The Emotional Problem of Suffering (Evil): Anecdotal Reflections


There are many versions of the problem of evil. The basic idea is that the existence (ontology) of evil somehow disconfirms, makes unlikely or makes difficult establishing a being who is omniscient, omnipotent and all-good and loving (a being typically called God). Since the logical version of the problem of evil collapsed with publications demonstrating with high probability the consistency of evil and the existence of God [1], the probabilistic and emotional version stand today. Not to say that this ‘standing’ has much force; rather, the ‘standing’ has to do with the amount of evil and/or the raw feel of evil. Both of these arguments, in my view, do not have much going for them. However, since the probabilistic version involves much review of contemporary literature, I want to focus on—for temporal considerations—the emotional problem. Usually an argument of the form “I do not like x and therefore y” does not carry much weight; that being said, this would mean that the argument “I do not see how God and evil can exist together at all—regardless of any argument” does not have much merit. While the emotional version can be cast in terms of a phenomenological argument or existential argument, the basic idea is that evil has a quality about it which, emotionally, brings about a distain for a God who would allow evil. Now, since this is not an argument—and I am here interested in arguments, not emotional assertions—I want to, instead of “refuting” the assertion, give an anecdote about my experience of the problem of suffering. The problem of evil is, in my view, reducible to the problem of suffering—to some degree; at some point experiences of evil are often seen as experiences of suffering. While not all suffering is inherently evil, I should like to mention an experience of mine this summer which, I think, demonstrates that God is not distant from suffering nor human experience of suffering and sheds light on the emotional version of the problem of evil (suffering).

Late April 2016 came around and I was home from Western University for a couple days before my final exam. I decided that one night, indeed the first night I was back (I think), that I would go to the skate park (I am a BMX rider) [2]. So, not atypically, I went to the skate park and did my usual routine runs at the course. I did some tricks here and there and decided that I was ready to go home. But, before leaving, I thought to myself “Maybe just one more trick?”. And so I did, I went at the quarter pipe performing a trick called a “tuck no hander” and, to my distress, missed the right grip necessary for a proper landing and my back tire, on the way down from approximately 4-5 feet over the 6-foot quarter pipe, my back tire hit the quarter and shot the bars into my chest and from there I fell onto the ground from 6-feet. Startled and disoriented, I got up—full of adrenaline—and tried to “walk it off”, as many bikers suggest doing. I knew something was wrong. But, since I had so much adrenaline in me, I decided to try to bike home anyway. Making it about ¼ of the way home, I was unable to continue. I had to call my mother to tell her I was in a lot of pain.

The story continues with me in the hospital. The prayer was that the X-Ray would show broken ribs or just broken bones (I was very aware of the dangers of internal bleeding). However, a very interesting result came up: nothing was found on the x-ray. So, off to the ultrasound I went for a second time. The second time, however, showed that my spleen was in rough shape; this is put too mildly, I essentially wrecked the bottom of my spleen. I had to options, says the doctor: Either I have the spleen removed or I wait to see if it will heal. So, in being young and nervous for a serious operation, I opted for waiting. The important thing, though, was that the white blood cells did not drop—otherwise I would need a blood transfusion and thereafter, probably, surgery. As the night progressed, my family was at my bedside. I was hooked to strong medication and IV’s which were beside me helping the pain go away. All I could see was a beautiful family around me, saddened by my condition and praying for my well-being. The love I experienced was immense and was a manifest blessing. I did not suffer alone. Continuing, though, as the night progressed, the residence student at the hospital came in and basically gave me the worst news I could get: the white blood cell level dropped. This meant, indeed, surgery. Long story short, I had a splenectomy (removal of the spleen) resulting in thirty staples up my chest with, as the doctor put it, “infinitely many stitches”. I was in the hospital for a full week and in six weeks I was walking and functioning relatively normally—but not like before one bit. During recovery after the surgery, I had to learn to walk well again. I remember, with a freshly woven stomach and immensely weak body, as I walked for the first (or second time), I vomited very hard and loudly. My nurse, who was a blessing to have around, always encouraged me to get stronger no matter what. Indeed, while sitting with my girlfriend at my bed, he said “Rashad, you should really begin walking.” I merely shook my head in distress. He turned to me, and without reserve, said “its up to you, you can sit here and waste away or you can get better.” Wow did that hit me like a ton of bricks! So I always was encouraged to get better amidst a tough recovery. During my stay at the hospital, I met an Italian man who had it, I believe, much worse than I. I will call him “G” for short. Knowing some Italian, I introduced myself and we spoke sometimes. While we did not talk too much, I remember telling him “G, buona fortuna” (goodluck). As I suffered, I was never ignorant that people had it much worse than I.

