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Thursday, November 3, 2011

God and Suffering

I sometimes wonder why theodicy has become such a significant theological concern in our time.  We live lives of unprecedented quality, at least materially.  We are not subject to the ravages of disease and natural disaster and tragic accident in the ways our forebears would have been even 100 years ago.  Certainly, these awful things still happen, and tear us apart when they do.  But they seem to challenge our faith in a way they did not our ancestors who were so much more vulnerable to them.

I do not wish to diminish the question of why we suffer when God is good and all powerful.  It is an important place to begin theological inquiry.  I do think we have something to learn about ourselves by asking us why this matters so much to us in a time and place of relative health, safety, and prosperity.

I have several thoughts about why this might be true.  The most disturbing to me has to do with the consumerist and materialist culture in which we find ourselves.  If God is primarily a provider of goods and services for us to consume and enjoy, then it is clear God gets poor evaluations from Consumer Reports.  In Christian thinking, our relationship with God is not defined in consumerist terms, but in covenant terms.  Rather than "a God dishes out, we lap up relationship," we are to think of our relationship with God in mutual terms.  It is a relationship of shared responsibility.  Blaming God for suffering in the world makes about as much sense as me blaming Beth for all the problems in our house (in reality it is me or my dog that are to blame).

In a covenant relationship, life is shared.  We are co-creators with God, not consumers of God's lovely line of divine products.


Chet Peachey said...

I've been trying to figure out where I learned that God is to blame for the suffering in the world. It must have been my conservative religious upbringing.

Phil Waite said...

Chet, I am curious what you heard about God growing up. Blaming God for suffering isn't particularly consistent with classical Christian teaching about God, although the idea has certainly taken root among some Christians.

Bonnie and Stan said...

Chet, I (Bonnie) am curious too. A couple of my learnings that come to mind are that God is love and the rain falls on the just and unjust.

Chet Peachey said...

God was presented as "in control" of both good and bad. If a person experienced suffering or a severe illness, the question was "what did the person or someone in the family do to cause God to deliver the illness on the person"? Ministers that I experienced as a youth were not seminary educated, in fact, may not even been High School graduates.