Friday, April 26, 2013

The Emotional Problem of Suffering and the Human Parenting Solution

The emotional problem of suffering can be very persuasive in leading people to the conclusion that God does not exist or, at the very least, that God stands aloof to the sufferings of mankind and is therefore not worthy of a relationship and worship. Essentially the problem is as follows:  How can a good and loving God permit suffering?

While thinking about this problem and the answers to it, I thought of another possible answer:  human parenting. God is typically seen as a parent and rightly so:  the kings of Israel were designated as God's son or firstborn in accordance with the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:14); Jesus instructed us to pray to God as Father (Matthew 6:9) and consistently referred to Him as Father (Luke 2:49, John 10:30) and Paul did as well (Romans 8:15, Ephesians 4:6). There are analogies between God as Father and a human parent, however the analogy is limited. As William Lane Craig points out, "we and our children are equals; but God is our Creator and Sovereign."

The person struggling with the emotional problem of suffering more than likely views God as a bad parent. He is not stepping in to stop the suffering of His children. The question I pose in response is this:  How can a good and loving human parent permit suffering? Now they may say, "Wait a minute! God is all powerful and human parents are not! Of course they cannot stop their children from suffering!" Yes, this is true. However, there are instances in which human parents have a sufficient reason to allow their children to suffer. My son is nearly two and he is constantly running and climbing in the house and yard. So, naturally and frequently, he falls flat on his face after tripping over his own feet or he bumps his head on a wall or table because he is not paying attention to his surroundings. The majority of the time these instances are minor, so my wife and I do not step in and console his pain by holding him and kissing his boo boos because we want him to be able to learn how to internally handle pain and his emotions. We express our understanding of his pain and encourage and guide him to be careful and to be mindful of his surroundings as he plays. And we do not take this approach stoically. Everything within us wants to scoop him up and console him. I am sure the parents reading this can think of circumstances in which  they had allowed, are currently allowing, or plan on allowing a child of their own to suffer for something far more important than relieving temporary pain or discomfort. For example, I am thoroughly prepared to allow my future teenage son who does not make it home by curfew to sleep in the car in order to learn responsibility and respect for me and my wife and our house.

In conclusion, if it is reasonable for human parents, with finite knowledge and wisdom, to allow their children to suffer for a greater purpose; why is it not for God who has infinite knowledge and wisdom? 

Stand firm in Christ,

Chase

Footnotes:

1. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/why-we-raised-our-kids-to-believe-in-god#ixzz2RICcBaY

6 comments:

Andrew Ryan said...

I don't see how this fits in with allowing African children to get their eyes infecting by parasite worms that eventually make them go blind, or allowing thousands of cancer sufferers to die agonising deaths every day. To suggest this is similar to making a teenager sleep in his car strikes me as a post hoc explanation, and not a particularly convincing one. We're meant to think this is a particular lesson for all those African kids, but one that God doesn't deem necessary for any children in the West? That God has fingered certain people as requiring that cancer death for their personal growth, but not others?

Anonymous said...

are you seriously comparing minor cuts and bruises, sleeping in the car ... to say starving children to death and sitting idly by while you could prevent starvation forever? How about painful cancer that is killing a 3 year old? what lesson does a dea child learn from pain and starvation?

Chase said...

Hello Andrew,

Glad to be engaging in a discussion with you again.

I don't see how this fits in with allowing African children to get their eyes infecting by parasite worms that eventually make them go blind, or allowing thousands of cancer sufferers to die agonising deaths every day. To suggest this is similar to making a teenager sleep in his car strikes me as a post hoc explanation, and not a particularly convincing one.

I did not compare the suffering I allow, or plan on allowing, my son to experience to the suffering that God allows people to experience in scope or emotional difficulty, but in the ability for a greater purpose to be reached because of the suffering. This you clearly saw by the rest of your comment.

The main point of the post was that if it is reasonable to think that finite human parents can have morally sufficient reasons for allowing their children to suffer it is reasonable to think that an infinite God can have morally sufficient reasons for allowing suffering.

