Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Problem Of Suffering And The Loving God (Pt 2)

Suffering. I'll be frank: I don't know what that word means. I'm not wanting for any of life's basics, and I even have many of its non-basics: I've always had food in my stomach, friendship and love (whenever I wasn't busy botching my relationships, that is), a roof over my head, and plenty of entertainment. When I read about persecution, torture, rape, and war, I think to myself "That's terrible", but I don't know *how* terrible. I shrug and think "People are like that, that's why we do those things to each other", but I don't actually know what exactly drives a person to those extremes, and I have less of an idea what it is to be the victim of such extremes. When I read about natural disasters -hurricanes, tsunamis, whole families displaced, loved ones missing- I have little or no personal experience that helps me relate to people who suffer like that. I haven't even had someone I love die on me yet. The most honest emotion I can muster, when I read about the horrors the world endures, is disbelief. There may be some sympathy, but I can't say there's any empathy.

Still the question of suffering gnaws at us, even those of us who have all the basics of life many of its comforts. We ask questions like "Why them, why not me?", and rightly so... there appears to be no rhyme or reason to who gets their particular lot in life. We see suffering, and something inside us protests at what we percieve as something inherently unfair and unjust, but tragically rampant in the world. I had the same question Templeton asks in Strobel's book, which I'll just paraphrase: "If there is a loving God, why do innocent people suffer?". I have to admit, I avoided the question entirely for a long time. I had ideas of my own, but no strong conviction if any of them held up. I did read the bible's musings on suffering (especially in Job), but I still wasn't certain if it had any intellectual answers. Even the answers I've gotten since from outher sources were not answers I went out of my way in search of. I was simply there when this or that sermon was preached, or happened to glance through this or that article. I confess that I've dealt with the subject in a decidedly lazy manner.

I guess my reason for blogging about suffering is to lay out the various ideas I have about the concept of the loving God and see how it all holds up. Now I'm not going to have a very objective opinion. I'm going to use scripture and previous works of Christian apologetics quite a bit. I'll even throw in the occasional "My pastor said..." statement. I will try to hypothesize a bit, and use my (very) rudimentary knowledge of philosophy wherever I find it applicable, but I'm still a staunch Christian. If pressed I'll most likely say I am a Christian by faith alone. I'm not like C.S. Lewis, who claims he became a Christian by induction. I didn't read some reality-altering apologetic that convinced my mind beyond any doubt that Christianity is true (I'll still allow, from an intellectual point of view, that I'm completely wrong, there is no God, and life is devoid of any true meaning). I did not examine scientific or archeological evidence nor require anything specific in that regard. I'm where I am mostly because of intuition; Christianity makes sense to me, so I choose to believe it is true. A Christian may say God lead me here. The unbeliever may say I'm a Christian just because I want to be. I'm not sure how to tell the difference.

If you're not a Christian and you're reading this, here's a warning: I'm not going to be 100% philisophically fair or politically correct. What you're going to read is what this Christian thinks about suffering and why the Christian God makes sense to me in light of suffering. You may wonder why pay any heed to someone whose entire worldview and philosophy rests on something so tenacious as faith. I'm not sure I will answer that here, nor will I intentionally attempt to. I'll say this much: If, after I'm done, the Christian God makes sense to you too, or at the very least seems plausible, then that's as close to an answer as I'll get to for now.

An initial word about Strobel's book, 'The Case For Faith', and it's chapter on suffering: In style and content, this book is made very much of the same substance that 'The Case For Christ' was. The chapter's interviewee appeals to the Judeo-Christian view of God for answers, and you will have to allow for the plausibility of that view of God for the book's arguments to have much power over you. I do think you could arrive at a picture of God very much like the Judeo-Christian God by pure reflection (as G.K. Chesterton says he did), but this book does very little to demonstrate the viability of that approach. In other words, if you think the bible is bunk, and you want a purely philisophical defense of the assertion that there is a God and He is a loving God, this book may not help you much. Strobel's book argues for the plausibility of that particular view of God; if that's what you're looking for, it may be worth checking out. I might elaborate on how well Strobel's book does that here... I'll need to read it again more carefully, though. I will say that my initial impression is that labelling the 'Case For...' series as "beginner-level apologetics" would be a fair evaluation of his work.

Alright, I guess I'm done with the prelims. Over the years I've built up a number of ideas that frame my approach to the issue of suffering. I think it's best, if I want to see if the whole thing holds together, to summarize all the ideas I've gathered into my head one by one. I'll do exactly that next time.

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