welby-theologian
Mission

Welby ponders the problem of suffering: “I’m not a good enough theologian”

“How can there be a God when there is so much suffering in the world?” probed broadcaster and journalist Jeremy Vine in discussion with Justin Welby in the Diocese of Worcester on 7th October. He wasn’t asking on his own behalf: he has weighed many of things in his own walk of faith. “I find when I am talking to friends who are maybe quite atheist, the one big thing always is…,” he explains.  So much suffering; so much pain, anguish, hardship, torture… Why?

“Well…,” responds the Archbishop of Canterbury, pausing to gaze at a speck of dust on the floor. “It’s the third time today I’ve been asked the question…” He meanders around previous interrogations.. “..really, really seriously..” No picnic here: “I know it is THE question,” he affirms.

“Erm..”

Very long pause. The speck of dust has moved. Dark here, innit.

“I think..”

No, let’s start again.

“I don’t..”

He stammers.

“I don’t think there’s a good answer..”

He realises what he’s just said, and, respectful of God and Aquinas, hastily moves to qualify, mindful that his previous spontaneous musings have been broadcast around the world and unhelpfully interpreted by a largely unsympathetic media.

“..in an intellectual sense..”

Phew.

The media won’t do Thomistic philosophy.

“I don’t think there’s an answer which says, ‘That’s it.'”

That’s neat.

“I’m not a good enough theologian,” he justifies, before going on to expound the Book of Job.. God, Jesus on the Cross.. the crucified God.. and the psalmist who cries out with an anger against God that we would never dream of in our churches… In these we find a mystery: a community witnessing to the Suffering Servant, willingly laying down their lives for truth, justice and righteousness. Suffering is God’s only political policy, because the weakest suffer most, and power must be told the truth. When we share in the sufferings of the poor, helpless and oppressed, we are called blessed because the kingdom of God is ours. No one said that bringing peace to a world of violence and injustice would be easy: we might even be called to die a martyr’s death.. in agony.. like Jesus.

The world doesn’t need more clever christologies or convoluted apocalyptic words from archbishop-theologians: it just needs a few more Christians who will do this:

talking-to-homeless

 

 

 

  • Anton

    10/10 for talking to the homeless on the pavement where they are, but 0/10 for explaining how there is suffering yet also an omnipotent and good God.

    How is it difficult theologically to say that the world is not any longer as God intended it; that if you create people with freedom of choice between good and evil then they might choose evil; that evil contaminates good so that the choice is then no longer a free one; and that someday God will get sufficiently disgusted with the ravages to his creation that he will deal with it, so FLEE FROM THE WRATH TO COME, and accept that we all prefer evil and must all repent. With Muslims peddling a different theism, there is a real opportunity. Yet it seems to have been missed by a decent man who may have told the truth about why he missed it. But why is an Archbishop unable to explain the basics of the Christian faith?

    • CliveM

      The problem is as a response it doesn’t answer the question. People aren’t interested in why it’s there. They want to know what God is going to do about it. They want an answer on a personal level. Why does Allow it. Why doesn’t he stop it. What about the innocent (babies, small children etc).

      Theology is bad at answering this type of question, asked in a personal way.

      • Anton

        I think that “How come there is suffering if God is all-powerful and good?” IS answered by “because he prioritises the freedom of what he has created; we are not just puppets, we are free to choose evil, and we often do. The only way to prevent evil would be if God created us as puppets.”

        • CliveM

          Which doesn’t answer the question of natural disasters, illness, decease etc.

          Also if God is willing to intervene directly in this world, for example bringing Jairus’s daughter back to life, why does he not intervene when a baby is being raped?

          There are answers, but they are difficult ones and they don’t come with a nice, neat conclusion. Or at least not a nice neat one, that we yet understand.

          • Anton

            For ‘natural’ disasters that cause suffering you have to posit angels that do evil as well as humans. A few hardline materialists will tune out at that point, but our culture is fairly New Age today and you can reasonably ask people why they disbelieve in angels if they believe in healing stones, UFOs and all sorts of mild pagan stuff. Jairus’ daughter was lucky in having died when Jesus was around; the point is to highlight Christ, not heal everybody of everything instantly; so get your ultimate life insurance from Him. It’s not to hard to turn these things round into a preaching opportunity. I’d also ask the questioner back: Are you looking for a reason to believe or a reason to disbelieve?

          • CliveM

            Maybe they’re just looking for an understanding?

            Regards Angels, I’m not sure I’m understanding! Are you saying they cause the natural disasters?

          • Anton

            I’m saying that there is more to evil than the human and it isn’t God. Quite how that translates into natural disasters isn’t particularly clear; bear in mind that a lightning strike on a piece of rock does no harm unless a human happens to be standing there, and how come he got to be there? Did an unseen angel somehow hold him up on his walk? But if you want the ultimate insurance from evil then believe in Christ… every question is an opportunity.

          • Martin

            Clive

            The Fall answer why there are “natural disasters, illness, decease etc”. Why does God not intervene, because if He did He’d be working against the justice of the Curse. Mankind has chosen evil, God’s answer is more than just putting some things right.

        • Anton

          ‘The only way to prevent evil would be if God created us as puppets.”

          I’m not happy with this answer. In the new creation there will be no sin and suffering and no freedom to choose evil but we will not be puppets.

          • Anton

            Ok, The only way to prevent evil would be if God had created the angels (in particular, Satan) as puppets.

          • It’s the word ‘puppets’ that troubles me. God cannot do evil but he is not a puppet. If one acts according to ones nature one is not a puppet.

          • Anton

            But I’m sure you know what I mean. What word would you choose, please?

          • Anton

            See response above. I put it in wrong place.

          • Rather than assume the view is correct that those opposed to the gospel would claim (if we are not free to sin we are just puppets) I may say to non-Christians, ‘But if you do not have freedom to sin then you are likely to claim that we are not really free’.

            Now I think this reasoning is wrong but I am willing to expose the injustice and contradiction inherent in their thinking without agreeing it is true.

            What is freedom? Biblical freedom is being free to live as our Maker intended. Being able to sin is not true freedom. Even worse, being unable to not sin is the worse form of slavery. True freedom is having a nature like God’s; it is this we have in new creation. We will not be able to sin in heaven for we will have a nature/life invincibly opposed to sinning utterly sustained by God theHoly Spirit in true righteousness and holiness.

    • Dominic Stockford

      He came in through ‘Alpha’ which is not just weak on sin, but fails terribly in dealing with it. And that would have been the simple answer, of course.

      • Anton

        Certainly Alpha’s Trinity is overly biased toward the Holy Spirit and it is too light on repentance, but I believe it has brought many to a saving faith. Certainly it has turned lives round due to faith. Its meal-presentation-table discussion format is a winner.

        I’m not an Alpha convert, in case you were wondering. I’m an adult convert from non-occult secularism. For a decade I knew that I didn’t fully grasp what I’d committed to, and I thank God for that awareness. Today I do.

        • Martin

          Anton

          I doubt Alpha has brought any to saving faith, although God may have had mercy on some who have attended it.

      • Albert

        I bet it’s pretty weak on sacraments and Mary, too.

        • Anton

          There is a Catholic version of Alpha which Holy Trinity Brompton have blessed, which I presume adds stuff to scripture.

          • Albert

            Thank you. TBH I did know that, I was just being mischievous…!

          • Anton

            Ditto! I can’t remember what Alpha says about baptism and Communion, the two things we agree are sacraments.

        • Dominic Stockford

          I don’t remember it really covering either of the two sacraments.

          • Albert

            !!

        • CliveM

          Trying to be provocative Albert?

          • Albert

            Yes.

          • CliveM

            Oh ok fair enough!

  • Albert

    You don’t need to by a good theologian to answer this question, you need to do the right philosophy (yes, Aquinas) to see that the Problem of Evil is a pseudo-problem. In other words, it is not possible to express the problem in such a way as to reach the conclusion that there is no God.

    • Anton

      But is it possible to express the problem in such a way as to reach the conclusion that there may not be a God who is omnipotent and benevolent?

      • Albert

        If you claim that God is omnibenevolent then yes – but classical theism does not claim that, and there’s the reason the argument fails.

