Monotheism and the Problem of Suffering

The Problem of Suffering

Today we're going to look at an issue that effects Christianity and all Monotheistic faiths, suffering.

In ancient times it was extraordinarily common for mortals to blame disaster, tragedy and catastrophe on the supernatural. Human beings have always struggled with the idea that disaster might be random or without cause. Our own ability to feel guilt leads us to believe that  we deserved disaster. This type of thinking can still be seen today. If things are going well in our lives, for instance, someone might say "Someone up there must really like me". And when bad things happen we might say something like "someone up there must have it out for me". Even in modern day fundamentalism there are those that blame storms on homosexuality or abortion, or any other aspect of society they dislike, as the cause of God's wrath.

The problem is that for most Monotheists the God dishing out a heaping helping of wrath is meant to be a loving and merciful God. Polytheism, the belief in more than one god, has it much easier than Monotheism in this regard. Most polytheistic faiths cast their gods as being much more human like and often limited in power or scope. Zeus, for instance, is the god of lightning and his son Apollo is the god of the sun while his other son Hephaestus knows his way around a volcano. So they are limited in their scope and therefore each individually hold the blame for anything that might happen. Zeus gets a free pass if Hephaestus starts a volcanic eruption to punish the sinful mortals. Most gods in polytheism also have character flaws that are much more pronounced. They were not all characterized as loving and merciful beings.

The issue of suffering comes into sharp focus when the idea of childhood disease is mentioned. Few things are more heartbreaking and unfair than to see a child stricken with some incurable illness from which they will not recover. Monotheism has failed to explain why this happens. After all a small child has no sins and therefore the illness can hardly be seen as a punishment for some wrongdoing. So why exactly is an All Powerful All Loving allowing ten year olds to get cancer and die? This is another place where polytheism has the answer because their gods have limited power... A Monotheistic All Powerful God doesn't have such limits to hide behind. This brings me to one of the most famous atheistic arguments against God ever put forward and it comes from the Greek philosopher Epicurus some three hundred years before Christ is said to have lived:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?


Epicurus states the problem perfectly. If God is truly good why isn't he intervening to prevent evil when that evil befalls good people. Most Monotheists get around this with the claim that we are ALL sinners but surely this cannot apply to a child. And what of a fetus infected with AIDS nearly from the moment of conception doomed to a horrible existence... surely it hasn't had a chance to sin before its life has even begun. The absurdity of Original Sin is apparent and while some may accept a very early age of accountability for sin I doubt any parent wants to accept the idea that their baby is born a sinner destined for hellfire. If that were the case children who died before being able to accept Christ would end up in Hell and although Yahweh might be cruel enough to do something like that in the Old Testament I admit that such would be low for the New Testament version of God.

Bust of Epicurus

Sins of the Father

So where is this God? Why is it not preventing the needless deaths of starving children and children who get terminal illnesses? Surely they don't deserve this? From here we get the unpleasant idea that the sins of the parents have passed on to the children. The basis for this is none other than the Old Testament itself. Within Exodus 20 in the verses that collectively make up the Ten Commandments God promises to visit the sins of the Fathers onto the sons. To suggest to a couple upon the sudden illness of their child that some sin of theirs brought this upon their baby is disgustingly low. To create guilt where sadness already exists is absurd and to paint God as so petty as to take his vengeance out upon the most innocent ones among us is revolting. In visiting the inequity of the Fathers on the sons God would be violating the second line of Epicurus attack on theism. Not only is God, in this case, not willing to prevent evil but he is willing to directly commit and evil act against an innocent merely for the sake of revenge. Punishing the child for the sins of the Father is very similar to something a character tried in a super-hero movie that came out a few years ago...

Sins of the Father Continued

In the Dark Knight Harvey Dent (aka Two Face, pictured above) decides that Commissioner Gordon has failed to save his beloved Rachel. This failure is a horrible sin and Two Face wants to punish Gordon but rather than kill Gordon he wants to take from Gordon the thing that Gordon loves the most. Sounding like Yahweh yet? Two Face decides to shoot Gordon's son. So Gordon's son will be punished for the sins of the Father. This sounds almost exactly like the first born of Egypt doesn't it? God's attempt at Collateral Damage against the Egyptians for slaughtering Hebrew babies. Maybe someone should explain to Yahweh that violence begets more violence.

