I post mostly messages and commentary about religion and politics, and the scary occasions when they collide.
I am a: Liberal, Green, Christian, Math teacher
Lover of Math, Philosophy, Animals, Civil Rights, and Arguments of all kinds.

20th October 2012

Post with 2 notes

Optimistic look at suffering and death

For all that’s made of the problem of evil, it’s a poor way to go about demonstrating the non-existence of God. Even worse, the falseness of Christianity.

I would go so far as to claim that Christianity is uniquely, ideally developed to address and undermine the problem of evil. According to the Bible, God is not only well-aware of the existence of evil, but at least indirectly responsible for bringing it about. Much of the later text reassures us that not only does evil exist, but it will make itself known to us. Probably often. It rains on the just and unjust, the story of Job, etc. How some branches of evangelicalism turn Christianity into ‘if you believe, nothing bad will happen to you’ is beyond me- but it isn’t based on the Bible. The Bible asserts the exact opposite.

But it would be completely false to say that therefore, God is cruel or indifferent to suffering. Christianity says that God cared so much about suffering; He was willing to go through the same, tortured and died for our sake. I recently had the opportunity to witness a live production of the Catholic 13 Stations of the Cross. I was skeptical of it (still am a little), as I’m not a fan of the emphasis they place on Christ’s suffering: it feels too much like emotional manipulation. He went through all this pain, so the least you could do is show up at Sunday mass.

There’s more to it than that, though. Christ’s suffering was simultaneously a model for and an explanation for evil in spite of a just and caring God. We will suffer, just as he did. When there is suffering and injustice and evil, there is God too- That which you do to the least of these, you do unto me. He spoke for the powerless in society, and even for non-believers, though by that I don’t mean ‘middle-class college-aged atheists who feel intellectually superior to theists’- I mean those who have seen despair and hopelessness, and feel betrayed by everyone and everything, even by God. Jesus felt their pain (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me), echoing that final cry of moral outrage at the loss of divine connection and the pain of mortal death.

But, that, too, is a remarkable interpretation of Christianity, in realizing that Jesus was not just God’s son, but God also: Life is unfair. Life is hard. Evil sometimes triumphs… and God knows this, personally, intimately, holding Himself accountable for the world He created, for its injustice. If ever you demanded that God stand trial for all the wrongs of this world, Christianity claims He already did, because He loves us. When people suffer, God suffers with them.

Yet, it gets better: Christ’s suffering ended, was transcended even, and replaced with something more beautiful and more divine than that which was lost. The ultimate promise of the cross is not death, or the afterlife, but life, through resurrection. Heaven made manifest on earth: That is the goal, and the real obligation of believers. We do for this world and the suffering in it as we would have done for Christ, and as we believe actually did happen to him. Heaven is not a reward for death, but the promise for a new life here and now. Injustice will be made right, evil will be eliminated- so completely and finally that the result will be more perfect than if evil had never existed at all.

In other words, the problem of evil IS Christianity. In the end, it will have been worthwhile, and it begins, now, with us.

Tagged: religiontheologyfeeling theologicalchristianityevilchristjesusatheistsuffering

  1. liberalchristian posted this