The Truth in Pain

This was a research paper I had written, in now way, shape, or form, is this a conclusive subject. There is much more than can be said and added. It is only meant to make people think.

Thanks

Pastor Robb

Introduction

Pain and suffering are a part of everyday life and can be expressed as physical and emotional pain. From pain’s birth, where Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit, pain has been an unpleasant and undesirable part of life. When pain becomes unbearable there is a tendency to redirect our emotions and suffering toward an object of highest power, God. The picture that these actions paint, is a picture of a God who is a glorified bully with a magnifying glass looking over His creations, who lavishes in mankind’s pain and suffering.

While many believe mankind is not the problem and that the problem lies within a God that does not love. Mankind needs to accept suffering and pain for the glory of God because His reasoning is greater than ours, God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, and God is love.

Pain and Its Subjects

Animals

            Understanding animals, the question of pain, and why God would allow helpless creations to endure pain over a situation they had no control over, one must determine what is the purpose of animals and if all pain is bad. God created animals to be companions to man, and when they were found unworthy, Eve was created (Gen 2:18-22). It was not until after the fall of mankind that the Lord made Adam and Eve coats from a lamb and sacrifices were to be made. These sacrifices were to be made because of mankind’s defiance to God, and a perfect sacrifice had to be offered to atone for mankind’s sin, hence the sacrifice of a lamb. Furthermore, mankind is to have dominion over the animals, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’” (Gen 1:26).[1] It is mankind’s responsibility to ensure proper care and use of the animals as God has instructed. Even though one cannot dispute the abuse of animals and its infringement on moral behaviors, the blame is not placed upon God for the actions of mankind.

No argument can be made against animals feeling physical pain, as one can pull on the tail of a dog or cat and hear the effects from that stimulating sensation. What cannot be determined is if that particular animal understands what pain is, as C. S. Lewis states, “Their nervous system delivers all the letters A, P, N, I, but since they cannot read they never build it up into the word PAIN.”[2] Anything further is speculation since there is no absolute way to determine if animals understand pain in that way. Animals can certainly understand pain as an instructing tool. E. C Lucas points out that pain can detour animals from harm as well as teach them lessons.[3] Just as a shepherd breaks the legs of roaming sheep to keep them from gallivanting into a harmful situation, that could lead the sheep to become a meal for a predator. The sheep will eventually learn from this pain and in the end it prevents them becoming a meal. Little can be argued from the standpoint of animals due to the limitations of absolute knowledge.

Humans

            Many reasons follow why God created mankind. Mankind was created to worship God, love God, and be a part of His eternal plan. Since the beginning, mankind is to have dominion over the animals and was set apart from everything else God created. Mankind is special to God, and that is shown in the scriptures. The problem that arises is that many would like to conclude God does not exist or care because of the apparent pain, suffering, and evil in the world. William Rowe suggests, “In light of our experience and knowledge of the variety and scale of human and animal suffering in our world, the idea that none of this suffering could have been prevented by an omnipotent being without thereby losing a greater good or permitting an evil at least as bad seems extraordinarily absurd idea, quite beyond our belief.”[4] Where Rowe falters is assuming he knows what an omnipotent being, that he does not believe in, would do in the case of pain and suffering. This type of reasoning does not follow logic as it is purely subjective.

On the other hand, trace the problem back to the source and the source is always mankind after the fall of man. If mankind is the source of the pain and suffering, is it really fair to attribute the blame to God? The obvious answer concludes no, therefore, mankind seeks the answer to how a loving God allows pain and suffering, which will be discussed later. One thing is certain, our knowledge is limited as God’s knowledge is not limited. Understanding pain and suffering has to begin with understanding its recipients and determining what we do know and what is inconclusive. Animal pain is largely inconclusive, where their purpose is known. Mankind’s pain is not so easily written off, as mankind understands their purpose and mankind can understand pain and its counterparts. In addition, Richard Miller, author of The Mystery of God and the Suffering of Human Beings, summarizes this argument into four major points,

