Another answer to why suffering exists

I personally am not really stumbled by this question, but this post is meant to, from a (spiritual/God) perspective as well – the common question: if God is good, why is there suffering? I’ll do a laundry list of sorts, and there will be lots more answers than I can cover.

1) Suffering has a purpose

I’ll not go too deeply into this argument; I’m sure you can think about the different purposes. Yes, there is the argument about the ‘amount of suffering’; why is there ‘seemingly so much’. Idk but I feel like this is a stupid argument to an extent. We only know the amount of suffering that we have, how do we know that there isn’t A HELL LOT MORE SUFFERING out there which we already escaped due to the grace that was bestowed on us? And how can we know that we will learn just as well if the suffering was any less?

2) Suffering occurs due to sin

I’ll go deeper into this one, since it interests me more.

  • We suffer because of our own sin – and therefore the suffering has a purpose. E.g. we go to jail and suffer because we stole from someone.
  • We suffer because of someone else’s sin – e.g. Hitler killed people and those people + society suffered because of his sin. Yes, God could have stopped him, but that would go against His character of allowing us to have ‘free will’, even the free will to hurt other people too.
  • Sin can be passive/active, or un/intended. And therefore I’m going to go a bit deeper
  • We suffer because of societal sin – This argument is in reference to my post ‘more than ourselves’. There is such a thing as SYSTEMIC/SOCIETAL sin, passively upheld by us. An example would be the institution of slavery (the slaves suffered), and even though I as an individual may not have had slaves and made them suffer, I probably bought things made by slaves/voted for the leaders who constituted slavery, etc.
  • How about suffering from natural disasters?Natural disasters come about due to (human) sin??? Watch this video: ‘There is no such thing as a Natural Disaster’. It’s REALLY GOOD. Mexie brings up lots of stellar points: disasters only become disasters if there are people there – we need to question WHY and WHO lives on the disaster prone site: land is cheaper? Hence, systemic sin of capitalism exploiting the poor who cannot afford to live in places which are less disaster prone. How about our contributions to climate change which cause extreme weather changes and natural disasters? (Romans 8:22; the whole creation groans because of our sin). Are natural disasters our punishment for sin as well?
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In Worship of ‘doing good’//Pursuing ‘goodness’ without God

What do you want out of your life? Happiness? Meaning/fruitfulness/purpose? Before I continue, let me tell you a bit more about myself: I’m interested and concerned with social-environmental issues. I cut down on plastic and waste and generally don’t consume animal products. This could be seen as my way of ‘doing good’.

Let me problematized the fixation on ‘doing good’ without accounting for my Christian identity: 1) there are good non-Christians and bad Christians, and therefore, 2) what makes my efforts at ‘doing good’, ‘Christian’ (I’ve long thought about what makes a Christian NGO different from a non-religious/Buddhist/etc. organisation)? 3) How can I fit Christianity in my life (i.e. assuming that I believe my identity as a Christian is more important than being good)?

I think it’s (more important) to be Christian than ‘being good’ (haha I’m also kinda cheating because I think that being Christian = striving to be good. All/most faiths teach you to do good things, and how could you call yourself Christian if you do not renounce sin? I use sin rather loosely – even ‘systemic sins’ of our society like you consuming products created by exploitation of people/environment).

Sure, I could be obsessed with making my world a better place, starting organisations and doing activism etc., BUT 1) there are so many contradictions in our efforts, we’re never perfect – problematizing the case of veganism for the environment: you eat more plants (less carbon footprint), but there are so many other aspects of your life which contribute to perhaps even more ‘environmental harm’ than consuming animal products – plastic consumption rather than biodegradable animal materials?)

There are even more problems with ‘doing good’: 2) quoting Ecclesiastes 1, ‘meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless’ – I could devote my entire life to ‘doing good’, but I won’t change too much: our world is broken, and I know I cannot make our world a utopia. We’re ineffective: ‘unless the Lord builds the house, the labourers labour in vain’. We need to de-center humanity as agents of change and recognise that there are many forces out there: perhaps I may build many houses for the poor, but a natural disaster can so simply and quickly destroy structures we build. Our efforts at ‘doing good’ will also always be contentious: people will question our motivations, and it relies on the cooperation of those we work with.

And so for me, I hope not to worship the act of ‘doing good’. A fixation on ‘doing good’ can cause anxiety because of the unpredictability of things around us, and we will constantly question our motivations. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t ‘do good’, but rather, uncover the bigger picture of our work. There are many good things we can worship (our family, being a good friend, etc.) – it’s good to be good, but without God, our work will never be perfect.

 

Additional readings –

1) Can we be good without God? – William Lane Craig https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/existence-nature-of-god/can-we-be-good-without-god/

Can we be good without God? At first the answer to this question may seem so obvious that even to pose it arouses indignation. For while those of us who are Christian …

 

2) Faith and Works – James 2 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+2&version=ESV

The Sin of Partiality – My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine …

 

Post Script –

I think this piece engages with a little bit of (moral) philosophy, about what defines ‘goodness’; is God inherently good, does he define goodness (e.g. if he does something that seems bad to us like killing people, is that still good?) I’m not a philosophy major, but I’m sure that if you are interested, there are many videos/texts out there. IMO when I write about God making our good works perfect rather than merely good, I mean to say that 1) I’ll have (no) anxiety when I question my motives behind doing good, 2) God will do what he will with my work, and I believe that will make it good, 3) my good deeds will (hopefully) come to fruition with God orchestrating the other forces/actors – other people, the environment, etc.

