Dialogue on the problem of suffering

Once again, another philosophy assignment; who knows if anyone will read it, but I’m posting it anyway. 🙂

Joan: You know, Confucius, I’ve been thinking about your very first thought a little earlier in our conversation today; that humans “survive in adversity and perish in ease and comfort”. This statement really reminds me of one of my favorite movies, The Matrix. Do you remember The Matrix?

Confucius: Yep! Great movie! It was all about how humanity, while good, deep down inside needs to be challenged with difficulties. I loved it when the Oracle told Neo (who I believe to be an archetype of humanity itself) that he could only be truly free to save the world if he felt he was free to save the world. She compared his knowing if he was the one, to being in love: You either know it or you don’t. Of course, in the second movie we found out that the oracle told Neo exactly what he needed to hear to get him to go out and face his adversity to become a better person. So Neo had to be challenged with difficulties to become a better person.

Joan: You know, that’s an interesting take on the movie, but my take is a bit different. I think Neo had to do a lot of soul searching, he had to grow as an inner person, to experience love for another human being, to put his life on the line for that human being, so that adversity didn’t give him personal growth – it gave him spiritual growth.

Confucius: Hmmm, well we clearly disagree on that facet of the movie.

Joan: But that’s not really my point of bringing it up. Back at your original statement that humanity “survives in adversity and perishes in ease and comfort”, that reminds me of something Agent Smith said in that movie:

Joan mimics that articulation and drawl of Agent Smith: Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where no one suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization (Wachowski & Wachowski, 1999).

Confucius: I guess I would agree with that; suffering produces the appropriate foundation for humanity to grow from existence to essence; I don’t think humanity could come to fully understand and appreciate its essence without first experiencing existence (and associated suffering), and therefore I don’t think mankind could be truly happy without some form of suffering.

Joan: You sound a bit like an existentialist!

Confucius: I say… I do!

Joan: Confucius says, he does!

Aquinas: Haha! I get it!

Job: But seriously though, both of you are splitting hairs really. You both believe that suffering is done to produce a certain result in those that are suffering. How would you respond to those people that say that there are cases of needless and pointless suffering in the world? It seems to me that that you can’t really speak to, and answer the question of suffering until you have walked a mile in someone’s shoes; that is until you have undergone unnecessary suffering, how can you speak to the problem of suffering?

Aquinas: Ok, Job; let’s hear what you have to say.

Job: Well, everyone knows my story. One day, I was sitting in the shade of my tent during the noon day glare, sipping a cup of tea, when all of a sudden one of my servant’s came to me and told me that all my oxen and donkey’s were plundered, and all my servants that were working the fields were killed, except the one that came to report to me.

Joan: Wow, that must have been really hard – that was your entirely livelihood wasn’t it?

Job: Nope, nah, I still had sheep. However, while my servant was still speaking, another came running in to tell me that in another section of my farmlands a fire from God fell from the sky burning up my sheep and servants, and only he escaped to tell me.

Confucius: Confucius says that really sucks.

Aquinas: Ok there buddy, it was funny the first time, don’t overdo it.

Joan: Wow, so then that was your entirely livelihood?

Job: Nope, I still had my camels. And yet, while the second servant was still talking a third came hurrying from a third corner of my farmlands to tell me that the Chaldeans had raided and took all my camels and had killed all my servants attending them, and he only escaped.

Joan: And that was it?

Job: That was it. And yet, I realized that God had given me everything that I owned, that He had provided those things of material value to me to begin with; so they were rightfully His, if he wanted to take them away, then so be it.

Aquinas: But that’s not all is it?

(Job begins to get teary, apparently wanting to leave this part out of the story)

Job: No, at that same exact time, another messenger came in to tell me that all my sons and daughters had just been killed when my oldest sons Fletcher’s house collapsed.

Joan: Oh God!

Job: That was my response.

(Job pauses to catch the lump that began to form in his throat from holding back the tears)

Job: I immediately when into deep morning and cried out to God saying: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will go back into the womb of the earth. God gives, and God takes. Blessed is God’s name.”

(Silence falls over the entire room, until Aquinas finally begins to speak)

Aquinas: I still can’t imagine what it must have been like; even hearing you talk about it now.

