Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Problem of Pain: A Confession.

I admit, one aspect of criticisms of Christianity that strikes me as naive is the idea that a good God would not allow torment or pain in the world.

The problem is that Christianity seems like the one major religion where a criticism like this is ridiculously out of place - what with the crucified God and all. The crucifixion, to me, highlights the very real possibility that perhaps we as humans are making a mistake when we regard pain as "something a good God would never allow", or is somehow out of place in a created world.

This is an undeveloped thought right now, but I think there's something to be said purely by comparing the claim - "It is a surprise, counterintuitive, that the Christian God would allow pain and harm in the world" - to the bare image of God crucified.

14 comments:

Tim Lambert said...

Prior to becoming a Christian (Catholic) I used to view pain (physical, emotional) and any hardships as a reflection of a cold universe that really could careless about me. I was, at the time, completely blind to the fact that out of these painful moments there was usually some substantial personal growth that followed: I was better able to emphasize with someone suffering; I had (ever so slightly) increased my level of patience;...
These changes would occur but I never put any stock in them, never really reflected on them.

After becoming a Christian I never viewed painful moments/hardships the same again. That doesn't mean they are no longer trying moments for me - but they are no longer hopeless, bleak moments that reflect my being alone in a universe that could careless about me.
Right now, in my life, I'm going through some of the hardest times I ever experienced: My work environment is a nightmare, there's a blandness of life that I am struggling greatly with, I keep making the same mistakes over and over again while my awareness of my failures is getting more and more accute, I doubt my abilities to a degree I have never before in my life, I'm alienating people from me because of my inability to cope with these changes, my health is getting worse year after year....
But I still have hope. I'm able to appreciate that some wonderful change, that only God could anticipate, is coming to the threshold. Prayer and confession now have the ability to be incredibly illuminating moments for me.

I am not where I need to be. And while I'm sure my physical well being and comfort aren't despised by God.... they aren't as important as my soul. Certainly not in a corrupted world.

Crude said...

Heya Tim.

I'm following on a similar path in terms of attitude. Perhaps even more than that - I just have increasing trouble seeing pain and suffering as something that does not fit in with the existence of a benevolent God, certainly with the God of Christianity. I say that fully recognizing that A) For what suffering I go through, I have an extremely blessed life, and B) Other people may not see things the same way.

Either way, thanks for sharing that with me. And I'll keep you in my prayers regarding your hardships.

Tim Lambert said...

Hi Crude,
I completely see what you're saying about suffering and a benevolent God.
When I think of myself, the kind of person I truly am, I don't see a "beautiful person". I look for easy ways out of hard situations, I prefer comfort to hard work, I'd rather have people tailor their behaviors to me than me having to exercise patience, if you wrong me I brood over it.... running scenarios over and over in my head of how I can "right" the situation back in my favor, I'm a liar, I'm a glutton with food, I have mean spirited thoughts.

When I truly think of it, in the absence of people who wish to waive it off to pointless self-deprecation, I'm not a good person.
I, as much as anyone, will make concerted efforts to 'right the ship' but those are short lived. New Year's resolutions and brief "ah ha" moments. The only true change that ever came about in my life was through suffering.

The passing away of my mom at a young age (in 2003) was one of the first hard moments I had to deal with. From her passing I came away a Christian and with the ability to start seeing my ugly side (the aforementioned traits).
Both of these being blessings from God. Prior to her passing I thought I was the most charming person to grace the earth. I needed to start seeing what was plainly evident to God (and others who cared about me).

My current struggles? I have no doubt in my mind they're tantamount to birthing pains - God in His infinite wisdom knowing what needs to change in me.... but praise be to Him for allowing me to see that I am in need of change.

There's truly no other way I could ever make these changes on my own:
Either through suffering or the grace of God. And I'll be the first to admit I don't deserve that grace. But who knows, maybe when all is said and done.... and I get some more distance on these hard times I'll be able to see that it was by God's grace that I was allowed to suffer.

Ilíon said...

"Perhaps even more than that - I just have increasing trouble seeing pain and suffering as something that does not fit in with the existence of a benevolent God ..."

It's logically impossible for God to create a world which does not contains some degree of pain and suffering (natural evil). And, it's logically impossible for God to create free moral beings who may not potentially choose to engage in wickedness (moral evil). Thus, in creating anything at all, God simultaneously created what we call “natural evil,” and in creating free moral beings, God created the possibility of what we call “moral evil,” which is to say, wickedness.

The reason/explanation for this logical impossibility is that all created things are ‘not-God’ – all created things lack, all created things are incomplete and changeable (else they would be God, for only God lacks-not, only God is wholly complete or integral and unchanging).

Crude said...

I wonder if this goes beyond logical impossibility, however. That suggests that God would create some minimum level of suffering and pain X by necessity, and lead into arguments about whether there is a threshold we should expect God not to cross. But I'm wondering if that threshold is higher than most would typically expect.

Ilíon said...

That suggests that God would create some minimum level of suffering and pain X by necessity …

That’s almost what I said, is it not? Other than the “minimal” part.

Bluntly: Necessarily, the world contains pain and suffering, loss and want, death and separation; for the world is changeable, as it is ‘not-God.’


"... and lead into arguments about whether there is a threshold we should expect God not to cross."

That wouldn't be arguments, but simply pointless argumentation -- for arguments are grounded in the known, and the knowledge necessary for evaluation of that particular question is something not even in principle available to any finite being.

We *can* know, via reason, that it is logically impossible for God to create 'not-God' which is also 'God.'