Confessions

(Stream of consciousness ahead)

I need to get this off my chest. I need to write this down somewhere. I can’t remember, but I’m pretty sure I wrote something about this before; I was recently obsessed with making my life more transparent, thinking that this life of secrecy is one of the root causes of my unhappiness. And tangled in this mess is a whole lot of other issues.

I remember in secondary school I’ll say that I’m transparently opaque, which I suppose I still am now. What I mean by this statement is that I don’t think I’ve any real secrets: if I tell you something, even if you are my best friend, I don’t think I’ll be too unhappy if you repeated whatever I told you to someone else, even if people may consider the piece of information I shared to be ‘private’. Hmm, basically, I suppose I don’t think I’m someone with many secrets per se.

But there are slightly more ‘shameful’ things about me that only I know about. And no one else knows. I don’t tell anyone these things. But actually if I think deeper about them, I don’t think they’re particularly shameful at all. Still, I can’t help feeling ashamed about them/needing to keep them secret. I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I’m quite paranoid about ‘internet security’ (though I don’t think I’m fantastic at covering my tracks), ok, well, I’m more paranoid/anxious about meeting people-I-know-but-don’t-really-know-anymore on the streets (and I wish that wearing a burka was more mainstream here). I’m thinking about how I don’t openly tell people about this blog. Or my personal Instagram (which is actually pretty common for people nowadays)/personal journal sites for only myself. There is nothing inherently shameful about these things, but I still hide them. And while I know that I need not feel shame about being depressed, it’s still something which. I don’t like to talk about to random people?

I don’t know. I’m feeling rather lost and anxious and paranoid right now because I’m thinking of the multiple personalities/online presences that I am, that I have. I want to be more transparent. But I cannot bring myself to be. I am an impulsive liar? But at the same time, I’m really not. It’s just that I don’t tell people about all of me. Is that a white lie?

My brain is really, really, really fractured. Divided. Split. Thinking of small random things and I oscillate between the random thoughts, decisions that I have to make in everyday life. I feel trapped because I am unable to make a choice, a stand.

Suffering

What Kind of Wisdom are You Trusting In

Usually I don’t get touched by sermons, but I found this one pretty powerful, so I thought I should share it here/for future reference. I’ve been engaging with the concept of suffering quite a bit lately, so this was quite apt. I shall share the main pointers/what I learnt from it

  • The ways of the world are insufficient

Our human logic: if we do good, we should be rewarded with good. Yet this is obviously not reality. Ironically, in Job, we see that it is precisely Job’s goodness that caused Satan to challenge God and bring harm unto Job. How then do we reconcile the verses about God promising goodness if we follow him/in Galatians which say that we reap what we sow? The key point is about WHEN our goodness would be reaped. Let us not be impatient for God’s justice and try to enact it ourselves.

  • God is just and fair

Of we believe in Isaiah 55; his ways and thoughts are higher than ours. We cannot fully know what God is doing, but we can fully trust in his character.

  • The ways of a Christian’s suffering serves a higher purpose

For unbelievers, their pain (seems meaningless); a foretaste of the eternal suffering if they do not come to know God/the coming judgement. For Christians, it is a taste of what Jesus felt. To engage in suffering = getting the glory that is promised to him. We become more like Christ if we suffer with him. (And yes, so many more reasons for suffering; heh we can discuss this. I personally don’t really struggle with the concept of why humans suffer and what that says about God). If the aim of all life is to know Jesus, we must suffer too – share in his experience. (Other stuff about Jesus knowing how we suffer too, since he is fully human as well; etc.)

 

Dealing with Systemic Traps

Society is contradictory. You are free but also trapped. Free because you are called to ‘live your dreams’, this is a ‘world of possibility’, you have become enabled through ‘education’, ‘multiple grants and access to resources’. But still you are trapped because of ‘socially acceptable’ labelling, concepts like ‘filial piety’, ‘systems’ like mortgages and insurance which requires you to keep a job and be slaves to the system.

I’ve freaked out before, thinking about ‘what if we were made to be more than what we are’? Think about the possibilities of the world, of your life. You could be doing amazing things, and sometimes these things are not even ‘out of your capabilities’ – you don’t need to be ‘qualified’ to give up your life and work as a missionary/go sign up in an NGO etc. You just need to be 100% committed. I wondered if it’s a sin to just live my ‘cookie cutter’, predictable life, being comfortable. Sure, I could say that I’m willing to sacrifice everything, but if I don’t, what do my words really mean?

