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J Walking

Thoughts on suffering

I noticed the great blogalogue between NT Wright and Bart Ehrman.
Ehrman writes:

We live in a world in which a child dies every five seconds of starvation. Every five seconds. Every minute there are twenty-five people who die because they do not have clean water to drink. Every hour 700 people die of malaria. Where is God in all this? We live in a world in which earthquakes in the Himalayas kill 50,000 people and leave 3 million without shelter in the face of oncoming winter. We live in a world where a hurricane destroys New Orleans. Where a tsunami kills 300,000 people in one fell swoop. Where millions of children are born with horrible birth defects. And where is God? To say that he eventually will make right all that is wrong seems to me, now, to be pure wishful thinking.


I was in Uganda last month. While there I saw, if not hell, some of its suburbs. The stories are familiar to us all – dying children, slums beyond description, systemic brokenness that robs hope. So many of those questions popped into my head – How could God allow this sort of thing? What kind of god could allow children to live like this.
It isn’t a new question for me or for any of us. It is among the world’s oldest questions I suspect. But as I thought about it something clicked. God isn’t allowing this suffering. I am. You are. We are.
I will focus on Africa’s suffering. Africa finds itself where it does today because of a billion or more decisions that people made… individual decisions. A decision not to invest here. A decision to buy a slave there. A decision to drive an unfair trade deal here. A decision to pay diamond miners pennies. Billions and billions of decisions like this have been made over the centuries. The result? Africa today.
Is that God’s fault?
I think not. Because at every moment those decisions were made God was whispering for people to do the right thing, the just thing, the merciful thing. But we chose not to listen.
God has done his job. We haven’t done ours.
I used to think the suffering question was a serious head scratcher, a truly troubling thing – the best evidence against God. No more. I think it is largely an excuse to make ourselves comfortable in our complacency by blaming God for the suffering we aren’t spending our lives addressing.

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posted April 22, 2008 at 4:43 am

That may explain 3rd world hell-holes (although, regarding slavery, I wonder what would of happened if god, say, put one more commandment in the 613 it gave, to just give one more along the lines of ‘thou shalt not practice slavery’), but it still does not explain suffering b/c of hurricanes, tsunamis, or earthquakes… unless we go the robertson route and say they are some sort of punishments— but that is something to think about when you have a personal god.

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The Apostles were conservative Christians

posted April 22, 2008 at 7:23 am

If “God” was not there, there would be no discussion of elements of a species being thinned from it. I’ve been around wild animals many, many times, and I have never seen one outreach program implemented by them to stop any suffering in any one of their species. Christians are linked to God through Christ Jesus and Christians are helping the poor and needy all over this world.

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posted April 22, 2008 at 9:26 am

The problem of evil thread promises to be an interesting discussion and I intend to follow it.
I agree with gadje that natural disasters are a real challenge to explain in a world with a personal God. The 1918 flu alone killed 50 to 100 million people which is at least 10 million more that World War One.

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posted April 22, 2008 at 9:30 am

Is that God’s fault?
I think not. Because at every moment those decisions were made God was whispering for people to do the right thing, the just thing, the merciful thing. But we chose not to listen.
God has done his job. We haven’t done ours.

I’m really sorry, but this line of thinking just doesn’t make any sense. Is this or is this not the same god who supposedly put a pillar of fire in the night sky to lead a tribe of ex-slaves across a desert? Is this or is this not the same god who ordered the extermination of huge numbers of people so his chosen ones would be able to steal their land? And is this or is this not the same god who can make donkeys talk and giant fish act as paddy wagons for unrepentant prophets?
“…whispering for people to do the right thing,” is “doing his job?”
When’s His next performance review? Someone needs to write him up for incompetence.

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posted April 22, 2008 at 9:46 am

I think suffering is the result of sin and God allows it to teach us about the nature of our fallen state. I suffered after my whole family and I suffered in a car accident. While we were all laying in the hospital someone said, “All things work together for good to those that love God.” At the time I wanted to throw him out the window. With time however I saw he was right. My life turned around 180 degrees. It is now much better as a result of that suffering.
“We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5
Suffering is the path to sanctification.
The suffering of others gives us the opportunity to respond to them in love. Without perseverance, character and hope we could not respond to the suffering of others in a meaningful and proper way.

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posted April 22, 2008 at 10:00 am

Really good David. Thanks.

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posted April 22, 2008 at 11:40 am

A Nation so rich in resources should have employment for all her people. It’s the greedy who is sucking life out of all the people. A hand full people own all the money. God’s fault? No , those few theives who own all the money in Africa is at fault. God gave everyone a level playing field. These churches who are demonizing Obama,should be condemning theives in Africa.

