How does Christianity explain suffering? (Or any other religions?)

How does Christianity explain suffering? Especially when it’s from no fault of your own?

For easy discussion, let’s separate suffering into 2 categories:

  1. Human caused suffering. (For example: you were unfortunately born as a slave.)
  2. Nature caused suffering. (For example: you were born with seriously physical defects.)
    I have searched for some explanations, but none of them are very satisfactory. Especially when explanation nature caused suffering.

So what is your understanding of the reason for suffering? Or what was the best explanation you have ever heard before?
If you know some other religions that give a much better explanation, please do share as well.

One last point: the secular view of just bad luck could very well be true. But it is just so cold and heartless for the poor victims.

Well. Dualists religions explain it neatly by having an evil god and a good one (“good” things, animals, etc… were created by the latter, “evil” things by the former in zoroastrianism). Same with some early messianist sects that considered the god of the old testament as being an evil demiurge, or the cathars who believed that the material world was the dominion of a similarily evil demiurge (god created what was spritual and pure, the evil demiurge the material world men are trapped in).

Since suffering is a central issue in Buddhism, I’m sure someone well-versed in it could chime in this thread.

Well, sure, but something not being pleasant doesn’t make it any less true.

“Our limited minds cannot possible understand the infinite mind of God” is very popular. This is one variation of “Everything happens for a purpose.”

Thanks for the responses.

Unfortunately, Christianity can only have one god. Otherwise an evil god would certainly be a better explaination.

But if you treat the old testament god as an evil demiurge, wouldn’t the whole salvation and heaven be totally shot? What were their take on the purpose of life then?

I totally agree with you.

But what are you going to tell a kid with leukemia who is going to die in a couple of years?

But this is just “We don’t know” in a longer sentence. Also, if everything happened for a purpose, wouldn’t all the evil doer be serving God’s purpose?

Just thought of something to add.

In Christianity, have there ever exist the view that god might sometime make mistakes or overlook something? And that God will simple right all the wrong in the afterlife? Or anything similar?

Besides the others mentioned, two explanations I’ve heard are :

1 :Without evil, you cannot appreciate good, therefore God permits evil ( which makes God evil, IMHO )

2 : Without suffer and despair ( especially despair ), people will not be impelled to make a leap of faith to worship God. Faith is the only good ( anything is better than not having faith; it’s better to kill in the name of Kali, because at least you are affirming a faith ), therefore evil is necessary in order to promote faith.

IIRC pleasure, and not having more children.

Not really. We can do something about evil caused by nature and ourselves; if it’s infilicted by an omnipotent being there is no hope. In that case, we are all damned, and already in a Hell; if there is an afterlife, I expect we’d all go to an even worse Hell.

How about:

Adam ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, he was chucked out of the garden (in a state of grace with god, in a place where no evil could befall him), and left out in the wilderness to fend for himself. This is where mankind developed - out of the direct control of God. God intervened from time to time when it seemed mankind was headed for total moral destruction (i.e. the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah), but largely left man alone to experience life without God, with all the good and the bad that brings. He left it up to mankind to find its way back to God. So good stuff and bad stuff happens, and God doesn’t intervene.

Eventually, he sent his Son down to expand God’s promise of a better life to all mankind and not just the chosen people, and to spread the message of love, tolerance, etc. In other words, God is acting like a Shepherd of a flock - herding the people towards a divine end where they can re-establish their existence with God. Those who choose not to will be left in the wilderness.

I don’t believe any of it, but this is a rather common way to look at the issue of God allowing good and evil. Call it mankind’s climb back up from a fallen state.

Or is could be the Book of Job on a larger sample. God and Satan might have a wager as to whether people worship God out of love of God or just because He gives them things.

After being religious and now being more of an agnostic, I have concluded that that was not told by god but by the early holy men as a solution to stop those eternal nagging questions of suffering.

Being less clinical, I would put myself in the shoes of a creator that knows that the setup in paradise was not going to last forever since that was obviously not the plan. His/her creations eventually had to face the harsh world out there, better then to give humanity an eternal guilt trip rather than remember forever that god gave us the sink or swim treatment for apparently no reason. Eventually we would had figured the reason as many parents discover, but for sure the bible then would had been less sympathetic to god.

