Monday, June 05, 2006

What about the Problem of Pain?

In my series of existential problems some may have wondered why I don't bring up the theodicy. It is after all the big problem when it comes to believing in God. Well, I have a reason for not addressing it in this context. The problem of pain is not a problem that the Christian doctrine has an answer to. Faith may give us ways to deal with it, but no way of understanding it. Suffering is as meaningless to the believer as to the non-believer.

Obviously there is a great mystery in the suffering of Christ which have consequences for the suffering of his followers, but again, this is not an answer to the problem.

Anyway, this is dealt with competently by Byron in his series on the subject. Here's the latest installment: nothing new under the sun...: Theodicy and eschatology III


Steve Blakemore said...

Suffering may not be as "meaningless" as you suggest. One could say that it is a horrible gift (very horrible indeed). Given your take on sin, Patrik, you could affirm the following could you not.

Suffering is a state allowed by God to insure that we might be less likely to mistake the conditions of this world (in which God is hidden) for the real home of our true selves. Pain is a reminder to us that something is amiss. The Image of God in humanity cries out against suffering. Hence, suffering creates in the heart of human beings a longing for the world to be different. Such longing is not coercive, but persuasive. God therefore might allow pain to be the horrible gift that raises our eyes in the hope (you posted about it) of something more. It plays an existential role in a fallen creation.

Steve Blakemore said...
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Patrik said...

I have difficulty with the thought of God using suffering. I agree that pain may have the consequences you describe, but it also may lead to complete dispair and suicide. I think we need to acknowledge that we don't know why there is suffering in the world, and then believe in A god who is present in the suffering, by pointing to Jesus at the cross.

Steve Blakemore said...

You miss my point. And also, I have difficulty with a God who would not use suffering (not cause it but use it). To be made in God's image entails, at least, freedom. Freedom requires a capacity of choosing something other than God. Sin is that choosing. Could it be that sin introduces a relational rupture in the fabric of creation? If so, then suffering by humans begins with that rupture. (At least that is what the scriptures seemt to imply in Genesis and other places.)

Unless one affirms God's providential goodness even in allowing suffering to be a part of the world, I do not see how one can affirm the complete picture of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who becomes incarnate in Jesus.

He comes to bear the awful consequences of our lives for us and with us, that our suffering might be redeemed. But God redeems us and our suffering in Jesus by becoming one with us in it. . . the very reality he allowed to provide us with the horrible reminder of our finitude and need.

Patrik said...

What do you mean when you say sin introduces a "relational rupture in the fabric of creation"? Do you mean that sin is an relational rupture in the fabric of creation, or that because of sin somethin actually changes in the creation? Is this then something that has happened at a point in time (the fall) or something that happens in every instance of sin? Just to clarify.

I'll just let you answer that before I say anything more on the subject.

Steve Blakemore said...

Because of sin something changed in the order of creation. As St. Paul says, "it was subjected to futility" (Romans 8). One could also affirm with Athenasius that death entered the human experience and that is a "change" in creation. Furthermore, the place of the human race was forfeited, i.e. being the image of God in the world, for a broken relationship with God makes that kind of role for humans impossible.

Hence, redemption is needed because the fabric of creation is torn. All of creation is to be redeemed (that is the view of the New Testament).

But, every sin that any or all individuals commit is a manifestation of the relational rupture that has resulted. Hence, sin is an apt shorthand reference to the relational rupture. But, something in the creation changed.

Patrik said...

What do we mean by saying that death entered creation with sin? This is something the Fathers discuss a lot, and I'm not competent to say what their general opinion was. However, if we mean that there were no physical death before the event of the first sin, I think it is difficult to see any continuity whatsoever with that existence and this one. As I said here I think it is the meaning of death that changes because of sin.

But to get back to the subject: Do I understand you position correctly when I say that you understand evil as a tragic situation, that for the moment is so to speak out of God's control (he is fixing it in the long run) but something that he can turn to good. So God tolerates evil because it works to fulfill his plan for creation. By understanding this we can make suffering less meaningless. Is that about the way you see it?

The problem I have with this position is that this would mean that God lets the good of the collective (humanity) override the good of the individual. Based on human love, which is not identical but analogue with God's love, I would say that love tends to work the other way. To that you could say that the individual Jesus was sacrificed for the collective, and that no one has greater love than he who gives his life for his brother, and I do not argue with this, but that is self-chose suffering. When the child in Darfur suffers, it is not self chosen, it is no redemptive it is just meaningless. For God to use that kind of suffering for the benefit of mankind as a whole, it is not love it is tyranny.

This is why I think it is better to say that we cannot give an answer to why there is suffering in the world.

Steve Blakemore said...

Dostoyevsky would be heartened by parts of your response, as am I. I do not claim that all sufering is self-chosen, neither do I suggest that the response I have offered is comprehensive. My original post was that it "may not be as meaningless as you suggest."

That is a long way from allowing that it is "explained" fully or even totally comprehensibe. The child in Darfur example is one of horrific clarity about the mystery of suffering and iniquity in the world.

HOwever, I am not suggesting that God's attitude is one that prefers the collective over the individual. No! what I said in my first respons is that God has allowed it and "uses" it (although does not will it ultimately) as an existential reality that can remind us all that we are more than this world tells us we are. Even the sufferer is reminded. And the suffer is a demand upon those of who witness it to act in a way that in consistent with the value of the individual sufferer in the light of Christ and the image of God.

That is what I am suggesting when I say: "Pain is a reminder to us (even to the sufferer) that something is amiss. The image of God in humanity cries ot against suffering."

That is not to diminish the horrors of a child in Darfur who is tortured or neglected (although the Darfur example can be understood as a manifestation of just how ugly human iniquity really is, rather than one of suffering generally).

Finally, I do not disagree with much of your existential reading or the angst you express. but, it is verifiable that many, many, many persons who do suffer actually do begin to ask a series of questions" what is this occuring to me? what is the meaning of my life?

Victor Frankl's work in "Man's Search for Meaning" is an excellent example of the essential dialectic between the human spirit and actual suffering in the world. But, for now I'll simply lapse in the quietude of faith and babble-on no more about the barely effable.

byron said...

This is one of those 'finding a dead conversation' blog experiences. Thanks for the link - I'm afraid I didn't notice it at the time since I must have overlooked this post.

PS this comment is to the post 'What about the Problem of Pain?' - I realise how annoying it can be to get a comment on a thread that has gone 'cold' and you don't know where it is!

Jeremiah said...

For my part everyone ought to glance at it.
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