Christianity suffers from a lot of capital-P Problems, and one of them is the Problem of Suffering. It gets the capital letter because Christians have never successfully squared the circle of an omnimax, loving god who still allows so much suffering in the world. And it turns out that progressive Christians have just as tough a time trying to solve that capital-P Problem as evangelicals do. I’m reading a book right now, Before You Lose Your Mind, that tries its best, bless its li’l cotton sockies, but in the end it just reminds me how completely contradictory and, well, useless the Christian god really is when it comes to really important things.

Today, we’ll trace the evolution of Yahweh and how his followers conceptualize suffering, and how that’s worked out for today’s Christians.

(This post went live on Patreon on 4/4/2023. Its audio ‘cast lives there too, and it should be available by the time you see this.)

The Problem of Suffering: Yet another capital-P Problem that Christians can’t solve

When we talk about capital-P Problems, we mean the biggest explanatory obstacles in Christianity. Christians can’t satisfactorily explain away these Problems. They each represent, in and of themselves, complete contradictions to Christian beliefs. In short, their god cannot exist in the form that they imagine he does. And we know that because these Problems refute Christian claims with a savage simplicity that feels like poetry.

Here are two classic Problems:

  • The Problem of Hell. A loving omnimax god of mercy and justice desperately wants all of humanity to enslave itself to him. But he’s created this horrifying realm of eternal torture for those who refuse to bend the knee to his recruiters. This realm is not loving, merciful, or even just. It punishes dissenters for eternity with senseless torture. This god offers sufferers no chance of parole or mercy. And they will be tortured forever because they rejected recruiters’ meritless claims during a few decades of life on Earth.
  • The Problem of Evil. A loving omnimax god of mercy and justice controls absolutely everything on Earth. He is everywhere with no exceptions—whether people want him there or not. But evil people constantly and endlessly ravage the lives of the innocent, stopping only when they wear themselves out or better people stop them. This god does absolutely nothing to stop them—even when his own ministers are abusing the children in his own churches.

And now we may add one more to our list:

  • The Problem of Suffering. Similar to the first Problems, a loving omnimax god of mercy and justice has created this world full of suffering on every single level. It spins in a universe that is almost entirely actively hostile to life. Depending on a Christian’s exact beliefs, this god either created the world in its current form a few thousand years ago, or else he created it billions of years ago and simply guided it to its current form today. Either way, we’re looking at many eons of suffering. This suffering comes in the form of natural disasters and predation and disease, not just evil from humans. Of course, this god plans to wax the entire planet eventually to usher in a time of peace and joy. That process will render all that suffering completely moot. And in Heaven, those who’ve enslaved themselves to him will enjoy lives free of any kind of stress or pain. So why bother with suffering at all?

When I say that Christians can’t solve the Problem of Suffering, I don’t mean to imply that they haven’t tried—at great and ponderous length. That’s where Before You Lose Your Mind enters the chat. But before we can talk about Before You Lose Your Mind, let’s talk more about the Problem of Suffering that one of its chapters tries to solve.

Life is suffering, Princess

(And as a great man once said, anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something.)

Every person suffers in life. It’s an absolutely inescapable fact. It’s part of the human condition, and it has been since well before we were actually classified as modern humans. Even the most pampered, cosseted little tot will face absolutely heartbreaking suffering at some point.

Hopefully, our parents kept us safe from the worst of it when we were little—at least until we were emotionally strong enough to deal with gradually-increasing doses of it. But keeping a child entirely safe from suffering can, ironically, leave that child helpless before life’s many devastating downturns.

So we must suffer and learn how to suffer in doses appropriate to our age, or else we won’t be able to cope when the big stuff barrels at us when we’re adults.

As we get older, our suffering only intensifies. And many of us seek answers regarding why people suffer so much in life. We want our suffering to mean something—to matter somehow in the grand scheme of things. We don’t want our struggles to just be meaningless quirks of happenstance, not when they mean so much to us who suffer through them.

Many of us seek those answers in religion.

