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Will You Take The Pain I Give To You?

Posted by spritzophrenia on October 4, 2010

Yesterday we looked at pain in Genesis, and discussed the Christian idea of the distortion of the world, the breaking-down which theologians call “the Fall”. Remember, I’m agnostic, but I’m wearing my Christian hat today.

Matthew Fox is one modern heretic who focuses on Original Blessing rather than original sin, as do Jewish theologies, but I see this as the other side of the paradox. Humanity, and all of nature are full of good, as well as broken-ness. We can hold this alongside the belief that pain came into the world very early on.

“Fall” has a nice Autumnal feel about it don’t you think? The leaves are no longer green, they retain their structure but are beginning to die.

Literalists claim there was no death before the fall. Conceptually, it’s rather hard to see how Eden could have been anything like the forests of today without leaves dying and rotting to provide mulch and minerals, to give one small example.


Can theistic evolution cope with the pain inherent in an evolutionary view?

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

~ Richard Dawkins, “God’s Utility Function,” published in Scientific American (November, 1995) p. 85, via Iain at Phrenic Philosophy)

Does Dawkins paint his story rather too thickly? My suggestion at this point is to hope that perhaps less “conscious” beings than humans don’t truly “suffer”, in the way that we do? A purely materialist universe, as Dawkins says, is pitiless, indifferent and cruel.

The problem of pain and evil is not an easy one for theists either. It’s something I’ve pondered for many years, even as an agnostic. Philosophy is not a static field and I understand, contrary to popular belief, that the weight of argument is in theists’ favour at present. Check out contributions by Swinburne, Plantinga, contributors to God and the Philosophers and others. Ergo the problem of evil is not a proof against God, it’s at best a probability. More on this another time.

However, when considering the horrors of suffering, the recent floods in Pakistan for example, I always keep in mind two approaches: One can cope with suffering via the intellectual path or the emotional path. (Most likely a mixture of the two.) Even if I present a watertight case defeating the argument from evil, this won’t satisfy someone whose friends have recently died of disease, or remain permanently disabled. Knowing the arguments didn’t satisfy me, after all, when I merely experienced betrayal and a broken heart some years ago. It was this which caused me to walk away from God.

If we know the intellectual reasons I believe this may help, in the big picture. However, when in pain, we don’t want sophistry, we want comfort and strength. On that note I recommend Philip Yancey’s modern classic Where Is God When It Hurts?. It’s a profound book and I rate it highly.

Buddhism takes the reality of suffering as one of its foundational starting points. Alternately, I believe if there is some kind of pure Being there, who knows us intimately, then this g0d somehow shares in our suffering, and the suffering in nature.


What Do You Think?

How do you think about suffering and spirituality? Does a higher power disgust you, or help you when you think about these things? This is part three of a series, starting with part one.


Pleasure constricts us
That is the way
Empty perversion
Crippled by fate
(I believe in pain! In disease, cruelty and infidelity.)
Front Line Assembly | Final Impact, Bio-Mechanic

14 Responses to “Will You Take The Pain I Give To You?”

  1. […] Will You Take The Pain I Give To You? […]

  2. There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. – Albert Einstein

    I follow the premise that all is a miracle.. that there is a purpose for life and a purpose for all that happens.

    Suffering can be used as a reason to sink into depths of despair or it can used to ascend above the chaos.

    • Einstein must be the most-quoted scientist ever 🙂

      I think for me I find suffering a real challenge. If I was in permanent pain, I think “ascending” would be hard, just based on my few days of back pain. How do you do it?

      Thanks Gabrielle 🙂

      • Now looking at my reply, I see how it might be construed as taking pain lightly. I do not suffer chronic pain. When I do have pain, I am grateful that it will probably pass. Then when it does pass, I am almost giddy with joy (at least for a short time..lol.)

        I don’t believe “God” administers, condones, requires pain or suffering. I think pain comes from a lack of balance somewhere (health, actions, thoughts, karma???)

        I absolutely hate feeling nauseous.. makes me want to die. About 2-3 years back I seemed to have a bout of nausea for a few days every month or two. I learned that resisting it made it worse. I settled into it and felt grateful it would pass soon. I remembered there were others that were suffering far worse and/or chronically.

  3. Is being ‘permanently disabled’ one of the ‘horrors of suffering’ people experience? Yuck.
    Is ‘the fall’ when Eve ate the apple in Eden? Good Jew here. Never read the bible.
    I just discovered that my friend’s mom died of cancer. The pain I’m experiencing is for my friend who I’m sure is suffering. Her mother is free and fine. [non-religious spirituality.] While it’s very nice to have spirituality, I could use a human hug.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your friend. I agree, a hug is a good thing (and can be seen as an expression of spirituality if one’s spirituality encompasses the body?)

