Suffering and Searching for Meaning of Life
In the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When they went against God’s commands, it resulted in both sin and suffering entering the world. Since that time, everyone has experienced suffering at some point in their life. Suffering is anything that makes someone go through pain, distress, or hardship. There is no way to avoid this suffering, but there are ways to find peace with the questions that suffering brings. In the book, Suffering and the Search for Meaning, Richard Rice provides seven approaches to answering one of the biggest questions raised by suffering, which is how to understand how a good and all-powerful God allows evil and suffering in this world.
The first approach that Rice provides is the perfect plan theodicy. This theodicy is based on the belief that God determines every event of every life. Everything that happens, whether it is good or evil, is in God’s will. It is also the belief of this theodicy that God is truly sovereign and exercises complete control over the world. Therefore, despite all the suffering that God allows in the world, people who follow this theodicy believe they are able to trust His plan. Rice wrote, the “perfect plan theodicy has a natural home in the overarching vision that God exercises absolute control over the world. Everything that happens, pleasant or painful, is exactly what God intends, and God never makes mistakes” (Rice, 2014, p. 37). This theodicy appeals to people because it naturally fits the events of their lives into a purposeful narrative and it eliminates all talk of risk, change occurrence, and capriciousness.
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Free will defense is the second theodicy that Rice explains. This theodicy explains how God does not will evil and suffering. Suffering is believed to be a result of human free will used badly. God is then not responsible for the sufferings that take place in this world. Another perspective to this is that God is responsible for the possibility of evil, but not for the actuality of evil. This approach shows that humans have a certain measure of free will, and this free will is what causes evil and suffering. Rice explained, that “God never meant for us to suffer. It is not something God intended for us” (Rice, 2014, p. 48). Freedom is one of God’s greatest gifts. Humans should have freedom within boundaries. People’s actions have consequences for both good and bad. Suffering conflicts with God’s objectives. This is opposite of the perfect plan theodicy. The perfect plan theodicy fulfills God’s purposes and designs.
The soul making theodicy is similar to both the perfect plan theodicy and the free will defense theodicy. This theodicy is based on the belief that evil and suffering have positive roles to play in shaping humans, but that God’s will is not behind every evil. This theory finds meaning in how suffering changes us for the better. In order to become loyal to God and grow, there has to be some pain and suffering. Rice wrote, “far from destroying the meaning of life, this theodicy assures us, suffering can actually help us to find it” (Rice, 2014, p. 64).
Cosmic conflict theodicy believes that there is a cosmic war being fought between God and Satan who is in rebellion against God. This theory recognizes the role of the devil in directly or indirectly causing suffering. Natural events are the effects of choices being made by spiritual agencies. This theory takes the biblical narrative about spiritual agencies working against God seriously. The devil or Satan is the reason behind the suffering. This can be seen in Job when God and Satan are testing Job. God allowed Satan to put Job through a great deal of suffering without doing much to stop him for a long time.
Openness of God theodicy believes that God does not have foreknowledge of the choices that humans will make. God only knows the endless possibilities. The people have free will, and the choices that they make are only known to God at the time that they actually make the choice. This theory has some similarities to the free will approach. The openness of God theodicy provides comfort for some people because they believe that some suffering is not known by God because he only knows the options that humans have, he does not know which path they will take. He knows the outcome for that person only after He knows what decision they have made. I find this theory hard to believe because it is my belief that God is all knowing and knows the future of every single person. I do not think that God would be caught off guard when suffering takes place.
The finite God theodicy displays God as not all powerful. This theodicy believes that God cares deeply about the world, but there is only so much that God can do. Rice wrote, “there is only so much that God can do. God doesn’t have the sort of power that enables God to achieve everything God wants just by willing it to be so, or by directly, unilaterally, acting within the world to accomplish it” (Rice, 2014, p. 109). I do think that God cares deeply about the world, but I also think that God is all powerful. He can make all events happen. I do not think that there is a limit to his power. This theodicy also believes that God is suffering along with us and I agree with this thought. I think that God does not like to see His children suffer, so when He sees us suffering He also suffers.
The final approach that Rice described was the protest theodicy. This theodicy expresses outrage against the terrible evil and suffering, claiming that no God could permit such evil. The people that believe in this theory do not represent a version of faith in their suffering. They do not think that there is a God who could allow suffering in this world. I find it hard to see any comfort in this theodicy because I find comfort in my religious beliefs.
Out of all the approaches that Rice provided, I believe that when I suffer I find comfort in the soul making theodicy and the perfect plan theodicy. The perfect plan theodicy provides me comfort that suffering is part of God’s plan for people. I grew up believing that God knows each and every step and that he knows the future for every human. Another thing that I find comfort in is that the soul making theodicy takes the suffering and uses that suffering to help people grow. I keep that in mind because when I am going through hard times, I believe that God is using these difficult situations in order to help me grow in my faith and to learn to depend more on Him. Another thing that I believe is that God does not want suffering, and He hurts when He sees His people suffer. I believe He is alongside each of us when we are suffering and He tries to find ways to bring joy and healing into their lives. There are many events that have to happen sometimes to cause suffering, and if God causes all of those events to happen, then there has to be a reason for that suffering. That suffering is used for good to make an individual grow.
One way that I have noticed how the perfect plan theodicy and the soul making theodicy in my life is through the death of my grandpa. My grandpa had a massive stroke when I was in junior high. This left him paralyzed on the left side of his body for seven years. My grandma became his personal care taker. Almost a year and a half ago my grandpa was diagnosed with glioblastoma. He was in so much pain and it hurt me seeing how he was not able to communicate with others. I could see how much my grandpa was suffering throughout all the treatments he received during the last few years of his life. When my grandpa passed away, my whole family was suffering. While the death of my grandpa was very hard for me to comprehend, I found that it was all part of God’s perfect plan and was used to make our family closer. Even though it hurts at times, my family shares stories about my grandpa and we find comfort in his beliefs, knowing that he is in a better place and is no longer having to suffer like he did when he had cancer.
Suffering can be seen in all aspects of the world. For me the perfect plan theodicy and the soul making theodicy are the two approaches that help me find the most understanding of the questions that arise when I suffer. There are other aspects of each approach that I could see myself agreeing with but when I suffer, I turn to my religious beliefs and remember all the suffering that Jesus had to go through for me to pay for my sins. I do not think that my suffering will ever come close to what God feels everyday when his children turn away from him. I look forward to the day that I will not have to suffer and feel pain anymore. As I continue to build my foundation in the Lord, I will find comfort in how the Lord has a hand in everything and will continue to be by my side every step of the way.