But religions don’t all give the same answers.

How other religions handle the Problem of Suffering

One of the reasons I like Buddhism is that it accepts suffering as an inevitable fact of life. At no point does Buddhism tell people that any gods are standing by to help them avoid suffering or change.

In fact, trying too hard to avoid suffering can make matters much worse. And people have so many ways of trying to avoid suffering—most centering around avoiding unpleasant change in life. The harder people try to avoid change, though, the worse they’ll suffer in the end. In Buddhism, change is inevitable just as suffering is—but it is temporary. We can learn to let change wash over us and past us, along with the suffering that accompanies it, and we can know that we will be left standing in its wake. (The exact concept is Dukkha, which is a lot more complex than this summary.)

In Greek reconstructionist paganism (Hellenism), too, its gods expect their worshipers to be able to handle their own earthly problems. If people really want divine aid, they need to make it worth their gods’ while. But these gods expect their followers to understand that they’ll still suffer in life. There is no magic get-out-of-suffering-free card in that religious tradition.

It seems to me that if a religion’s gods are seen as less than omnimax, it creates room for the acceptance of suffering as a part of the human condition. In turn, its followers seem like they stop trying to avoid suffering altogether, because that’s impossible. Instead, they learn how to deal with it.

Not so, Christians. Its Jewish forebears could, though.

From many to one: Ancient local godling makes good

Christianity centers itself on claims of an omnimax god who created the entire universe, settled the stars and planets and quasars and black holes into place, and then sprouted millions of life-forms on one tiny planet whizzing along in a seedy, disreputable, out-of-the-way cosmic neighborhood within all that dizzying space.

Christians call this god, Yahweh, omnimax because he is infinitely powerful (omnipotent), infinitely wise and all-knowing (omniscient), infinitely everywhere (omnipresent), and infinitely loving (omnibenevolent).

Of course, his followers clearly didn’t see him that way when he first became a godling within a little pantheon tucked away in a barbaric part of his little planetary project. Though we’re not entirely sure exactly what Yahweh’s first attributes and who his first followers were, guesses vary. Personally, I’m attracted to a theory developed around 2018.

In this theory, when the Egyptians left Canaan, Canaanite miners and smelters returned to work the abandoned copper mines of Timna in Canaan. And around 3200 years ago, these metalworkers worshiped a metallurgy god. Their god had no name, but eventually he became YHWH—and in one modern reckoning, Yahweh.

Eventually, Yahweh absorbed the rest of the Canaanite pantheon (archive). And along the way, he claimed the Jews as his people and set aside Israel as their Promised Land.

But this god wasn’t originally omnimax

In the Old Testament (OT), we get some tantalizing glimpses of Yahweh’s limits and his position as a patheon-based minor god. We see limitations on his power and abilities in stories like the Creation Myth. In some of his epithets like “El,” we detect his rival gods’ names. Other gods become competition for him, like Baal. What Christians rationalize as OT writers’ use of the “royal We” reveals hints of the pantheon Yahweh absorbed.

Other stories show us rival gods like Asherah, a fertility goddess who vanished under the new regime. For the most part, she left behind only the wooden poles her worshipers planted in her honor, and which Yahweh’s worshipers destroyed as a matter of course.

In other myths, like that of the Great Flood, we see limits on his wisdom and benevolence.

I see little indication that Yahweh ever promised his followers a life free of suffering. Entire books of the Old Testament, like Lamentations and Job, show us that Jews understood that everybody suffers. They also understood that their god allowed them to suffer—or even caused their suffering—for lots of reasons or no reason at all as it pleased him, and he got very angry at any questioning or backtalk on the matter.

But things began to change once Jews encountered Hellenic civilization. Soon enough, they began adopting some of their new neighbors’ newfangled ideas about religion. Their god became omnimax. More to the point, Yahweh became the only god in their universe.

Right out of the gate, Christianity catastrophically failed to offer healthy explanations for suffering

In the first century CE, in the wake of massive social and political upheaval in Jerusalem, someone invented a new offshoot of Judaism that combined it with Hellenic ideas and mystery religion concepts. Yes, I’m talking about Christianity.