As time went on, I slowly healed and got back to normal. Now, as it has been almost three months since the incident, I have been working, biking and, obviously, writing. I remember sleeping terribly because I was afraid of the staples moving on my chest—now I am working out and building strength again. I learned many things from my injury, I think, related to the problem of evil (suffering) that I will now explain further. A very easy and emotional response to this suffering is as follows: God allowed this and I did not deserve this. If God loved me He would use His power to protect me given that He knows everything. This statement, while emotionally charged, displays, I think, a grotesque ignorance of who God is and what details I would have missed—had I responded in this fashion.

As I suffered—out of my own free will—I was put beside a loving family who prayed and hoped for my well-being. I was in my bed hooked up to medication which calmed my pain, and I was in the hands of well-trained and loving nurses and doctors (who, employed in Canada, worked for a universal health care system). I had my beautiful rosary beside me through everything knowing Mary, Mother of God was praying for me and, most of all, I know that Jesus was with me. The emotional response misses two crucial missing points that are most appropriately stated here: (i) Jesus died on the cross for our sins and for eternal life and (ii) Jesus lives in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. So while I suffered, and indeed it was not always easy, Jesus never left my side. When I was hurt, when I was in surgery, when I cried in pain, when I recovered Jesus never failed to be beside me. I could respond “why didn’t He stop it?”, but, having called me to baptism this past Easter, I learned something very important: No matter what comes my way, Jesus has given me the most incommensurable good of human existence—knowing Him.[3]

So, in conclusion, as I contemplate the problem of suffering (evil), I wonder if the old idiom (or proverb?) “count your blessings” might be the most important thing to remember in understanding suffering and God’s immense love for all humanity.

[1] See, for instance, Alvin Plantinga’s God, Freedom and Evil. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974. Print. See also William Lane Craig and J.P Moreland’s “The Problem of Evil” in their Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2003. Print.

[2] Here is a video, for fun:

[3] William Lane Craig, having dealt with the problem of evil both logically and probabalistically, has done work on the emotional version which ought to be reprinted here. This is from a Question of the Week (#352) on dealing with the emotional problem of evil (essentially); having explained how he (WLC) himself suffers from Charcot-Marie-Tooth Syndrome and keratoconus, he shares thoughts on what seems to him important things to remember about physical ailments which God does not remove immediately or miraculously (and, fun fact, while I was recovering from my splenectomy, I read WLC’s work on this and found it incredibly helpful in understanding my own situation):

“1. Realize that God owes you absolutely nothing. God never promised us a happy and healthy life. Anything we have is a gift from Him. God is just under no obligation whatsoever to give us a carefree life. As sinners meriting only the justice and wrath of God, we have been saved solely by His good grace. If He chooses to give us a pleasant life on this planet, that is His discretion; but if instead He metes out to us a life filled with misery and suffering, that is also His prerogative. God is sovereign, the Lord of all, and we have no claim whatsoever on a life free from illness or pain.

2. Think of what is yours in Christ. In Christ we have eternal life, redemption from our sins, and a relation to God, an incommensurable good. How can we be bitter? Infinite good has already been bestowed on us in Christ. Thus, no matter what we suffer, no matter how awful the pain, we can truly say, “God has been good to me!”, simply because of all that we have in Christ.

3. Be grateful for what earthly goods you do have. At least you’re not blind! Think of all those who are! The next time you’re tempted to feel sorry for yourself, think of all those worse off than you. Think of the people in North Korea, or Syria, or Southern Sudan. How dare we feel self-pity in the face of such suffering? Cultivate a grateful spirit and frequently pause to count your blessings.

4. Understand that God’s strength may be exhibited through your weakness. Yes, soon after becoming a Christian, I prayed several times for healing from Charcot-Marie-Tooth, to no avail. I then came to appreciate the apostle Paul’s words, when he wrote of his “thorn in the flesh” that plagued him: “Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:8-10). Wow! Paul boasts in his physical weakness, for then Christ’s power working through him is all the more evident! May God grant us this same spirit when we struggle with life’s ailments! Those Christians who have condemned your lack of faith only show that they are without understanding. Full physical healing comes only with the resurrection, and at that time you will be healed of every infirmity. Until then we must, like Paul, struggle though by faith.

5. Seek the best medical attention. I sought out the finest corneal transplant surgeon in the U.S. to deal with my eye problems, and now I see the world through the corneas of two anonymous persons who selflessly thought to donate their tissue to medical science upon their death. You don’t mention anything that you have done other than pray to remedy your eyesight, Nathaniel. Don’t listen to those who say that God answers your prayers only through miracles. It’s been rightly said that when we pray about a plumbing problem, then God sends us a plumber. Similarly, God sends us doctors, who have explored the mysteries of His created order to uncover the secrets of health and healing. Take full advantage of what medical science has discovered about the marvelous creation which is the human eye to rectify your problem. If, as with my Charcot-Marie-Tooth syndrome, the problem proves to be incurable at present, then practice the points above. May God’s strength be evident in you!”

Retrieved from July 26th, 2016.


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