Is God a Fiend? Why is there Suffering?
Post date: Jun 15, 2013 7:32:49 PM
One of the toughest questions that'll plague humanity from the beginning of time to the end of all things is suffering. Why does suffering exist? How can an all-powerful being allow suffering? Why doesn't God end all suffering? Isn't that what a merciful being should do?
I do not confess to have the answers to this. I do have some thoughts that I will be sharing. Lets start at the commencement of human suffering before we begin to jump around the Bible and philosophy for answers.
The Original Sin (Gen 3)
Rewind for a moment to Genesis 2:16-17. In this passage, God commands Adam, saying that he can eat of anything but the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God prescribes death as the consequence for eating of it. It's shortly after that God creates woman.
Back to Genesis 3. In this passage, Eve and Adam are talking to the Serpent. The Serpent sells them on how wonderful the Knowledge of Good and Evil is. He entices Eve to take a bite of the fruit. Notice that in Genesis, she just gives it to Adam. There's nothing saying that Adam came from afar off. She didn't call out to Adam. Eve didn't have to beckon him at all. It's probable that Adam was right next to Eve when she ate.
The proximity is an issue because Adam just allowed Eve to eat. He didn't argue with her or encourage another course of action. Instead, Adam allowed it to happen. By Adam's inaction, he was guilty of allowing evil to enter the world.
Adam then takes it a step further and encourages evil to come into this world by eating of the fruit himself. Yes, Eve (woman) ate first, but Adam (man) did nothing to stop and further encouraged this by participating.
At this point, Adam and Eve hear God walking in the garden (Genesis 3:8). God calls out to them and a conversation begins where Adam and Eve have to confess their sin. God lays out a string of consequences for their disobedience (Genesis 3:15-19) including their ultimate death.
The death-consequence for sin was prescribed in Genesis 2:17. If God did not follow through with the death-consequence for sin, would He still be a god of justice? Would He be a god of truth if He didn't follow through with what He said would happen? Hebrews 6:18 shows that it is impossible for God to lie. When God proclaimed the death-consequence, it was set in stone.
Since God cannot lie and preset the consequence for sin to be death, who brought sin into this world? Who made the choice to commit the first sin?
Repercussions of the Original Sin
After the Original Sin was committed, God explained the repercussions in additional detail:
To Eve (Gen 3:16)
Pain in childbearing
Men will have power over women
To Adam (Gen 3:17-19)
Men will have to work hard to get food for the family
Adam will return to the dust (die)
So far, these are pretty simple repercussions Life gets harder. Adam eventually dies at 930 years old (Gen 5:5). Up to that point, it can be speculated that Adam had to build a home for Eve. He probably had to figure out how to hunt for food when gardening wasn't fruitful.
Originally, God commanded Adam to keep the Garden of Eden in order. The original Hebrew is a generic term for work.When you get into the consequence, Adam is told that he'll sweat when he works (implying hard work). Adam will have to deal with thorns and thistles that naturally spring up.
So far, there's not much in the way of "suffering".
Eve was cursed with pain in childbirth. Having participated in the birth of my children, I can't say this isn't a form of suffering. Biblically, Eve had 3 children. Cain, Able, and Seth. I do not envy that woman. When skin is stretched quickly so something larger can pass through.... OUCH!
This is the only real suffering that God applies to humanity.
Going a step further, God tells Eve that her husband will have power over her. Some women may see this as suffering. There's no indication that man has right to inflict upon his wife. Just that he will have the ultimate say in the relationship.
At this point, there's no long term suffering imposed upon humanity. Even the pain of childbirth lasts for a short time when compared to the length of a person's life.
Blood on Men's Hands
In the Bible, it only takes a chapter for humans to turn on one another. Genesis 4:8 tells that Cain killed his brother, Abel. The two of them had made offerings to God. Cain was jealous because Abel received favor of God.
Reading at Genesis 4:3, Cain brought an offering. There are no qualifiers to say that it was a special offering. Cain just brought a generic offering to God. Abel brought the best of his flock. The fattest and first were offered to God.
Consider this like giving flowers to someone. If you're a woman and your boyfriend brings you flowers, it's special. But, what if the flowers were dandelions. How special does that make you feel? Now suppose you're single and have two guys vying for your affection. One brings dandelions and the other brings roses. Which one would you think is more interested in you?
When Cain saw that Abel's offering was more appreciated, he had two options. Cain could either A) step up his game or B) become angry. Cain's anger led him to kill Abel within 2 verses.
