What can we learn from all the suffering in the world?

female pelvis narrow in childbirth

There were a number of comments at Vic Reppertʼs blog recently about God not caring that people suffer either lightly or horribly, because all the suffering in the world and cosmos is merely so “we can learn;” a view that seems unfalsifiable of course, and I might ask what animals learn from their suffering. Is God purifying their souls as well? (Or did God give tapeworms—and other diseases along with predators—to deer, simply in order to teach mankind more “lessons?” As I said such a view remains unfalsifiable. But what about the past eons when humankind wasnʼt even around to see and “learn” anything from all the predation and parasites and natural disasters tormenting the animals? More unfalsifiable hypotheses can explain that of course.)

I think people “learn” plenty simply through interactions with fellow human beings (who are relatively healthy and not suffering great pains). We learn how to increase joys by sharing pleasures, and we learn how to decrease pains by having others commiserate with us. We learn how our feelings are hurt and how we hurt the feelings of others—as well as learning how to boost other peopleʼs egos and see them shine and be happy that blesses us as well. So we learn plenty about getting along and having friends and avoiding making enemies. But tossing in plagues and tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanoes and tornadoes and hurricanes and droughts and floods and parasites and diseases, not to mention genetic defects that make it impossible for a child to even lay down without his skin blistering up, so that the child spends every day of their short life in excruciating pain, as well as tossing in the fact that the female pelvis narrowed when humans became upright while the cranium grew, such that there is mortal peril involved in the very birthing process for both child and mother, is simply to apologize for things no sane person should have to apologize for. Apologizing for such things in creation appears to be to be a form of irrational madness. Iʼd sooner remain agnostic over such matters, or at least accept a God who employed Darwinian evolution, a Divine Tinkerer even, than try to attempt apologizing for such things. For a far larger list of such things see “Why We Believe in a Designer” Even ministers like Clayton Sullivan donʼt cotton to such apologetics. See Rev. Sullivanʼs statement in a companion piece, “The Most Provocative Things Ever Said About the Way God Designed the Cosmos”.

And the view that weʼre “learning” from the daily grind of suffering both physically and mentally also belies the fact that many people are permanently traumatized, or even driven mad by such suffering, or even kill their own children, or commit suicide due to it, such as people suffering tinnitus—a constant ringing in the ears that continues as they try to sleep, some of whom commit suicide after many sleepless nights.

Not to mention suffering the vast wealth of ignorance on this planet that harms us all in ways innumerable. Or suffering problems caused simply by miscommunication with others or between nations.

Lastly thereʼs the view that after all the suffering of this world thereʼs an eternal world of suffering that lay ahead for people who donʼt “believe” like “we” do.

Let me put it this way…

Perhaps all discussions of Christian apologetics with non-Christians should begin with the words of John G. Stackhouse Jr. in his book, Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Oxford Univ. Press, 2002), who wrote:

“The familiarity Christians enjoy for our own religion, especially given its privileged place in North American culture, keeps us from seeing, in the light of other world views, how weird it really is.” (p.16)

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