All Powerful Will

This brings me to another major point. The idea that God is All Powerful means something, it means that God is responsible for everything that goes on. I believe I've touched upon this briefly before. All Power = All Responsibility. Even if God manages to shirk responsibility onto other beings by offering them enough power to have free will if he still remains All Powerful than he still retains All Responsibility. It is just like Epicurus says, if he is not willing than he is malevolent plain and simple. If God is willing than everything would be fine since NOTHING could stand in the way of the Will of an All-Powerful being unless he wanted it to. In other words it is impossible for human beings to sin, or make any decision, without it being God's express will that we do so. If it was his Will that we be able to make our own choices and if he has the power to stop us from sinning at any moment by any means than how exactly is it our fault that we're sinners? Once again polytheism could weasel out of this problem but Monotheism cannot escape so easily.

Another thing many Monotheists will claim is that when God allows a child to die that God merely wanted that child up in Heaven. This is an absurd idea. If God truly wanted that child up in Heaven why would God allow that child to be sent to Earth only to suffer in a die in a horrifically painful way? And why, if God truly just wants the kid in Heaven, would he put his/her parents through the Hell of watching their young child be lowered into the ground?

Conclusions

Of course Monotheists will attempt to squirm their way around the problem of suffering because to do otherwise would be to admit their God is either impotent or malevolent. However I think I have demonstrated that if they were being intellectually honest they would admit just that. It is clear that God is either Malevolent, Impotent or merely imaginary (although we could just say he exists but is extraordinarily incompetent and therefore doesn't know how to use his power to stop suffering). In fact Epicurus put the nail in this coffin some three centuries before Christ was nailed to the cross.

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Comments 11 comments

Jose Ratzinger 5 years ago

"In ancient times it was extraordinarily common for mortals to blame disaster, tragedy and catastrophe on the supernatural..."

Did Yahweh, Jesus, or Allah cause 9/11 because America sinned?


Jose Ratzinger 5 years ago

Did Yahweh, Jesus, or Allah cause 9/11 because America sinned? If yes, which one?


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 5 years ago from back in the lab again Author

I've actually heard a few preachers say that 911 was the wrath of God. There was one, I forget his name, who was on Pat Robertson's 700 Club show just after the disaster to say that it was judgment from God. Obviously this sort of irrational behavior continues to this day.


FreeThinkingPlace 5 years ago

Read Full Article At: http://freethinkingplace.blogspot.com/2011/03/if-m...

I am sure this question must have come in your mind atleast once in your lifetime. It really is a very thought provoking question which tends to test our understanding of religion quite significantly. The recent earthquake that hit Japan might have brought this question back into people's minds. Its questions like these that often come in an atheist's head, and if not answered, can lead him or her even further from the true reality of the universe; the existense of the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate, the One and Only God, Allah.

But Alhumdulillah, such questions have been pondered upon by scholars of the past. This precise question had been answered over 900 years ago in a very beautiful and logical manner by a great Islamic Scholar and Sufi, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, in a book containing his commentary and explanation of the 99 Names of God.

Below is an excerpt from the chapter in which he explains the true essence of two of Allah's names; Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim (the Most Merciful and Compassionate One).

A Question and Its Answer:

Perhaps you ask, "What is the meaning of God Most High being a compassionate one and His being the most merciful of all those who have mercy? No compassionate person who is able to remove disabilities can tolerate the sight of the afflicted, the one who suffers hardships and torments and the physically ill without using his power to deliver them from their disabilities. The Lord Most High possesses the ability of dealing with every affliction, staving off all poverty, relieving every illness and removing every hardship. The world overflows with illnesses, severe trials and tribulations. He is capable of removing all of them. Nevertheless, He leaves without help those of His creatures who are afflicted with calamities and sufferings."

Your answer is that the mother of the little child may feel tenderness for her child and protect him from the cupping (It is therapy used for purifying blood), whereas the wise father forced him to it. The ignorant person thinks that the mother is the compassionate one and not the father. But the wise person knows that the father's infliction of pain upon the child by means of the cupping belonged to the perfection of his mercy, sympathy and compassion, whereas the mother actually was the enemy disguised as a friend. He also realizes that a little pain is a blessing rather than an evil when it ultimately serves as the cause of great joy.

Ar-Rahim most certainly intends nothing but good for the object of mercy. All existing evil has some good in it. If that evil is removed, surely the good inherent within it will become ineffectual. Subsequently by means of the nullity of the evil itself, an even greater evil results. Since this is the case, even though the amputation of the leprous hand appears to be an evil, inherent in this act is ample good, namely, the well-being of the total body. Furthermore, if the amputation of the hand is omitted, the destruction of the entire body would ensue, and then (certainly) the (ultimate) evil would be greater. The amputation of the hand for the sake of the soundness of the entire body is an evil within which there is good. The primary intention behind the consideration of amputation is the well-being of the as such, and certainly this is genuine good...