We *cannot* know, via reason, whether there really are gradations in ‘not-God.’ I mean, from God’s perspective (which is the one that matters). Or, even if we grant that there are gradations, we cannot know where to set the marks.


However, we *can* know, via reason, that God is Good. And we can further know, via reason and trust in God’s Goodness (and if we do not trust in his Goodness, then we have not properly reasoned), that God creates a good world; in fact, “the best of all possible worlds.”

Further, we know, via reason, that God is “the ground of all being;” God is Being Itself. One of the meanings of this is that God fully participates in the being/existence of all things – God is not “up there,” watching our lives and our sufferings, as though our lives were a play or movie. Rather, God (in the person of the Second Person of the Godhead) is *right here* living it with us.

God has *always* been right here, living it with us, both the good and the wicked (*) we do and experience – the Son has *always* been giving up his life for his creation (**); the creation has *always* been feeding off the life of the Creator. While we constantly bitch and moan about the (generally petty) pains we endure, do any of us ever give a moment’s thought to the pain that our very existences cause God?

(*) ALL THINGS have their being grounded in God. Our sin, wickedness, moral evil, is so monstrously evil precisely because in sinning we cause the Sinless One to experience sin.

(**) In a way similar to how Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac “foreshadows” the Passion, the Incarnation and Passion “personalizes” God’s eternal “cosmic” act of giving his life that his creation may live.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

A point that struck me from my reading of SCG (cf. I, 50, 3): "…the knowledge of the maker determines the form for the thing made." God, as Maker of the world, knows from all eternity that He wills to be united with in the closest possible likeness to Himself. It is an open debate whether he foreknew the fall and thus willed the Incarnation or willed the Incarnation and thus willed it to have enough "theandric redundancy" to achieve redemption (the old Thomist vs. Scotist-Salesian debate on the order of the Word's mediation). Anyway, the point is that, in so far as God's knowledge of what it would take to achieve beings capable of the desired participation in His likeness, God thus willed a creation that had every (and obviously displays) every weakness i.e. pain. The potentiality of human nature may thus be both the means of infinite perfectibility in man and, alas, the means of tortured fallenness without that perfected telos. Pain is a contraction of the Latin patiens, which basically means a metaphysically contingent being. So perhaps "pain", whether the pain of endless glorification or the pain of endless redemption, may indeed be built into the world, like it or not. Christ's suffering is the triune validation of that point: God's love is only known in the tortured flesh of humanity, vouched for by intercession in the Holy Spirit.

Crude said...

I am very sympathetic to the view that pain is fundamental to creation. Not convinced, but very sympathetic.

I do believe that if you eliminate the evil and pain from the universe, you eliminate me. Alas, I am bound up with my experiences, and that includes a small amount of misery. (I'm no drama queen - lots of people have it worse.)

I think this particularly fits in with Christianity. As I think I said earlier, the idea of pain being foreign to Christianity - the religion with the crucified God - seems downright bizarre to me.

Ilíon said...

"I am very sympathetic to the view that pain is fundamental to creation. Not convinced, but very sympathetic."

Your hold-up -- like everyone else's -- is emotional, rather than rational.

The rational resolution to the so-called "Problem of Pain" (or "Problem of Evil") isn't emotionally satisfying, and thus most people react like children and demand *another* answer.

Crude said...

No, it really isn't emotional in my case. My reluctance to call myself convinced comes from a general realization that I can make mistakes - that's about it.

On a side note, that would be an interesting move of Christian apologetics in Buddhist countries. I wonder if anyone has ever argued that even some suffering is not to be avoided.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

ST I, 22, 2 ad 2:

"…a particular provider excludes all defects from what is subject to his care as far as he can; whereas, one [like God] who provides universally allows some little defect to remain, lest the good of the whole should be hindered. Hence, corruption and defects in natural things are said to be contrary to some particular nature; yet they are in keeping with the plan of universal nature; inasmuch as the defect in one thing yields to the good of another, or even to the universal good: for the corruption of one is the generation of another, and through this it is that a species is kept in existence. Since God, then, provides universally for all being, it belongs to His providence to permit certain defects in particular effects, that the perfect good of the universe may not be hindered, for if all evil were prevented, much good would be absent from the universe."

You really should read Michael Liccione's essays on "The Problems of Evil" and "Mystery and Explanation in Aquinas' Account of Creation".

http://problemsofevil.blogspot.com/

and

http://www.thomist.org/journal/1995/952aLicc.htm

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

And meanwhile we have such "profound" freethinkers as Julia Sweeney arguing against theism by saying it makes theists revel in their own self-importance, "It's all about me, God has ordained everything in my life for my good, etc." Then Aquinas reminds us our own sufferings and frailty may just be "a little defect" in the larger good of the world.

Crude said...

Yeah, Julia Sweeney. TV's Pat, here to tell us about God!

I'll have a look at the Liccione essays. I'm aware of the arguments (and I find those to be conclusive) that some goods cannot be attained without some amount of pain, etc. Though again, I wonder if the reality of pain and suffering runs even deeper than that.

Still, there's always more for me to learn.

Ilíon said...

"Though again, I wonder if the reality of pain and suffering runs even deeper than that."

Yes.

1) as I thought I explained above, it is logically impossible for God to create a world that does not contain natural evil; AND, it is logically impossible for God to create free moral beings who do do have the freedom to choose moral evil.

2) the creation has *always* been feeding off the life of the Creator: it isn't merely during the Passion that the Second Person of the Godhead delivered himself into the hands of his creatures, who then murdered him, he has humbled himself and delivered himself into the hands of his creation from all eternity, from the instand of creation.