This is my speculation, but I would propose that Cain's offerings had been lacking for a while. Abel was probably consistent in giving the best. I can't see why a one time occurance would cause Cain (or any person for that matter) to just snap.
Cain brought unnatural death to the world. We now have murder and the threat of murder plaguing mankind.
Further Spread of Sin
Genesis 6 is best known for Noah's charge to build an ark. What people don't consider are the verses leading up to this.
God says that He will not always strive against humans (Gen 6:3). Within two verses, we hear that people were always scheming and conceiving evil (Gen 3:5). Their thoughts were completely toward evil. This was so much to the degree that God regretted making humans. Over the next couple of chapters, God destroys the earth by flood.
Fast forward to Genesis 18:20. Here, God is stating how grievous the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah are. Starting at Genesis 19:1, angels go down to Sodom. They meet Lot, who shuffles them into his house. Lot seems to want to get the angels out of public eye really quickly. By verse 5, the men of the city are calling out to Lot so they can "know" them (a euphemism for having sex with them). The result of this encounter ends with Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed (Gen 19:24).
Stop and consider what was happening. The men of Sodom had their hearts set to force their sexuality on the angels. When a woman is raped, she suffers emotional trauma. Her world is shattered as she perceives her body as less than whole. Self value drops. Physically, there's tearing. These wounds take years to heal. Her physical and emotional suffering will last years.
The men of Sodom were ready to force this suffering upon the angels for their own pleasure.
God's Response to Sin
From the passages in Genesis through to the New Testament, the Bible covers so many of the sins of humans. Early on, God provides laws and consequences. The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy all provide God's decrees.
What does God decree in the laws?
Sacrificial Ordinances (Lev 1:1 - 7:38)
Priesthood Ordinances (Lev 8:1 - 10:20)
Cleanliness Laws (Lev 11:1 - 16:24)
Holiness Code (17 - 26)
Most of the Levitical laws were prescribed only to Israel These were so Israel would be a "Holy Nation" unto God. Among these were laws prohibiting tattoos and cutting (Lev 19:29). The idea was that Israel was to look different from every other nation. Similarly, the statute stating that you shouldn't mix fabrics (Lev 19:19) was another law to differentiate Israel from other nations. These laws were not carried over to the New Testament.
Other laws dealt with Sin and the human condition. These were the prohibitions against murder, thievery sexual immorality, and such (Exo 20). These laws were brought forward into the New Covenant. These laws dealt with the human heart, going as far as to warn people against desiring what others have (Exo 20:17).
God gave the law as specific rules for humanity to abide by. Time and time again, we see these being broken throughout the Old Testament. Numbers 25 gives history of a specific point where the men of Israel were having illicit sex with the Moabite women. 2 Kings 6:28-29 talks of an instance where cannibalism was practiced. God gave simple rules, yet people would not follow them.
The Post Christ Response
After ages of humans breaking God's laws and falling into sin, God sent Jesus to die in our place. This is well recorded in the synoptic Gospels. Jesus was the once and for all time propitiatory sacrifice. God Himself (who is infinite in nature) died for mankind to have salvation from sin.
Think about this for a second. Humans have shown throughout history a proclivity toward sin and thus death. Jesus the Christ comes to suffer and die in the place of all sinners (that's everyone).
You might be wondering how this equates to human suffering, please allow me to set the stage for the Pauline Epistles.
Upon His death, Jesus gave humans the option to believe in Him and follow Him. Along with this, Jesus left the Holy Spirit to empower His believers to follow Him. Pretty schway.
Back to human suffering...
In Romans 1:20 starts Paul's argument of the human condition. Paul states that nature reveals God's power and being. Paul ends verse 20 by saying that there's no excuse for ignoring this.
Romans 1:21, Paul explains that humans have seen God. They had plenty of chances to be in relationship with God. Humans then choose to be ungrateful toward God. They took Him for granted. More so, humans stopped believing in God. Their musings became foolish.
Verse 22 directly states that humans saw their selves at intelligent, despite the foolishness of their musings. This is evident in the way people pretend to be logical but self-contradict in their world views.
Verse 23 continues with how the view of God changes. The uncorruptible God (who is sinless) is now viewed by humans in the same way we view each other People assume God should do things and has obligations to humankind much in the same way many thing the rich should take care of the poor. Ever heard the phrase "act of God"? It's another form of humans blaming God for bad things that happen.
Romans 1:24 is where God gives up on them. It is more literally translated as God surrenders/relinquishes claim to the person. God stops claiming the person as one of His people. He allows the evil of their heart to become their master. People then begin to do all manner of things.
