Friday, August 21, 2009

The Kindness of Suffering


[Anger and vengence: German prisoners killed by Czechs; U.S. Army Footage filmed on May 8 1945]

Although any rational person must be overwhelmed by the kindness and goodness of God and the care which He devotes to sustaining all life every moment, however we must also look briefly at the pain and suffering which exists in the world. It too is an example of God's kindness and majesty.

I believe that today’s news media tends to focus excessively on what goes wrong rather than on what goes right. Only about one commercial airline flight per million suffers a fatal crash, however that is the one you will you see in the evening news. People are fascinated by tragedy. This distorts terribly our understanding of the world and life.

Nevertheless, there are real tragedies every day. How do we reconcile God’s infinite kindness with human tragedy?

The answer is that not only is God kind, He is also just. Every sin is punished and the punishment is always big. The Bible and Talmud are filled with this concept; see the book of Lamentations for just one classic example. There is no escape and there are no exceptions, other than repentance.

This is how we can reconcile seemingly contradictory verses.

The LORD is good to all; and His tender mercies are over all His works. (Psalms 145:9)

The LORD is a jealous and avenging God, the LORD avengeth and is full of wrath; the LORD taketh vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserveth wrath for His enemies. (Nahum 1:2)

I think we can say that God practices “tough love”. He is kind and loving, however He is not an enabler. The Talmud teaches us "one must receive the evil with gladness". It is all for our good.

The punishment however is often far removed from the sin, perhaps later in this life, perhaps in the afterlife or perhaps in a future incarnation. This in itself is an additional layer of punishment. Since we have forgotten about God, He may give an appearance of having forgotten about us.

Nevertheless, when suffering strikes, even when the justification for it is unclear, one thing is clear: This is an example of God’s anger. If a father spanks one child, all the children learn to behave - if they are smart. This is a reminder to us to repent. This is a wake up call. It’s a lesson which should not be wasted.

21 comments:

Menashe said...

JP,

Your explanation may reconcile the idea of this-worldly suffering with a good God, (since the suffering can potentially bring about positive results in the long run,) but what about suffering in the afterlife (i.e., Hell)? What purpose is there in God causing one to suffer when there can be no further effects of that suffering on anyone in this world (where actions matter)?

To use your child-spanking analogy: Suppose the father were spanking the child in an isolated room where none of the other children can see or hear the spanking. Furthermore, none of the children will ever again have any further contact with this child in their childhood years. So, in other words, whether or not the child is actually spanked will have no effect whatsoever on the actions of the other children. Is there any moral justification for the father to spank the poor kid?

Just to address a couple of possible responses:

1. Just saying that Hell serves the purpose of "Justice" isn't enough. "Justice" is just a word, and you'd need to identify a specific, tangible positive effect that the suffering of some soul in Hell would produce.

2. The classic idea that Hell serves to "cleanse the soul" to that the person may enter Olam Haba or whatever doesn't quite work for me. Presumably, God, in His infinite wisdom, could come up with some method for soul cleansing that doesn't involve suffering.

Alex said...

I was sadly disappointed that your analysis didn't account for suffering infants.

Child אִישׁ Behavior said...

"Nevertheless, when suffering strikes, even when the justification for it is unclear, one thing is clear: This is an example of God’s anger."

God does not get angry. But you are right, we have to see it as if God were getting angry and use it as an impetus for personal change. However, it is up to each and every one of us, now that there are no prophets, to look within ourselves and see what needs fixing. No one besides yourself knows what needs work.

jewish philosopher said...

"What purpose is there in God causing one to suffer when there can be no further effects of that suffering on anyone in this world (where actions matter)?"

It's a deterrent, for one thing.

"I was sadly disappointed that your analysis didn't account for suffering infants."

This may not be their first life. I mentioned reincarnation.

Anonymous said...

How are the latest victims of, say, swine flu, to know what they are being punished for. Or in the case of death, how is the family to know?

Daniel Angelo Lao said...

I remember one of my spiritual director who told me the same thing, that God is good but he is also a just God... I guess you're right in saying that!
Regarding the plane crash, i see your point and it re-affirms a famous quote in the Philippines that out of your 10 good acts, and you made one wrong, then those ten are all wrong...

Alex said...

"This may not be their first life. I mentioned reincarnation."