And this brand-new religion didn’t stand a chance of dealing with suffering in a healthy way. Its version of Yahweh was omnimax right out of the gate.

A limited god can’t possibly be expected to stop suffering. There are always ways to explain suffering in such a god’s religion. But an omnimax and loving god of mercy certainly can stop suffering and should want to do so—but in Yahweh’s case, he just very obviously doesn’t.

Christians needed an explanation for this discrepancy.

They never got one, alas. But that has never stopped them from pushing a few standard-issue non-solutions to their new birthright: the Problem of Suffering.

How Christians generally try to hand-wave away the Problem of Suffering

In the centuries since Christianity’s invention, its leaders have thrown various pots of spaghetti at the wall to see what would stick to the Problem of Suffering. All of them fail, with some failing more hilariously than others.

In 2011, Jeffrey Small offered his solution to the Problem. People don’t suffer because Yahweh’s ways are “mysterious,” nor because Yahweh’s ineffable master plan for the universe requires people to suffer in particular ways. Those might be the two favorite hand-waving routines, but he tells us they are wrong!

Rather, people suffer because Yahweh isn’t so much “a supernatural Zeus-like being” but rather is “the power of being itself.” Yes. He “permits [. . .] the creative state of being,” which means that people have the freedom to act as they please. But gosh darn it, they often act in sinful ways! Darn it all to heck! If only sin didn’t exist, everything would be grand!

I call this non-solution the punt to sin. We find it all over Christianity, too. It’s a favorite.

Sidebar: Other attempts have been made

Other attempts to solve the Problem of Suffering include:

  • It’s a test of Christians’ faith! (This doesn’t explain animal suffering or non-Christians’ suffering. And a god who inflicts and allows suffering just to test people’s loyalty to him is an evil dick. If a human does this, we rightly identify it as abusive.)
  • Suffering makes Christians more holy! (Again, animal and non-Christian suffering. And if Christians have so much trouble following Yahweh’s rules, he clearly is godding them all wrong.)
  • Yahweh inflicts and allows suffering so people develop the way he wants! (This violates consent and makes us heathens wonder why Yahweh can’t find better training systems. Often, those suffering don’t even know why it’s happening, much less what they’re supposed to “learn” from it. I also wonder what fetuses and newborn babies with incompatible-with-life deformities are supposed to learn, and I’ve had choice and meaty words in the past for the Christians who chirp that those babies’ agonizing and short lives teach other people through their suffering.)
  • Suffering makes Christians more compassionate! (If someone needs to suffer to learn to be kind to others, I don’t want them anywhere near me. Also, you’d think having a real live god of love and mercy inhabiting them would make Christians not need such abusive learning methods.)

But usually, Christians fall back on sin as an explanation for suffering. I can see why, too. There’s absolutely no way for anyone to support or refute such a claim in the real world, since we’ve never been able to observe a real world without sin. So it’s a very safe non-solution for Christians to offer. I don’t think they even think about the ramifications of it, or what it really says about their god.

Creationists in particular love the punt to sin.

But the punt to sin doesn’t at all solve the Problem of Suffering

But for the punt to sin to work, we will need, of course, to completely ignore the fact that these “sinners” destroy the creative freedom of their victims. Yahweh seems perfectly happy to allow that destruction to occur. Why does he care so much about sinners’ creative freedom, but not that of their victims? And we’re also back to this god somehow being the “creative structure” of a world filled with endless violations of victims’ creative freedom.

We’ll also need to ignore the fact that despite Small’s hand-waving, Christians credit Yahweh with creating the universe in some capacity. And in that respect, he is either unspeakably evil or a shit-tier worldbuilder (or both). One can hardly even fathom the evil or incompetence (or both) required to set in motion a world that contains as much suffering as ours does. Every human alive survives only by killing and eating something else, even if some humans try hard to exclude as much animal suffering as possible.

