Blaming God for Suffering

I suppose when you read Eve, if you choose to read Eve, then you might understand that the question of suffering is one I take seriously, because it is the one thing that seems unfathomable with a loving God.  It’s not a new question.  There are voluminous books written on the subject–in every century.  Why did the Holocaust happen?  Why Hurricane Katrina?  Why the Crusades against the Muslims, Jews, Slavs, Mongols, Cathers, and anyone else who was an enemy of the pope?

If you’ve ever read any of Boyd’s other books–I’m thinking specifically of God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God–you’ll know that he tackles issues differently than your normal, run-of-the-mill, conservative Christian pastor, and I don’t say that to create waves; I’m simply stating a fact.  Read the book; you’ll see.  [My vision of God changed drastically with this book; one of the reviews for Eve accused me of having an open view of God.  Guilty as charged.]

Boyd sets up the fact that God created each of us with a free will–to either love Him or reject Him.  Had He created us to mandatorily love Him, it would have been a dictatorship, and what good does that do Him?  So, in essence–and I’m sure you’ve heard this argument before–that’s why we have suffering in the world, because men and women can choose to do evil.  Boyd’s argument is so much more complicated than this, but his nutshell-take on suffering is that there’s a war out there–a spiritual war–and a lot of factors are at play when it comes to experiencing tragedy (or life in general).  He uses the butterfly effect to illustrate how complex the universe is.

I’m quoting liberally here: “Put in simplest terms, it has been demonstrated recently that the slightest variation in a sufficiently complex process at one point may cause remarkable variations in that process at another point.  The flap of a butterfly wing in one part of the globe can be, under the right conditions, the decisive variable that brings about a hurricane in another part of the globe several months later….To exhaustively explain why a hurricane (or any weather pattern, for that matter) occurs when and where it does, we’d have to know every detail about the past history of the earth–including every flap of every butterfly wing!…By analogy, this insight may be applied to free decisions.  Because love requires choice, humans and angels have the power to affect others for better or worse.  Indeed, every decision we make affects other agents in some measure.  Sometimes the short-term effects of our choices are apparent, as in the way decisions of parents immediately affect their children or the way decisions of leaders immediately affect their subjects.  The long-term effects of our decisions are not always obvious, however.  They are like ripples created by a rock thrown into a pond.  Ripples endure long after the initial splash, and they interact with other ripples (the consequences of other decisions) in ways we could never have anticipated.  And in certain circumstances, they may have a “butterfly effect.”  They may be the decisive variable that produces significant changes in the pond….We might think of the overall state of the cosmos at any given moment as the total pattern of ripples made by a constant stream of rocks thrown into a pond.  Each ripple interacts with other ripples, creating interference patterns.  Every event and every decision of history creates such an interference pattern.  This intersection of multitudes of decisions contributes to all subsequent interference patterns.”

I take a more biological approach than Boyd, in that my take on suffering is this: the universe is designed a certain way–it abides by certain laws (gravity, motion, for starters).  Populations are culled and kept in check by sickness and death and weather.  So it is with humans.  We’re a “population,” too.  When a crisis hits, we take it personally, as in, “Why me?”  “What did I do wrong?”  “I’m a good person; why does God hate me?”  The fact of the matter is–someone wasn’t paying attention and drove on the wrong side of the road…or your child got sick because his or her immune system was weak.

God has nothing to do with it.  For the world to “work,” bad things have to happen.  God created a world which works on certain premises and rules.  Of course, Paul said that God would glean the bad and work it out for good, but it doesn’t mean He orchestrated it.  For a further discussion, you’ll have to read the book.  Some will disagree with Boyd…and me…but that’s what this is all about, right?  Living in the questions?

Boyd’s book would be an excellent place to start (on the topic of suffering), if you’re a Christian.  He won’t delineate out the need for God, per se, in this book, so if you don’t believe in God, you’ll have to start elsewhere.  [Although, I do think that because Boyd was himself an atheist at one point, he has a refreshing opinion.]

I agree with Boyd’s conclusion.  It’s an ambiguous one, purposefully, but here it is: “We know next to nothing about any of this.  We pray as we live: in a sea of ambiguity.  This is not because we are fallen but because we are finite.  And we are inclined to forget we are finite.  We ignore the ambiguity that accompanies our finitude, and thus we claim to know what we can’t know.  We reduce the unfathomable complexity of the cosmos to the capacity of our finite minds.  When we do this, we invariably end up blaming God or indicting victims.”

I think of my first visit to the Hayden Planetarium in Manhattan, watching the space show “Passport to the Universe,” narrated by Tom Hanks, and feeling so overwhelmed–at the magnitude of the universe and the speck of me.  I think Boyd’s conclusion would be perfect at the end of the show.  But then again, you wouldn’t need anyone to reiterate it in words for you; the show does it visually.

Did you grow up thinking that God was out to get you?  That you would be punished with sickness or difficulties if you disobeyed?  That a good and loving God would wreak havoc in your life, then not tell you what lesson you were supposed to learn?  I don’t get that philosophy.  It just doesn’t seem to fit with the God I know.

What about you?

[Post image: Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, taken by Martin on stock.xchng]

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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