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posted April 22, 2008 at 11:45 am

The shysters in Africa are at fault for the hurt and pain of many. Greed is the enemy. ” He who gives to the poor lends to the Lord”. By the way, Obama for President

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Joe Carter

posted April 22, 2008 at 1:21 pm

Awesome post!

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Larry Parker

posted April 22, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Agreed the “disasters” of Uganda are largely man-made, but you still haven’t explained the problem of theodicy exposed mercilessly by Voltaire in “Candide” after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.

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Charles Cosimano

posted April 22, 2008 at 3:06 pm

Uh, humans allowed tsunamis and earthquakes. Yeah, and the sun stood still in the heavens and the Red Sea parted.

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Texas in Africa

posted April 22, 2008 at 3:36 pm

I completely agree. But the deeper problem for faith, of course, is that God still doesn’t show this specific sort of simple grace to so many millions who cry out for it. Why should they bear the punishment for our complacency?

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The Apostles were conservative Christians

posted April 22, 2008 at 11:04 pm

Our “nation” won’t be rich anymore if a socialist like Obama runs a government with other democrat socialists taking money by force from every honest hardworking family in America. We”ll just be a bunch of angry unemployed union workers. Oh by the way, McCain for president. And Lj, it’s not the shysters in Africa that are the cause of the suffering in Africa. It’s the people that live in Africa that have built the conditions that they live in. But still, I send money to Christian organizations trying to show and teach them a better way to live. But, I won’t be able to do that if Obama becomes president and his tax, tax, tax fellow democrats take my money by force. Inner-cities IN America are suffering. NOT because they are forced to suffer, but, because the people that live there will not even improve their own streets, neighborhoods and cities. Most inner-cities are filled with democrat voters and run by democrat politicians. We don’t need to “change” all of America to look like inner-cities. The truth is not an attack.

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Richard Spasoff angelic psychic medium

posted April 22, 2008 at 11:21 pm

Love your article J
Of course its not Gods fault.
We as humans can help stop this.
One solution
We could all help by investing in money to help these people out.
Assuming we are talking humans only:
Population of the world (July 2006 estimate)
if every one invested 25 cents
Resulting estimated: $4,893,877,698.
Think about that
I am very poor but I could still invest 25 cents and a stamp we could all solve these problems in this world.
Much Love and Light
Richard Spasoff
Psychic medium Spasoff

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Richard W. Chadburn

posted April 23, 2008 at 7:50 am

Kuo: You are ignoring an important problem with natural evil and theodicy. Yes, We can do things to alleviate suffering by spending money and time. Yes, we can be aware of not building where natural disasters are more prone to happen. Still, the reconciliation of natural evil with a fairy tale like “God”, who is benovolent, omnipotent, and omniscient still fails to account for and eliminate all human suffering. We live I think in a world indifferent to humanity. Christians, Jews, and Moslems define “God” in terms of a being with a covenant for us. Christians make humanity the pinnacle Of creation as we need a savior. Humans are one species among many. We do not have dominion over nature. We are a part of nature. Perhaps, we can experiment with “God” as the growth of meaning and value in human life. I do not make a distinction between a creator and creation. “God” is perhaps part of creation, the ultimate reality, that is indifferent to any particular species. Hurricanes occur to cool off the Earth. Volcanoes and earthquakes are a natural consequence and part of plate tectonics. Richard

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posted April 23, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Agree with you, J.
Natural disasters are one thing; human suffering created by human depravity and apathy are another.
We all can debate about the theodicy of the former, but not the latter – it’s our fault, either as perpetrators, or spectators.

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posted April 24, 2008 at 11:52 am

I agree.
Americans need to stop blaming God as they sit on their couches watching their TVs drinking their sodas & fast food, while the rest of the world goes to hell.

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Patrick saucier

posted April 24, 2008 at 5:15 pm

I think an important question would be why does God choose to whisper. God’s whispering is to faint for me to hear. I think Ehrman would point out that great deal of suffering could be eliminated if God would just speak up.
Also, it would behoove those who would place the burden of social ills on to the shoulders of individuals, to take a look at what social scientist (especially sociologist) have to say about individuals. The self makes decisions. But, what is the self. Do a search and see what some folks who have put a lot of effort into these matters have to say.

