Monday, July 30, 2012
Pain, Suffering, and Purpose
This past weekend the On Guard conference was held in Oklahoma, which gave me the opportunity to go. William Lane Craig was speaking on the problem of evil- both the intellectual version and the emotional version. He did an incredible job demonstrating how the intellectual problem has been overcome and that even atheists recognize that. The emotional problem of evil is where he stated that the problem is still quite persuasive.
In my notes on this talk I wrote down three initials. They represents a powerful and popular resource that I wanted to highlight for the apologetic community. I have been dealing with apologetics for several years now, and I cannot remember seeing this resource come up a single time. It seems to be left untapped, yet I'm not certain why.
Its Not About Humanity
In his answer to the emotional problem of evil, Craig pointed out what should be obvious- that the emotional problem of evil is based in the fact that people believe that this life is about them and the world revolves around them. The pain and suffering that we all experience does not make a single bit of sense if the purpose of our lives is to be comfortable, happy, and pain-free. Even minor inconveniences, like locking keys in the car or our internet connection not working, become quite problematic if this life is all about us.
But if this life is not about us, then that assumes that it IS about someone or something else. But what or who is it? Many people would be tempted to say that since life is not about them, that it is about everyone else- that their life is to make the lives of others comfortable, happy, and pain-free. But that won't work because pain and suffering is not limited to us alone. Everyone experiences pain and suffering. So, we must recognize that this life can't be about everyone (or anyone) either.
Many Christians and atheists point out that without God existing, there is no ultimate purpose to our lives- we are forced to create our own purposes. Atheists believe that this is liberating because we are our own gods- we can pick and choose what we wish to spend our lives doing. Christians see this as quite depressing because all the effort, resources, and suffering spent to achieve our goals become nothing with the predicted heat-death of the universe. An argument can be made that the Christian view is much more realistic than the atheist view because the Christian view takes into account the present AND the future of reality, while the atheistic perspective ONLY looks at the present.
Regardless of which perspective one takes, if this universe is all that is, all the pain and suffering that we go through in an effort to reach our own goals and fulfill our own purposes will be lost; all the goals we reach will disappear; all legacy that we thought that we might leave behind will become nothing. Where is the sense in that (logical or practical)?
How do we make sense of the existence of pain and suffering (and even the minor inconveniences)? Is there something or someone that all this will benefit? Is it possible that pain and suffering DO make sense, or are we stuck with either no answer or an answer that gives us no reason to deal with the pain and suffering of this life?
My pastor introduced me to a fantastic book a few years ago. As I go through it, I see that it speaks directly to the issue of the emotional problem of evil. The author puts forth the foreign idea that life is not about us, but it is about God. The reason the idea is foreign is because of the fact that man has a nature that is very self-centered and prideful. That is the only reason that the emotional problem of evil is still around and will remain persuasive to many.
The author does not simply tell us that life is not about us; he goes on to outline five different purposes of our lives that, when we see this life as revolving around its Creator, causes all the pain and suffering in the world (our experiences and others' experiences) to suddenly make sense. As he explains each one, he constantly refers back to scripture to demonstrate that if Christianity is true, then these purposes are real- the pain, suffering, and inconveniences of life have real meaning and real, ultimate purpose.
The initials that I wrote in my notes were "PDL". It refers to Rick Warren's book Purpose Driven Life. The popularity of this book has been ridiculous. Many people would read (and have read) this book long before they would pick up a book that was written by a philosopher to address the problem of evil. Because of the fact that it is in the hands of or familiar to so many already, it cannot go unused by the Christian apologist.
Later on, I will write a review on the book from the perspective of a Christian apologist. But in the meantime, please pick up a copy and see what is there that you can use when speaking to people who are dealing with life, have questions, and need The answer.
(Side note: if you are an apologist who has written using this resource, please let me know.)