Friday, October 8, 2010

Why We Suffer

Yes, this would be the universal question. I've kicked it around myself and had come to the conclusion that there is suffering in the world because either humans create the suffering (either for themselves or for others); or because the natural system of God's creation does (hurricanes, disease, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.). My own suffering has provided opportunities for my growth or someone else's and for pure wallowing in the experience of pain and loss. I haven't delved much deeper than that.

I have been on a reading journey with Bart Ehrman, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, just minutes from where I live. His books reflect and reveal his own spiritual journey in which he becomes an Evangelical Christian, but as he studies and prays and discerns, he gradually becomes an agnostic. What intrigued me as I read his work was that all of his Biblical studies which point up textual inconsistencies, changes, mistranslations and other content issues did not sway his basic faith in God. However, studying the issue of why there is suffering in the world did.

I headed straight to Dr. Ehrman's 2008 book, God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer. Dr. Ehrman's purpose is to show us how different Biblical authors approached and answered this basic question.

So I bring you the Bible's first answer as presented by Dr. Ehrman: the prophets of the Old Testament explain that suffering is a punishment for sin.

What do you think about that statement? True or false? Or true sometimes?


  1. Emphatically false, at least as traditionally understood. I know that there are fundamentalists who literally believe that mortality was the result of the Fall, which they believe was a literal event 6,000 years ago.

    I'm also a respectful skeptic on the notion of "karma," much as I might delight (to my shame) in the troubles of those I consider my enemies and attribute those troubles to karma.

    I do think that to some degree, some suffering grows out of our human failings. But I don't think that explains why the world is that way overall.

    I look forward to more posts in this series!

  2. I believe that it is to the extent that many of our shortcomings(or "sins", however one may choose to define that word) lead to natural consequences that cause suffering(i.e., you speed, you naturally eventually get a speeding ticket). I believe in the possibility of karma, but I'm a bit agnostic on that point. I do not, however, believe it's some big mean deity in the sky punishing us for, basically, existing.

    Enjoying the blog!

  3. I have to say, my understanding of suffering has changed over the years as my "image of God" has grown and developed. So I expect it will continue to change in the future as, hopefully, I continue to grow in my faith. But for now, I do not believe suffering is punishment for our sins..., and as history as proven to define what I believe it is, is beyond my ability but for conversation I will share a very watered down explanation of my understanding.
    The best way to sum up my position is that " sin is a necessary evil". Since my belief is based in a very active and evolving God I see suffering as an undesirable affect of the chaos that is needed to push creation forward. "Just as the mustard seed must die for the tree to grow" unfortunately this means that through the cycle of our lives, there are times when we fall at the time of the death and suffer for the greater good of what has the potential of growing out of the misery. For me this is reflected in the passion of Christ and is an ever repeated pattern throughout history. As far as the human role, I belief in our imperfects as the promise of continued growth and evolution. If we or creation was prefect they would be no need for life, the cycle that perpels us forward in growth and understanding. In many situations, suffer calls us to reach out in words or deeds. It has the potential to pull us together as one community under God. Suffering has no respect for our human divisions, boundaries or laws. it crosses all ethic and social groups. It has the power to unit us when we can give up our misguided believes that "the lack of suffering is a sign of closeness or special blessings from our creator and recognize it for what it is..., an indication that God is actively working, calling us forth for the continuation of creation. Unfortunately, in my reality it is those closer to God that have a tendency to bare the burden of most of the suffering. As gloomy as this may sound, this comes out of a strong belief that God is loving, caring and supportive. Threrfore, he suffers right along with us but at an even deepere level because he is not only experiencing the pain of my personnal suffering, but simultaneously, he is baring the pain of all the suffering everywhere in this world. So, for myself, I find it almost embarrassing pleading for him or cruising him for my unpleasantries noing that his own suffering is overwhelmingly greater.