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Do I Need to Suffer Myself to Question Whether God Exists?

When I talk about how the problem of suffering has made me question the existence of a loving God in control of the world, I sometimes get asked “What *happened* to you?”  The assumption seems to be that the only reason a person would question the existence of God is if something terrible had occurred that didn’t make sense in light of their beliefs.

I’ve always thought this was a very curious way to think about it, as if the only reason a person would think there was a problem is if they themselves had undergone some horrendous kind of suffering.

The fact is that I’ve never experienced suffering in extremis.  I’ve never had leprosy, never starved, never had multiple family members die in a senseless accident, never … never had any really excruciating suffering that stands out as unusual.   Just the standard fare for middle-class Americans: death of loved ones, shattered relationships, hard times, divorce, and so on.  Nothing that would be completely inexplicable if there were a God in charge of my world.

That’s not why I came to question the existence of God.  It has always been, instead, the suffering of others.  When I explain that to people, I often will get one of two responses.   The first is never meant to be heartless, I think, but in the long run, in my opinion, it actually is.  It’s when someone doesn’t understand: Well if nothing has ever happened to YOU, then why would you have a problem with it?  This response seems to me to suggest that we should simply ignore the terrible suffering of others as having no relevance for ourselves.  WE are the only ones that matter.  If nothing happens to US, then there is no problem.

I’ve never felt that way.  I’m very glad, of course, that I’ve had such a good life.  But I consciously have to fight myself not to …

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Why Was Marcion Declared a Heretic?
Why Not Believe in a Different Kind of God?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    hasankhan  July 3, 2017

    As Muslims we believe we are creations and there is nothing we can do to benefit God, therefore Whatever we get by default is a blessing. Whether it’s one leg, one eye or half brain. We’re not entitled to anything since it’s not a transaction. For example when we go to work, we can claim that we deserve to be paid because we provided some service. But we can’t offer anything to God that He doesn’t have. So our only response can be of gratitude for whatever we get. But with blessings come the burden to be grateful that’s why the more blessings we have the more accountable we are and the less we have the less accountable we are. God says that He doesn’t test anyone with more than what they can bear. Sometimes God takes away our blessings while knowing already that this servant will continue to be grateful and then rewards us in afterlife for being grateful in thick and thin. That’s why story of Prophet Job losing health and wealth is a lesson for us. He was grateful even in sickness so God elevated his status.

    Basically Creator may let a landslide happen and take the life of many at once because they were meant to live that much longer and among them would be four kinds of people

    1) babies and kids who are not accountable for anything since they didn’t reach the age of maturity
    2) those who never got the message of God and were lost souls just getting by their life. These will be tested again on judgement day and then rewarded or punished
    3) those who got the message and rejected it. They are the ones to be in hell
    4) believers who will have their good and bad deeds weighted and maybe forgiven and granted paradise straight away or they maybe briefly punished if their sins outweigh their good deeds

    Considering this, death can happen in any way. We also believe that every difficulty in life makes some ease in hereafter I.e takes away burden of some sin.

    That’s why most of the inhabitants of paradise are the poor, not the rich. When a person of paradise will see what they got in exchange for difficulties in life, they would wish they did not have any blessings in life.

    • Avatar
      godspell  July 4, 2017

      I have the greatest respect for Islam, but I must comment, looking at world events, it is very hard for me to think that Muslims all believe the same things in the same way. Nor do all Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, etc.

      I think it would be better if you talked about what you, personally, believe. And not speak as if you perfectly represent the beliefs of 1.6 billion people, of many cultures and languages and sects. Some of which, tragically, spend their lives fighting each other. Christianity, of course, went through this phase as well, and very horrible and bloody it was. Islam is still there. How do you explain that, if you all believe the same things?

      • Avatar
        mjkhan  July 5, 2017

        I an a Muslim but not the same person whom you addressed.These days the war is an industry .Have you heard the recent American idiom that war is good for economy.But whose economy?surely Syria,Libya,Iraq,Afghanistan,Pakistan Palestine,Lebanon all suffered for the prosperity of the perpetrators. So when war is an industry then the strong party does use the propaganda,also called “psywar” in war terminology.But it still means same i.e.spread lies over and over again until world believes the victims as bad guys.You also heard another saying “everything is fair in war and love”Not in Islam.In Islam there are rules which protect the rights of the weak,the victims.And lastly have you heard of “False flag.Have you heard of “Co intelpro”this was started to disrupt malign and demoralize the activities of the then Communist party in USA and then it spread to be used to inject the black provocateurs into crowds of blacks with Martin Luther King in 1970’s to do wrong and violent actions and then arrest the good guys with MLK.and blame all the freedom movement as evil.Same is happening today but the victims are Muslims.But what surprises me that in this educated country people like you can’t see this and join the band wagon in maligning Muslims under which ever cover they can find.Read the book”Another French false flag?Bloody tracks from Paris to San Bernadino.Knowledge never hurts it only opens the mind.

  2. Avatar
    saavoss  July 3, 2017

    I love this post. You and I seem to have very similar beliefs and opinions about such things. Be well.

