by Edward T. Babinski
Theistic philosophers who discuss the problem of pain/evil without acquainting themselves with specific cases in detail from nature are like Kant who apparently avoided the museum of art that he walked past each day on his way to write a book on the “philosophy of art/aesthetics.” (A philosophy professor even shared with me that Kant boasted something to the effect that it wasnʼt even necessary to look at art in order to write his treatise).
Unlike Kant I prefer to begin all investigations, philosophical or otherwise, by pondering specific instances. And since the topic is suffering (including suffering unto madness) please see the collection of instances found HERE. The effect of reading and pondering those examples is a bit different from reading a philosophical treatise on “suffering” that spends the majority of its time juggling-stretching-and-playing with huge generalizations such as “good,” “evil,” “pain,” “suffering,” “God,” “perfection,” “omnipotence,“ and “freewill,” etc.)
Has any philosopher yet explained (except via verbal alchemy) how something can start out perfectly good and yet evil can come out of it? If God is defined as the perfectly good and only source of everything, then whence comes evil? Endless ages of verbal alchemy attached to this question explain nothing, the question remains.
Note that if God is perfectly good and has freewill then a freewilled being can exist in a state of perfect goodness. But if God has freewill then wouldnʼt it be possible for God Himself to commit evil, or become evil? (Or do Christian apologists employ a different definition of “freewill” when it comes to “God?”) Conversely, if God does not have freewill then doesnʼt that imply that freewill is not necessarily of ultimate value and that humanity has something even God lacks?
Is there something, ANYTHING, that a Christian apologist might consider to be “unjustifiable suffering?”
For instance, what types of horrendous suffering (or chronic forms of soul-grinding suffering, or physically or psychologically crippling forms of suffering, even mentally maddening forms of suffering) have NOT happened to someone somewhere on this planet, or may not happen say, to someone throughout eternity? And is not ALL of that suffering “justifiable” according to Christian apologists? Judaism claims that even the righteous suffer like Job. While Christianity claims that an infinite eternal and guiltless Being (AKA Jesus-God) has “suffered” and even spent time in “hell,” though everyone still continues to suffer here on earth, including for the past two thousand years since that Being suffered. So there does not appear to be any form of suffering thatʼs not justifiable to the Christian apologist, is there, including Jews suffering in concentration camps simply for being Jewish in some way—and then they die in such a camp and may will awaken on judgment day to find their new bodies (and old souls) in eternal hell, right? (For centuries both devout Calvinists and Catholics even spoke about seeing the damned suffer for eternity and not only finding the eternal suffering of the damned something justifiable, but also something worth REJOICING over.) I ask again, is there any form of suffering that a Christian apologist might consider to be “unjustifiable suffering?”
And why must people believe that the only way God can “accept” a person is if that person believes God has wrath (or a need to punish), and cannot simply forgive, nor punch a super pillow till His wrath abates, nor calmly instruct with minimal pain, and give people more than one chance, but instead God must take the sum total of His wrath out on the most unworthy recipient, a wholly guiltless individual, who also happens to be Himself? Why is such a belief necessary? And why do Christian creeds insist on the necessity of such a belief, when it obviously does not appeal to all, nor even make sense to all? All people donʼt even find the same stories (whether they involve “God” or not) as equally appealing or believable.
At present about a third of the world is nominally speaking, “Christian.” No doubt the Bible is constantly being published and republished, even Uber-published if I may coin the phrase, and passed out round the world, making it the “worldʼs biggest best seller,” though a more truthful accolade might be the “worldʼs most handed out book,” or the “worldʼs most common gift book,” or the “most commonly suggested book that Christian men and women and pastors tell others that they should or must get a copy of and read.”
I wonder whether Christian apologists have ever come to grips in a truly convincing fashion with the ways their God is portrayed (either in reality or metaphorically) in the book that they claim “reveals” the truth of their beliefs to humanity? For instance does the DEVIL threaten to cast people body and soul into hell? No. That type of imposed suffering is Godʼs design. Does the Devil get portrayed as wiping out every breathing thing on the planet except some ark survivors? Nope. Thatʼs God again. Does the Devil command the destruction of everything that breathes in certain cities? Does the Devil send plagues, famines, poisonous snakes, and opposing armies to teach people lessons like the God of the Bible is portrayed as doing? Does the Devil strike husband and wife both dead if they lie about giving all of their earthly possessions to the church?
Have Christian philosophers really dealt with questions like those above and below, or do they tend to flee them till they reach a nice quiet corner of huge generalizations resembling nothing so much as pious platitudes? But think for just a moment longer about this…
God is portrayed as acting thusly toward the “apple of His eye,” the “children of Israel”: The God of Israel tried to kill Moses (and failed); struck dead two sons of Aaron; commanded “brother to kill brother” leading to the deaths of 3,000 Israelites (right after He gave them the commandment, “Do not kill”); opened up the earth and buried alive “wives, sons and little children;” sent a fire that consumed 148 Levite princes; cursed his people to wander in the desert for forty years and eat 40,000 meals of quail and “manna” (talk about a monotonously torturous diet—and when they complained about it, God killed 3,000 Israelites with a plague); had a man put to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath; denied Moses and Aaron entrance into the “promised land” because Moses struck a rock twice with his staff instead of talking to the rock; delivered to his people a “promised land” that was parched, bordered by desert, and a corridor for passing conquering armies; sent fiery serpents among Israel, killing many; wanted to kill every Israelite and start over with Moses and his family (but Moses talked God out of that plan); drove the first king of Israel to suicide; killed someone who tried to steady a teetering ark of the covenant; murdered king Davidʼs innocent child; sent plagues and famines upon his people that killed men, women and children; ordered the execution of 42 children of the king of Judah; “smote all Israel” killing half a million men of Israel in a civil war between Israel and Judah; “delivered into the hand of the king of Israel” 120,000 Judeans massacred in one day along with 200,000 Jewish women and children; gave Satan the power to kill Jobʼs children and servants (in order to win a bet); let the Babylonians conquer the holy city of Jerusalem, and then the Greek forces of Alexander the Great, followed by the Romans; and finally left the Jews homeless and persecuted by Christians and Moslems for nearly 2000 years. Furthermore, the large number of laws in the Hebrew Bible concerning the treatment of lepers and those with sores demonstrates that the Israelites were far from being blessed with unparalleled good health. And archeological evidence indicates that in ancient Israel the infant mortality rate was as high as fifty percent.
Edward T. Babinski [See the Bible for all of the cases mentioned above, except for the archeological evidence concerning ancient Israelʼs infant mortality rate. For the latter see, Drorah OʼDonnell Setel, “Abortion,” The Oxford Guide to Ideas & Issues of the Bible, ed. by Bruce Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (Oxford University Press, 2001)]