    • Royinsouthwest

      The problem of evil is not a pseudo-problem to people suffering but intellectual answers might be a pseudo-solution.

      • Anton

        Yes, one wonders how the poor Early Church ever managed to convert anybody before Aquinas.

        • Albert

          The philosophy I am defending would have been pretty universally recognized, I think, long before Aquinas. On this question, for example Aquinas quotes Augustine

          • Anton

            I’m not against Aquinas (mostly!) I’m just unconvinced that he’s relevant to a life of piety.

          • Albert

            Interesting. At one level, of course, you might say that is true of all doctrine. Doctrine provides the framework for the relationship of faith. I would say also that one of the reason Aquinas is so great is that he synthesises so much of what has gone before and gives rigorous defences of it.

            Having said all that, I find Aquinas’ vision deeply pious (in the right sense).

      • Albert

        There is obviously a problem of evil in so far as people suffer and that is a problem. But it is not the kind of problem that indicates there is no God. That’s what I mean.

    • The problem of evil, philosophically, is arguably only a problem to those who believe in a good and omnipotent God. However, philosophically it is impossible to speak of evil unless there is such a God.

      • Albert

        The issue is what is meant by “good” which is not a straight forward word.

  • john in cheshire

    Isn’t the answer that God is currently allowing satan to rule the world and while he’s in charge it is not accurate to blame God. When Jesus returns, His rule will remove all pain and suffering.

    • len

      Satan rules all who are in rebellion against the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob.
      This rebellion either passive or active.

    • Dominic Stockford

      Job 2:3 God clearly says that He, God, commits against Job.

    • In Scripture, though Satan has authority it is always by specific permission. This is why God’s people, in Scripture, always trace their troubles to God and sometimes ask why.

  • len

    A glimpse into the problem of suffering(by no means all inclusive ) is revealed in the opening Chapter of the Book of Job. God was extolling Jobs virtues and Satan was saying that He could take Job down with little trouble.
    This reveals a battle going on between the Spirit of God and the spirit of Satan.This battle has been played out throughout history right up to and including the present time.It is ONLY through the indwelling Spirit of God in the believer that this battle can be won.The ability to have the Spirit of God in the believer was accomplished ONLY through faith in the substitutionary atonement of Christ for the sins of mankind at the Cross of Calvary.
    Faith in Christ is the answer, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.( or not understood..yet.)

    • Not so sure it is best viewed in Job as a battle. Job is at all points acting only by divine permission. He can do nothing unless this is granted.

  • len

    The original twelve disciples were not ‘theologians ‘or even well educated.The disciples didn`t understand all that Jesus taught them until after being filled with the Holy Spirit.
    Theologians have done little to affect the world as these original disciples.It is probably that philosophers have done more damage than good to the simple Gospel message.

    • IanCad

      Or, as a pastor friend would often say; “Less theology, more kneeology.”

      • CliveM

        Personally I have a deep suspicion of so much theology.

        • Anton

          Yes, it’s all Greek to me. The Hebraic view integrates these things so much better.

        • dannybhoy

          But then you are a suspicious sort, Clive..
          ;0)

        • We all have a ‘theology’. It is simply what we each believe to be ‘the faith delivered once and for all’.

        • Better, more theology, more kneeology.

    • Andrew Price

      ‘Theologians have done little to affect the world as these original disciples’
      I’m not aware of any who have ever claimed that; having said that the simple gospel message is theology. We have fallen short of the glory of God, we need a Saviour, we have one in Christ.

      Theology is unavoidable, the moment you ask a question of the Bible you do theology.

  • carl jacobs

    How can there be a God when there is so much suffering in the world?

    You answer this question by examining the false assumptions within the question – principally the idea that God is a giant analog of man. God is not a man. He does not think like a man. He does not act like a man. And He is certainly not going to receive counsel from fallen man about how He is supposed to think and act.

    God’s purpose in the present life of a believer is not to make the believer happy and comfortable. God’s purpose is to conform him to the image of His Son. The question as presented assumes that God’s ultimate purpose in the life of a believer is to provide happiness and pleasure to him in this life. In fact it assumes God is obligated to do so. The creature declares “If you existed, you would make me happy!” In essence this is a demand that God indulge the selfish carnal appetites of the creature as a condition of worship. It stands the message of the Book of Job on its head.

    God’s purposes are eternal and not temporal. The good things we expect from a good God are perfectly delivered not in this life but the next. At that time we will be able to properly receive them as new creations. In this present life, we deal with sin and the action of God who works to bring about His desired end. This is how backwards our thinking can be. We do not see the purpose of God in circumstances that objectively work for our welfare. We think we know what we need when we only know what we want.

    This is an answer for the Believer. An answer to an Unbeliever would be subtlety different. It’s the difference between the purpose of God in the life of David vs the purpose of God in the life of Goliath. Suffering can work good in the life of the former while happiness can work towards destruction in the life of the latter. Ironically, fallen man doesn’t even realize what would make him happy. He defines happiness in self-centered carnal terms. He is blind to the truth that happiness is found in fulfilling the purpose for which he was created – to glorify God.

    It does not take great theologian to read the Book of Job. That’s where you begin. The answer will not be found in the demand of the creature that God justify Himself to His own creation. The answer is found in the person and nature of God – who works all things for good according to His purpose.

    • CliveM

      “God’s purpose is to conform him to the image of His Son.”

      Who wept over the death of a friend. Who raised his friend from death. Who healed the sick, caused the blind to see. Showed compassion and understanding, anger and surprise.

      When the bible says we were made in Gods image, you see the original in Christ. He did these things to honour his Father, but also out of love.

      That’s why many find the question so troubling and some of the answers too academic.

      • carl jacobs

        A wise man once told me “Get your theology straight before the crisis. It’s too late once the crisis is upon you.” Theology is not emotion. It is rooted in reason. It becomes the grid by which you understand the events in your life. It provides the floor upon which you may stand when all else crumbles around you. Theology does not supplant suffering, and pain, and loss, and death. It makes them comprehensible even when there is no understanding. The man who says “The existence of suffering disproves the existence of God” is really saying that suffering can never have meaning – that any god he could envision would not allow it. Of course. He is fallen man and he creates a vision of god in his own image.

        Far more troubling is the idea that suffering is meaningless for it means that there are things in this universe that are outside of God’s providence. The Unbeliever likes that idea because he places himself at the head of the list of things that should be outside of God’s providence. But the cost he pays is immense.

    • Albert

      You answer this question by examining the false assumptions within the question – principally the idea that God is a giant analog of man. God is not a man.

      Quite. When we say God is good, we mean he good at being God, we do not mean he is good in any other sense (e.g. a human moral sense). This point was obvious to everyone until a few centuries ago and the problem of evil was not therefore the problem it is for people today. I’m not sure why people lost sight of the doctrine you are stating here.

      • Martin

        Albert

        I’d say that the Bible teaches that God is morally good, indeed perfect.

        • Albert

          What do you mean by moral goodness and where does scripture teaches God has this attribute?

          • Martin

            Albert

            How about:

            And Jesus said to him, Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:18 [ESV])

            And if God is not morally good how could we, His creation, possibly achieve it?

          • Albert

            I never said God wasn’t good, I said he wasn’t morally good. But I did not mean to say that he is therefore morally bad, or morally anything. Moral goodness is a human kind of goodness. So I think your position reflects the same error you make in thinking about justification: you place God and man on the same metaphysical level, so they come into conflict. But that is not at all the vision of scripture, in which God is far more transcendent than that.

          • The ‘good’ in the text cited was moral good. Scripture describes God as the God ho cannot lie. When the bible speaks of God being just (righteous) and justifying the ungodly it is assuming we know hat being ‘just’ is. This ‘knowledge’ we received at the fall when Adam ate the forbidden fruit. It is a knowledge that corresponds to God’s on moral sense.

            ’22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil’

            Our moral standard is of course derived; it comes from God. God’s moral sense is intrinsic; there is no one and nothing outside of God telling him what is righteous (right and wrong). Righteousness in God is the product of all he is in himself. Morality indeed is simply that which God in his being deems to be right in every relationship that exists. The point is, his definition of what is right and what is wrong he has given to us.