If Christians envision the Creation myth as a sin-free idyllic early existence of humanity, then Yahweh’s evil and incompetence become even more clear. After all, I’d certainly expect an omnimax god to know that this suffering would happen if I created the universe in thus-and-such particular way.

And for Small, Yahweh is incompetent and malevolent, yes, but he’s also completely useless:

This view of God is also one in which we can experience the divine directly as the center of our very selves. We can take comfort in that when we do suffer, God is present with us.

Small’s god is “present with us” in suffering, but he does absolutely nothing to help us with it. And thus, he is not a god worth worshiping or obeying. As someone once said, that’s the key difference between almost everyone on Earth and Small’s version of Yahweh: If we saw a child suffering and we could help, we would. If, instead, we only knelt to comfort that child but did nothing to help stop that suffering, then we would become complicit in that suffering.

No thanks. I do not want such a being anywhere near the center of my very self. After seeing what an absolute clusterfuck of suffering our world is, I don’t want him there. I’ll do better on my own, thank you!

The target audience for Before You Lose Your Mind

As Small demonstrates in spades, sometimes Christians act like if they can just pretty up their non-solutions with highfalutin’ enough language and big words, they can consider the Problem solved.

That, alas, is what we find in Chapter 5 of Before You Lose Your Mind.

For the most part, this book isn’t offensive. It contains about what you’d expect from liberal/progressive Christian writers and leaders. Those who really need their beliefs to be built from the reliable bricks of little-f facts won’t care much for it, but then, they’ll be deconverting and not deconstructing.

The book’s writers seem completely disinterested in examining whether or not any Christians’ claims (including their own) are true. To me, it looks more like its writers seek to connect with evangelical-leaning Christians who still want to be Christian—but have realized that evangelicalism contains some serious dealbreakers.

Remember how we say that apologetics is for Christians who just need plausible reasons to think their claims are true, so they consume intellectually-weak arguments that claim to provide exactly that? In similar fashion, this book’s target readers want plausible reasons to adopt a more loving and compassionate form of Christianity. As long as the book feels to them like it’s doing that, they’ll be happy.

The Problem of Suffering: Human suffering is not wreckage we should find beauty within

Previous chapters have gone into The Original Greek and Hebrew as well as the psychological factors that lead people to adopt evangelicalism and then deconstruct. They’re not terrible.

But Chapter 5 got me hopping mad because of its own non-solution to the Problem of Suffering.

Its writer, Brandon Andress, thinks of suffering as “beauty in the wreckage.” That is the title of his chapter and, by wild coincidence, the title of a book he published in 2018: Beauty in the Wreckage: Finding Peace in the Age of Outrage.

(Wanna hear something weird? Exactly one week earlier, Ed Stetzer had published an evangelical culture-war book called Christians in the Age of Outrage. There’s a similar closeness in the publication dates of Before You Lose Your Faith (April 9, 2021), an evangelical venture, and the progressive-Christian Before You Lose Your Mind (April 26, 2021). It’s two different evangelical publishers but the same progressive publisher. Yeah, there is something weird going on here. I’ma keep an eye on that publisher, Quoir.)

Andress wants doubting Christians to know that no matter how awful their suffering may become, no matter how they grieve and mourn and struggle, life still contains a great deal of beauty because, apparently, Heaven will be so wonderful after they die. All the suffering on Earth is just “birth pangs” of that future life.

Here’s how that catchphrase works

I mean, I think that’s what Andress means. It’s a bit hard to tell; his writing is quite florid. But I think that’s what he’s saying. You try it out:

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. [. . .] But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. [p. 87]

Andress’ god, just as Smalls’ ten+ years ago, doesn’t actually do anything to lessen any of that suffering. But he’s glad to sometimes give his followers comforting feels. As they find beauty and joy in life, they should let it remind them of the next life to come when everything will be great forever.

Andress relays several tragic stories to us in his chapter, but one might take the cake.

