Recently we brushed upon the issue of Problem of Suffering. You may have missed it. Within this discussion we often see the question asked by the non-believer (in some form) of “Why couldn’t God have eliminated or reduced _________?” in which the blank is filled by some tragedy, or some disease, or terrible accident.
And the reply entails a defense of why God may have some higher purpose, or we need it to learn, or it is our fault for sinning or simply “them’s the breaks.” The one thing I do not ever recall seeing is that the Christian argues that suffering should not be reduced even a fraction. That every single pain is necessary. (Do Christians argue that every single jot of suffering is necessary under God’s plan?)
Albert Mohler was recently discussing disease prevention, and made the statement, “If I was able to eliminate AIDS, would I? Absolutely. Even though that is a horrible disease as a consequence for sin, we ALL deserve to die because of sin, no more or no less than a person who has AIDS.” [paraphrased]
Believers and non-believers alike strive to reduce and even completely eradicate suffering. We agree that peace is better than war. That diseases disappearing is better than diseases appearing. We all want to see a cure for cancer. We all choose anesthesia for an operation.
Unfortunately we have human limitations. I do not have the knowledge to prevent Alzheimer’s. I do not have the funds to feed 1000’s. I do not have the physical ability to care for all of those around me. But there was one fellow, according to Christianity, who did…
As Christians, when we discussed temptation, it was often brought out that Jesus, being 100% human, was tempted in all ways just like every other human, yet did not sin. (Heb. 4:15) Of course, as skeptics, we focus on how could Jesus be tempted to abort a Down’s syndrome baby out of his own body, or whether Jesus was tempted by pedophilia.
But rather than focus on the human temptations toward sin; if Jesus was 100% human, was he tempted to reduce suffering? And how far?
Think about it. I hand you a magic wand. Ever time you raise it in the air; a disease disappears off the face of the earth. How long do you go? Do you stop? Do you reach a point where you think, “You know…I think I have eliminated enough disease. We probably need some for population control, or to give scientists a reason to live, or perhaps some other reason I just don’t know, so I better stop now.”
And then your daughter gets sick with one of those diseases you miss. You look at that wand long and hard. Are you tempted?
Jesus had that magic wand! If he was 100% human, wouldn’t he likewise want what 100% of other humans would do, and wave that magic wand for all it is worth? And every time a loved one contracted a disease, give ‘er another wave? If he was tempted in all ways like we are, was he tempted to completely cure disease? I know I sure would have been!
Or did the God-part of Jesus have a governor on the Human-part of Jesus to keep him from eliminating too much suffering?
I once rented a truck to move my belongings. The truck had a governor on it that prevented it from going any faster than 58 mph. I mashed the accelerator down to the floor and left it. Because we went 58 mph regardless.
Did the God-part put such a limiting device on the Human-part? “Sure, Human-part. Spin your little human inclinations as hard as you want. Can’t have you reduce suffering out of control, now can we? Shoot, if you had your way, the whole universe would tumble out of control. We gain a world of no disease, but could lose Pluto as a planet!”
And did the Human-part know that the God-part had put such a limitation on the human-part? According to the Gospel of John, the Human-part knew about that part of him that was God-part. (John 7:29; 8:58) Did the Human-part recognize the same information that the God-part knew as to why suffering could not be stamped out? But then the Human-part is not really 100% Human, since it knew why and how much suffering was necessary, which no other human knows.
And would such a human-part Jesus utilize the God-part Jesus’ knowledge to know when to quit? “Uh. Uh. If I make one more blind person see today, there will be too little suffering in the world. Oh. Wait. What if I blind some poor sod in Mesoamerica, where no one will ever know?”
Or, as God, could Jesus actually choose to reduce one person’s suffering without causing universal upheaval and consequence?
Mark 6:34-44 records a familiar tale of Jesus feeding the Five Thousand. A story we heard beginning from our very early years in Sunday School. At the very beginning of the story, a statement is made; “and moved with compassion, he [Jesus] began to teach the multitude…” Jesus is recorded as a person who recognized other people’s frailties and inabilities, and, like other humans, attempted to address them. Of course, as we all know, Jesus then goes on to feed the hungry crowd through the use of a miracle.