Job: Yes, but that wasn’t all, as if there couldn’t have been anymore insult to injury, a short while later I developed sores, ulcers and scabs that covered me from head to foot.

Joan: Wow, what did you do?

Job: What could I do? My wife told me to stop holding onto my integrity and to curse God and die. But I was, and still am a solid believer in the fact that if we can accept the good things that God gives to us, we must also accept the bad things that God gave to us as well.

Confucius: But, what was the purpose of it all?

Job: Well, let me finish my story. It’s in one of the number one sellers, my agent is ecstatic!), my so-called friends came around to try and comfort me.

(Job takes on a sarcastic tone)

Job: And what comfort they were. Mostly they just tried to convince me as to why all of this was probably my fault that God was punishing me for something that I had done, and probably just didn’t remember.

(Job sighs)

Job: I was upset with God, I really was. I mean, I was accepting of his decision, but I really wanted the ability to defend myself to God, and tell him why I was innocent and not guilty, and why I shouldn’t be punished.

(There is a slight pause, and Job shutters)

Job: And then, there came the answer.

Joan: You mean, God told you the reason for all of your suffering?

Job: Heck no! He stood me up in the middle of a violent storm, and told me to stand up straight, to brace myself, and listen to what He had to say and answer Him if I could. He put me to shame by showing me that I can’t even fathom some of the smallest portions of His creation, so who am I to question his goodness, mercy, judgment and righteousness. In the end, God’s only answer to me was God Himself.

Aquinas: Amen to that. You know Joan, Paul said the same thing in his letter to the Romans. I think it’s interesting that Job’s “book provides no answers to these questions. In the end, the reader is in the same position as Job himself. But in the end, the reader’s questions must be handled in the same that God handled Job’s questions. For like Job, we were not there when God laid the foundations of the earth. None of us knows who marked off its dimensions or stretched a measuring line across it. (Frame, 1994)

Joan: So really though, is it that God wants us to mature spiritually?

Confucius: Or does he want us to grow as a person?

Aquinas: I think the problem here, is, as John Frame points out in his book Apologetics to the Glory of God, that we are not being theocentric in our view of the problem of evil, rather we are being anthropocentric, and of course, that’s natural for us, as we see things from man’s point of view and not God’s. But, what I think we need to understand that God not only wants the greatest good for us, but He knows the greatest good for us too!

Job: This sounds like the greater-good theodicy!

Aquinas: In a way, but even deeper than that. I want each of you to go to Amazon.com and order the John M. Frame book that I’m mentioning, and read the chapter’s on the problem of evil. There is too much to explain right here, right now, but I will give you a quick overview.

(Keyboard clicking is heard in the background)

Aquinas: Just wait, please pay attention, Amazon isn’t going anywhere. In his book, John Frame says that we need to look at the problem of pain from a historical perspective.

First, we need to understand the past; and see that the past shows that God is good, merciful and just, and while we might not see the forest through the trees as we’re walking along in our life, God never takes his eyes off of us.

Next, we need to take a present view of pain and suffering, Paul tells us in Romans that God never allows any evil to come about to anyone who loves him, without it working for the greater good.

And finally, we have to take a future view of pain and suffering. There are still, and will continue to be outstanding questions on the goodness and mercy and justice of God, because we can’t see the end of everything. But, God has continued to show, over and over historically that He indeed will take care of us, if we love and trust Him, if we have Faith in Him.

Job: And that’s why I said that God’s answer to the problem of pain and suffering is Him. He says, I AM who I AM, trust me and have faith.

Aquinas: This I believe answers the question, in the end, to have faith in God is to have the answer to the question. I think it also starts to touch on the question of “Why the God Man”, but we’ve run out of time for today. I think I’ll write a book on that topic, it sounds very interesting.

Confucius: I think Anselm already beat you to that…

Joan: Confucius says…

Job: For crying out loud, I have to go, I’ll catch up with you guys later.

Aquinas: Ok, later!

Joan: Don’t forget dinner on Friday night!

Confucius: (Speechless)

Works Cited

Apologetics to the Glory of God. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.

Wachowski, A., & Wachowski, L. (Directors). (1999). The Matrix [Motion Picture].