          • Albert

            What you seem to be describing here is that God acts according to his goodness. Of course he does. But his goodness is not the same as our goodness.

            Morality indeed is simply that which God in his being deems to be right in every relationship that exists.

            No it’s not. God commands what he commands because of what is good for the human nature he has created. Consequently, moral goodness is shaped by our nature. This being so, it makes no sense to say that God is morally good, unless, one means by that, that he acts according to his own nature. Well, of course he does that, but that does not mean that we can bind God with (our own) rules which apply only to our nature.

          • I agree that the nature of what he has created contributes to defining morality. However that morality is still defined by relationship. Responsibility exists according to relationships. I have to love my father as a son loves a father because I am my fathers son.

            In fact, this duty to relationship exists even when my nature, as originally created by God, no longer exists as it did. Humanity with a sinful nature constitutionally incapable of loving God is still obliged to do so.

            While my nature and God’s are different and thus what may be appropriate for God is not necessarily appropriate for me (to desire and accept worship, for example) nevertheless there is correspondence. Image implies this.

          • Albert

            I agree that the nature of what he has created contributes to defining morality. However that morality is still defined by relationship. Responsibility exists according to relationships. I have to love my father as a son loves a father because I am my fathers son.

            We’re agreed here, largely, I think. I said “the human nature he had created”, being creaturely necessarily involves relationship, so I was including that.

            While my nature and God’s are different and thus what may be appropriate for God is not necessarily appropriate for me (to desire and accept worship, for example) nevertheless there is correspondence. Image implies this.

            I agree. I would say that our moral goodness and God’s moral goodness are analogous. The trouble is, that is not conveyed when we say “God is morally good”, as in the argument about evil. For if we say “God is morally good” people then start to say that God does not behave the way a morally good human would, and that’s where the problem lies. God’s goodness does not require God to behave the way a morally good human would, and so the problem disappears (or moves somewhere else).

          • Martin

            Albert

            Since God is the origin of all morals how can He not be morally good?

          • Albert

            God is the origin of all things full stop. Therefore God is all things? That’s pantheism, not theism, and it is precisely that confusion between creator and created that lies at the heart, I think, of your position.

          • Martin

            Albert

            Where did I say God is all things? Are you saying God is not the origin of all morality?

          • Albert

            Since God is the origin of all morals how can He not be morally good?

            So because God is the origin of something, he is that thing. If this logic follows (which it doesn’t), he must be everything. God can be the source of bacteria, without being bacterial.

          • Martin

            Albert

            But God lives and gives bacteria life. He gives us morality because He is moral.

          • Albert

            Surely it is obvious that God’s life is different from the life of a bacterium? And also that God’s existence is similarly different? Therefore, God’s goodness is different from ours. So when you say “God is moral”, what on earth do you mean?

          • Martin

            Albert

            Since God is the source of all morality how can God be other than moral? Goodness is morality, Since God is good He is also moral.

          • Albert

            Morality is a kind of goodness, not goodness itself. You might be good at snooker for all I know, but that does not mean that you are morally good at snooker. What would that even mean?

          • Martin

            Albert

            Being ‘good’ at snooker is being skilled. Quite a different meaning for good.

          • Albert

            You said “Goodness is morality”, now you admit there are different meanings for the word “good”. That was my point. The word “good” is related to the thing being specified as good. A good doctor saves lives a good assassin takes them. A good man is a moral man. But what is a good God? If you are suddenly going to use the word “good” univocally in the case of moral goodness and God, then 1. you have confused God with the creature and 2. You need to explain why you do so in this case, but not in others.

          • Martin

            Albert

            The context determines what we mean by good and when we say God is good we mean that He is good in the sense of the ultimate morality.

  • Martin

    So why didn’t Welby say that there is suffering in this world because of sin? When Adam fell he brought upon his descendants sorrow, pain and death. The Curse is the natural result of the sin we all share in.

    He could then have moved on to God’s answer to suffering, to come in the form of Man and die for the sins of His people. Mercy given to the undeserving.

    Sorry, but it just seems to me that Welby is so far out of his depth that he’s barely pew fodder.

    • Exactly right!
      But of course, if you don’t believe in Adam, don’t believe in the devil, don’t believe in original sin, don’t believe in the Fall, you’re going to have a problem explaining the Christian understanding of suffering

      • The Explorer

        You’re going to have a problem explaining the Christian understanding of anything. For if you believe none of those things you won’t believe in the need for an Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection or Second Coming. What you’re left with is a social gospel, and the truth even of that would be denied by the likes of Nietzsche.

      • Dominic Stockford

        We (as preachers of God’s Word) are not called to tell people things that they understand, or agree with – but to tell them the truth of God. And that is sin, the fall, and death coming into this world – only alleviated or transformed by faith in Jesus Christ.

    • I’m afraid I suspect he knows but shirks from expressing the biblical answer. Perhaps partly because he knows a few words of explanation don’t do it justice and will almost certainly be wilfully twisted. Not that I think that is a good enough reason to opt for a fudge.

      We can learn from how Jesus dealt with the question of calamities.

      ‘1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent,
      you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

      • Martin

        John

        That is a great passage, it’s just a shame Welby didn’t use it.

  • David

    I see two general cause of suffering. The first is easier to explain than the second. Much if not most suffering is down to humanity’s sinful nature, explained theologically as because of The Fall. The second is down to natural disasters, which is more problematic.
    Basically we live on a real, dynamic, physically active, turbulent planet with competing life forms; so earthquakes, tsunami, floods and diseases happen. God could have created a safe, Disney, ideal sort of place where nothing ever went wrong, but he didn’t as He wanted us to enjoy a degree of choice and autonomy, which is presented to us theologically by the doctrine of freewill. Believers usually accept point one but still often struggle with point two. Unbelievers are more likely to understand point two than point one.

    • Martin

      David

      So why could not ‘natural’ disasters be the result of the Fall?

      And to Adam he said,
      Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
      and have eaten of the tree
      of which I commanded you,
      You shall not eat of it,
      cursed is the ground because of you;
      in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
      thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
      and you shall eat the plants of the field.
      By the sweat of your face
      you shall eat bread,
      till you return to the ground,
      for out of it you were taken;
      for you are dust,
      and to dust you shall return.
      (Genesis 3:17-19 [ESV])

      • David

        If you wish to envisage that basic Physics and Chemistry, and everything that flows from its “laws”, for this world, our solar system, our galaxy and all the other galaxies, as being radically different pre and post The Fall then yes, you can be right, within that scheme. In a very real sense you will then have envisaged two successive physical creations, which of course is not compatible with Genesis.

        However I shall take, as usual, Occam’s Razor, and therefore search for the simplest explanation that is scientifically creditable and also theologically valid. So I see the Laws of Science, which of course God created, as being an unchanging context for the entire created Universe; in this tiny corner of that vast Universe where we have our physical reality, the actions and choices of Man will affect us here, post the Fall. In short I see God as above all, and then below that Science as a constant within which we operate our freewill, with disastrous results.

        Ultimately how you approach this reflects your understanding of Science, Theology and how you reconcile those two very different methods for exploring and beginning to obtain a glimmer of knowledge and wisdom. You choose ….

        • Martin

          David

          All it requires is God’s removal of that self-correcting of nature. Since science operates in the present such a removal would be beyond its ability to examine.

        • God is not only transcendent (above all) but immanent (in all). Creation is not a clock, wound up and left to tick. Each tick is God’s activity in sustaining a holding it together. Whatever scientific explanation there may be for any given natural disaster is subordinate to (though not inconsist with) God’s purpose for this event in the story of history.

          Whatever the scientific problems, in my view, Christians are obliged to affirm that creation changed in significant ways after the fall. Adam, for example, began to die. However difficult this is to compute scientifically it seems to me that Scripture leaves no other possibility.

      • Royinsouthwest

        It says of the Creation in Genesis that “God saw that it was good.” Is there any significance in the fact that the adjective is “good” and not “perfect.” We would not not expect natural disasters in a world that was perfect from our point of view but there is much on our planet that is very pleasing to us, i.e. very good, even in a fallen world.