“(1) God remains mystery in the beatific vision. As such, the problem of God and human suffering is not a problem to be solved but it is an aspect of the enduring mystery of God in which ‘we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). Consequently, an essential part of the task of treating the problem of God and human suffering is to preserve the mystery of God. (2) ‘Mystery’ as attributed to God must be understood in terms of luminosity and inexhaustible intelligibility. (3) To preserve this understanding of mystery, God’s will must be understood as conditioned by the intelligibility of God’s being as communicable (i.e. the divine goodness). (4) We cannot know why God permits suffering in this particular instance or the character of God’s response to someone in the throes of suffering. We can know in a general way, however, the necessary conditions of the possibility for the realization of God’s purpose (i.e. hypothetical necessity) because we know the purpose of God’s activity through revelation.”[5]

In short, mankind can attempt to explain God’s will but in the end it is only an attempt. Mankind has to trust that the pain and suffering that is experienced by animals and mankind, is for a greater good or to protect one from encountering something worse. Certainly this conclusion is not easily attained or accepted after looking at history. It seems heartless for one to think this, or worse, speak it after some of the horrible things that mankind has done. At the same time mankind cannot deny that if God jumped in every situation, it would eradicate free will.

The Game of Pain

Attacking the Character of God

Many troubled Christians have graced their pastor’s study in a time of great need only to hear about this guy named Job and how he had it much worse. As this is truth, it never makes the pain any easier. Therefore, there are only three avenues to take in dealing with pain. First one can accept God’s will as perfect and allow Him to work through the problems associated with pain. This avenue is rarely traveled by anyone other than a seasoned Christian. Second, one could attack the character of the individual or individuals involved which also attacks God’s character. This avenue was taken by Job’s friends and Carl Goldberg explains in his article, Concerning Madness and Human Suffering, Job’s friends attempt to console Job by defending God’s character and destroying Job’s character. The problem that arises is that even though their intentions were noble, it causes Job to suffer more.[6] While this road is traveled more often, unless it is dealing with self, it is not traveled as often as the third avenue and that is attacking the character of God. It is no trouble for a Christian experiencing tribulation and pain to question the character of God. To question God’s character, one must know God and His character and the Bible says God is immutable, omniscience, omnipresent, omnipotent, communicable, holy, truth, loving, and just, to mention only a few (1 Sam 2:2; 15:29, Ps 147:5, Prov 15:3, Matt 19:26, Heb 6:18, John 3:16).

Stephen Law, author of the Evil-God Challenge, proposes the argument that there is just as much evidence of an evil god, if not more, than for a good God. Law introduces the age old question, “Certainly a perfect and loving God would not vent evil on His creations or allow His creations to suffer,”[7] and certainly this is attacking God’s perfect nature and character. Notice, Law is not arguing if there is a creator rather he is arguing that God is evil. Law goes on to offer only one objection, God is mysterious and He works in mysterious ways. Certainly God is mysterious and works in mysterious ways, but another option is accessible. Consider the thought that pain is reaction from an action, similar to a cause and effect process. From the beginning of time, pain was introduced into the world because man refused to obey God. It is not fair to attack the character of God when it was not God’s fault. Certainly, one can retort with the idea that God can prevent pain and suffering from happening but that would be attacking God’s omniscience and that would suggest that mankind knows and understands everything. This is an example of logical fallacy because it is impossible for fallible man to know and understand everything, including God.

Defending the Character of God

In the International Journal of Systematic Theology, Paul Martens and Tom Millay discuss Soren Kierkegaard’s theory that Christianity does not exist in Denmark because Christians are not suffering.[8] What a change in pace, as Martens and Millay explain, Kierkegaard’s “task is not to defend God’s omnipotence or love in the face of tragedy, violence and loss, the categories Christians are usually forced to address in our contemporary world. Rather, Kierkegaard chooses to defend God against the appearance of peace, prosperity and piety.”[9] How often does a Christian defend God when all is well in their life? Certainly, giving praise to God is great but that is not a defense of God’s character. Kierkegaard saw a need to defend God’s character in the masquerade of Christianity.

For example, humility is a dirty word in society and no one wants to lean upon another for help as it would show complete weakness. “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing” (2 Cor 12:9–11). When the masquerade of perfection in a Christian’s life is exhibited and no pain or suffering is experienced, it sends the wrong message to the world and God is not glorified. Furthermore, when the masquerade of perfect Christianity is portrayed, and a non-believer accepts Christ, at the first time of pain in their life, God’s character becomes under attack because the “babe in Christ” knows no better.