Some comfort is that changes in our lives are not radical. They’re not meant to be. Hmm, I guess I was worried about this because I questioned (systemic sin; how could I continue living in this system?) I don’t want to live in this life, where I’m partaking in sin and being comfortable and giving myself excuses that ‘indeed I am doing good work in ‘marketplace ministry’ – not a bad thing, but once again, I question about doing more/is this really what I’m called to do?) While we talk about radical life changes in Christian living (e.g. are we willing to give up everything for our faith, like the disciples who left their industries to follow Jesus/the guy who wanted to bury his father but Jesus said you must give up everything/the rich man who was told to give up his wealth), or even secular living (think about communal living in USA – I found this really fascinating https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/08/utopia-erik-reece/494741/, or stuff about ‘zero waste’). BUT I think it’s important to not be stressed out and realise that things come bit by bit and actually we’ll be prepared for them when the time comes: God not only equips those he calls, but he prepares them too – they go through ‘training’ before they have to do the hard(er) things.

So. This is just a reminder (to me). To not be afraid of the (potentially big things I’ll do in the future); if I am called to do so (hmm, do I fear that I am not called to do bigger things? Is it my pride that I want to do big things?), I’ll be prepared beforehand/I’ll be trained to do them. And if I’m not called to do (large) things, it’s good too, right? Haha, I can chill.

More than Ourselves

I just came back from a (para) church camp. There was quite a lot of interesting things that I learnt from it and I will share these insights bit by bit. Here’s just one of them:

I think in Singapore, when it comes to morals (particularly in the religious sense), we’re pretty individualistic. There’s quite a lot of history and reasons behind this, I suppose. Our post-colonial mentality – ‘individualism’ as an inherited concept from the west, as opposed to the eastern ‘communal’ (arguable), the post-modern age (more grey areas, ‘you do you and I do me’, rise of relativism). You could even quote scripture for this: Matthew 7: 3-5; take out the plank in your own eye before you comment on the sawdust in your brothers – be more self-reflective. We’re a conflict avoiding society, we believe peace necessitates conflict avoidance. We lack a rebuking culture.

Yet, this camp challenged me to think about ‘communal’ sins. Communities are known to have been punished for sins of the individual – yes, families, but also those ‘unrelated’ to the individuals. In a contemporary sense, think about the many deaths in human history (genocides, wars, and ethnic cleansings) because of a few individuals sins. We’re complicit in those sins because of our inaction, we’re a part of those sins, it’s a passive sin, but a sin nonetheless. It’s so related to my unhappiness about being trapped in society: (I believe I’ve wrote about this before?) our society’s terrible failures at combating global problems like poverty, climate change, etc., individuals being so deeply entrenched in the capitalist system (exploitation of nature, animals, and people. And there is no way out for the individual, in a sense). In this societal/systematic sin, we’re all, as individuals, either unaware, uncaring, or simply, choice-less. It reminded me of how I used to be so passionate about the sins I committed (thinking about the everlastingness and severity, being consumed by the guilt). And now?

I don’t have a conclusion. But let us remember that we’re much more than ourselves. We’re responsible and accountable for the state of other’s lives (and afterlives, salvation).

‘How to be Good’

What do you think being good means?

I’ve been reading ‘How to be Good’ by Nick Hornby (spoilers in this post?) and I’m quite surprised at how much I like it (I’ve read English authors from a young age and that’s why I can identify and understand them. I’m glad to have discovered him again – bad experience with Funny Girl and didn’t read him until today). Lots of wise words and relatable stuff in his book, perhaps because I’m in a situation which is similar to both Kate and David (I’m a little more David). Lots of nice themes too.

So what does it mean to ‘be good’? Kate repeatedly mentions that she is a ‘good person’: she is a doctor (a fulfilling career, she heals people, it’s something noble, isn’t it?), she has a good family whom she begrudgingly loves, she is still together with David (even though she isn’t sure whether she still likes him; he’s rude and mean, but now that he has changed for the better, she isn’t quite sure whether she loves him either). She’s generally a ‘girl next door’ (that’s a compliment, right?) She’s not different from everyone else (but does her doctor thing make her slightly better than everyone else?) Is David good/better? (He changes for the better; now he’s sympathetic to all people out there, he’s more understanding. Hell, he wants to help the homeless! He opened up his house and got people on his street to do the same). But what happens when people take advantage of your goodness – there is safety to think about (besides, you don’t exist by yourself, what if your good deeds affect the people you love/people around you. Have you considered how becoming a monk would rob your parents of, greater financial stability knowing that they have a son whom they can count on in the future if they so need money? Not to mention emotional closeness and stuff). I too have made some changes in my life, I am trying to be ‘good’, but this book really challenges what it means to be so; perhaps Kate is ‘more good’; she has been good her whole life compared to David whom ‘just learnt how to be good now’; ‘good’ is something which she IS, rather than something she aspires to be, it’s her whole career and life, she doesn’t need to change anything about herself to be good (or is that a cop out excuse for her not to think about how she can be better?)

 

“What is the point (in all these efforts at ‘doing good’)? Please tell me, because I don’t understand.”
“The point is … The point is how I feel. I don’t care what gets done (giving away all my possessions, anything radical or simple.) I just don’t want to die feeling that I never tried (note the emphasis on himself). I don’t believe in Heaven, or anything. But I want to be the kind of person that qualifies for entry anyway. Do you understand?”