January 25, 2010

Does the Christian God Suffer?

God.jpgHumans suffer. Animals suffer. We suffer because we are subjected to painful circumstances over which we have no control. We suffer because physical and/or emotional pain persists, and we are unable to ease it.

What about the Christian god? Asserting that an omnipotent god suffers when he/she/it sees humans in pain seems like an absurd claim that ignores the problem of evil and most of the Christian bible. And yet, this is exactly the claim renowned liberal Christian, Jim Wallis made on his blog in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake.

According to Wallis:
But I want to say this: My God does not cause evil. God is not a vengeful and retributive being, waiting to strike us down; instead, God is in the very midst of this tragedy, suffering with those who are suffering. When evil strikes, it’s easy to ask, where is God? The answer is simple: God is suffering with those who are suffering.
I can see how this would be a comforting belief in times of crisis - god as fairly godmother or guardian angel. But Wallis' description of his god as not causing evil and as not being "a vengeful and retributive being" is markedly inconsistent with the god described in the Christian bible. Clearly, Wallis must worship a different god - that, or he's never read the Christian bible.

The god of the Christian bible is jealous, petty, and utterly vengeful. This god repeatedly strikes down large swaths of humanity for little or no justifiable reason. The god of the Christian bible is Pat Robertson's god. Unless one manages to convince oneself that the god described in the Old Testament died and that a very different sort of god has assumed the throne of heaven, this conclusion seems inescapable.

Regardless of what one wishes to conclude about the character of this god (or Jesus), the notion of an all powerful being suffering along with humanity is quite bizarre. There is no evidence that if such a god exists that it cares anything about humanity (of course, there is no evidence that such a god exists at all, so this may not be a fair criticism). If such a god was to suffer, it would only be because it wanted to do so. What sort of being would willingly suffer instead of altering the circumstances that led to the suffering in the first place?

Wallis has created a puzzling sort of god, one which bears little resemblance to anything we find in the Christian bible. Perhaps Wallis' god is not omnipotent at all. Perhaps his god suffers because it has no choice.

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