Pain and suffering should lead man closer to God for deliverance, but mankind’s feelings often skew the perception of pain and suffering in relation to God. More often than not, it is easier to blame someone else, particularly God, or accept pain and suffering as God’s perfect will. What man forgets is that it is impossible for a fallible human to attempt to understand a perfect God’s will and reasoning for allowing pain and suffering. Mankind can speculate and that is exactly what it is, speculation. In the end, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut 29:29).

God’s Pain Management Plan

Hell

            As unpopular as the subject is, hell is part of God’s pain management plan. One may begin to wonder what this has to do with pain management, and if it is not obvious, if there is a place called heaven for those who accept Christ and the removal of all pain, there is a place for those who reject Christ where pain will continue. Do not confuse or ignore the reason for hell, as hell is a place designed for Satan and his followers (Matt 25:41), it was never God’s plan for man to be there, and as Lewis explains, God cannot condone evil by ignoring it, as it goes against His character, so God offers forgiveness which has to be accepted. If man never acknowledges sin and his guilty status, then he will never accept God’s forgiveness and God cannot simply turn His back.[10]

There have been many who have debated hell and what exactly hell entails, and due to space constraints and the danger of rabbit trailing, consider annihilationism and the belief that the souls who reject Jesus will simply be destroyed no longer experiencing pain. Glenn Peoples and Robert Peterson entertain the annihilationist’s position in “Fallacies in the Annihilationism Debate.” Consider for a moment Revelation 20:10, “and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Peterson states,

“Reformed preterist Kenneth Gentry sees the image as representing Rome, with Nero Caesar in particular as its representative and Edward Fudge adds, The difficulty is spelled out (albeit briefly) by Fudge, who notes that, ‘According to many Bible scholars these [i.e. the beast and the false prophet] are not actual people but represent governments which persecute believers and false religions which support those governments. Neither institution will be perpetuated forever, nor could they suffer conscious, sensible pain.’ Thus, whatever the lake of fire signifies, it could not be eternal torment.”[11]

This is the position every annihilationists takes concerning this text, and Peterson responds simply by pointing out that,

“However, Fudge fails to mention the devil, who, along with the beast and the false prophet, is cast into the lake of fire. I understand the beast and the false prophet to be individuals capable of suffering pain, but I’ll put that to one side for a moment. What about Satan? Fudge, as an evangelical Christian, refuses to depersonalize the devil. So here is one personal being who will suffer in everlasting torment. Revelation 20:10 tells us that the devil will be thrown into the lake of fire. Five verses later we read that human beings will be cast into the same lake of fire. Wouldn’t normal hermeneutics dictate the understanding that human beings will be heading for eternal torment too?”[12]

Therefore, for the purpose of this paper understand, hell is a real place where real souls who reject Jesus Christ will end up and not simply annihilated. Additionally, Jesus and the Bible gives descriptions of hell and it is unimaginable. If the absence of God is not enough (2 Thess 1:9), hell is a place of eternal fire, punishment, outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:12, 13:42, 50; 25:41, 46). Even if one believes the absence of God is not big deal, Eugene Carpenter and Philip Comfort, authors of The Holman Treasury Key of Bible Words, points out that the absence of God means the removal of His immutable qualities, such as hope, love, and all that is good.[13] Certainly a place without hope and love can be considered a tormenting and horrible place, now add the thought of it being forever. There are many other areas and beliefs concerning hell, and one must consider the reliability of the source and perform contextual reading.

Heaven

As many sing on Sunday’s how wonderful Heaven will be, many sermons will be preached on heaven which the human mind cannot fully comprehend heaven. Even John, in the book of Revelation, wrote of heaven in simile fashion, since the human language could not properly describe heaven. In fact, the most quoted scripture regarding pain and its removal in Heaven is from the book of Revelation, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Admittance into such a place required a price to be paid and forgiveness to be offered. Furthermore, as forgiveness is offered, it has to be accepted, and acceptance requires acknowledgment that wrong has been done. All can agree that God cannot simply turn His back to evil and simply allow such a thing into heaven, as it would corrupt heaven and in turn, produce more pain and suffering, and heaven would be no different from earth.