We’re supposed to accept that this event illustrates Yahweh’s infinite love

One day, Yahweh completely fails to save a teenage boy’s life from a senseless and tragic accident that will haunt that boy’s friends for the rest of their entire lives. Afterward, the dead child’s parents receive mourners at their home. This excerpt is kinda long, but I really think you need this context, so here we go:

As the kids came into the house, Adam and Jackie [the boy’s parents] told them to let Abbott’s two best friends, who were with him that fateful Saturday night, know that they, too, were welcome to come to their home.

And it wasn’t long before each boy showed up.

It was both the most heart-wrenching and beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. The boys cried as [they] came into the house and said, “I am sorry. I am sorry. I am so sorry.”

Without a single moment of hesitation or judgment or animosity, Adam and Jackie embraced each boy and held them in grace and mercy and forgiveness and said, “It was an accident. Abbott loved you. And we love you.”

In my four decades of living, I have never seen the love of Christ more sacrificially demonstrated than in those moments. I stood there with tears streaming down my face. [p. 91]

After Andress describes the tears he shed over the situation at hand, he adds this:

But they were also tears of God’s overwhelming and fully enveloping love that held Adam and Jackie and that was expressed through them as they held each boy in that moment.

And as I lay in bed reading, I heard myself snarl, How the fuck dare you diminish their grief and forgiveness to push your snake oil!

Then I ripped a post-it note and set this ersatz bookmark against that page.

The Problem of Suffering cannot be solved by “beauty in the wreckage”

Andress acts like the god of the entire universe, having utterly failed to lift a single finger to help the loving child of his devoted followers, was now suddenly deeply invested in his ant farm to the extent of channeling himself through those parents’ grief.

But the situation gets worse—far, far worse—when we dive deeper into this religious version of attribution error.

It really seems like Andress wants Christians to resonate with all kinds of momentary joy, even the flickers of funny or pretty things they encounter in the throes of the worst grief, and relate them all to Heaven. Christians should certainly not expect their god to do a damned thing to help them in this life. Instead, they should attribute all joy and beauty to his spirit residing within them and to the Heaven he is totes preparing for them.

And that’s bullshit. It diminishes the dichotomous nature of our world by reducing it to a staging ground for an imaginary palace in the sky. Beauty and suffering are two sides of the same life-coin. There’s no do-over, no mulligan, no take-backsies, either. This life is it. It’s what we get. And it’s more than enough all by itself.

It’s very sad to me that so many Christians have to gild such a transcendent lily with a smear of cheap, greasy Jesus frosting.

The very human nature of love and forgiveness

All that said, what makes me feel like I’m an enraged zoo animal flinging itself against its cage bars is this:

Those parents suffered the worst loss that anybody can possibly face. I cannot imagine the pain they went through in losing their son. It must have felt like a 24/7 heart attack that went on for years, all compressed into a moment-by-moment agony that went on for years. It’s not at all surprising that years later, those parents still leaned very hard into their religious faith to help them struggle through their pain.

But this situation with the home visit was unusual. Their son’s friends had, indeed, caused the accident. Abbott wouldn’t have died if they hadn’t taken particular actions. He died as a result of the kind of reckless, poorly-considered things that teenage boys do as they’re maturing.

For all that Yahweh did to help, though, he might as well not have existed at all.

Abbott’s parents weren’t channeling Yahweh’s love. For one, Yahweh is just as real as Asherah and Baal and a thousand thousand other gods who’ve come and gone from the world’s religion stage without humanity even remembering their names anymore. For another, Yahweh is not loving. Love would be helping prevent an unthinkable tragedy if one is able.

Showing up after the tragedy to inspire some feelings is not helping.

But you know what I saw those parents doing?

They were understanding the nature of teenage boys, understanding that a terrible accident had been just that, and trying to protect two innocent children from the unending agony of self-blame to the ends of their lives.

There is nothing divine about that kindness at all. It is, rather, uniquely and sublimely human.

No gods required.

