your experience of that suffering as terrible. Sometimes, stuff just sucks, and your sense that it sucked was right on.”
Yea. And I’d like to clarify that Christians aren’t barred from saying ‘this sucks’ as part of a response to suffering if it seemed like I was saying otherwise. Grief is a normal human emotion. I’m just more concerned with what we going forward from grief when we try to understand suffering in some greater context.
Thanks for being cool Kelsey :)
You’re absolutely right that there’s no way to eliminate suffering on an atheist account. There just doesn’t need to be–we’ve no reason to think that this is the best of all possible worlds. Some suffering will be unavoidable, some will be desirable; the rest, we have no reason not to learn to avoid.
Compare that to the situation of a suffering Christian with a view of suffering roughly like yours. If there is suffering, there’s a reason for it–the world would be worse without that suffering, else God would have prevented it. So, yes, such a Christian can say, “This sucks,” but she can’t pass judgment on the world. She can’t say that the world would have been better if God had prevented that suffering. Atheists are perfectly free to believe that the world would be better according to our standards if it had been otherwise, and I think that’s a tremendously natural thought. One needn’t get all the way down to wanting to change basic physical laws–even a determinist can think that a different set of initial conditions which avoided some serious problems was probably possible, and of course someone who believes in randomness is quite free to wish the dice had rolled otherwise. It doesn’t seem to me that this works for you, though perhaps I simply don’t have a handle on the interplay between randomness and God in your thought.
As you might imagine for someone who posts longwindedly about philosophical topics, it amuses me to be called “cool”. Within this very specific context, though, I can graciously accept your gratitude and return it. Good discussion feeds me, and Difficult Run has provided much of it.
“It doesn’t seem to me that this works for you, though perhaps I simply don’t have a handle on the interplay between randomness and God in your thought.”
It depends how you define randomness. I don’t believe God plays with dice, as the saying goes. He created the universe the way it is and human beings the way we are with intent.
However, I don’t believe God ordains every single action of our life. If we trip and fall, that’s just gravity. God may have created gravity, but he didn’t intend for us to trip. He only created a world where it is possible for us to trip because the world functions according to natural laws created by God.
Same with human interaction. God created human beings with free will. That free will includes the possibility that we go do evil things to each other, but God has no part in ordaining or facilitating that evil. He simply created human beings with the ability to defy his will and do evil.
So human existence will entail randomness deriving from the free will of humanity and the free operation of the universe. This is why offering suffering to God is so important, even though it’s an extremely foreign and potentially repugnant idea to some. God cannot ordain evil, so any evil in the world cannot be the will of God. Therefore, some suffering does not have purpose in the sense of ‘God ordained this suffering for some reason’ because He cannot will evil which is the source of some suffering.
(As a side note, God can send suffering for various reasons while not being able to ordain evil since suffering can exist in the absence of evil. The distinction can seem odd at first, but I think it makes perfect sense since evil is sufficient to cause suffering but not necessary. For example, the child me suffered when my mother withheld candy from me, and I probably thought she was evil, but it wasn’t actually evil of my mother to withhold candy from me. Or I suffered when my mother threw me outside to play because I wanted to be inside, but there was nothing evil about my mother putting me outside, only a differential between my desires and my mother’s desires)
However *our response* to suffering can provide purpose even in the absence of ordination by God for said suffering. There are many possible options with suffering (growth, learning, etc.), but if nothing else, we can recognize that Christ suffered for all the sin of humanity, none of which were his fault as He was without sin, so unmerited suffering makes us more like Christ and allows us to join our suffering with the suffering of Christ for the salvation of the world.
We can also recognize that God works even in the midst of evil to bring goodness to humanity. This view may seem like simply restating ‘evil that results in greater good,’ but I think God is key to this long-run understanding because the limited knowledge of humanity makes it impossible to discern this kind of long-run good in evil. Left to our own devices, we’d simply conclude ‘this sucks and nothing good is going to come of it,’ and in a world without God, that’s the most reasonable conclusion to particularly egregious suffering. The archetype example of this view is the Exodus. The Egyptians chose in their evil to enslave the Israelites, and God turned this evil into deliverance and ultimately leading the Israelites to the Promised Land.
With the above truths in our toolbox, there’s literally no suffering that cannot serve a purpose, even if the initial suffering had no purpose other than a human being deciding they could gain something by acting evilly towards another human being or the earth doing something according to natural laws that causes harm to human beings. Hence the phrasing of my original post: We will never understand why every single instance of suffering happened to us or anyone else, but we can know how to respond to any instance of suffering and be justified in trusting God’s goodness.
