Cops: Murdered Coed's Body Grilled
Quake Kills 1, Injures 170 in Japan
Suicide blasts kill 47 in Iraq
Aids deaths fall but HIV virus continues to evolve rapidly
What do these headlines have in common? Human suffering, sometimes brought about by other humans, sometimes by forces in the natural world. Suffering is part of living. These stories form only an infinitesimal fraction of all the suffering in the world, most of which goes on without the notice or sympathy of readers like you and me.
For those who believe in a loving and omnipotent God, suffering must be explained in light of God's existence. Why does God, if he loves us, allow or even cause us to suffer? Of course, there are many answers to this troubling question, ranging from the mysteriousness of God's ways to the benefits of suffering upon our souls to the idea that we all deserve much worse than any calamity we could possibly encounter in this world. Ministers whose job it is to console the grieving parents who have suffered the death of a beloved child or some other crushing loss have found out that these answers often seem to lack any power to satisfy, to bring us to the point where we can say, in effect, this still hurts, but I understand why it was necessary.
Christianity has staked out its positions clearly: God exists. God is omnipotent. God is good. I ask this question: On what basis do you make these claims, believe these things? As far as I can see, the answer comes down to this: There is a book, called The Bible, that says so.
To be fair, many people also base their belief in God's goodness on the good things that have happened to them. If you have a happy marriage, well-adjusted kids, a good job, if you recovered from a serious illness, a brush with death, then you say God has been good to me. But the converse is typically not true. If your spouse is unfaithful, your kids unreliable, your health terminal, God is still good. The good things are of God, but the bad things are not. The man who lives through the tornado proclaims to the world that God was looking out for him; the family who lost a loved one in the same storm says that God will see them through. Such is our need to believe in a powerful, benevolent God who will protect us from harm, except when he doesn't.
But there is one explanation for human suffering that occurs under the aegis of a loving and omnipotent God that seems to absolve God of all responsibility. Every proximate cause of all human suffering is explained by the Fall. The Fall is the ultimate fall guy.
Gen 3:14-19 GNB Then the LORD God said to the snake, "You will be punished for this; you alone of all the animals must bear this curse: From now on you will crawl on your belly, and you will have to eat dust as long as you live. (15) I will make you and the woman hate each other; her offspring and yours will always be enemies. Her offspring will crush your head, and you will bite her offspring's heel." (16) And he said to the woman, "I will increase your trouble in pregnancy and your pain in giving birth. In spite of this, you will still have desire for your husband, yet you will be subject to him." (17) And he said to the man, "You listened to your wife and ate the fruit which I told you not to eat. Because of what you have done, the ground will be under a curse. You will have to work hard all your life to make it produce enough food for you. (18) It will produce weeds and thorns, and you will have to eat wild plants. (19) You will have to work hard and sweat to make the soil produce anything, until you go back to the soil from which you were formed. You were made from soil, and you will become soil again."
Natural disasters happen because of the Fall. Sickness and death happen because of the Fall. Men are treacherous and evil to one another because of the Fall. And every human being who ever lived or will ever live, without exception, will sin and thus earn an infinitely long stay in Hell...you guessed it, because of the Fall. (The snake only received the punishment that it must crawl on its belly all its days. So how did it move around before?)
OK. But let's look at this explanation a bit more closely and see where it leads us. We are saying that, according to Christianity, the Fall is to blame for every bit of human suffering, ever. Now, who caused the Fall? Well, Adam and Eve did. But what did they do? What was so wicked, so heinous, so devilishly abhorrent as to cause God to cause or allow such untold suffering? They ate from a tree that God had told them not to touch. That's it. For that, the entire planet and all its inhabitants were cursed by their Creator.
One question: Does this seem like a proportionate response to you?
Disclaimer: I know that Christians say that God is the Creator and can do whatever he wants with his creatures and that we as his creatures have no right to say a darn thing about it so we should just shut up already.