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Saint Andeol

posted April 25, 2008 at 11:09 am

I dunno, that smacks of too much rationalization. If you believe the Bible, God designed a world in which it is statistically impossible for everyone to get into Heaven.
Yeah, yeah, “He gave us free will, we choose our path”, blah, blah.
But the fact of the matter is that believing in God is not an obvious or rational choice, and for many people raised in different religions, believing in Jesus would be going against everything they are and everything they believe.
Now they didn’t choose to be raised in the “wrong” religion, but they’re going to Hell now because of a fluke of birth. And you can’t say, “Everyone has a chance to hear the Word,” because that’s not enough. To non-believers, it’s not “The Word”, it’s “some words”, and they have no good reason to believe otherwise.
So it is God, the Creator, who would be responsible for all those souls burning in Hell for eternity, and those suffering on Earth as well. He set up the rules. He knew Adam and Eve would eat the apples from the tree, thus creating original sin. He put the tree there anyway. So now a lot of us are going to Hell.
Of course, for those of us who don’t believe this, it’s not very worrisome. But I hate to see such rationalization for the actions of a supposedly “all-knowing, all-loving” Creator.

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posted April 25, 2008 at 11:14 am

The book of Job teaches (I think) that we cannot understand God’s motives, much less pass judgment on them. Horrible things happen to good people for reasons we cannot possibly comprehend. God doesn’t promise to spare us; he only promises to be with us when we suffer. The so-called “problem of evil” exists because we expect God to run the universe in a manner that suits our preferences, and because we presume to judge God when our expectations aren’t met.
David is correct, of course, about many of the evils in this world– although the connection may be indirect, they are ultimately the fruit of our misuse of free will. I’m only addressing other ills (e.g., natural disasters) that can’t be attributed to sin.

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posted April 25, 2008 at 4:51 pm

If you believe that God intervenes in human lives, then even “manmade” suffering is God’s fault.
I know many, many people who believe that God has a plan for them. If you believe that, then any suffering in the world is merely part of God’s plan. It’s a disgusting, self-centered, deeply immoral thing to believe.

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posted April 26, 2008 at 9:44 pm

Saint Andeol, good summation of the problem of hell. It is separate from the problem of evil, but another really good philosophical argument against a God with the properties described in the bible.

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George in Texas

posted April 27, 2008 at 10:26 am

Suffering can be relieved if we care enough to participate in solutions.

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posted April 27, 2008 at 4:25 pm

Well, not all of us who believe in God, believe in Christianity or Hell.
I do agree that a lot of suffering is created by us. Not all of it. We don’t choose our genes or those of other people. However, how we treat others, support their different needs when their genes are compromised is our responsibility. Not God’s.
I do agree that God is not the problem

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posted April 27, 2008 at 11:11 pm

How can you live with yourself, Mr. Kuo, if you blame yourself for the horror of Africa? Shame on you for living here. You should be over there suffering with them. It’s not fair that you have a computer to pour out your guilt (and ours, of course) while people are dying in Africa.

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posted April 28, 2008 at 5:34 pm

Mr. Kuo forgot to include the government of Uganda in his rogues’ gallery. The Uganda government is responsible for the welfare of their own people; not Americans.
The problems of African culture are deep and intractable. Blaming Americans for this tragedy will never produce any improvement in Africa. The African people are going to have exercise their spiritual and political will to improve their own continent.

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Nancy Scott

posted April 28, 2008 at 6:36 pm

Acts 17:26-27 (New International Version)
26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.
I know this is not a popular belief…and it in no way relieves us of our responsibility to do good works, or to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit in our heart to relieve suffering if and when we can…but we also have a wise and loving Heavenly Father who is ETERNITY MINDED. Because He loves us, He has set each one of us in the bounds, situation and time frame of history, in which we will most likely seek after Him…even if that entails suffering. Jesus suffered, following the plan of His Father, because He was also ETERNITY MINDED. Does God want children to suffer??? Not at all, but He has a greater plan…that His children seek Him with all their heart…and find Him.

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John E.

posted April 29, 2008 at 5:32 pm

Whatever gets you through the night…

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posted May 5, 2008 at 2:19 pm

i VERY much agree with you ! awesome blog :)

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posted May 11, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Don’t back down, David. It’s amazing how selfishness and blindness come dressed in the self-righteousness of ethnocentrism and nationalism. How do we as believers accept John 3:16-17 and reject 1 John 3:16-17?

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posted April 16, 2012 at 8:43 pm

The suffering question is still a difficult one to answer when you look at it interms of an African perspective. for instance, a child born and raised in a poor family will not take comfort in his suffereing by outlining the reasons you mentioned. hisor her question is why me? what have I done to suffer this much?

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