I must admit, I must've skipped that part.
Still, any discussion of this topic cannot leave out the statement from Pirke Avos: "It is not in our power to explain the suffering of the righteous."

jewish philosopher said...

Regarding death, I don't think it's always a punishment. Each of is placed in this world for a certain purpose and when that if fulfilled, we will leave. It's like actors on a stage who leave when their part is over.

onionsoupmix said...

You have a severely handicapped child.

Care to explain what you or he was punished for or how you repented? What lesson in teshuva have you learned from having a quadruplegic child?

Anonymous said...

So the 700 victims of the Taiwan typhoon--they were all like actors on a stage whose part was over. Or they died for their sins (which nobody knows what they were). Or their death was actually "kindness".

"Shit happens" makes alot more sense than that.

jewish philosopher said...

Onion, you are asking an important and interesting question, so let me see of I can find an appropriate response.

First of all, I trust in God. Everything is for the good.

Just to take one obvious example, if not for my son's handicap, the vicious depravity and wickedness of people like you might never become so obvious to everyone. People might start confusing "Jewish skeptics" with human beings. This would be tragic.

jewish philosopher said...

"Shit happens" makes alot more sense than that.

I think you're trying to say that atheism makes a lot more sense than Judaism.

Wrong.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2009/05/atheism-in-nutshell.html

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2006/12/truth-of-judaism.html

onionsoupmix said...

Everything is for the good contradicts your point about God's anger. For God to be angry, I imagine, is not good.

Also, how would my wickedness and depravity remain hidden if your son was born healthy? I didn't get that part. I'm sure Hashem would make everyone realize how wicked and evil I am regardless of your son's health. No?

Don't be upset that I'm asking you a personal question on what must be a very sensitive topic, you speak much more offensively to skeptics all the time.

jewish philosopher said...

Life is full of mysteries, onion. Like for example, your name. Isn't it Miriam Pearlmutter and your a law student in Colombus, Ohio?

But anyway, as a friend, may I ask a small favor. Please find a tall building and jump off.

alex said...

"This may not be their first life. I mentioned reincarnation."

Are you OK with the fact that many rabbis reject reincarnation?
http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/703961/Rabbi_Yitzchak_Blau/Body_&_Soul:_Tehiyyat_Ha'Metim_and_Gilgulim_in_Medieval_and_Modern_Philosophy

http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/703961/Rabbi_Yitzchak_Blau/Body_&_Soul:_Tehiyyat_
Ha'Metim_and_Gilgulim_in_Medieval_and_
Modern_Philosophy

Anonymous said...

"But anyway, as a friend, may I ask a small favor. Please find a tall building and jump off."

I assume that you are speaking on behalf of your god when dispensing this advice.

Anonymous said...

JS,

Why is her name a mystery?

jewish philosopher said...

"Are you OK with the fact that many rabbis reject reincarnation?"

I'm not sure how they would explain sick children.

"I assume that you are speaking on behalf of your god when dispensing this advice."

If you prefer, I could speak on behalf of your god, evolution, which causes progress by eliminating the less fit from surviving.

Alex said...

>>Are you OK with the fact that many rabbis reject reincarnation?"

> "I'm not sure how they would explain sick children."

The answer can be found in the last statement in the Sunday, August 23 2:27:00 AM post.

Alex said...

I think you could have prevented many of these responses had you simply linked to:
http://www.heritage.org.il/innernet/archives/suffering.htm

The reason is simply because it is more comprehensive than your post.

Anonymous said...

24816 said:
Nobody should jump off ב‘ ’ה
We grow on our experiences, let’s hope we get lesson plan we can understand and appreciate.
http://www.areivim.com/pdf/BuildingRelationshipspart3.doc
…Most people want three things: Feel good about themselves, continue their behavior, and believe in the Torah. Often they can’t juggle all three. If they’re doing something wrong, one of those three must be compromised. They must either stop the behavior, accept that they’re not a good person, or deny that they believe in the Torah. For many people none of these options are acceptable. There’s only one way to avoid compromising on any of these three things, and that’s by distracting themselves from thinking about anything even remotely relating to themselves.

People who can’t deal with this conflict (who may not necessarily be unwilling, but may not have the necessary life skills), have two motivations to discuss everything but themselves: 1) Speaking of others distracts them from thinking of their inner conflict; 2) Focusing on how bad everyone else is, allows them to believe that they don’t have to change. “Other people are doing things that are worse than I am, so why should I worry about myself?”…