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In what ways may suffering create a philosophical problem for religious believers

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  • Pages: 6
  • Word count: 1296
  • Category: Problems

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Suffering is an unfortunate concept in the world today and creates a philosophical problem for religious believers, especially those that believe in God. God is seen to as an all loving and all knowing figure and the reputed creator of the universe in a lot of religions. God’s qualities are that he is omnipotent (he can do anything), omniscient (he knows everything), omnipresent (he is everywhere) and omnibenevolent (he is all loving). If God is established to have these qualities, then why is evil and suffering a part of this world? Surely if God has these attributes, no suffering would exist.

This is a main problem for religious believers as it seems to lower the evidence for Gods existence. Also, while suffering is present it doesn’t seem to affect just the people, who are better off than others, it is distributed throughout society, to a large extent, and to those people that already live an unfortunate life. God is supposed to represent a moral figure that shows omnipotence and goodness. J.L Mackie, a philosopher, observed that these propositions cannot all be true at the same time. This is known as the inconsistent triad:

Suffering comes from two forms of evil. Natural and Moral. The holocaust was a moral evil as it was planned and provoked by human actions (Adolf Hitler). Natural evil results from the malfunctioning of the world. E.g. – Tsunamis and earthquakes that kill thousands of innocent people. Neither of these would exist if God did exist. Even Augustine said that “either God cannot abolish evil; or he will not; if he cannot then he is not all powerful; if he will not then he is not all good”.

Another problem about the existence of suffering is that it presents a serious challenge to the theistic belief and believers are accused of not recognising this challenge. In other words, if believers believe there is a God and they are aware that suffering exists, then why cant they see that God is not preventing it. Anthony Flew said that believers would rather qualify Gods nature – “God is all loving, but we cannot expect to understand his love”- than recognise the full force of the conflict. Therefore religious believers should at least offer an account of why we live in a world in which evil and suffering overpower many features and yet they still imply that there is a God, when the challenge seems so logical.

One solution to the problem of Gods existence is the Augustinian theodicy. It is the main traditional Christian response to the problem of suffering and evil. It provides an explanation for human suffering and guilt by teaching that some of those human beings somehow deserved their punishments. Human beings deserve to suffer because the first parents (Adam and Eve) who were sinned by misusing their free will. Augustine saw original sin as working in two ways, inherited guilt for a crime and spiritual sickness/weakness. This made the presence of evil in the world easier to understand, and answered the question of why a benevolent God would allow such a state of suffering to exist. In conclusion Augustine’s theodicy in theory is a rather successful explanation and defence for the existence of evil however there are some criticisms in the theodicy as with every other belief.

The Ireanean theodicy is another more modern approach to why suffering exists in the world and unlike Augustine, St Ireanaus claimed that man was created imperfectly, but was reaching to be perfect like God. God created the universe with possibility of evil and he would not intervene, as that would stop human free will. However, God is all loving, so eventually humans would develop into the image of God and live forever with him. The solution in this theodicy falls under the three responses to natural evil. One being, useful as a means to knowledge, meaning suffering can be useful as a basic means for staying alive, two, soul making, where a person can build upon their character and finally a predictable environment.

As natural evil is inevitable it provides us with a stable and predictable environment. This theodicy is seen as a popular answer to the Problem of Evil from a Christian point of view. This is because it gives a reason for pain and also, it gives hope. St Augustine’s theodicy also deals with the Problem of Evil, but it is not as popular as an answer, since many people see it as giving no hope. John Hick has also added to the Irenaean Theodicy, although it has not led to much change.

Both theodices trace evil back to human free will and they both say that when humans use their freedom to disobey God, they can cause suffering, but is a big juxtaposition between the theodices mentioned.

To what extent are these solutions successful?

These arguments are not perfect solutions for believers, but do go some way to solving the problem. The Augustine’s theodicy manages to keep all four presumptions of God according to the Christian while explaining a theodicy what many other philosophers do not successfully complete, But there is a problem for some people with the successfulness of the omni benevolence because how can a God that is all loving create Hell as a consequence? However, the theodicy is not flawless as with any other theodicy but does try to attempt to explain the reason for evil in the world while still keeping the Christian four presumptions of God and it does this relatively well.

The Irenaeus theodicy argues that everyone goes to heaven. This seems unjust, as immorality is not punished. It is inconsistent with orthodox Christianity as it denies The Fall, and Jesus’ role is reduced to a moral example. Also, Can suffering ever be justified on the grounds of motive? Suffering does not sit easily with the concept of a loving God. It seems difficult to justify something like the Holocaust with the concept of ‘soul making’.

In turn, any argument for the existence of suffering can be questioned because there’s not always sufficient evidence for one to believe in a theodicy and there’s never really is a right or a wrong answer. Therefore we can question any theodicy independently. For example we might question the suggestion that God’s creative work was imperfect when he created humans or that Suffering, according to some critics, can never be an expression of God’s love.

Ivan Karamazon is an atheistic in design. Evil exists, but it is very close to his upbringing. To him it’s the indifference that is primarily offensive. Ivan notes that those who do not believe in God but strive to accomplish “the transformation of all humanity on a new pattern” turn the religious idea of salvation inside out. In other words anarchism and socialism are just a reversed glove of Christian Kingdom of Heaven.

Again the problem of evidence arises. There is not sufficient evidence to explain whether the existence of God is probable or not. Where as the logical side seems easier to take on board. There is clearly evil in the world so either God does not exist or there is no evil in the world. Or If God and evil are to exist at the same time, then God must have a very good reason for permitting evil to exist. (Could be some points mentioned in the theodices).

In conclusion the solutions can be successful to some extent that you do believe in God. However, now that scientific evidence for evolution and astrology has become more popular and believable, the theory of God being the creator of the world may be left in the dark. If solid evidence could be produced for the existence of suffering and God then the theodices would proof to be a lot more successful as many more people could easily agree.

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