November 11, 2007


Suffering, Evil and the Existence of God (Stanley Fish, 11/04/07, NY Times: Think Again)

In Book 10 of Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” Adam asks the question so many of his descendants have asked: why should the lives of billions be blighted because of a sin he, not they, committed? (“Ah, why should all mankind / For one man’s fault… be condemned?”) He answers himself immediately: “But from me what can proceed, / But all corrupt, both Mind and Will depraved?” Adam’s Original Sin is like an inherited virus. Although those who are born with it are technically innocent of the crime – they did not eat of the forbidden tree – its effects rage in their blood and disorder their actions.

God, of course, could have restored them to spiritual health, but instead, Paul tells us in Romans, he “gave them over” to their “reprobate minds” and to the urging of their depraved wills. Because they are naturally “filled with all unrighteousness,” unrighteous deeds are what they will perform: “fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness . . . envy, murder . . . deceit, malignity.” “There is none righteous,” Paul declares, “no, not one.”

It follows, then (at least from these assumptions), that the presence of evil in the world cannot be traced back to God, who opened up the possibility of its emergence by granting his creatures free will but is not responsible for what they, in the person of their progenitor Adam, freely chose to do.

What Milton and Paul offer (not as collaborators of course, but as participants in the same tradition) is a solution to the central problem of theodicy – the existence of suffering and evil in a world presided over by an all powerful and benevolent deity. The occurrence of catastrophes natural (hurricanes, droughts, disease) and unnatural (the Holocaust ) always revives the problem and provokes anguished discussion of it. The conviction, held by some, that the problem is intractable leads to the conclusion that there is no God, a conclusion reached gleefully by the authors of books like “The God Delusion,” “God Is Not Great” and “The End of Faith.”

...than the theatricality with which these folks whip out questions that have been asked and answered centuries and even millenia before. Their belief seems to be that because the question stumped them it is, therefore, unanswerable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 11, 2007 7:54 AM

So when good things happen, God gives us the big thumbs up, but if bad things happen he effects the pained expression of one has "dealt" it, but refuses to admit he "smelt" it.

Original sin is a crock.

Posted by: Pete at November 11, 2007 11:22 AM

your belief that good and evil just happen gives away the game. those who deny original sin are just trying to escape personal responsibility

Posted by: oj at November 11, 2007 2:46 PM


I don't let the Bible bind me. I don't accept it's validity, but you do. How can you let God off the hook for sin? He created us with the capability to sin. An astonishingly great capacity for it. So how does he dodge responsibility for evil? He created us, Lucifer, and the physical world/system we live in.

Not to mention the random cruelty that is visited on some of us with no sin attaching. 5 y/os getting cancer. Young mothers getting hit by lightning. 6 million Jews getting fed into ovens. A compassionate God would tamp down on the whole slaughtering of the innocent.

That's why I believe a creator doesn't exist in any way that would be meaningful to us.

Posted by: Pete at November 11, 2007 6:49 PM

Suffering is necessary. Otherwise it would be too easy.

Posted by: Gideon at November 11, 2007 7:48 PM

Pete, you define "compassion" as eliminating the consequences of life, itself.

Such juvenile reasoning leads to things like so-called mercy killings.

At least you're proud of committing the sin of pride -- useful for feeling good about yourself in the short term.

Posted by: Randall Voth at November 11, 2007 8:25 PM


What are the consequences we're avoiding when a 5 year old gets cancer? What life lesson is being imparted? That God can be just as cruel as his creation, Man?

You've missed my point by assuming I believe God exists. I ascribe the blame for terrible acts to the people who've perpetrated them and the random acts of nature as probability catching up to the unfortunate. It's the religious who see the hand of God in everything, except the parts they'd like to blame on us. If you believe that God created "everything", then he's entitled to all of the credit and the blame for the system he's dropped us into.

Posted by: Pete at November 11, 2007 10:22 PM


Assume heaven.

If heaven exists, then maybe tho that 5-year old deals with the pain of cancer for a short time, it isn't so bad, given that said 5 year old will be in paradise, rather than dealing with 75-odd years of crap.

If we're all just pilgrims here . . .

But of course, that's all just a fairy-tale, right?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at November 11, 2007 10:58 PM

OJ's point is exactly correct - the "answers" to these questions have been around for a long, long time. But nobody likes them, so they keep writhing.

In one of Joni Earickson Tada's recent books, she recounts a visit from a Christian friend sometime after her accident. She asked her friend, with all gravity, why God put her in the wheelchair. He replied (with fear and trembling): "Because he loves you".

To a modern, that is torture. Insanity. Foolishness. And yet, it is the only possible answer.

We all know that God's 'answer' to pain and suffering was to suffer more than we ever could. Himself. But if one already hates God and will not put down the sword, this 'answer' only increases the fury.

Of course, moderns are enraged too by Job's response (when he sees God). They would rather that he take a spear and stab at God, who caused his suffering. Job knew better.

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 12, 2007 8:35 AM

He suffered at Calvary more then we could imagine. Because humans demanded it, even today.

Posted by: Giideon at November 12, 2007 5:23 PM

hegets credit for allowing us freedom even thojgh it affords us opportunity for evil. as your repeated comments make clear you find that freedom intolerable.

Posted by: oj at November 15, 2007 12:35 PM