Whose fault is suffering?

Last time under the #godingrimtimes hashtag I suggested that it is the Christian belief in a real, powerful and loving God which makes suffering and pain a problem. I also said that it is a consequence of our free will that suffering exists. But did you spot the leap of logic there? It is that which I want to explore now.

I hinted at the belief that suffering is a result of wrong decisions and actions, or ‘sin’ as Christians love to call it. This idea is not, of course, a new one. The idea was common in biblical times, from Job’s ‘comforters’ trying to get him to own up to his secret sins which must have been the cause of his distress, to Jesus’ disciples asking how a blind man’s sins could have caused his disability if he had been born that way and therefore presumably had no time to sin before he was punished. The idea is alive and well today in some circles: have you ever been asked to confess ‘secret sins’ as part of ministry for healing, particularly when not a lot seems to be happening?

I want to say that I do believe that suffering is always a result of sin. But before you pick up stones to hurl at me, let me qualify that. I didn’t say that all your suffering is a result of your sin. Some of it might be, of course. If after a riotous night of partying you get in your car and drive home, eight pints and a few scotches the heavier, and wrap your car round a tree and end up paralysed, you have no-one but yourself to blame. Your suffering is a result of your sin, full stop. That’s why there is teaching about good ways to live, and laws to try to protect us from ourselves. But it may be that rather than wrapping your car round a tree you wrap it round your neighbour’s daughter. That family’s suffering isn’t a result of their sin: it’s a result of yours. So some pain comes from our own sin, but some comes from the sin of others.

File:2004-tsunami.jpg

Whilst this goes a long way to explaining suffering, it clearly doesn’t solve the problem entirely. What about ‘natural’ disasters and so on? Surely some sin isn’t anybody’s fault? I think I’d want to say that there is a third category, caused not by our own sin, or by that of other people, but by the sin of the devil. It is an accepted fact that ‘the fall’, however we understand it, had consequences far beyond the immediate suffering of Adam and Eve. The whole creation was cursed: vegetation suffered, the harmony between people and the land was destroyed, and the garden became the desert. There are some things in this world which simply can’t be blamed on people, but are a result of the harmony of nature being upset.

This sounds like a cop-out, of course, until you realise that actually human sin does have far more of an effect even on so-called ‘natural’ disasters than we might like to acknowledge. It is well known that famine in one part of the world is at least partially the result of the greed of other parts. There are many more casualties after natural disasters in areas where due to poor government and corruption the infrastructure is weak and less able to cope with trauma. So maybe the third category, the devil’s sin, is smaller than we might like to think.

Sin always hurts: that’s why we shouldn’t do it!

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