There is no other options available when considering God’s pain management plan. It would be logical fallacy to expect a God, who abhors evil, to simply turn His back and allow everyone into a place of no pain agreeing that it was ok to commit such evils. Even if this line of reasoning was considered, it eliminates Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the sins of mankind and in turn, it destroys the reliability of the Bible.

Conclusion

In conclusion, always look at what is known as fact. Setting aside man’s personal feelings toward pain and suffering is nearly impossible, but can be accomplished. Pain and suffering is part of life and there is no way around this, rather understand that pain was not ordained by God in the beginning. Rather, because of mankind’s sinfulness pain is necessary so that it pushes us closer to God, not further away. God’s characteristics is perfectly explained in the Bible and any deviation from those characteristics will contain harsh personal feelings and must be set aside. Even though man is responsible for pain, God loved mankind enough to deal with pain, as God has prepared a place where pain and suffering is non-existent for those who accept Him and His forgiveness. On the other side, there is also a place prepared for those who reject God and His forgiveness and pain will be everlasting. Finally, understanding everything in God’s plan is not something God promised to give to man, rather it is the love God has given to man and that is far greater than complete understanding of God. For without God’s love, man is nothing to begin with and where there is no love, there is no purpose. [U1]

Bibliography

Carpenter, Eugene, E, and Philip, W. Comfort. Holman Treasury of Key bible Words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew Words Defined and Explained. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2000.

Jordan, Jeff. “Divine Love and Human Suffering.” International Journal For Philosophy of Religion (Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost) 56, no. 2/3 (October 2004): 169-178.

Law, Stephen. “The Evil God Challenge.” Religious Studies 46, no. 3 (September 2010): 353-73.

Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. New York: HarperOne, 2001.

Lucas, E. C. “Some Scientific Issues Related to the Understanding of Genesis 1-3.” Themelios, no. 2 (January 1987): 51.

Miller, Richard, W. “The Mystery of God and the Suffering of Human Beings.” Heythrop Journal (EBSCOhost) 50, no. 5 (September 2009): 846-863.

Peoples, Glenn, and Robert A. Peterson. “Fallacies in the Annihilationism Debate: A Critique of Robert Peterson and Other Traditionalist Scholoarship/Fallacies in the Annihilationism Debate? A Response to Glenn Peoples.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Evangelical Theological Society) 50, no. 2 (June 2007): 329-47, 349-55.


[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version (ESV) (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001).

[2] C. S. Lewis. The Problem of Pain. (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 634.

[3] E C Lucas, “Some Scientific Issues Related to the Understanding of Genesis 1–3,” Themelios, No. 2, January 1987 12 (1987): 51.

[4] Jeff Jordan. “Divine Love and Human Suffering.” International Journal For Philosophy of Religion (Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost) 56, no. 2/3 (October 2004): 169-178.

[5] Richard, W. Miller. “The Mystery of God and the Suffering of Human Beings.” Heythrop Journal (EBSCOhost) 50, no. 5 (September 2009): 846-863.

[6] Carl Goldberg. “Concerning Madness and Human Suffering.” Pastoral Psycology (ProQuest) 50, no. 1 (September 2001): 13-23.

[7] Stephen Law. “The Evil God Challenge.” Religious Studies 46, no. 3 (September 2010): 353-73.

[8] Paul Martens and Tim Millay. “The Changelessness of God’ as Kierkegaard’s Final Theodicy: God and the Gift of Suffering.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 13, no. 2 (March 2011): 170-189.

[9] Ibid.

[10] C. S. Lewis. The Problem of Pain. (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 623.

[11] Glenn Peoples and Robert A. Peterson. “Fallacies in the Annihilationism Debate: A Critique of Robert Peterson and Other Traditionalist Scholoarship/Fallacies in the Annihilationism Debate? A Response to Glenn Peoples.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Evangelical Theological Society) 50, no. 2 (June 2007): 329-47, 349-55.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Eugene E. Carpenter and Philip W. Comfort, Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew Words Defined and Explained (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 303.


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