I like the way this author wrote about the subject:
“When offered to God, no suffering is meaningless. No suffering is wasted. No suffering is worse than death. Suffering offered in union with Christ’s Cross has explosive power, including the power to sanctify not only our own souls, but to call down grace upon others as well. The saints knew this. The saints had an abundance of grace in their own souls already, but yet the suffering they endured was profound. What was it for? What was it worth? It was offered for souls. The saints offered their sufferings for the sins of the world, for the souls of others, and it was redemptive, because it was offered in union with Christ’s suffering. This is how the Body of Christ works!
Now, this doesn’t mean we go looking for suffering (suffering will find us without us having to look for it), and it doesn’t mean that we stand by while others suffer (we are called to ease the sufferings of others). But when suffering comes, it is not meaningless; it is of great value to ourselves and to the world.”
And also this author:
“The Catholic Church teaches that with their limited vision humans do not have the ability to see all the consequences of actions and events, and something they recognize as evil may also be the impetus for great good to occur: God is able to bring good even out of the evil that humans commit. When Catholics look at a troubled history that eventually led to a better situation, they recognize the hand of God drawing the whole process to a happy conclusion. In fact, this is the lesson of the felix culpa, the happy fault: human sin brought suffering into the world, but it also paved the way for God’s incarnation to occur. The evil remains evil, but the good that God causes to flow from it is greater still. According to St. Augustine, even this perception of good coming from evil is the result of a limited view: from the cosmic, eternal perspective of God, everything is ultimately good because God uses everything in the service of goodness.”
If you want an even longer longer take on all of this hullaballoo, Alvin Plantinga wrote a piece on this topic:
As a final thought, all of the above is going to be absolute looney tunes if one doesn’t believe in God. That’s fine in my book. Many ideas are contingent on other ideas. The Christian view of suffering is contingent on believing in God and the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, so lacking those beliefs, this view is utterly insane and false. But that’s no stranger to me than special relativity being utterly incomprehensible and non-verifiable without first establishing certain principles of physics.
(I rate this post at 0.88 Nathaniels in length. Nathaniels are the official unit of post length.)
EDIT: Also, as full disclosure, I’m Catholic, so what I espouse may or may not be common to all Christians. We share in core doctrines, but topics like The Problem of Evil naturally produce different answers to which there is not one universally accepted answer in all of Christianity.
>>”Matthew 18:7: Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!”
>”To me, the meaning of this is that we should accept suffering that cannot be avoided, but only the suffering that cannot be avoided.”
I won’t pretend to be a Biblical scholar, so I read a half-dozen interpretations of this verse online. None included anything like the caveat about not laying down and accepting avoidable suffering. I don’t see how the verse could possibly be interpreted that way, especially with how gory and medieval the subsequent verses are.
e.g. Matthew 18:9: “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you.” Not “maybe don’t look at things that lead toward bad temptations” but “cut out your eyeball like a weirdo.” This doesn’t seem like a chapter big on subtlety. The Mormon verse is far more rational.
The mom example did assume a very young child, as you said. In the case of a 5-year old getting shots, the kid will probably be able to conceptualize why that pain was necessary by the time they’re 10, certainly by 15.
With the many awful things in the world that God allows, you would think that an older, wiser person who was growing closer to God-hood could look back and see why these painful things were necessary. Not many people can look back and understand genocide, slavery, etc. Especially when you consider the Catholic, omnipotent God who could easily put the knowledge of why baby has to get his shots into baby’s head, just as easily as he could theoretically explain why genocide is actually in our best interest.
I was harsh on the ideas of “glorifying” and “dedicating the suffering to God”. I assume that ideas with “extremely long and impressive intellectual history” can handle childish name-calling.
I’ve looked into it a bit and still think it sounds like nonsense word salad, similar to a school fight song or hollow corporate mission statement. It makes people feel good, which somehow gets the top brass off the hook from explaining how the statement is meaningless, and provides a way to to keep feeling good about a team keeps losing homecoming games.
Q: Wait, why should we smite our enemies?
A: Allahu akbar!
Q: Wait, that is not an ans…
A: Are you saying God is not great?!?
Q: No, He sure is!
A: That’s what I thought! Next agenda item…
I’m open to being corrected re: glorifying or giving my suffering to whoever, and other word tricks.
“all of the above is going to be absolute looney tunes if one doesn’t believe in God”
All of the above is an interesting story with informative parts, and some obvious flaws. It is not like looney tunes because very few religious tracts are built around hilarious slapstick.
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