Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Purposeless Suffering

Otterson recently created a thread called "Opposition in All Things". Below are his remarks and my response.

(Begin Otterson's remarks) "I am not complaining,” my father wrote to my mother from war-ravaged Europe during the closing days of World War 2, when he finally reached the safety of American lines after three years as a POW. “I would not appreciate comfort if there were no hardship. We cannot appreciate joy without sorrow, health if we have never felt pain, or peace until after a war. All things must have their opposites, and we can learn from both."

My father was well-versed with Christian teaching, but as far as I know never read extensively of Buddhist thought, or classical Chinese or Greek philosophy, all of which address the idea of the essential conflict of opposites as do many other cultures. In Latter-day Saint scripture – which I am confident my father never encountered - it's expressed this way:

"For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so … righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad..." (2 Ne. 2: 11).

Should God have intervened to stop World War II? Then what about smaller wars? Regional conflicts, perhaps? How about family strife in which a mother or children might be abused? What evil is too big, and which is too small, to warrant divine intervention? What about disease and natural disasters? Should God have made a world without opposites, a world in which there is no striving, no suffering, therefore no overcoming, no learning, and no growth? Should he intervene in arguments, eliminate the common cold or even stop someone falling off a ladder? Are we wise enough to attempt to draw that line?

A world without hardship is thus a world in which there is no choice, where everyone is forced to do good. Yet inseparable from the idea of opposites is the principle of moral agency. Men and women will be judged for their choices between good and evil. They will also be judged when they curtail someone else's agency. Mormon doctrine teaches that men and women came to this earth endowed with that agency, knowing while still in pre-embodied spirit form that the world in which they would be tested would be at once beautiful and horrifying. We still chose to come.

Joseph Smith, who organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830, penned this revelation in 1839 while a prisoner in miserable conditions in Liberty Jail, Missouri:

"And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?" (D&C 122: 7-8).

Of course, logic can only take us so far. Faced with a child dying of cancer, or innocent lives taken in senseless wars, we can be forgiven for wondering if there isn't a better way. It's at such times we would do well to remember the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus Christ in Gethsemane and on the cross at Golgotha. Having taken on Himself the sins of every person who ever lived, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – He doesn't know about pain and suffering. And the Atonement was not for sins alone, but for "the pains and the sicknesses of his people" (Alma 7:11).

Mortal life is not the entire existence of humankind, but rather an essential learning and proving experience. Our Father in Heaven is not a capricious God, inflicting pain and misery on the human race. He is a loving Heavenly Father who has the eternal perspective of what his children can become, and who loves us enough to allow us to endure opposition for a season. (End of Otterson's comments).


Are you happy? Do you feel peace and joy? If so, do you think you could experience even greater happiness if you endured the worst things imaginable? I don't think that you would know greater happiness if you had previously suffered the worst things that can happen during this life.

Do you think that there is pointless suffering? I do. I think some excruciating pain does not teach the sufferer anything, in this life or the next if there is one. I don't think they needed to suffer those things to grow or appreciate happiness more.

If there were an all-loving and omnipotent god, if he had a heart at all he would put an end to such needless suffering. Examples: what did the Philistine children learn when the Israelites brutally killed them as the Hebrew God commanded them to? How could the 3-yr-old benefit from the slow, debilitating death they suffer due to cancer? What does the 9-yr-old girl in Darfur learn by being repeatedly raped by the soldiers that murdered her whole family in front of her eyes? An all-powerful god that allows his innocent children to suffer these things does not give a **** about them. THERE IS NO GREATER PURPOSE THAT CAN JUSTIFY THESE ACTIONS. This will not make sense later in heaven. I refuse to shelve such issues until some god, who in all likelihood does not exist, explains why he allowed these things to happen when he could have stopped them.

I am sure all the theist apologists will try to encourage the shelving of the issue or offer some lame excuse for why a god would permit this, but these feeble attempts strike me as intellectualizing (the ego-defense mechanism people employ to avoid facing the full emotional impact). Imagine watching your child be raped and filleted alive and you standing by doing nothing and rationalizing that it is for her own good, that it will make her a stronger and happier person and prepare her better for whatever. Nonsense. Nothing can make it right. Ever.

I forgot to add to excuses that are often given to justify god's lack of divine aid. One is so that god will be more justified in sending the bad guy to hell. That was the lame excuse Alma gave to Amulek as to why neither they no god could intervene in saving women and children from being burned to death. I'm sorry, but King Noah had already done plenty to qualify him to hell even before burning those innocents alive. But, more importantly, how sick is it to ignore the anguished cries of your suffering children just so you can more fully punish someone else. I mean, where are your priorities? Why does punishing one dude take precedence over ending the unjust, excrutiating pain of many others?

This naturally flows into the next lame excuse: "Well, their suffering will be for just a small moment and then they will spend forever in eternal bliss". According to Mormon doctrine, there are people who will go to the highest degree of the CK whether or not they have endured horrific suffering. The suffering isn't necessary to gain all that the Father hath. So, if it isn't necessary, there is no reason to go through it, even if it is for a small moment, so why not spare them that? Futhermore, imagine telling that to a child who is being mauled by a pitbull. "The pain you feel is just a small moment compared to your whole life including the eternities, so I am just going to let you continue to be attacked knowing that you will never have to suffer a dog attack in the future. You will be forever grateful that you never have to go through this experience again. And one day you will thank me for not saving you from this dog." That in essence is what some people think god is saying to us. All of us would save the child from the dog. Now, if we, being human, know how to treat someone in need, why the heck can't god who is supposed to be perfect and all-loving intervene when his help is most needed?

Oh, I forgot, he only intervenes on trivial stuff like helping us find our car keys or do well on tests. The heavens are closed when real suffering happens. Someone will cite some seemingly miraculous event in which someone recovered from cancer. The rub is in the capriciousness of it all. Why spare this person and not another? If pain really was this universal great teacher, why does he not love those he heals as much as he loves those he allows to continue to suffer? "The ways of God are mysterious," someone answers. "BS", I answer back. No divine help has ever been present. Good things and bad things happen. It is just a part of life.


paranoidfr33k said...

In a way, suffering does allow you to appreciate the good times. However, I would rather have 100% good times. I think life would be better that way.

Also, it depends on the type of suffering. I think suffering a skinned knee or a sprained ankle helps you appreciate being non-injured, but once you jump the line to dreadful suffering and injustice this line of thinking can go to hell.

Its amazing that people can make excuses for god when we should be doing something to help those who have been hurt and help those who are doing the hurting. Of course you can only do so much when it comes to natural disasters, but a lot of deaths from natural disasters could be avoided if people didn't build where they may be killed.

Life actually makes a lot more sense once you shake off the chains of trying to figure out why god does what he does, or doesn't do. If you realize that some people are bad and nature is nature then it puts things into a perspective that you can deal with.

Great post.


Abner Doon said...

This post reminds me of this parable: The Tale of the Twelve Officers. It is a story of the many religious defenses against the problem of evil; needless to say, none of which end up holding much water.

Hüffenhardt said...

Thank you paranoid and abner doon for your replies.

Jonathan Blake said...

I'm a week late, but this was definitely worth my money: "Are you happy? Do you feel peace and joy? If so, do you think you could experience even greater happiness if you endured the worst things imaginable? I don't think that you would know greater happiness if you had previously suffered the worst things that can happen during this life."

Suffering should be practiced in moderation. Skinned knees and bad hair days should be sufficient.