Pain and Suffering

Pain and Suffering


A: If God is omnipotent, and as loving as you say He is, why doesn’t He use His power to do something good, like stopping all the suffering in the world?

B: God surely has the power to stop all the suffering in the world, but chooses not to, evidently because He’s got a good reason, perhaps a few, to let it continue.

A: Such as…?

B: It depends on the situation, of course.  Everyone’s agency, for instance, must be respected, as implied before.  And some people choose to make others suffer.  If God never allowed anyone to suffer, then He would be denying those people their agency.  Furthermore, there are undoubtedly situations in which no matter what choice is made, people suffer.  Take, for example, a girl rejecting a guy’s proposal of marriage.  By rejecting it, she may cause the guy’s suffering.  But if she is required to accept it against her will, she will probably suffer.

A: I was thinking more along the lines of earthquakes, and starvation, and, y’know, stuff.  Why doesn’t He prevent those?

B: A good question.  You’ll notice that heretofore, He’s prevented any large objects from outer space crashing into the planet to destroy human life.

A (grinning): Except for the possible exception of you.

B: Huh?  Hey, you sayin’ I’m fat?!

A: Maybe, maybe not, but at least your silly opinions may have the potential to destroy human life.

B: I confess you got me on that one, because I don’t know how they would.  How can anybody hurt anyone else, merely by his opinion?

Anyway, moving on…the reason I mention that example is that, who knows, there could be a whole bunch of possible disasters that He’s already preventing.  Should He prevent literally every possible disaster?  Even, say, when an infant falls off a chair?  If He did that, would we be capable of handling any adversity that we might face?  Or would we be just a bunch of puffballs?

But more to your original question, about God preventing suffering – part of it may be due to what I was saying before, that suffering may actually be for our good, in the sense of eternal happiness.  Some examples may help.

Do you remember the story of Brittany Maynard, a married woman of age about 30 who contracted terminal brain cancer and decided to end her own life, stating that it would be a more “dignified” way to die?  I believe her reasoning, in essence, was thus: “I’m killing myself to prevent suffering, both for me and my loved ones who would have to watch me go through it.”

Before I go on, let me make it crystal clear that I understand – though not even close to as completely as a victim such as she would – that enduring a death like that would be extremely difficult.  I have never had to suffer like that and I hope that I never will.  One could say that I’m not “qualified” to make a judgment in this case – but recall that truth does not depend on whether the person who utters it is “qualified” to do so.

First of all, however, why in the world is dying in this manner (that is, from the devastating effects of something like brain cancer) not considered a “dignified” way to die?  I understand that the whole spectacle is a very sad thing; that victims become a shell of themselves in both body and mind – but why should they be thought any less of simply because they died due to something they could not control?  It’s not their fault they contracted such a disease, and therefore it wouldn’t be their fault that they died from it – unless one insists that it is their responsibility to kill themselves.

Second, let’s take her reasoning for suicide; that is, to prevent suffering of her own and that anticipated in others.  Is brain cancer the only way to suffer?  Of course not.  Well then, why shouldn’t that reasoning apply for all cases in which somebody suffers?  Take, for instance, the subsequent case of her husband: couldn’t it be easy enough for him to explain to his family, “Since Brittany died, I know that I will be dealing with significant suffering over the next several months, perhaps even years, and the side effects of that suffering are unpredictable.  I don’t want to subject myself, nor any of you, to having to see me go through any of that.  Therefore, I have chosen to commit suicide on such-and-such a date”?

A: That’s different.  He didn’t have the cancer, so he didn’t have to die.  But his wife – either way, she was going to die, whether through horrible suffering or quickly and painlessly.

B: Yes, the two cases are different in their nature.  But suffering is suffering – who’s to say who would take it worse?  If, ultimately, suffering is inevitable, why should the wife’s case be any more justifiable, simply because she was terminally ill?  And furthermore, how do we even know that she was certainly going to die?  Doctors have been wrong many times before, even on things like this.  It’s not necessarily the case that she could not have somehow pulled through with, say, a herculean effort of courage.


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