Sunday, 17 October 2010

Human responsibility for suffering

The first thing the Bible asserts is that human beings are responsible for their actions and therefore the suffering they cause. As we examine whether the existence of so much suffering makes belief in a God of love illogical it is essential that we do not overlook humanity’s contribution to that suffering. Secular journalist and author P.J. O’Rourke sums up humanity’s contribution to the suffering in this world brilliantly in the introduction to his book, ‘Holidays in Hell’. He writes:

‘I wanted to know where trouble came from and why the world was such a lousy place. I wasn’t curious about natural disasters – earthquakes, mudslides, floods and droughts. These are nothing but the losing side of the Grand Canyon coin toss. OK, it’s sad. Now what? I was curious about the trouble man causes himself and which he could presumably quit causing himself at the drop of a hat, or, anyway, a gun. I wanted to know why life, which ought to be an only moderately miserable thing, is such a frightful, disgusting, horrid thing for so many people in so many places.’

The first explanation of why there is so much suffering in the world is that it’s because of people’s actions. The Bible’s summary of God’s standard for people is that they love him with all their being and that they love other people like they love themselves. It is mankind’s failure to obey God specifically in this second area which is responsible for there being so much suffering in the world. The fact that people choose to do terrible things in this world which God created cannot easily be used to demonstrate God’s lack of love. When you examine the suffering of the world you cannot help but conclude that much of it is a consequence of human action. War and violence are obvious examples. When you consider, however, how much suffering man could prevent then mankind’s responsibility becomes even more striking. When you consider the three million children who die each year from diseases for which immunisations are developed and available and the deaths from flooding in Bangladesh which are compounded by both tree felling up-stream and the fact that the poor are made to live in dangerous low lying areas, it becomes apparent that even much suffering which we would consider humanity to be innocent of is still a result of human decisions and actions.

The question which humanity is ultimately left with is not how a God of love can exist in a world where there is so much suffering but rather how humanity can be responsible for so much suffering. The Bible clearly says that mankind’s decision to reject God and go their own way has led to a break down in relationships between humans. This leads to human’s acting badly and inflicting much suffering on each other. Fundamentally the Bible’s answer to the huge amount of suffering caused by humanity is that we have all rejected God and his ways. This rejection causes us to be slaves to sin and so makes us incapable of loving people as we should. It is this lack of love for each other which leads to the pride, greed, selfishness, anger, hatred and neglect which causes so much of the suffering in this world. This Biblical answer not only offers some explanation of how it is logical to believe in a God of love in a world with so much suffering but it also offers an explanation for why man causes so much suffering. The Biblical answer of humanity’s fallen nature leading to us damaging the world and harming each other offers a logical explanation of why humanity inflicts so much suffering on itself. It is the Bible which makes us able to answer P.J. O’Rourke’s question of why man causes life to be such a frightful, disgusting and horrid thing for so many people.

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