Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Reconciling Suffering

I've been thinking more about theodicy. I have a hard time believing that God answers seemingly trivial prayers, while at the same time allowing incredible suffering elsewhere. So I'm thinking more about how the world would look if all of the suffering was actually "taken care" of by a benevolent God.

What if we had a world in which, as sometimes is suggested, no one suffered? It seems like the first challenge is to narrow down what that means...does it mean that one never fails to meet budget in a business, never misses a goal in sports, or never has a car breakdown? These are simple examples for illustrating the incompatibility of expectations--usually another party must "suffer" for these things to occur.

So what if we limit this to more grave suffering--physical pain for example? If we posit a world in which there is no, say, starvation, then what does it matter whether a business makes its budgets or not? The danger of a minor failure turning into a major one is what makes them significant in their own right. I don't want to go hungry, ergo I don't want to lose my job, ergo I work hard. Without the "real" suffering at the end of the road, what would "small" suffering even mean? So some threat to livelihood must exist for any sense of danger to exist. If nothing bad could ever happen, life would seem somewhat sterile-perhaps even void of meaning. What's the point of doing anything if the outcome is never threatening?

I suppose one could be motivated by a desire to do "good" things. But what is "good" if pain is nonexistent?

Of course, this is the popular notion of heaven: bad stuff doesn't happen. If it's not that way, then what's so great about it? Just an endless existence full of joys and disappointments? I'm not so sure that non-existence seems so bad in comparison.

This isn't fully developed, but the point of this blog is to capture things as I think them...sorry.

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Blogger Hellmut said...

I agree. Eternal life is overrated.

April 6, 2007 at 9:39 AM  
Blogger from the ashes said...

Would you take this idea to so far as to say children need to starve to death in Somalia so I can appreciate that mine goes to bed happily well-fed every day?

I don't think you would. But this post made me somewhat uncomfortable, though I can't put my finger on why.

April 14, 2007 at 9:12 AM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

I certainly wouldn't assign causality in that way. Somalian's don't suffer so that you can appreciate your wealth. But I think you are thankful for feeding your kids because a frightening alternative exists (as demonstrated in Somalia). There's not much in human existence that isn't appreciated relative to an opposing condition, however rare. I can't think of anything I enjoy or appreciate for which the opposite condition does not exist. Even conscious existence itself is constantly in conflict with death. The only universals that come to mind would be logical constructs, such as 2 + 2 = 4. That never fails, and I never thank my lucky stars that it works, either.

This seems to leave God choosing between a purposeless Eden and what we've got. I'd like to hold him accountable for stopping massacres, etc., but the course of that thought process is what you read in the original post!

Anyway, "uninvolved" seems to be the answer I keep coming back to, if God exists.

You're uncomfortable in a good way, I hope.

April 17, 2007 at 6:15 AM  
Blogger Sideon said...

Greetings. I've lurked a little bit, reading your posts backwards (most recent to earliest), then swapped and started with your first posts.

Check out a short story by Ursula Le Guin. "The Ones Who Walks Away from Omelas." It's a story about suffering.

I hope this finds you well.

June 4, 2007 at 1:39 PM  

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