        • Anton

          At a guess, for the same reason that the Genesis account does not say that the universe was created “from nothing” – you have to divert into philosophical discourse of what is meant by “perfect” (rather than just “good”) and what is meant by “nothing” (even most people’s idea of nothing means the absence of matter in three dimensions, yet that idea has nonzero dimension; then there is zeropoint energy). As God was setting out in Genesis the start of everything for an agrarian farming society, not academic philosophers, he left the account at that.

          • dannybhoy

            If we accept that our world is a dynamic environment with a molten core and a hard crust in the form of plates ‘floating’ on that core, with vast oceans and that we are spinning furiously as we circle the sun, resulting in winds and tides, then calamities are built in.
            Does God cause them?
            No.
            Could He prevent them?
            Yes, but He doesn’t.
            Is that God causing suffering?

          • O dear Danny, we’re at odds again.

          • dannybhoy

            Great!
            We both acknowledge that neither we nor anyone has all the answers, so it’s only through friendly prayerful discussion that we arrive at some kind of mutual agreement or difference.
            If it’s in those last four lines, I expected to be picked up on that. I admit it isn’t exactly what I meant to say…

        • Martin

          Roy

          I don’t think there’s any significance.

        • Actually, it says it was ‘very good’.

    • The bible never treats ‘natural disasters’ as somehow an act of an independent nature. They are always God sent. This is why they are often a source of perplexity for the godly in Scripture.

  • The Explorer

    Marx said there will be justice in the future, but that does nothing for all those who have suffered injustice before the Marxist future arrives. But at some point there will be justice for those alive at the time. Christianity’s offer is lesser: and greater. Christianity does not offer the hope of a perfect future reached through social engineering. Christianity says there will be justice for all, but only in the next life. For those who insist on framing answers only in terms of this life, Christian answers therefore make no sense.

    • carl jacobs

      Marx could not even define justice in the absence of God. He steals what he does not by nature possess in order to make his system morally coherent.

  • The Explorer

    You tell a Martian God is omnipotent. The Martian asks what that means. You say it means God is in control of everything. Or, more slippery, that everything that happens is according to the will of God.

    The Martian starts reading ‘Genesis’ and in Chapter 3 encounters a successful rebellion suggested by something that seems to be the product of an earlier successful rebellion. The Martian ponders, and comes up with three obvious possibilities.

    1. Whoever claimed that God is omnipotent was mistaken.

    2. God was omnipotent once, but is omnipotent no longer.

    3. God is omnipotent still, but the definitions of omnipotence given were inadequate.

    • Martin

      TE

      4. God is omnipotent and even evil is forced into the fulfilment of His design.

      • The Explorer

        Agreed. And It needs to be added to the definition of omnipotence.

        • Dominic Stockford

          Yes, Job Chapter 2 – where it is clear that Satan is not really doing to Job, but that he suffers what God himself ‘does’.

          • Albert

            In view of the fact that God is the cause of everything that is or happens that isn’t God, God must, in some sense, because the cause of evil. It’s the meaning of the “in some sense” that the rub comes.

          • Dominic Stockford

            Or, and I think a more important question when we consider the trials of Job, is it the meaning of ‘evil’ that we need to reconsider. What a committed Christian sees as evil will differ from a non-believer for instance.

          • Albert

            Whatever is going on here, the point is that it is only what God knows to be good that matters, not what we think is good.

          • Or perhaps more accurately, the evil serves a higher purpose that transforms it for the believer into God’s good and acceptable will.

          • Dominic Stockford

            Or is it the lack of faith in the unbeliever which transforms God’s actions into something they perceive as being unloving?

          • Martin

            Albert

            Evil is the absence of good, as darkness is the absence of light. An absence of something does not need to be created.

          • Anton

            In empty space is neither good nor evil. Evil is a thing. God says he made it (Isaiah 45:7).

          • Martin

            Anton

            I form light and create darkness,
            I make well-being and create calamity,
            I am the LORD, who does all these things.
            (Isaiah 45:7 [ESV])

            Seems it doesn’t say what you claim.

          • Anton

            You need to check the Hebrew. I did, before posting. It’s the word RA, which is usually translated as evil, and is clearly translated here by someone who has an agenda.

          • Martin

            Anton

            But is there not a difference between evil behind which is a mind and the unpleasant events of life? That is what the passage is speaking of. The translator was right to make the distinction.

          • Anton

            Calamity/evil might equally well refer to a natural disaster or a man-made one such as the determination of the king of Babylon to invade Judea and enslave the people. I welcome this discussion.

          • Martin

            Anton

            But the invasion of Judea by Babylon was God’s punishment upon Judea.

          • Anton

            We’ve been given that information, certainly.

            Let’s go to logic. All that exists is God and his creation. God is not evil. Therefore either (a) evil was created by God or (b) evil doesn’t really exist; in particular, it is just the absence of good. I opt for (a), you for (b). I must then face the question that a good God created evil. You must face the question that plenty of things aren’t good, in which case by your logic they would be evil; but empty space is an obvious counter-example.

            Consider a man who walks past a beggar in the street. He can give him a coin or he can kick him. That is an action, it is active; if evil were just the absence of good then it would be a passive principle.

            Adam and Eve were told not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If evil were simply the absence of good then there would be no such tree – the notion of the “tree of the knowledge of good and the absence of good” doesn’t make sense.

          • Martin

            Anton

            No, I don’t opt for b, evil exists and is the absence of good, as darkness is the absence of light.

            That an action is evil indicates that it was produced by an absence of good. BTW, I’d say some ‘beggars’ deserve to be kicked.

            The knowledge resulted from a failure to follow God’s command.

          • Anton

            Cruelty is not just the absence of good. Please would you explain why you think it is?

          • Martin

            Anton

            Cruelty is the result of a failure to follow God’s command to love your neighbour.

          • Albert

            Quite. That’s why I said in some sense. God is the cause of evil, only the sense that he hasn’t caused more good, not in any sense that he does evil. But there’s no requirement for God to cause more goodness than he does. In that sense, therefore God is not the cause of evil.

          • In the Isaiah passage God is saying to Israel he is responsible for all the calamities that have overtaken them. It is not simply that he delisted from doing good, he sends disaster.

          • Albert

            In that case, what God did was not evil (he was doing justice) but good. But Martin is talking about the nature of evil.

          • Evil in Isiah passage is not moral evil but calamity and disaster; in a word it I God’s just judgements.

          • Albert

            Agreed (but I don’t know how to a smiley face, like you!)

          • No, evil is more than the absence of good, it has objective existence. Morally, it is rebellion. While I understand the point you are making, I think we must beware of expressing this ultimate ‘negativity’ in terms that may lead us to think it does not exist.

          • Martin

            John

            Why shouldn’t the absence of good, the rebellion against your maker have objective existence? I certainly agree it exists.

          • Very important point.

    • Anton

      4. God chooses to delay his response.

      • The Explorer

        Agreed. It needs to be added to the definition of omnipotence.

    • dannybhoy

      I like it!

  • Shadrach Fire

    For once, comments of a serious considered nature, akin to the suffering of our Lord and the the trials that we are expected to endure. BUT WITH JOY.

  • Dominic Stockford

    More Christians who will get a damp bum? Really?

    His task is simple, to preach the Gospel of salvation through Christ alone, and to oppose error. Maybe he is doing that in the picture, but it seems to me he is merely making a show for a camera.

    • dannybhoy

      To be fair, he may not have wanted the photo taken, but he should be able to put up a reasonable explanation regarding suffering.

  • John Waller

    1) We all deserve to be in Hell
    2) Temporal suffering is not as bad as Hell
    3) Therefore our suffering is less than we deserve
    4) Therefore God is good QED
    Anyone know a tricky one?

    • Albert

      A cracking argument! I suppose the problem is that God isn’t just claimed to be good, but also love.

      • Dominic Stockford

        God is a perfect amalgam of all attributes. Thus he is also perfectly wrathful, which goes hand in hand with justice.

        • Albert

          Is he perfectly fluffy?

          • Anton

            He is according to too many modern worship songs.