There’s religion, and then there’s the serious business of real life

As I’ve maintained for years, Christians are just like any other people. They put pressing and important matters in one compartment in their minds, and extraneous stuff in another compartment. Most folks prioritize their time in ways that get the pressing, important matters dealt with in a timely fashion, and then they spend time on the extraneous stuff.

What goes into each compartment varies, of course. You can tell how people categorize by watching their behavior. If two tasks need to get done by the same time and someone lacks the time to get both done, they’ll sacrifice one to do the other.

Those two suffering parents may have thought they were acting in a Christian-ish way. Andress certain perceived it that way. Years afterward, the tragedy certainly took narrative form along those lines.

But what I saw was two parents reaching deep into the well of humankindness to do what they could for their son’s friends, even if they had to reach deep past their own unthinkable grief to help them.

People have always been like that. They put labels on their behavior to make it all make sense. But I bet those parents are really decent people anyway. They’d have extended the same grace to those two boys if they’d been Buddhist, or pagan, or atheists—they’d just have put different labels on their actions and contextualized them in different ways.

Even early humans could show that kind of compassion. It’s not unique to Christians, and it didn’t suddenly appear thanks to Christianity or, for that matter, Judaism.

The Problem of Suffering reveals preferences, all right

In economics, those carefully-arranged priorities are called revealed preference theory. The theory tries to explain how consumers spend their finite money: the products they select reveal their priorities. Of course, that preference may well be at odds with their stated values. Consumers might tell a fast-food chain that they want healthier menu options. But in reality, the healthy options might sell very poorly!

We’ve been talking about a similar idea for years now around here—in the form of stated goals versus real goals.

Christians can insist that their religious devotions are extremely important to them, and many do. I’m sure that to some extent that’s true. But all too often, they show us—through their behavior—that those devotions belong firmly to the extraneous-stuff category in their minds.

They’re quite happy to pursue their devotions as long as the process doesn’t get in the way of real life. Once that happens, they set the devotions aside and act like anybody else. And in the doing, they show us that they’re well aware that their god is absolutely useless and won’t lift a finger to help them.

How this truth applies to suffering

A long time ago, I was Pentecostal. Toward the end of my time as a Christian, my first pastor’s newly-hired junior pastor (and son-in-law, and planned future replacement) developed a fast-moving form of cancer. Though thousands of Christians all over the world prayed endlessly for Jesus to magically heal him, Daniel just got sicker and sicker.

It devastated our congregation to see him in those final days. Not only was Daniel experiencing unthinkable pain and fear, but he had a young family that needed him and a future ministry that seemed poised to rattle Hell itself.

After preaching one last absolute banger of a sermon, Daniel’s disease broke him. His family admitted him to one of the best cancer-treatment hospitals in the country. Of course, Christians still prayed for him to be magically healed. But now, we were mostly praying that the doctors there could help him—with Jesus’ help and guidance, natch.

But Jesus didn’t wanna.

The night Daniel died, he lay on his deathbed surrounded by his family (including the senior pastor). It sounds like they knew perfectly well that they were there to help Daniel make that last journey.

This is the real face of suffering: a heartbroken family trying to pack a lifetime’s worth of love and connection into those last few moments. All that religion blahblah gets crowded out by inexorable, inescapable reality. Maybe the religion blahblah will help later. But right in the moment, when push comes to shove, people live in the now.

The Problem of Suffering meets reality

Then, my Evil Ex Biff barreled in. He brandished a bottle of Pompeiian extra-virgin olive oil, our church’s pick for magic healing lube. He was there, he told the astonished vigil-keepers, to anoint Daniel and magically heal him.

I heard about the story much later (and you can imagine why Biff didn’t tell me what had happened). But as soon as I heard it, I immediately imagined Biff’s eyes aflame with with he imagined was holy zeal. He was there to work miracles in Jesus’ name, and he was completely positive he could do it.

In response, Daniel’s family threw him out on his ear. In the hospital parking lot later, Biff apparently tried to have it out with the senior pastor. That argument went about as well as one would expect a challenge to well-entrenched authoritarian power to go. Afterward, Biff was so mortified that he never told me he’d gone to the hospital in the first place or confronted the pastor. And then, Biff had us switch churches without revealing the truth about why he was so eager to leave our first one.