Starting in Romans 1:25 is a list of things. Certain sexual acts are described to remove ambiguity as to what he is talking. Romans 1:29 continues with a more truncated list. This list includes covetousness, sexual immorality, having poor character, slanderers, people who devise evil schemes, and so forth. The close of Romans 1 (v32) notes that these people enjoy doing all this evil. They know it's wrong, but enjoy doing it.
So, God's not forcing Himself on humankind. Instead, He's backing off and letting people do what they please. God's not smiting much these days nor bringing down wrath and judgment. He's just waiting in Heaven and speaking to those who currently seek Him.
Who's Responsible for Suffering?
So far, we've reviewed verses where mankind sinned and brought suffering upon their-selves and others. In the beginning, God gave one simple commandment of not eating a fruit, yet mankind couldn't follow that. God warned of the consequences of sin, yet mankind still sinned. In the beginning, we see rape, murder, blatant disobedience. The Bible is full of other examples.
The Holy God set up opportunities for humans to turn their lives back toward God. The consequence of sin is still death (Romans 6:23), but people don't care. Many use stories (like evolution) to prove that there's no need for God. This all said, what is God to do?
God stepped away from mankind. People who want nothing to do with God are left until they're ready to pursue God. They're given a lifetime to repent and turn away from sin, but continue to pursue sin.
So, who is to blame for human suffering?
The blame falls on humans. Men and Women choose to inflict upon others.
Think of the child that's starving in India. There's plenty of food across the globe, but it's not equally distributed. Why do people horde food when it's obvious that others could benefit from the scraps of their tables? Why is it that fat people continue to eat more and more, while starving people eat less and less?
Think about the butchering of an English officer in May (2013). Two men hacked a British officer apart, then ran through the streets demanding that people take their pictures. Their hands were still soaked with the blood of their victim, these men delivered a message of death. Can a person honestly say that the officer deserved what he got? How will his family suffer as they mourn their loss.
Think about the Newtown, CT shooting. Someone decided to kill the children and teachers in an elementary school. This country mourns, but doesn't cry as bitterly as the parents of those children.
In these three examples, it was humans that perpetrated the suffering. Suffering will continue until the end of days, as long as humans value life so little. The Bible gives the example of Pilate who killed Jews in a temple (Luke 13:1). Human history long records humans inflicting suffering upon others.
To be fair, I must address the passage in Luke 13 after Pilate kills the Jews in the temple. Verse 4 begins with Jesus accounting a tower in Siloam falling on eighteen people. During this passage, the people were questioning Jesus about if it's God's will for people to die prematurely for their sins.
When you look at the passage, there's no mention of them being punishes for their sins. It is plausible that things just happen. Think about it. If a person is cleaning their gutters and slips off the roof, was there malicious intent? Did someone or something cause this person harm? Or was it just a fluke of nature.
Most people will point at circumstances like this and ask where God is. They assume that God has some obligation to intervene when things go wrong. But does He? Does God have to intervene?
Looking back at Romans 1, we see that God left those who rejected Him to their own devices. Suppose an Atheist (like Steven Hawking is born with a debilitating condition. Whether God chooses to intervene or not is certainly His choice. When people choose to reject God, He gives them their space.
But also look at church history. God allowed so many Christians to be martyred. Nero set Christians on fire then used their burning corpses to light roads. On a personal level, a couple friends of mine were born with versions of cerebral palsy. One can't speak very well, the other doesn't walk well. Both love God to this day. One lost his wife, the other is just starting to date.
Things happen that we don't understand. Blaming God is no different than blaming a person who witnesses an atrocity and fails to act to put it at an end.
You shall not hate your brother (in secret or otherwise). You shall not convict/admonish your neighbor, and force suffering upon him(/her). You won't take revenge for, nor lie about your people, rather YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. (See Leviticus 19:17-18)
Part of the Old Testament law, God told people to love others as their-selves. The idea was not just about valuing human life, but also as an act of worship toward God.
God has always been concerned about people. In 2 Kings 7, there's a story of four starving lepers who God blessed with more than enough food. In Exodus 16, God rained Mana (bread) on Israel so they would have food. 2 Kings 5, God healed a leper. 2 Kings 13:21, God raises a guy from the dead. 2 Kings 4, God gives a widow more than enough oil to take care of her bills.
I could go on, but there are tons of stories in the Old Testament where God heals or cares for people. When God's hand is upon people, life gets so much easier. Sometimes physically, but sometimes spiritually. In either way, when people worship God, their value for others goes up. The drive to help end human suffering becomes greater. As Jesus said, whatever you do to your fellow man, it is as if you are doing it to me.(Matthew 25:40).