          • Albert

            That’s the funniest comment I seen for months!

          • Dominic Stockford

            If fluffiness is an attribute of God then he will indeed be perfectly fluffy….

          • Albert

            You said God is a perfect amalgam of all attributes. But fluffiness is an attribute. Therefore, God is perfectly fluffy. But God isn’t perfectly fluffy, therefore God is not a perfect amalgam of all attributes.

          • Dominic Stockford

            He might be, have you met Him?

          • Albert

            God is not fluffy. Fluffiness requires having a body.

          • Dominic does qualify this in his subsequent comment. He speaks there of attributes ‘of God’.

          • Albert

            If you and he mean God has all the necessary attributes to be God, then we are agreed. But that excludes fluffiness.

          • Agreed.

    • The Explorer

      1) We all deserve to be in Hell.

      Christians, and probably Muslims, would agree with you, but I know a lot of secular humanists who would not. A S Neill, for instance, founder of Summerhill School, said that no one who calls himself a miserable sinner could have a healthy view of life. Bertrand Russell said it was time to break free of the “sickly nonsense” of religion. Darwin thought Hell a detestable doctrine. Etc.

      • Anton

        Russell’s main critique was his 1927 lecture “Why I am not a Christian”, which became famous when it was reprinted 30 years later.

        When Russell says in it that “the churches have retarded progress,” did he forget the testimonies of slaves who had been set free? Or that science grew out of a milieu in which everybody believed the Bible was fact, not any other of the world’s many human cultures?

        Russell claimed that Christ said he would be back within one generation, and was mistaken. But it is Russell who was confused. In the discourse on the Mount of Olives, to which Russell refers, Christ mixed comments about his return with comments about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which the Romans accomplished in AD70 within one generation of Christ’s words. As for contradiction between Christ’s “Judge not…” and the existence of court judges, Jesus was well aware that a judicial system was necessary, for one had been instituted for his own people in the Old Testament. Courts judge a person’s actions, whereas Jesus is saying: Do not judge the person themselves, because no human can be sure what is going on in another.

        In commenting in his talk on the ‘first cause’ argument for God, Russell says that we understand cause better nowadays (meaning better than Aristotle, presumably) thanks to the work of modern philosophers. I suspect that philosophers of causality have barely begun to get their heads round the fact that not only space, but time, started in the Big Bang, so that asking what went on before the Big Bang is like asking what is north of the North Pole. Moreover, if everything that is not God was created by God then time would be included, and modern cosmology has shed light on how. The Big Bang also says that the universe had a beginning, just as the opening phrase of the Bible does.

        • The Explorer

          Quite. I’m simply pointing out that if you presented that argument to secular humanists, many would reject the initial premise.

          • Martin

            TE

            Of course they would, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t present that argument.

          • John Waller

            Christian theology need only be consistent with its own worldview, we do not have to make it fit with secular humanism (which is irrational anyway).

          • Presuppositional apologetics.

        • bluedog

          Brilliant.

        • Ivan M

          Lord Russell in all likelihood fell further away from Christianity for the same reason that most Christians who read the NT when young do. Namely that hard passage, where Jesus Christ says that anyone who sees a woman with lust is already committing adultery in his heart. There is unlikely to be anyone on this Earth who can pass that test.
          Russell probably took it very seriously as he was on his way to becoming a notorious skirt-chaser in his university days. The other factor was that he seemed to have blamed the stifling Victorian morality of his grandparents for his own parents’ unhappiness. There is evidence of that in his stories. He does credit his grandmother though for his social activism at a time “when it was neither popular or profitable to do so”. He recalled his grandmother’s from Isaiah “thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil..”

          • CliveM

            “Namely that hard passage, where Jesus Christ says that anyone who sees a woman with lust is already committing adultery in his heart. There is unlikely to be anyone on this Earth who can pass that test. ”

            I don’t know, I’ve heard that their are some men who would find it easy to pass!

          • Ivan M

            Russell was too clear-headed a man to engage in chop-logic.

          • CliveM

            ? I was engaging in a bit of humour.

          • Ivan M

            I was just riding along, Clive. No offence was intended, viz I did not mean that you were engaged in chop-logic. But rather that Russell was not playing the game that homos are going to heaven since they do not fall for women.

    • Dominic Stockford

      And when the Book of Job is viewed through that perspective it becomes much more useful.

    • Jon Sorensen

      Unsupported premise and conclusion doesn’t follow = “sound” and “valid” religious argument

    • alternative_perspective

      This is a theological argument based on certain doctrine. Before one can use this, one first needs to agree the assumptions (premises). All one needs to do in order to defeat this argument is identify any one of the clauses and provide a valid reason why its negation is more likely that your proposition.

      For instance – clause 1. “We all deserve to be in hell”. The Muslim would disagree, as would most spiritual atheists I presume. Thus before we even get going we have a theological argument on the utter depravity of humanity / the reality of original sin.

      It is better to ground atheistic attempts to refute God’s existence in logic alone, in that way we avoid the theological debates that are inherent in your proposition.

      I recommend this article as a useful starting point:

      http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-problem-of-evil

  • jsampson45

    I am surprised that the Archbishop (the real one) has no ready approach to a standard-issue question. However, as one of my former bosses would say, “If you ask questions you only get answers.”

  • The Explorer

    Paul says the potter can do what he likes with the clay, and the clay does not have the right to object. That establishes God’s power, but not God’s goodness.

    Baal could presumably use the same argument. I made you, so I can do what I like with you. If I want to eat your kids as burnt sacrifices, I have the right to do so.

    • Yet the very passage from which Paul cites when he says, I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy is a demonstration of God’s goodness. Israel had broken the covenant and deserved to be wiped out. In fact the terms of the covenant demanded it. God finds a solution to this death sentence in his own sovereignty. He is God and as God has the right to show mercy if he so desires; the covenant demanded death but the potters heart called for life.

  • Inspector General

    To be alive is to suffer, they say.

    There’s two types of suffering: that we have to endure and that we can avoid or remove.

    There’s three causes of suffering: Fate, or chance, beyond reasonable avoidance, in other words, suffering peculiar to ourselves and our nearest. There’s suffering caused by other humans. There’s suffering we bring about on ourselves and those closest to us.

    There’s also a form of suffering which is not suffering at all. The suffering that comes from unrealistic expectations. Usually from envy or idealism.

    And we haven’t even mentioned God yet…

    But when we do mention God, it’s always His fault for allowing it. How convenient. Someone to blame, and our creator too, for allowing us to inhabit His earthly creation. What ingratitude! Apparently, being given a free hand, both as a social animal and as an individual, to make of this place as we will with what we have available isn’t enough. That’s humanity for you. Whatever we are given, it is never enough. So we suffer. Oh how we suffer…

    • dannybhoy

      Kinda agree IG, but I would say there are three sources of suffering..
      1)Sickness and Disease
      2)Man’s inhumanity to man.
      3) Natural calamities

      The first two are obviously related, and the third is the consequence of living in a cause and effect world, which to some extent we can guard against.
      Therefore I am not sure what is meant by “the problem of suffering..”

      • Inspector General

        Suffering is a much devalued word, Danny. And even if it is true suffering, and not merely inconvenience or unrealistic expectation, much of it is the result of selfishness and foolishness or even criminality and anti sociability. Especially foolishness. We are usually the author of our own misfortune one finds…

        • CliveM

          Yes true unfortunately.

    • carl jacobs

      Fate is a pagan concept.

      • Inspector General

        We are not talking horoscopes here, Carl.

        • carl jacobs

          We’re talking about Oedipus Rex. That tragedy presents an accurate depiction of the concept, and it is a pagan concept. The Christian alternative is Providence.

          There is no such thing as fate. Just as there is no such thing as luck. Those are metaphysical ideas developed by and for the pagan world.

          • Inspector General

            “They took a DNA sample from the baby girl. It was with deep regret that they informed the parents that their child had inherited the breast cancer gene. She is fated to develop breast cancer at some time, but we can only hope that within the next decades, medical science can save her for sure.”

          • Anton

            Only Jesus can save her for sure.

          • carl jacobs

            Are you under the false impression that this is somehow a refutation of Providence?