Read Full article at: http://freethinkingplace.blogspot.com/2011/03/if-m...


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 5 years ago from back in the lab again Author

Such an answer might be sufficient to explain the suffering of those who somehow benefit from their suffering in some way. In that sense the ends could justify the means. However one cannot say that there is "some good" in the evil of allowing a child to get cancer and die a slow painful death. While one can argue into existence such a thing as a "necessary evil" there is a great deal of suffering which is purposeless and needless and ends only in death and agony.


FreeThinkingPlace 5 years ago

Not necessarily. You see, its obviously very hard to see any benefit in the example you have mentioned above. But the reality is, our field of view, our perspective of things is very limited. Our combined knowledge is probably not even a drop as compared to the never ending oceans of knowledge God possesses.

In this context, you can never be sure if something is completely needless and for the sake of suffering alone.

Let me give you an example from a muslims point of view:

Hadrat Aa'isha (Radiyallahu anha) narrates that Rasulullah(Sallallaahu alaiyhi wassallam) said, ‘When the sins of a person become so much that his good deeds are unable to wipe them out, then Allah Ta'ala lets grief overcome him in order to forgive his sins.' (Musnad-Ahmad)

Similarly, Hadrat Abu Hurairah (Radiyallaahu anhu) reports that Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alaiyhi wassallam) said, ‘When Allah Ta'ala wishes good for a person, thenhebecomes afflicted with sickness (or hardship).' (Sahih Bukhaari)

Read more: http://www.articlesbase.com/religion-articles/sick...

Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

So what we believe is that all sicknesses and misfortunes no matter how much we may externally hate them are acutally a mercy from Allah (God). It is basically a means of forgiving our sins.

www.freethinkingplace.blogspot.com


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 5 years ago from back in the lab again Author

Obviously we are going to view suffering from a limited human perspective but wouldn't God understand that? If he is All Knowing than surely he would know that is the view point from which we will see suffering.

No offense but I find the idea that suffering is a mercy from God a bit absurd. What sin does a ten year old dying of cancer need to be forgiven of. Whether it's Islam or Christianity I'm always amazed at how hard it is for God to forgive people without some kind of horrible suffering whether it be an animal sacrifice or Jesus getting nailed to the cross or in this case the person suffering for their own sin. The problem is this only gets rid of the suffering of sinners. What about the innocent? And what about the wicked who have wonderful lives and do not suffer at all?

It is interesting to see another perspective on the issue but I think the problem of suffering still remains. Thanks for the comment.


Roberto Bellarmino 5 years ago

christians think Jesus is the only god. Muslims think Allah is the only god. Jews think YHWH is the only god. let's assume that there's only one god, then which of the above god are false? if the three gods are actually one and the same then why don't these people go to the same church/mosque/synagogue and read the same so called "bible"? how could anybody discern who's telling the truth about whose god being the only god? from the perspective of christians, Muslims and Jews are liars. From the perspective of Muslims , christians and Jews are liars. From the perspective of Jews , christians and Jews are liars. since these 3 perspectives are mutually exclusive, there could only be at most one of side telling the truth... or may be none at all. could somebody provide some proof here?


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi Titen-Sxull :)

"In ancient times it was extraordinarily common for mortals to blame disaster, tragedy and catastrophe on the supernatural. ... Our own ability to feel guilt leads us to believe that we deserved disaster. ... The problem is that for most Monotheists the God dishing out a heaping helping of wrath is meant to be a loving and merciful God."

Exactly!

I'll link this to my hubs on the subject :)