Mark records another incident—the feeding of the Four Thousand in Mark 8:1-9. Again, it is prefaced with the statement that Jesus felt compassion on the crowd following him; that they had nothing to eat for three days. Again, it is followed with the miraculous provision of food. See Also Matt. 15:32-38
Luke records Jesus having compassion on a widow whose son had died and raising him from the dead. Luke 7:11-17. Matthew equally records Jesus healing out of compassion. Matthew 14:14. Immediately followed by the parallel tale of the feeding of the Five Thousand. Matt. 14:15-21.
The authors of these tales are not recording Jesus’ compassion as an exception. Simply because there are incidents in which compassion are mentioned does not mean that all the other occasions Jesus was healing and feeding He was doing it out of a wooden, cold-blooded methodical nature. Clearly it was an emphasis of a normal characteristic, not a highlighting of an exception in Jesus’ nature. (Unless some Christian would like to argue that Jesus normally was NOT compassionate, and these were the exceptions to the rule? I somehow doubt it.)
If Jesus was compassionate for the Five thousand, the Four thousand, the multitudes, the widow, the crippled, the blind, (Matt 20:34) deaf and dumb that he actually saw, would the thought ever cross his mind to reduce the suffering of those he didn’t see? I don’t have God-intelligence to tap into, such as Jesus might have. Even without that ability, Jesus was recorded as being extraordinarily clever. (Luke 2:47, 52) But yet I can figure out that if there are hungry people in front of me, it is very likely there are other hungry people that are not. That equally need assistance.
And yes, Jesus seems to have figured that out as well. He ordered his disciples to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead and cast out demons. Matt. 10:8; Luke 10:9. He ordered the rich man to give to the poor. Mark 10:21; Matt. 19:21; Luke 18:22. Jesus tells his disciples that they are free to help the poor when they wish. Mark 14:7. Jesus never states a concern that the disciples might upset the balance of the universe by reducing too much suffering.
Obviously Jesus had no constraint upon healing those in the crowds he encountered during his earthly ministry. Mark 6:1-6 records the curious tale of Jesus’ inability to perform mighty works in his own country, but the limitation was apparently due to the people’s unbelief—not a concern over the reduction in suffering. Certainly Matthew interpreted the problem as one of unbelief, and not suffering. Matt 13:58.
In a nutshell, the authors of the Gospels paint Jesus as attempting to reduce as much suffering as he humanly could, and commanding others to do as well. The authors had no philosophical qualms or concerns over the justifying the Problem of Suffering. They presumed (like humans do) there should be as little as possible! Therefore they wrote of Jesus, as God, expressing compassion and reducing suffering.
While I enjoy the philosophical exchange over the Problem of Suffering within the Christian worldview--in looking at the Gospel accounts of Jesus, I am left with a question. We all know it.
What Would Jesus Do?
If Jesus, as God/Human appeared today, how would he address the Problem of Suffering? If believers pointed out the numerous children dying of preventable disease and hunger—would the Jesus of the Gospels step in to resolve the problem or would the Jesus of the Gospels retreat, armed with the Christian philosophers’ cry of “such suffering must be in this world”?
How do we resolve the fact that when Christians claim God appeared on earth, He reviewed the human situation with compassion and immediately and miraculously interfered with the course of the universe to reduce suffering over and over and over and over? Yet we are told the Christian God cannot. Must not. Shall not. Was human-Jesus imprisoned by God-Jesus to prevent human-Jesus from blowing it by utilizing too much of God-Jesus to reduce suffering, even though human-Jesus wanted to, but God-Jesus knew better?
It is a simple question, but I am curious as to the answer. If Jesus appeared today, would he be convinced by all they theodicy’s and justifications and rationalizations of why suffering is necessary, or would he overlook the dispute, roll up his sleeves and start eliminating suffering?
Part of what is unconvincing to me is the fact Christians regale us with tales of their God, in human form, and all the wonderful things He miraculously did to constantly lessen suffering, but when we question why God doesn’t lessen suffering we are told that for some unclear reason—he cannot.
Perhaps a Christian can clear up my confusion. So strap on the bracelet, grab the bumper sticker, put up the billboard, and tell us—within the Problem of Suffering What Would Jesus Do?