  3. Avatar
    erudite  July 3, 2017

    Would Occman’s razor conclude that simplest explanation to the question would be that God does not exist?

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 3, 2017

    You are a very “thoughtful fellow” in a world and field where thought is often underappreciated to say the least. Those new to this blog should read “God’s Problem.”

  5. Avatar
    dougckatyBE  July 3, 2017

    This post should begin with a wink, but I don’t know how to do that in this context. wrt “But the reality is that those who do suffer in such horrible ways find comfort precisely in their believe (BELIEF) that their (THERE) *IS* a God.” 50,000 copy editors out of work, and our language is getting more and more corrupted by the auto-fill and auto-correct gremlins (or is it DEMONS?) I’m also seeing it in more and more books these days. And we’re supposed to be enthusiastic about the promised advent of Artificial Intelligence! (Yes, my attempt at levity is out of place in a discussion of such a serious subject. – ;.) Sorry.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 4, 2017

      Sorry bout that. I just don’t have time to proof read things more than once for the blog! I need a copy-editor!

      • Avatar
        GTGeek88  July 4, 2017

        Have you thought about starting a Google group of long-time, trusted participants on the blog and making that group solely about copy editing? They could post something to the group and with its email notification features you’d get a notification once a day about errors, misspellings, etc. Anybody not sticking to the very narrow reason for the groups existence could be disinvited. It would probably *not* need to be about “it would be better if you worded it this way” entries, but merely about obvious grammatical errors. This would make it highly efficient and you’d have a group of people to help you catch this stuff. The same type of thing might be accomplished in a different way, not necessarily through a Google group, but that would be one way to do it.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 5, 2017

          Not really. Seems like a lot of work to correct my “their” to “there” (especially since everyone can read it for themselves and see that that’s what I meant! This is just an Internet blog after all!)

          • Avatar
            GTGeek88  July 5, 2017

            Sacrilege! The English language is sacrosanct! 😉

            It’s only a little work at the outset. Then it’s not much. It was just a suggestion. Yes, we can generally see what you meant, even when you wrote “either” when you meant “neither” in something of yours I read recently. I just figured that since you analyze language – or, more accurately, the meaning and intent of certain languages and writings – you might want your writing to be as correct as possible and this suggestion just gave you free copy-editing.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 6, 2017

            I’m afraid that I can devote only an hour or so a day to the blog. It takes me about 20-25 minutes to write a post, then I have to proof it (just once, unfortunately). It takes 10 minutes to load it up and get it onto Facebook. And on my good days that leaves 30 minutes to approve and answer comments. I wish there were more of me!

          • Avatar
            GTGeek88  July 6, 2017

            Thanks for that time and the blog. I enjoy it a lot.

          • Avatar
            godspell  July 6, 2017

            I’ve been doing a book review blog for some years now.

            I rarely reread one of my articles without finding some error in it, sometimes well after I published it.

            But that’s what the edit button is for.

            The Navajo weavers supposedly can make perfect rugs, but they always put a mistake in there somewhere, to avoid angering their gods.

            I’m not worried about any gods being angry at me.

  6. Avatar
    bill1600  July 3, 2017

    You see a similar type of misguided thinking whenever there is a plane crash, because, for some people, there is no such thing as a chance event. There has to be a reason.
    And so, invariably, one of the survivors will say “I asked myself, why am I alive? And that’s when I realized that God has a plan for my life.”
    It never seems to occur to such people to ask “What about the other schmucks on the plane? What was God’s plan for them?”

  7. Avatar
    Erick  July 4, 2017

    I have attended quite a few black churches in the USA where there seems to be a different orientation to suffering. People will tell you that they put up with a lot of suffering (both major and minor) during the week, and they come to church on Sundays to get support. Congregations can provide both concrete as well as spiritual support. The church is used a tool for coping with stress and oppression. The persistence of suffering may drive some people away from religion, because they see it as ineffectual, causing them to disbelieve the shibboleth that God is Good. But in some communities the persistence of suffering seems to bring people into religious congregations because they experience religion as supportive. My experience is with black churches in the USA, but I understand that congregations in oppressed communities elsewhere have a similar orientation to suffering. So maybe we can say that God is a Tool.

    • Avatar
      godspell  July 6, 2017

      The black churches have been one of the most progressive forces in American history, though like all institutions, they have their shortcomings.

      I don’t think God is a tool. Community definitely is. But it’s also an end in itself.

      Theists tend to be better at community. But you have to look at what kind of community is being created. It varies a lot. And a lot depends on who’s leading it. Many false prophets out there. Well, Jesus warned us about that too.

  8. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  July 12, 2017

    Regarding suffering and belief in God(s), I think one could just as easily speculate that suffering is the cause of belief. If we lived in a perfectly engineered world where all of our needs were provided by nature and no one ever got sick or experienced pain of any sort, it might never occur to anyone to attribute the perfection of nature to a higher power. God(s) may be a grasping at straws in an uncertain world.

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