          • Ivan M

            The point of the play has little to do with fate in the superstitious sense. Oedipus violated the natural order, which prescribes punishment for both patricide and incest. Although he committed both acts unknowingly he endured the punishment as he was convinced that it was necessary to sustain the moral order of his world.

          • carl jacobs

            A pagan moral order. Everything Oedipus did to avoid his fate in fact brought it about. It is a world where destiny is made independent of moral choice. The play is a tragedy because Oedipus fulfilled his fate involuntarily. It is a play of utter darkness and despair.

            I did not understand this play when I first read it because I saw it through a Christian lens.

      • Are you suffering, Carl?

        • carl jacobs

          Someone is still bitter …

      • I agree, of course. Yet to some extent it is permissible it seems to use language that does not explicitly express providence.

        30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. Luke 10

        • carl jacobs

          A matter of perspective I think.

          The lot is cast in the lap (man’s perspective) but its every choice belongs to the Lord (God’s perspective)

    • Anton

      Another categorisation: there’s suffering for what we do right, suffering for what we do wrong, and (in a fallen world) random suffering.

      those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish – Jesus, in Luke 13.

      • Inspector General

        Unless one is mistaken, you are alluding to original sin, Anton. As Adam and Eve are clearly an analogy, and we are as God made us, there cannot be any sin in our mere existence as a human. The sin starts when we interact with others, if sin it be…

        Unless you have cause to criticise our creator. Perhaps there’s some complaint you have about how he made humanity…

        • Anton

          It is you who are implicitly criticising our Creator, Inspector, for you say that we are as God made us – in his image (1:27) – yet we often act evilly. God is not evil; instead something has gone wrong with us. I don’t agree that Adam is a mythical man or an archetype but that is subsidiary; start with the preceding two sentences and read Genesis 3 to see how it happened.

          • Inspector General

            God is neither good nor evil. God is God. To attribute our creator with such descriptions of our ways is to insult our creator.

          • Anton

            Who told you that?

          • Inspector General

            Pure, unadulterated, uncontaminated logic. Which, by the way, could serve as a description of God…

          • Anton

            Even when logic is correct it begins from assumptions and runs to conclusions. What are your starting assumptions, please, and where did you get *those* from?

          • Inspector General

            Assumptions, for we have little else, that result from one’s own high IQ, old chap. We need to keep our minds open and think beyond the boundaries that others have installed. Sure you’ll agree, you being a man of science…

          • Anton

            Science has very definite boundaries. I’m not necessarily quibbling with your starting assumptions about God and man; I’m asking what they are, and how you might know them. Don’t you think that all information about God, we have to be told be him; and where else do we get it than the Bible?

          • Inspector General

            Not at all. Logic tells us that something does not come from nothing. You have to have an ultimate beginning, and because an ultimate beginning could not be of this universe, it has to be of beyond the constraints of this universe.

          • Martin

            IG

            Surely it is observation of the present that tells us something does not come from nothing. That it happened in the past is beyond our ability to know.

          • Inspector General

            Not quite, Martin. On the physical, we can surmise when it originated from.

            Look, old fellow. One put’s his faith in science, even if it needs to be revised, over anything else.

          • Anton

            Good stuff, science. I’m a scientist. But no law of gravity can explain Peter walking on water and sinking as his faith failed him (Matthew 14).

          • Inspector General

            A few waterlogged angels upon which he stood…

          • Martin

            IG

            Science can only be done in the present and we can only extrapolate from what we know.

          • carl jacobs

            One put’s his faith in science

            Science is an activity of man. It does not possess an independent existence. All you have said is that you put your faith in man – he who is least capable of carrying the weight of your faith.

          • dannybhoy

            But your five senses -however honed and sharpened by Aldi’s finest bourbon, can only reveal what is observable by them. We know that our range of sight and sound does not cover all that exists.

          • Anton

            Absolutely, Inspector. God created the universe. But that says nothing of good and evil, which is what we were discussing.

          • dannybhoy

            We have the Scriptures dear IG. Even our best logical thinking can never match God’s infinite mind..That’s why He had to reveal Himself to us. We humans could never have imagined Him.

          • The problem with logic is it is often wrong. When our logic takes us beyond ‘it is written’ it ceases being theology and becomes philosophy and is often wildly unbiblical.

          • Inspector General

            Not happy with ‘our logic’. Much happier with just plain logic. Theology needs to live with that…

          • len

            The Inspectors Gospel of madcap theology?.

          • Inspector General

            Nothing madcap about it at all. Madcap is when you personify a deity with the attributes of the limitations of usual human thought and begin to believe said deity is your best friend / substitute parent ready to pick you up when you fall on the sharp gravel, and kiss the bruising better. In this life, you fall and you bleed. And if you are a wise fellow, you learn not to dash across gravel again.

            That is not to say God is, as we might suspect, completely heartless so to speak. He does have our best interests at heart, because logically creation is a good thing and for some reason unknown, our creator requires us to witness his work. It’s just that said best interests could never manifest itself at the personal level and why should it? We are a herd, for all divine intents and purposes, and only as a herd will we be considered – until the end. Only at the final judgment it seems are we considered as individual souls. And even then, the worst of us face rejection.

      • Martin

        Anton

        I’d not say it is ‘random’ since it is within God’s plan.

        • Anton

          I agree. “Random” is always a shorthand word for “unpredictable by man”.

      • dannybhoy

        Yes, you have a point there.
        Sometimes we go out of our way to do something kind, and it seems the whole of life, the elements and traffic wardens conspire against us..
        We live in a fallen world controlled by a fallen spiritual or other dimensional being, and he will do everything he can to oppose and defeat the goodness of God expressed through the Saints.

      • Or, apparently random suffering.

  • Albert

    How did you get that angry face in the post?

  • Albert

    Okay. How did you get the sad face in the post?

    • CliveM

      It’s an emoji (I think they’re called) came on my phone?

      Am I being dim?

      • Albert

        You’re not being dim. I don’t inhabit the world clever mobile telephones.

        • CliveM

          Albert

          I’m one of those people who get handed a device with a 100 functions and manage to master 5!

          I don’t really inhabit either.

          • Albert

            Good for you Clive! 🙂

  • I think man’s inhumanity to man is the cause of most of the suffering followed by natural catastrophe and the elements.

  • chefofsinners

    When I accidently leant on the electric hob, I experienced suffering and pain. It caused me to quickly remove my hand before the flesh melted completely. It prevented worse injury.
    Pain exists to show us that all is not well and turn us from greater disaster.

    • dannybhoy

      Thanks for that. Perhaps there are other experiments we could persuade you to undertake?
      Nothing too painful of course, but in the interests of truth….
      ;))

      • chefofsinners

        Note to self: remove Dr Dannybhoy Mengele from Christmas card list.

    • CliveM

      I sort of see this. I can identify pain in my own experience which actually led to a life saving operation. But it doesn’t answer the whole question.

      Which is where I think the AofC was coming from.

      • chefofsinners

        Consider a body which never experienced pain. It would be constantly damaging itself. Leprosy patients are a good example. Rats eat their fingertips in their sleep.
        So it is in a society where wealth and medicine have removed much of life’s suffering and trauma, and entertainment distracts us from the rest. We become Godless, inured to sin, wafted into eternal separation from God on a cloud of morphine.

  • Vox Populi

    Is this man holding the highest position in the world of Anglicanism? Or is this a joke? I am not a good enough theologian? What on earth is he doing as Archbishop of Canterbury?

  • This is not a good explanation. But.
    As a vet, I have seen the situation of an unhandled horse sold by the people who bred it, to people who wanted it for riding. The horse was terrified. It had no concept of “These people want the best for me” – this was not what it had ever known. It refused food if anyone was near the stable, and if anyone got close, it ran blind through them. All standard means to gentle it failed, the purchasers were told to destroy the horse because it had lost its mind with its earlier treatment. But they weren’t prepared to give up. In the end they made a choice which to an outsider would have seemed terribly cruel. They took its water away. Six times a day, water was brought and offered to the horse – but the horse had to make the choice to approach them to drink it, and it held out for over 48 hours before giving in, to the point where the new owners agreed the horse would be shot if the whole thing went on another day. But it gave in. Still terrified, it came and drank, and once it drank, food was given by hand, and then it was brushed, and learned over time that humans brought good things and were not the cause of fear.
    “So works within us the cunning craftsman, God?” The new owners did not create the horse’s earlier suffering, that was the action of other people. But in the determination not to let the horse be killed if anything could still be done, they chose to allow suffering in the form of thirst, to make the horse choose life over fear. That horse is now one of the gentlest and most affectionate I know, and a spectacularly good riding horse. But the story could have had another ending.