You are right, both make god evil. Number two is akin to a slave master too. I will beat the obedience out of you.

It would all be very well until, for example, he got paralyzed in a car accident……. Of course, we could still endure this if we have a very strong mind.

It is true that we can deal with most suffering caused by nature and human. But what about the rest of the suffering we simply cannot resolve?

What could we tell a kid with terminal cancer?

But the original sin put the blame on ourselves. Isn’t this like kicking a man when he is down?

Similar to the Dualists explanation. Has this ever been the official explanation?

But of course, this also cannot explain that if god is omnipotent, why would he allow such thing to happen?

Very interesting. So god is teaching us to walk on our own feet.
This would actually be a very good explanation, if we could ascribe that the sufferings were not deliberately caused by god.

Actually, I am looking for a explanation that:

*Is under the premise that God is good and loving. (This has to be true, otherwise we would have no hope in heaven.)
*Does not attribute the suffering to the fault of the victims.

And then we could just attach “All wrong will be righted at the final judgement.” to the end of that explanation. That would just be perfect.

No one has claimed that God and Satan are coninuing their wager on a larger scale as far as I know. No one but me just now, that is, and I don’t count for much.

The Book of Job is a try at an explanation for evil, and a damned poor one in my opinion.

“Here’s some morphine, and we’re working on a treatment”. Not much, but better than “It’s God’s Will, and we can’t do anything about it.”

The point I was trying to make is that if our problems are caused by nature or ourselves, we can eventually hope to solve them; perhaps not now, but sometime. If they are imposed on us by an omnipoitent God, on the other hand, we are utterly screwed.

You are right. Book of Job is just so horrible.

I don’t suppose the church could explain with this, because God has to be omnipotent.

I understand what you are saying. I do believe as the science progress, we can deal with more and more of nature’s problems.

But one of the biggest advantage of religion is supporting the people in pain.

In the mean time before we find the cure, wouldn’t it be very nice if we can tell the kid that: “This is not your fault and God did not wish this for you. You would be compensated in heaven for your suffering.”

I dunno. When I was going through a very dark time in my life, my Christian relatives thought it would comfort me somehow by telling me that all the bad shit happening was part of God’s plan.

It sounds a lot more cruel to me to think the bad shit is being caused by some omnipotent prick planning it out, than just bad luck.

In philosophy, those would fall under the categories of “moral evil” and “natural evil,” respectively.

Moral evil is considered the consequence of human volition (what is often referred to as “free will”). Natural evil is considered (in part, at least) to be a consequence of the Biblical fall from grace in Genesis. While the Bible does not state this explicitly, it has also been suggested that these evils also exist because such temporary suffering can produce some ultimate and eternal good–in particular, that they may prompt people to seek the Lord more thoroughly, or turn to him whereas they otherwise would not. This is not idle conjecture either; consider that the greatest Christian revivals currently do not occur in the prosperous nations; rather, they have been taking place in nations that experience unspeakable human suffering.

This is the so-called “Free Will Theodicy.” I recommend the writings of William Lane Craig on this topic, since they are fairly readable and have been digested for lay consumption. Dr. Craig discusses this at great length and does so more cogently that I would.

There are some who scoff at the Free Will Theodicy, including some here on the SDMB; however, I’ve found that they invariably fail to represent the Free Will Theodicy accurately. For example, one common objection goes, “The Free Will defense only explains evil caused by human free will! It doesn’t explain suffering caused by nature.” Clearly, these people have not represented this theodicy accurately. (It’s not caused the “Free Will Theodicy” because it only attempts to explain human free will. Rather, it suggests that in a world where free will exists, a certain level of suffering may be necessary so that the optimal number of human beings will freely choose to seek God, instead of turn away from him. People who object in that manner are clearly basing their judgment on the argument’s name rather than its content.)

Nice, I suppose, but it sounds like the sort of thing that leads to doctors witholding the morphine to make the kid suffer more, and improve his chances for/place in heaven.

Sorry to hear that man. Hope you will run into some good luck soon.

But then the doctor would be causing the suffering himself, and he would have to answer to that in the final judgement then. :slight_smile: