To celebrate the launch of our new blog site I am starting by posting Five Favorites from years gone by, one post from each of the blog’s first five years, 2012-16. Here is one I’ve chosen from 2013. One of the issues I sometimes address on the blog when I’m not talking directly about the New Testament and earliest Christianity is my take on “the problem of suffering.” It’s not just a big issue but also an emotionally difficult one. That is more or less what this post is about, as someone objects to my decision to air my views.
Sometimes people get upset because I deal with the problem of suffering even though I don’t seem to be experiencing any severe pain and misery myself. Here is an example of the kind of comment I occasionally receive, this from someone commenting to me on Facebook a couple of days ago:
“Dude, in a world of suffering, you claim doubts in deity because you live the privileged life of a UNC professor. If you lived in a 40-year-old trailer in Tarboro, I’d take you more seriously. And you even charge people to read your self-indulgent crap. Just for the record, I’m a non-theist. But I’m not a hypocrite.”
I take comments like this very seriously. Even though I recognize that it is a bit hostile, my sense is that a lot of people who feel this way are themselves experiencing real hardship and find it offensive that I would have the gall to talk about issues of pain and suffering.
I think it is an important issue and worth addressing. When I first received this comment on Facebook I had a number of conflicted and conflicting responses. My first response involved a series of rather severe expletives. No need to go into that here….
My next response was “Dude, you don’t know the first *thing* about my life, so what are you talking about?” The idea that UNC professors don’t suffer is outrageous. But there is no need for me to go there either. I can say up front that I prefer not to go into the details of how I’ve suffered in life; but I can also say that it is absolutely true that however much I’ve suffered before (and of course I have. Is there someone who hasn’t?), I do have a very good life and I am very grateful for it.
My next response was more considered, and I’m not done having it yet. I’m thinking through the issues, as I do whenever I face this kind of hostile reaction. Here are some of the things I’m thinking of:
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