      In my head I was thinking about “extreme” disability, whatever that is, and wasn’t thinking of you. I can’t write about this without writing a small novel so I’ll leave it there. Sorry if i offended.

      LOL @ “good Jew who never read the Bible”. Many christians could say the same thing. Yeah, ‘the fall’ is when they both ate the fruit (Technically it’s not an apple, no-one knows what fruit it was. Popular culture, huh?).

  4. Marie said

    There is a new movie call “The experiment”, playing Adrien Brody and Forest Whitaker…You and all Your readers who follow Your “will you take the pain I give You”article to the next level:
    What make Us Human!
    It is not Religion, surly We will not discuss “how many angels are dancing on the top of the needle” but are we follow the inner voice deep inside of Us that tell Us the difference between Good and Evil, or the lack of it!
    It is one of the most moving movie I saw in a long time…

  5. Iain said

    Hey thanks for the plug 😀

    Oh man, you really say some huge stuff in this post. Now I absolutely MUST read those books you recommended. I’m totally curious about your comment Re: the weight of the evidence, we have to Skype about it sometime soon.

    My thoughts about the problem of evil used to be that it was easily dismissed by the free-will defense (god desires relationship, genuine relationships of love require genuine freedom, genuine freedom cannot come without the possibility of rejection, rejection of god leads to sinful behaviours, sin causes pain and death). Now I’m not so sure. A god who is omni-benevolent (a new theological perspective, I might add, rather than an ancient one) leads to a very radical impossibility of co-existence with any form of suffering. Combined with a god who has omniscience of either (1) knows all actual future choices, or, (2) knows all actual AND possible future choices, means that a god who decides to Create a universe knows the exact collection of choices that will be taken by all participants. Even if the participants have transcendental free will this only makes individuals the proximate cause of their actions and negative behaviours. It is god who provides the specific universe (which limits and partially determines behaviours), the context of each of our lives (again modifying our actions), the other people who we co-exist with (again, determining our possible choices), and so forth. I actually think that given that an omnipotent God could create one of many possible feasible worlds then – knowing that certain outcomes create more pain than others – any universe where suffering exists is a problem for the notion of omni-benevolence. Omni-benevolence isn’t just that god is “a fairly nice guy”, it is the most extreme form.

    Now, you might say that this world is the best possible world out of all feasible worlds, thereby ridding god of blame due to the fact of doing his best. Well, I have two questions about this that are directed to the Theist paradigm (specifically Muslim and Christian). Firstly, presuming that not all people are saved, would even one person in Hell justify any number of other people in Heaven? A feasible world created such that paradise is contingent on the eternal suffering of another? No. The alternative, where none exist at all because none are created, is surely better; non-existent people can’t miss out on anything let alone suffer.
    Secondly, if heaven exists, and heaven is a place where all free-willed participants enjoy paradise eternally, then surely heaven provides a counter-example to the notion that this is the best possible feasible world. Heaven is. So why would an omni-benevolent god simply not go straight to creating the state of affairs that presumably exist in heaven.

    So, due to the fact that I think the theistic God is ultimately responsible for the work of his hands, and that a better (perfect!) world is the alternative, either god isn’t wholly, radically, and infinitely benevolent OR he doesn’t exist.

    Of course, this says nothing about alternatives or deism 😉 perhaps g0d exists and she is nothing like most people imagine.

    • I was going to continue this series with a brief look at the philosophical problem of evil, and how I became reconciled to it’s not being a proof against god.

      So perhaps I should still write that post, a little further down the track?

      There’s a lot in your comment, and I’m not sure I can do it justice here.

      One note: I came to the conclusion some time ago that hell cannot exist if there is an omni-benevolent God.

      I have heard an argument that this isn’t YET the best possible world (heaven is, as you said) but that this is the best possible WAY to the best possible world. Norman Geisler had some good stuff on this.

      Also that God has to do the best he can, and that the best he can includes making a world with free moral creatures, so that in that sense a creation is better than no creation.

      This could get very long and boring for other people, so I think Skype is a good idea 😀

  6. joshilan said

    Life is tough
    so is death
    pain and pleasure are opposites of same coin
    duality is real in illusion
    illusion is false
    love is all there is to find
    now or forever

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