    • len

      Hi Sister Tibs ,I see what you are saying being (what appears to be cruel) to be kind. I suppose suffering can lead to a good conclusion but as I said above I do not think God is the author of suffering but as Creator He can use any event to bring about His purposes.

      • You’ve got my point, Len. Not that God is the cause of suffering, not that suffering is deserved, but that there may be a life-giving way through suffering and that all that happens can be used as a tool in the Creator’s hand.

      • Dominic Stockford

        But the Bible clearly says that he is – Job 2:3. Unequivocal.

    • Anton

      Maybe Monty Roberts’ training techniques could have helped?

  • sebastian2

    You do not need to be a good theologian to:
    Understand and intelligently criticise the absurd, totalitarian ideology of mohammedism and its narcissistic narrative.
    Condemn the persecutions (and there are many) of Christians and others in mohammedan areas.
    Stand for freedom of conscience and against the fatal consequences of apostacy.

    This is the minimum. But he cannot or will not do it and neither can most of the Bishops. They are, with a few excellent exceptions, a collective disgrace.

  • David

    This thread has succeeded at encouraging thinking about the causes of suffering. It is a great pity that it was written as a result of Archbishop Welby’s failure to grasp the opportunity to present a standard Christian response to the question. He doesn’t need to be a great theologian to do this, but merely reflect standard Christian teaching about the nature of humanity, sin and our rebellion against God, which is the cause of most human suffering.

    As a conservative, orthodox Biblically led Christian, who happened to be baptised into the C of E, I find that the reluctance of the Bishops to uphold and expound established Christian teaching immensely disappointing and frustrating. There are just a handful of brave Bishops left still committed to genuine Christianity.

    But thank God for the few faithful Biblically led ministers who still preach the true gospel from Anglican pulpits in this country; thank God also for the rapidly expanding faithful Anglican Churches of the global south who have set up GAFCON.

  • CliveM

    I think that the view of suffering in the Western Church at least, has been scewed by the Augustinian belief in original sin, that somehow our status as sinful beings means suffering is a just outcome.

    Personally I find this problematic. I find it a problem because suffering isn’t justly applied. Quite some time ago PubCrawler posted a link to the Orthodox view on original sin. See link.

    http://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/articles/ancestral_versus_original_sin

    Personally I find this view more in keeping with the God of the Bible. It doesn’t make an explanation for suffering easier, but it does challenge the idea that it is earned or deserved. But it does show that it is a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion.

    • IanCad

      Original Sin – One of the great misunderstandings of Christendom, swallowed hook, line and sinker.
      In short; a denial of the humanity of Christ.

      • CliveM

        I agree and I think it leads directly to the error of Calvinism and pre-destination.

      • len

        ‘Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death
        through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all
        sinned-‘(Romans 5:12)

        • Dominic Stockford

          Always better to trust the Bible than what we think.

        • IanCad

          Late in the game I know Len; but from one false doctrine – OS – springs another – The Immaculate Conception. Sure, Romans is cited as a proof text but the notion is based on a misreading of the verse.

          I try to fight my own battles – sometimes wrong I admit – but I shall resort to as brief a study of the controversy as I can find:

          http://www.gospeltruth.net/menbornsinners/mbs07.htm

    • dannybhoy

      Quite right Clive and one of your best posts.

      • CliveM

        Well thank you Dannybhoy.

        Some might argue that the bar hasn’t been set very high!!

        • dannybhoy

          I have you down as a thoughtful man Clive, a deep thinker. You’re just not as gobby and opinionated as er, some of us….

    • Anton

      I believe we are born with the flaw that began at Genesis 3 already in us. How that is so, is less clear.

      • CliveM

        If I understand the orthodox right, it was death that was introduced into our ‘DNA ‘ not sin.

        The fact the Adam and Eve were able to sin, certainly suggests that that flaw in us was there from the start.

        • Anton

          We were created good – careful! I’d say rather that the fact they were able to sin (or not) is due to the freedom they had as a consequence of being in the image of God. Today we don’t have the freedom not to sin.

          Language must be used carefully in these discussions. Was Jesus “able to” sin? Yes, in one sense – he could do anything. No, in another – it would be utterly contrary to his nature, and it is not possible to act contrary to one’s nature.

          • CliveM

            Ok I agree that you have to be very careful with language. Particularly in a public forum, so I’m not going to rush to a response.

            A comment however. Jesus was fully human (as well as fully God). Therefore he must have had the capacity to sin. The bible makes it clear that Sstan was allowed to tempt him.

            If he couldn’t sin in what sense would it be a temptation. Equally as Jesus was also sent to be a second Adam, but one that wouldn’t muck up , surely he would need to be able to sin as the first Adam did? It was by not sinning and rejecting the devil, that his sacrifice on the cross was possible.

          • dannybhoy

            Jesus had Mary’s dna. He was fully human in the sense that Adam was fully human.i.e. Adam’s father was God, He inbreathed life and spirit into him.

          • CliveM

            Isn’t God the father to all of us?

          • dannybhoy

            Ye-, well, -no,-bu,-ma,-it’s poss-
            It’s complicated.
            Because in terms of Creation yes, (although Danny still thinks since Adam we are biological rather than special Creations}.
            But in terms of Inclination some are not..
            John 8>
            “44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. 45 And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.”

            1 John 5>
            “18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

        • chefofsinners

          But not a flaw, because it was placed there by a perfect God. A characteristic and a capability, but not an obligation or destiny.

          • CliveM

            Ok yes agreed.

          • chefofsinners

            This Orthodox view seems irreconcilable with Romans 5:12 “sin entered the world by one man and death by sin”
            Also Genesis 2:17 “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”.

          • CliveM

            Chief

            I think both the passages reflect the Orthodox position precisely. Or rather Orthodoxy reflect these passages fully.

          • chefofsinners

            Rom 5:12 says that sin entered the world through one man. The Orthodox position is too narrow in saying that our inheritance from Adam is death. It is not, it is sin. Death is one consequence of sin but there are others: Suffering and corruption in all nature. The curses pronounced in Genesis 3.
            Then there is the assertion “in Orthodox thought God did not threaten Adam and Eve with punishment…”. Clearly in Gen 2:17 He did.
            The bulk of the article is shot through with unscriptural assertions such as “Adam and Eve were created with a vocation to become one with God gradually increasing in their capacity to share in His divine life-deification.”

          • dannybhoy

            But sin wasn’t in the man was it?
            Everything God had made was perfect, man was given free will, man disobeyed,

            Genesis 2> ” 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
            Genesis 3> ” Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.”
            Here is the mystery! Satan in the form of a serpent was allowed to tempt the woman.. We could assume that the fallen being we know as Satan is allowed to tempt the first man and woman, but God goes on to say…
            22 “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.”
            Not that the man had become evil, but he knew the difference between good and evil.
            Next chapter we have Cain and Abel..
            4>” And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted?[b] And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for[c] you, but you must rule over it.”

            So it seems to me that Satan was allowed into this perfect world and when the couple listened to him rather than God their Father, Satan was given the right to set up his own kingdom and spread the poison of rebellion and sin amongst men…
            In Genesis 6 we read, “5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.
            So evil gradually spread and man drifted further from God and evil flourishec.
            It doesn’t jive with the rest of Scripture to say that God regarded all men as so inherently evil that they could not repent and turn to God. We are under the power of the evil one, but when a man calls on the living God, He responds -as Avram did.

          • CliveM

            We are born with the propensity to sin, but sin isn’t who we are.

            Good points DB!