anonymous 3 years ago

In much of the Old Testament God or Yahweh is the source of both good and evil light and darkness weal and woe. "I kill and I make alive I hurt and I heal" "I make peace and create evil(King James version). The same God who created roses also created cancer. The Biblical God is a mishmash hodgepodge of contrasts opposites extremes and contradictions. This can be seen in the Nature He created and in His conflicting contradictory behaviour in the Bible. He supposedly hates violence and killing and yet He inflicts and orders violence and killing by the millions in the Bible and the Nature He created is superabundant in violence and killing. Its contradiction and hypocrisy. He does what He forbids and He forbids what He does and He creates what He forbids and He forbids wbat He creates. He has a split personality. The original Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Hes a morally ambivalent God with a cruel violent dangerous side. The Biblical God is a reflection and personification of the contrasts contradictions and extremes of Nature. Look at each individual entity in Nature and you will see that theres a good side and a bad side. Here are some examples. Lions Tigers Bears Gorillas Chimpanzees Hippopotamusses Elephants etc each have a gentle friendly side and also have a violent cruel side similar to each individual human being. Ambivalent is the word. Theres a dark side to the God of the Bible which is reflected in the Nature He created and in the humans He created and in His cruel ruthless behaviour in much of the Bible. The Biblical God is not all evil and Hes not all good but Hes a mix of good and evil or He is beyond good and evil. Eldritch Abomination describes this God. The Biblical God is also not allwise and not rational and not sane. What looks like evil behaviour to us maybe His irrationality or insanity. Where is the line between evil and irrationality and between evil and insanity? The theology in the Old Testament is mostly Monistic with God in control of everything happening whetber its good or bad. In Job and in the New Testament the tbeology is part Monism and part Dualism. The part that's Dualistic is from the Satan character who inflicts evil suffering and death and who lies tempts and deceives. Zoroastrianism is more Dualistic and Gnosticism and Manicheism are totally Dualistic religions in that they believe that Matter the Devil Demons and Archons are to blame for evil and suffering. Dualistic religions and polytbeistic religions absolve God for having a cruel screwed up world. A Monistic monotheistic religion on the other hand makes God culpable for having evil and suffering. On a mental level and on a moral level a monotheistic Monistic God is a lot more disturbing at least as far as Im concerned. Satan the Devil Demons Archons and Matter are explanations for having a world filled with rampant evil and suffering. Christianity is confused in its theology as its monotheistic Monistic AND Dualistic. Its a very contradictory confusing character for a God. Honestly I dont know what kind of God this is we worship.


anonymous 3 years ago

Yahweh or the Biblical God is an egomaniacal homicidal genocidal monster whose cruelty and gross stupidity has caused eons of suffering misery pain and death. Yahweh is the source of evil. This God has an evil cruel side like Satan who is supposed to be His enemy. Yahweh is an Eldritch Abomination like Satan like Chtulhu like Hitler like Stalin and any other psychopaths real or fictional. Yahweh is insane and stupid. Mentally blind and morally blind. He allows Satan and demons to tamper and screw with His creation and He curses and punishes and RUINS His entire creation because Adam and Eve ate a forbidden apple thousands of years ago. He behaves like an immature angry child. He is vastly more dangerous and vastly more destructive than an immature angry destructive child. This God has no common sense and has no reasoning and does not know how to forgive. All He knows is PUNISH PUNISH PUNISH and His punishments are monstrously cruel and inhumane and BEYOND what we can imagine. This monstrous God has an infinite number of cruelties to torture and kill man and beast. Cancer tooth decay heart disease stroke aneurysm malaria ebola centipedes ticks fleas lice jellyfish stonefish hurricanes tsunamis mass starvation physical deformities birth defects etc. He allows humans to remain in their sinfulness. This God allows sin ad nauseam ad infinitum so that would give Him a valid execuse to punish people. Its a sick God. He has no solution to offer us. He doesn't help us and He doesn't heal us. He doesn't provide for us and He doesn't protect us. Its a deadbeat for a God. Absentee landlord. Cruelty and negligence are His ways. Having a screwed up shithole world is part of His unknowable divine plan which us humans dont understand. He is deeply profoundly sick and insane. He is conducting an insane immoral experiment like an insane scientist in a laboratory. Someone should talk to this God and talk some sense into Him because He has no sense. A clam has more sense and more reasoning than this idiot God of the Bible. This God is a moral monstrosity an abomination a fiend an insane criminal lunatic a malevolent idiot an irresponsible negligent deadbeat an incompetent bungler and a colossal screwup. Its a blind God. Not visually blind but mentally blind and morally blind. Immoral amoral nonmoral like the Nature He created. Unfit to worship. And He has an eternal torture chamber in hell for billions of people. He orchestrated human beings into sin. He helped make it happen and He allowed it to happen and He stupidly and unjustly allowed Adam and Eves sin to be transmitted to ALL future unborn humans. So human nature is ruined and if that's not bad enough He decides to curse Nature as well. In other words He cursed the ENTIRE creation with diseases parasites violence killing mass starvation birth defects centipedes screw wormflies ad nauseam ad infinitum. This God wrote the book on how to screw and ruin the creation. This God has abdicated the world to the Devil. Allowing eons of suffering death and evil is a DISGRACE. This God is cruel negligent insane stupid incompetent. Unfit to worship. Im angry and embarrassed. This God is a source of endless embarrassment for me. Much of the Bible and much of religion is an embarrassment. Its impossible to reason with this God. He has no reasoning. This God is a dunce and a screwup. That's why the Devil is winning this war.

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