Nothing is satisfying

The greatest challenge to the idea of God is pain, suffering and death in the world. Nothing else comes close to challenging the concept or idea of God than these things.

We cannot comprehend a God that cannot or will not respond to these things immediately. We cnanot comprehend a God that would allow these things in a created environment.

No amount of shouting “FREE WILL” along with “WE CAUSE THESE THINGS” with crazy insane eye rolling changes a person’s doubt against these things. No amount of rationalizing deals with tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, etc. unless you appeal to some esoteric mythological narrative where the acts of one or two people resulted in subjecting all future generations to untold natural and unaturally caused suffering.

Nothing is satisfying.

As author Philip Yancey once asked in his seminal book Where is God when it hurts?

For many people the answer is simple – nowehere. There is no God. If there is it is not a God I care to accept given the amount of pain and suffering and death in the world.

It is certainly a question people have asked since they began conceiving of supernatural beings as explanations for natural phenomenon.

The text of Job from the Hebrew Bible is considered the oldest text in the Judeo-Christian canon by most scholars with a date of somewhere in the 6th century BCE. The narrative relates the story of a man who endures horrible physical and emotional suffering as a result simply of God allowing it. God is aware of the suffering before it happens, allows it to happen, and then rewards Job afterward.

Horrible.

According the the Biblical narrative timeline the story of Adam and Eve is generally the first story of humanity. Within this narrative we find the story of Cain and his brother Abel – children of Adam and Eve. Cain murders his brotherAbel out of jealousy because God responds to his sacrifice of lamb positively and Cain’s sacrifice of the fruits of the earth (grains) negatively. Cain is a farmer. Abel is a shepherd.

One can go into grand detail about how God’s choice is likely because of some inherent goodness in Abel’s heart and corruption in Cain’s but this is not in the narrative. For all we know God is a carnivore who hates vegetables.

Where is God? Nowhere for Abel. He simply condemns Cain after the fact. Rabbi Sacks says in his reflection on the Shoah that God was in the words Your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.’”. Additionally Sacks says God is in the words You shall not murder.’ and You shall not oppress a stranger’.

Sacks God is a God incapable of helping in ways we would wish. The God of free will etc. This is the neutered God who cries with us and rails against evil the way we do but whose solution is too distant for us to understand or find any current hope in.

Nothing is satisfying.

No religion or faith provides a God who helps with our current pain…only a God who promises to help “some day” or helps haphazardly and accorrding to “mysterious ways” that cannot be questioned.

This is the God that favours one football team over another. Saves on person from a fire while 17 more die 10 miles away in a flood.

Nothing is satisfying.

Even the idea of there being no God is not satisfying. It removes meaning from our lives and existance. No amount of “you create your own meaning now in how you live” blah blah blah helps.

Nothing is satisfying.

Everything is either existential angst or existential denial. As the author of Ecclessiastes 12:8 says  Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. Everything is meaningless!

Nothing is satisfying.

4 thoughts on “Nothing is satisfying

  1. John Brand

    FWIW, Peter, your lament has got me thinking through a variety of lenses. I think the contribution of Jacques Derrida to literary theory has been misunderstood (no surprise since he enjoyed being opaque) but from my understanding of his illustration of the Eiffel Tower and the Paris skyline, he is saying that literature looks different from different perspectives. We should not take one perspective as correct and others incorrect. Rather, we should enjoy looking out from a variety of vantage points. Paris looks completely different from the Eiffel Tower than it does when the Eiffel Tower is part of the skyline.

    As I was driving to work today, I was thinking about what John the Apostle was seeing when he wrote Revelation. Why were the witnesses in heaven worshipping the lamb as he opened the seals and unleashed global mayhem? I might be wrong on this point, but to my understanding the target was the beast and the world system he had created. Taking Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound’s perspective, the hero suffers because he has compassion on humanity. For that reason, he gladly endures suffering rather be ‘the dog that licks the foot of power’ which is kind of what those who overcome the dragon are thinking when they overcome him through the blood of the lamb, the word of their testimony and loving not their lives to the death.

    Flipping now to Job, I have been comparing the biblical version of the story with five or six other contemporary ‘righteous suffering’ stories from the Ancient Near East. The similarities and contrasts shed some interesting light on what could have been done to frame this story. And if I enlarge the pool of stories for comparison to include Prometheus Bound and even John Wyndham’s Chrysalids or Day of the Triffids or even The Trouble with Lichen, there is the idea that our technology has created some of the problems that we are experiencing (Day of the Triffids, Trouble with Lichen) and the suffering of the oppressed hero (Chrysalids, Prometheus Bound) is due to a world system that is fundamentally flawed. The hero is consciously waiting for the end of the current regime (Prometheus Bound) or not aware but following an inner guide toward freedom and a new beginning (Chrysalids). In this framework, the end of Job is not a reward for endurance, it is the end of death and a new beginning. That is how both the Chrysalids and Prometheus Bound end. In fact, many hero stories end with the hero coming back to the ordinary world with a new perspective (the boon or gift from the goddess found in the journey). From that vantage point, Job’s suffering results in a new perspective that enables him to be even more prosperous than he was before the suffering.