          • Anton

            I think it is who we are, at least before we come to Christ.

            our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with… – Romans 6:6

            God made him who had no sin TO BE SIN for us – 2 Corinthians 5:21.

        • Anton

          We die because we are no longer granted access to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24).

    • dannybhoy

      Initially I like what they’re saying , especially
      ” It is suggested that the doctrine of ancestral sin naturally leads to a focus on human death and Divine compassion as the inheritance from Adam, while the doctrine of original sin shifts the center of attention to human guilt and Divine wrath. It is further posited that the approach of the ancient church points to a more therapeutic than juridical approach to pastoral care and counseling.”
      but I have printed it off to read more carefully.

      • CliveM

        Yes it’s interesting. I find the perspective refreshing. I’m sure there are things I won’t fully understand or necessarily agree with, but I find it useful.

        • dannybhoy

          As you will know from Hannah’s blog devout Jews do not believe in original sin in the same sense we do. Whilst recognising sin they believe we are free to choose to serve God or ourselves, or whatever else..They don’t see us as ‘depraved’. Interestingly when you listen to the Jews who have come to believe in Jesus as Messiah, there is not the same emphasis on our sinful nature..

          Here’s a very good website..
          http://imetmessiah.com/
          and here’s one of the testimonies..

          • CliveM

            I think we tend to make a mistake if we ignore the Jewish theological tradition. Yes Christ has built on it, but a lot of its insights stay true.

          • dannybhoy

            I think that is why our Lord called us to repentance.
            Because we can..
            I think we’re on similar lines to last week’s blog discussion on what God knows..
            Yes, there are the verses like Romans 5:12 which the mad chef quoted. There are others that perhaps Martin might quote; and then there are those situations throughout Scripture where God calls men to repentance…
            Our Lord calls us to repent, as did the Apostles.
            Why do that if we can’t?
            Our problem is our rebellion against God and our slavery to sin, to the god of this world. By which I mean of our own efforts we can never be pure or acceptable to God. We cannot even consistently conform to our own homemade morality!
            That was one of the things that God’s Holy Spirit brought to my attention just minutes before I capitulated, and confessed my sin and failure and asked God to come into my life and take control..

  • The Explorer

    “How can there be a God when there is so much suffering in the world?” Bad question. Crucial adjective – ‘loving’ – missing.

    As the question stands, ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ provides an obvious answer: “The President of he Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had finished his sport with Tess”. God exists, but God is a sadist. On that basis, human suffering is entirely understandable: just the cosmic sadist having fun.

    • len

      God created everything good then turned His Creation over to man who turned a lot of things bad.
      The supposition that God created suffering makes God a liar.There is no other way to say it.It is man (or rather man giving his authority to Satan) which created suffering

    • dannybhoy

      Good point, although I think most people brought up in a Western Christian ethos would assume that. If one rejects the idea of a God who wishes the highest good for Creation and is the ultimate Guarantor for goodness, justice, truth and mercy; one is left with a god who is capricious and unworthy of freely given worship by his creation.

    • patrick wagner

      The premise of the “deadly” argument against a loving Christian God is that no pain or suffering serves any good end and that is exactly where it also breaks down …

      “… the ground-breaking medical discovery is that leprosy does its damage by destroying nerve endings. People who lose pain sensation then damage themselves by such simple actions as gripping a splintered rake or wearing tight shoes. Pressure sores form, infection sets in, and no pain signals alert them to tend to the wounded area. Most people view pain as an enemy. Yet, as my leprosy patients prove, it forces us to pay attention to threats against our bodies. Damaged faces, blindness, loss of fingers and limbs – all occur as side-affects of painlessness. Who would ever visit a doctor apart from pains warnings?” [Dr. Paul Brand]

      The argument adds that there is nothing to which pain is preferable … people prefer living in pain to dying, they value life in pain or under any conditions above death. Some people would bear pain of any kind rather than betray certain convictions – political, moral or religious. Those who know what true friendship is know that no pain is too great to prevent the loss of a true friend.

      It also adds that pain is the ultimate of evils … our dislike of pain does not indicate that there is anything good or evil in itself about it.

  • len

    God created man and man does evil things.Is God therefore responsible for these evil things?. God accepted responsibility for the sin of mankind when Jesus Christ became sin on the Cross at Calvary.
    I suppose if God controlled all that man does then there would be no evil but God gave man free will and that is where the problem starts.
    I suppose its easier to blame God than take responsibility for our own actions?.

  • Surely suffering is the corollary of free will?

  • Alison Bailey Castellina

    I am not surprised. Years ago, I was invited along to the ‘happy’ charismatic church that the ABC was attending (either then or later) to give a talk about a serious suffering due to a health condition I shared with thirty members of the congregation. I had examined hundreds of Bible texts about the mind-boggling, multiple purposes of suffering, including spiritual growth, wisdom, humility and avoiding greater disasters (but also countless others that one would never imagine). I started my talk by saying that “The good news is that it is alright to suffer when you are a Christian. Suffering for a Christian is not a mistake, nor a breach in the order of things. It has divine purposes and God is totally in control”…Within minutes, all thirty got up and left me, saying they were going to another session on ‘speaking in tongues’. They seemed to sidestep even hearing about suffering. The whole emphasis of the church was on “being healed”. My enduring impression is that with this kind of theology, one is frightened of the very concept. Maybe they fear that suffering is caused by lack of a ‘real’ conversion?

    • dannybhoy

      As a young Christian I read all kinds of books and went through all kinds of mental contortions over healing. I had pretty severe asthma. Eventually I found emotional peace by accepting it and trying to live a lifestyle that minimised its impact on my life. Personally I have never met anyone who has been miraculously healed, had an organ replaced or bones grown, or cancer healed..
      That’s no attack on the ministry of healing, just my experience.
      I never expected to reach the age of 70, I never envisaged seeing the world, living abroad, especially living in Israel.
      The Lord is good and I am joyfully grateful for all He has done.
      But you can’t escape some suffering… Sometimes as you say, it’s for your good.

      • Alison Bailey Castellina

        Thanks for sharing your story: it is similar to my experience in recovering to live a full life. My main recovery was through ongoing diet and praying about which doctor to consult, which management regime to follow – both of which are ‘no brainers’ for me. I felt I was being taught how to comfort others, just as I had been comforted with hope through reading the Bible and accepting suffering as having a good purpose (rather than hating God and fighting it as many do). I ran support groups of Christians: I was amazed at how few members ever saw any connection between their own illness, prayer and the medical profession’s calling. They seemed entirely secular in their attitudes, if they did not hope for miraculous healing (most of my friends did not). The only ‘healing’ I heard about firsthand was dangerously false at a mass healing rally. The person was seriously paralysed through overdoing winter sports, believing he was healed when in fact he was chronically ill.

        • dannybhoy

          ” I felt I was being taught how to comfort others, just as I had been comforted with hope through reading the Bible and accepting suffering as having a good purpose (rather than hating God and fighting it as many do).”
          I think having asthma and eczema made me far more sensitive to other folk, more empathetic.
          Perhaps in our fallen world if God healed all Christians completely, people would convert for the wrong reasons, and Christians would feel superior and indifferent to the suffering of others?
          One of the (great?!) things about suffering is that you tend to become reflective; to ask questions about life and values and God Himself.
          It has me anyway.

    • CliveM

      A lot of them see it as a lack of faith.

      • chefofsinners

        Why are the apostles not still with us, I wonder?

        • CliveM

          Indeed it does make you wonder.

    • Martin

      Alison

      It sounds to me as if they lost an opportunity to learn.

  • len

    How can there be a God when there is so much suffering in the world?.’Free will’ is the simple answer, if God had created a race of robots each programmed to do exactly what God wanted them to do at all times without the ability to disobey God this world would have supreme order at all times.
    But a robot cannot love, it is only when truly free that one can truly love.

  • alternative_perspective

    No one attempts to uses the logical argument of existence of evil as an attack against the existence of God anymore. Intellectually its too easy to get out of. The probabilistic argument is a tad harder but ultimately it then comes down to opinion.
    Christians need to come out from behind the sofa and give solid answers to this now. The atheist might not like the answer but so what. The logic is with us.
    The pastoral question however is a different matter altogether.