We're meant to think this is a particular lesson for all those African kids, but one that God doesn't deem necessary for any children in the West? That God has fingered certain people as requiring that cancer death for their personal growth, but not others?

It is not just those who suffer who learn, but those around them. The examples you give (African children going blind due to parasitic worms, death from cancer), and other sufferings, further impress upon me as a follower of Christ that human life is sacred and that the abundant resources given by God should be used to serve those who are suffering (and those who are not) and through this loving service their relationship with God grows. They see that I love them and that God loves them and will be told that He suffered for them through the person of Jesus Christ in order to put an end to the suffering caused by sin and death. God’s ultimate purpose for mankind is not our happiness here in this temporal world, but His glorification through a creation eternally redeemed to Himself through Jesus Christ which ends up resulting in our happiness.

What lesson do you learn from African children who go blind from parasitic worms or from those who die from cancer, or from anyone who suffers? And what lesson do those who are suffering learn from your service to them?

Chase said...

Hello Anonymous One,

are you seriously comparing minor cuts and bruises, sleeping in the car ... to say starving children to death and sitting idly by while you could prevent starvation forever? How about painful cancer that is killing a 3 year old?

See my response to Andrew Ryan.

what lesson does a dea child learn from pain and starvation?

I am not clear what you are asking here. Please clarify.

Andrew Ryan said...

"It is not just those who suffer who learn, but those around them."

Then you've gone from allowing someone to suffer a bit to prevent greater suffering in the future to using a person and their huge suffering and possibly death as a tool to benefit others. How does this count as a 'morally sufficient' reason?

When does deliberately allowing the suffering of another human being without their permission just to benefit another person become morally acceptable in our society? Down that route goes the idea that we should be able to steal organs from a man because it could save the life of others.

"What lesson do you learn from African children who go blind from parasitic worms"

Nothing that justifies their suffering, certainly. Exactly how many deaths are required for the lesson to be learned? Five wouldn't be enough, several million is about right? So it's all the poor people in African countries who get to live short miserable lives purely as a lesson for privileged Westerners? You'd happily tell someone dying in horrible pain who's already lost many family members that their suffering is needed in order to provide a 'teachable moment' for a bunch of people reading their newspapers in London or New York?

Sorry, this still sounds like a post hoc explanation.

Chase said...

Hi Andrew.

Then you've gone from allowing someone to suffer a bit to prevent greater suffering in the future to using a person and their huge suffering and possibly death as a tool to benefit others. How does this count as a 'morally sufficient' reason?

God’s ultimate purpose for mankind is a creation eternally redeemed to Himself through Jesus Christ. For those who suffer, their suffering can be a catalyst for a stronger relationship with God (for them and me) and a catalyst for me to serve them if able. Likewise, my service to those who suffer can be a catalyst for a stronger relationship with God for both. Thus, the ability for a relationship with God to be strengthened is there for both and progress towards the purpose mentioned above can be made depending on the lessons learned and actions taken by individuals as a result of the suffering. So, there can be mutual benefit for those who suffer and those external to them. The reason for all of the ‘cans’ is due to the free will of every individual to seek or not seek God.

Nothing that justifies their suffering, certainly.

In my previous comment, I was simply pointing out that every individual (those suffering and those not suffering) has the ability to learn and grow from suffering. Nowhere did I say it is justification for the suffering. The only justification for the suffering of mankind is God entering into our suffering by suffering and dying on the cross through the person of Jesus and Jesus rising from the dead to defeat sin and death and redeem mankind to God. I stated this in my previous comment and again in this comment in the paragraph above. If God does not exist and Christ did not rise from the dead, nothing can justify our suffering. It is all in vain.

Sorry, this still sounds like a post hoc explanation.

Post hoc has to do with falsely attributing event A as the cause of event B because event B occurred after event A. I do not see how this applies as we are not discussing the occurrence of a sequence of events and their causal relationship, but the occurrence of a single event (suffering in whatever form) and the reasons God has for allowing it to occur. Perhaps you can show me how it applies.