How does religion explain the world's suffering?
Tue, Sep 23, 2008
Texas Faith is our weekly discussion of matters of religion, politics, and culture. Read about our panel here.
We'll take a break from politics this week. The past seven days have been notable for examples of human suffering large and small: Hurricane Ike affects millions. And a 17-month-old boy whose family escaped the storm in Dallas is killed in an accident. Trains collide in California, killing dozens. Suicide bombers in Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq murder innocent bystanders. The genocide in Darfur continues unabated. Etc etc etc.
What do you find in your faith tradition that helps you deal with or explain the reality of suffering?
GERALD BRITT, vice president, Central Dallas Ministries
I found that I can't explain the reality of suffering. I'm alternately amazed and amused by those who try. For those of us who are Christian, to try and lead with that in a discussion of faith usually leaves those who are not of our tradition with the impression that we are evasive or trying to escape reality.
Twenty-two years ago, our 11 year-old son died from schleraderma. We have no idea how he contracted the idea and it was approximately seven months from the time of his diagnosis to his death. It was excruciatingly painful to watch a previously healthy boy, die painfully and inexplicably.
Last year, our only living son was murdered in a senseless domestic violence incident. Less than a week before his death, he talked about how he forgave his wife and wanted to just move on. Three days later he was dead. We lived to see him become a young man, who loved his daughter and had great plans for his future.
The week after his funeral, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I can't explain why any of this happened. My faith however, helps me in two ways:
One it teaches me the insufficiency of answers. If someone, anyone were to explain to me why I and my family had to go through any of this it wouldn't help. Ultimately, I'd rather have my boys back and my health unimpacted by illness. No answer with regard to this suffering would be sufficient.
Secondly, I choose to stubbornly believe that God is good. The Book of Psalms is punctuated throughout with these words: 'The Lord is good..." and there are no qualifiers. He is not good, 'if'; He is not good 'when'; He is not good, 'as long as'; He is not good, 'until'. He is just good. I choose to stubbornly cling to that unqualified goodness - even when things that happen to me are not good.
KATIE SHERROD, independent writer and producer; progressive Episcopalian activist, Fort Worth
Most Christian scholars tackle the problem of evil via free will -- God wanted humanity to love God willingly, which could only happen if human beings were created with free will, which of necessity includes the freedom to do bad things.
Some scholars posit that God created the world with the freedom to make itself, and this working out of planet-changing processes through the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology can result in terrible things happening to humans caught in hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other "natural" disasters.
Almost all of the world's suffering is human-generated, though deliberate action, such as continuing to smoke in the face of massive evidence that it causes lung cancer, or by deliberate inaction, such as the refusal of Myanmar's leaders to allow other nations to help in the wake of the tsunami. Katrina was terrible, but human failures amplified the suffering needlessly. Why did so many people insist on staying on Galveston Island in the face of Ike, endangering themselves and those who had to rescue them?
But if we are the source of evil, we also are its remedy.
Christians have a way to deal with evil and suffering - each other. We are God's gifts to one another, commanded to love one another, to help each other in suffering and pain - whatever the cause of the pain and suffering. Additionally, we are commanded to love God with our whole spirit, heart, and minds. We are to use our God-given intellects to mitigate suffering.
LYNN GODSEY, Pastor, Temple of Power Ministries, Ennis, Texas; founder, Alliance of Hispanic Evangelical Ministers
God's Holy Word, The Bible puts our sufferings into proper perspective. It explains why we hurt, the ultimate purpose for our afflictions and how we play an important role in relieving the agonies of others. This is done, not only by personally helping and comforting them, but in bringing the knowledge of the true gospel to a world mired in anguish caused by sin.
In many ways the Bible, taken as a whole, shows how God is willing to relieve our sufferings in many ways. He has many options available to Him. He particularly looks after His people (Hebrews 13:5-6). "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever" (Ephesians 3:20).
Above all, we need to remember that suffering is only temporary, not eternal (for believers in Christ). After its purpose has been accomplished, God will erase it forever. One of the most reassuring and encouraging prophecies in the Bible talks about God relieving suffering: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:3-5).
Read all the responses here.