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September 27, 2009


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Joshua James

What has always, and continues, attracted me to Buddhism is that it deals specifically with the problem of human suffering ... what it's caused by and how to resolve it ...

Whereas in Christianity, it doesn't really seem to deal with it except to say, you were born a sinner and you deserve to suffer ...

Which I've never agreed with.

Thomas Garvey

Didn't Samuel Beckett work all this out sixty years ago? Andrew Sullivan should get out of church and into the theatre.


nicely put Isaac


While I'm not much of a religious scholar, I do have a couple of thoughts on this.

One, as for the answer to why God allows misery, I think this is God's basic response to all: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_Job#God.27s_response. We're not God, so we're not really in the position to "judge" His/Her/Its actions in any way. One of my favorite books describes life as a game of poker, for infinite stakes, played with blank cards, in a dark room and the dealer (God) won't explain the rules and smiles all the time. That's pretty much it, really. I guess, as a confirmed agnostic, I lean towards the ineffable.

In terms of the narrative of man's relationship to God, I actually really like the way the Bible does it (though you have to take into account that it's cobbled together from countless sources, often with conflicting motives): in the beginning, God walked and talked with man. Slowly, as man became more advanced, more in control of his/her own fate, God recedes, but there is always this: God wants nothing more from humanity than our love. The first commandment says "Love me, above all others." But He/She/It wants us to choose to love Him/Her/It. In spite of cruelty, pain, suffering and agony, the juice in it for God is the choosing. (I might have gotten some of this theology from comic books.) After God has totally receded and left man to our own devices, that's when He/She/It makes a re-appearance on the scene, and again, asks for our love, but as a human being (well, sort of). Jesus is about re-connecting and re-starting. A reboot, so to speak. Especially since God forswore cleansing through catastrophe after the bit with Noah, He/She/It took a different approach.

But that's just my take on it all...



But the "cleansing" of the Jesus narrative only really exists in Christian exegesis, not in the actual narrative itself. At other points in the narrative, when God wants us to get a point, he's pretty blunt about it (your Job example is a good one that I'll get to in a moment). Why is he suddenly so cagey and mysterious? The only thing that makes sense to me here is that the Christians (starting with Paul who really ruined it for everyone) have to come up with an elaborate interpretation to explain around one central problem: Jesus failed as a Messiah. The Messiah in Jewish legend has nothing to do with the image of Jesus as Messiah. He was supposed to accomplish concrete things on Earth. But Jesus was killed before doing any of the stuff the Messiah is supposed to have done. So the whole thing gets reinterpreted to be about the Kingdom of Heaven.

As to Job. First off, i enjoy the theory that Job is a Greek Tragedy that got into the Jewish Scriptures during the Hellenic period (lop off the prose sections at the beginning and end and you get a Greek Tragedy). The whole "Who Understands God" is part and parcel with that. Anyway.. it's worth noting that God's answer to Job is decidedly unChristian. He doesn't say "I AM GOOD" He says "CAN YOU MAKE A COW? NO? THEN WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE ME?!"
It's also worth noting that God Tells Job's friend that Job is right and suffering happens for no explainable reason at the end of the story. This runs completely counter the Christian idea of God as Just, Good or Loving, and reinforces the Jewish idea of God as inscrutable. Which to me is the only interpretation of God that makes any sense whatsoever.


Well, if you buy in the full-on paternal vision of God, Just, Good and Loving can match with Inscrutable and Incomprehensible, as, I think the monologue in Job does show: God has a Plan that we can't comprehend, but we have to trust that it is Good. It's the nature of faith. When you're a child, your parent can do things that seem (and sometimes are) cruel, unjust and downright mean...but are being done for a larger purpose. It's the same with God (in basic Christian philosophy). Bad things happen, but they happen because they had to happen, to teach a lesson, to instill humility, even (and I generally disagree with this) to punish. Since we, as children, don't have the understanding of God, didn't make the whole of the world and aren't responsible, we can't comprehend what He/She/It is doing.

I do think that a whole lot of "Christians" out there do a lot of cherry-picking and a lot of exactly what God gets so mad about Job for doing: trying to fit God's motives into smaller, human concerns. Until we can see everything, all the time, the way God does, we can't understand why good or bad things happen.

As for Jesus...that's weird case, since, most of what we read about Him, in the New Testament is thoroughly edited and altered to fit with the building of a religion, not just the laying down of tenets. That's why they're slippery books to get a hold of. Paul cut out what he didn't want/need, ostracized the people who thought differently and rewrote what was left to build his case.

I do think it's interesting that, by the New Testament, no one is talking directly to God. I think Isiah is the last prophet that God appears to directly. Not even Jesus ever speaks directly to God. I think it says more about man's relationship to the God of Abraham than anything about the nature of God.

David Cote

It's all theological fun and games until someone crucifies the unbeliever.

Karl Miller

Job could be a Greek Tragedy ... or a dark riff on My Fair Lady. After all, the devil comes mighty close to winning that opening wager with god.


Or maybe a satire invented by the jewish woman who used the pen name "William Shakespeare" in order to fool people that Jesus existed.

Mark Schultz

I'm afraid there's a lot of theological nuance that's being lost here, and I wouldn't quite know where to start in with a specific explication. I suppose that I would start off by saying that when dealing with myth, such as the myth of the Fall, it's important not to take things too too literally. In a Christian context, the Fall is much more about an explication of relationship between humanity and God, humanity and nature, and humanity and itself than about a punitive deity inflicting punishment on a hapless world.

But I don't know that getting into all that (which would mean getting into the debt Christianity owes principally to Plato as well as how wrong-headed Scholastic Aristotelianism is within a Christian context, in addition to some startling similarities between the Buddhist understanding of suffering and illusion and the Christian notion of the Fall) would be a particularly great idea. It'd probably be pretty boring to most folks.

I do want to say, though, that as one who believes that life is pretty absurd to begin with, I think the title of this blog post resonates in more ways than was perhaps originally intended. And when you factor in Tertullian's famous "Credo quia absurdum," well.... It all brings a little smile to my face.



Why so anthropomorphic? I love my church cuz it never asks me to see god with all these problematic human traits. It seems ironic to me that it’s the non-believers who add on such unnecessary thought processes.

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