By then, it didn’t matter much to me where I attended church. My faith had already taken a major beating from Daniel’s death.

I’d never lost anyone really close to me before, and while Daniel wasn’t at all a dear friend, he’d been someone I’d admired and looked up to. I couldn’t understand why Jesus, who supposedly had all the power in the world and had promised his followers magic healings upon demand, had chosen not to help Daniel.

My church’s reaction illustrates the Problem of Suffering

One thing that Andress does pretty well in his chapter is stressing that Yahweh ain’t gonna do dick to help his followers. Nope, they’ll face suffering aplenty in their lifetimes.

That assertion flies in the face of evangelical thinking, of course. As we’ve seen, evangelicals tend to view suffering as a punishment, a test, or a purifying fire. They’re trained to ferret out hidden, coded messages in all the suffering they endure and encounter.

After Daniel’s death, though, my church did something very strange:

They had some sad church services, and then it was like they all wanted to forget what had happened.

After many months of concerted prayer, after countless exhortations in sermons, after countless tongue-talking predictions of victory over cancer and “I claim his recovery in Jesus’ name,” Daniel had died anyway. And it felt like the congregation just hopped from that ice floe in the river to the next one without a glance back over their shoulders.

They had no idea in the world how to deal with real suffering. Praying hadn’t worked. Nobody was willing to say Daniel had been punished for some secret sin or other. If it was a test, he clearly had failed it.

The Problem of Suffering can lead people to connection with the true human condition: shared suffering

It was the unanswered prayers that did me in. But I wonder if evangelicals’ traditional response to suffering affected others the same way. In that case, such people may find value in Before You Lose Your Mind.

For me, though, this chapter makes me feel glad to be deconverted. Even progressive Christians must wrestle with suffering somehow. All too often, they come out with bullshit like this chapter.

I’m so glad that I don’t need to figure out how a loving, omnimax god could possibly allow terrible things to happen to his people. I handle suffering a lot better since leaving Christianity. I don’t need to find a loving god underneath all of it, or console myself with a magic afterlife to make up for it. Instead, I can contextualize suffering as something every one of my ancestors and fellow humans has faced.

We are links in a very long chain, you and I. And every link is forged in suffering and joy, love and loneliness, birth and death. No gods have ever been required for us to deal with suffering. In fact, religious beliefs often just get in the way of our healing from and processing of loss. They can also clog up the wounds we take in experiencing those losses.

But to heal wounds, we must clean them out. To do that, we must connect our pain to the compartment in our minds that deals with reality. I know I had to do that after my mom died. Indeed, it was connecting to our species’ shared condition of suffering that helped me most. (I truly hope that Abbott’s parents are doing that; my heart goes out to them regardless.)

Sometimes, religion seems like it harms a lot more than it helps its followers. But some seem like they do more harm than others. I’m glad to be out of all of ’em.

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Captain Cassidy

Captain Cassidy is a Gen-X ex-Christian and writer. She writes about how people engage with science, religion, art, and each other. She lives in Idaho with her husband, Mr. Captain, and their squawky orange tabby cat, Princess Bother Pretty Toes. And at any given time, she is running out of bookcase space.


Could it be... SATAN? Why so many Christians blame Satan for their problems - Roll to Disbelieve · 04/15/2023 at 4:26 AM

[…] Not long ago, I mentioned that my first pastor’s newly-hired junior pastor had died of cancer. The night that poor man passed away, my Evil Ex Biff tried to invade his deathbed vigil to anoint him with oil and pray for his magic healing from Jesus—only for the junior pastor’s family to order him out of the room. […]

The most spectacularly broken promise Jesus ever made - Roll to Disbelieve · 05/29/2023 at 3:50 AM

[…] we asked for that comfort, we did not get it. And that makes us the weak link to blame, rather than their broken system with its catastrophically flawed […]

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