Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, June 11, 2012

God is Not a Sadist

Sometimes a pious turn of phrase, taken too literally, can become a destructive way of looking at our relationship with God. One of these, I think, is the idea of God sending us suffering so that we can grow in virtue by bearing up under that suffering.

It's easy to see how one gets here. All the pieces are good and true. God is the creator of the world and holds it in existence through the power of his will, so although God does not will evil to happen, he allows it to happen, and he makes it a part of his plan. Thus, one can say, in a sense, that when bad things happen to us they are "part of God's plan" in the sense that God remains in control. He's not saying, "Whoa. I hadn't expected that one. How did that slip by?"

It's also true that when we experience suffering we have the opportunity, by willingly joining our sufferings to Christ's sacrifice, rather than allowing them to make us angry or resentful, to grow in virtue.

However, put these two together and we start getting ideas like, "Think how much God must have loved you in order to [cause your spouse to die/make your child disabled/give you cancer/make you lose your job]! It's tough love, but God is willing to cause us any degree of suffering in order for us to grow in virtue."

This, I think, while often said by earnest and well meaning people, and actually a very wrong way to think, and if taken seriously paints a very sick picture of God. After all, God, at the very definition of his being, by loves us. He is love. To love is to wish the best for the other. As such, God does not want us to suffer, although when we do suffer it is his will that we should grow in virtue through the experience. God's will, however, in its fullest realization, the perfection for which he made us, is that we should be happy. Not that we should suffer.


bearing said...

People have a deep need to provide apparently-rational explanations for the "problem of pain." But: It's okay not to know "why" things happen.

I have often struggled with what it means to "trust" God. Your post makes me wonder if part of "trusting" God is not making up reasons why He must have decided to allow such-and-such a thing to happen -- not putting words in His mouth, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

One of the best attempts at an explanation I've ever seen comes from Theodore Beale, AKA Vox Day. His theology is pretty hopeless in many ways - he's a member of the Church of "Jesus, by bible and me" - but he came up with a good illustration that God is at least potentially omnipotent, but not omnidirigent.

In his book The Irrational Atheist, he makes the allegory of God as a programmer, based on his experiences of creating game characters with artificial intelligence. The programmer (who is rather like God to the characters) doesn't know what the characters are doing moment by moment, but he trusts them to be working according to spec. If one of the characters makes the attempt to communicate with the programmer (as long as the programmer managed to survive the ensuing heart attack), telling him what is wrong, the programmer may intervene personally and indirectly. Some interventions may not be possible because of outside factors; others may be possible, just not right now; still others require action immediately.

It's not a lot of consolation; but it has helped me a lot.

ex-new yorker said...

OT, but if you got a Goodreads friend request from someone you don't know (I'm not sure), it was probably just my 1-year-old clicking on your Persuasion link on the sidebar when I was distracted. Oops.

Jenny said...

One cliche that I really am uncomfortable with is "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans." Now I understand the sentiment is that God's plan for your life may not be the same as your plan and you need to be open to adjusting your plan. But I think it conveys a sense that God is looking for a way to blow up your life. It presents God in the image of Animal House, "You F***** Up; you trusted us!"

Donald R. McClarey said...

Whenever I think of the will of God, I always recall this passage from the Second Inaugural, particularly the sentence: The Almighty has His own purposes:

"Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.""

Crude said...

Hey Darwin-duo.

Looks like Carol Keehan just yanked her support from Obama's HHS accommodation. I recall you guys speculating about the liberal Catholic moves on this front a while back, so if you're interested, check out - may be worth a post.

Unknown said...

Dear Darwin,
I really loved the way you put everything in perspective. God is Love and when you do have to suffer, his plan is to sooth you. He can never be behind your pains.
Those who think that the only way to grow in virtue is through pain only are unknowingly supporting sadism. There have been invented better ways of grwoing and learning. Pain is not essential for growth.

Best Regards.