    I don’t know any of this for sure and I’m not all that worried about that. Like you, I am dissatisfied with the answers proposed whether atheist or Christian. The point is that we should be able to play with a variety of ideas from the tremendous wealth of stories and philosophies and come up with something creative that seems a little more satisfying. As I say FWIW

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  2. John Brand

    There was another thought I was going to add to my comment but couldn’t call it to mind. It has to do with the theology reflected in the fact that the Lamb is the one who is opening the seals that cause the global mayhem in Revelation. The relationship between the Lamb and the dragon is part of an old theology that seems to have been muddied in the process of the development of Christian theology IMO. If we go back to pre-exilic Judah and the prophet Jeremiah, we can see a theology where the god of the cult initiates the suffering rather than an antagonist. Kathleen M. O’Conner has written a great commentary on Jeremiah called “Pain and Promise” (Fortress Press, 2011). She points out that Jeremiah’s unique answer to the problem of suffering and evil, is that his God is the one who is causing the suffering and he has done this because Judah has broken the covenant. There is no antagonist except to say that it is the gods of the nations surrounding Israel that have become the new love interest for Judah. In the old tribal justice, this unfaithfulness requires expiation in the form of punishment, exile and the hope of an eventual purging from sin and return to the faithful relationship. This idea is evident in Hosea. So, God is acting against Israel but the real problem is the gods of the nations surrounding Israel.

    In Psalm 82, we gain some insight into the problem but we are likely to miss it because we don’t usually bring in ANE parallels like the Epic of Gilgamesh or the Enuma Elish. The idea is that the gods compete for mastery in the cosmos. Those who bring about order out of chaos become the president pro tem (recall Thomas Hardy calling God the ‘president of the immortals in Aescheylean phrase’ in Tess of the d’Ubervilles as an allusion to Prometheus Bound). Yahweh is president because he has created the gods and he has created order in the cosmos so that it is habitable. The appeal of the president to the council of the gods is that they practice justice, plead the case of the widow in order to restore order to the cosmos. But they have been given an autonomy as we see in the conversation Satan has with God in the beginning of Job.

    Looking at Enoch 42:1-3, there is this ancient idea that wisdom has tried to find a dwelling place among men but has been unsuccessful:

    1 Wisdom found no place where she could dwell, and her dwelling was in Heaven.

    2 Wisdom went out, in order to dwell among the sons of men, but did not find a dwelling; wisdom returned to her place, and took her seat in the midst of the Angels.

    3 And iniquity came out from her chambers; those whom she did not seek she found, and dwelt among them, like rain in the desert, and like dew on the parched ground.

    So, we can say that the Lamb is worthy to open the seals because there was no place for his reign on the earth and this is the inevitable result.

    When Judah goes into exile, there is a change in the theology, in my view. An antagonist appears as we see in the fall of Lucifer in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. This develops into a full blown struggle of light against darkness in the Persian theology of Zoroaster. It appears to be reflected in Daniel’s vision of the Prince of Persia fighting against Michael the Archangel.

    The idea is that this is a war above the worlds that impacts the worlds as we often see in our modern day mythology such as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. There is a battle that must be won above while the battle on earth continues.

    All very esoteric, I realize, but a lot more satisfying than the theology that Jesus has done it all and we await a heavenly home.

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  3. John Brand

    I was a little embarrassed when I thought about what I had done in my two posts. I am playing with ideas some of which are sacred and some of which are from mythology — which would have been sacred to their original culture — some of the ideas are from our modern culture. And, then again, I wasn’t all that embarrassed after I got past that feeling of embarrassment because I thought that it is better to do something badly than not to do it all. I added these posts and your lament to my journal. Actually, a few of your editorials are in my journal as well. So, thank-you for that.

    I am going to be adding an entry based on a reflection on a couple of Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass videos on YouTube where he says a couple of things that resonate with me. He begins “Writing Advice from Neil Gaiman” video by saying, “All fiction has to be as honest as you can make it because that is what people respond to” and another thought from his Masterclass Trailer “Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling,” he says, “The process of doing your second draft is a process of making it look like you knew what you were doing all along” and, then, he says, “writing a novel is like driving through a fog with one headlight out. You can’t see very far ahead of yourself but every now and again the mists will clear.”

    It is better to do it badly, says Jordan Peterson, than to try to work out a polished draft the first time. That is true for writing and for any type of creative activity. It has to be true of theology as well. Habakkuk has a daring complaint that he directs toward God. Its honest. He is driving through a fog with one headlight on. And, after he has done, he waits to hear what God will say to him and what he will say when he is reproved (2:1). I love that! What a daring and perfectly summoning view of our relationship with the divine. We can make stuff up that seems more reasonable to us than what we are given from other creative minds. The prophets started out asking questions and waiting for answers and it was messy. It was after the community that at first had rejected their musings looked back and saw that their theology was a better understanding of the chaos they were going through at the time than any other understanding of the chaos, that these particular prophetic ideas became sacred. And, conversely, the reason why competing understandings of God ended up in the dustbin was that they did not satisfy the generations of the future. They didn’t explain what had happened. That is what I think Isaiah is saying in 2:20 when he says, “In that day a man shall cast his idols … to the moles and to the bats.”

    I am thinking that it is better to make up something that works for me as a kind of first draft, a first drive through the fog, than to repress the lamentation within me. In fact, Claus Westermann (Praise and Lament in the Psalms), opines that praise comes out of the lament. And he points out that our western culture doesn’t like lamentation — he must not have been into country music 🙂 — and that is a shortcoming of our culture. If we can’t lament, if we can’t play with ideas that might satisfy the lament, how can we ever experience a clearing of the mists?

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