An atheist friend of mine trusted me with one of their secrets the other day. I think she has held this as a secret for three reasons, and I think the whole secret slipped out in spite of herself yesterday, because she got so excited talking about Herman Hesse and Demian. The way she dropped it scared me, like the way I used to get scared as an 18 year old in Philosophy 101 class, when the “sure proof for God’s non-existence” was presented by a smug 50 year old professor, as though being 50 and a philosophy professor automatically made you smarter than anyone else on the entire planet.
So this is what she said, “Oh, have you ever read Demian, it is my absolute favorite book by Hesse. Have you ever heard of Abraxas? You know that idea that a benevolent God wouldn’t make a world of suffering, and an omnipotent God would be powerful enough to make a world without suffering. Suffering exists, therefore God is either not all-benevolent, or he is not omnipotent?” Like, “You know, that argument? Well, gotta go, bye!”
I think maybe she has never brought this up because first she basically is all-benevolent and wouldn’t want to cause me suffering. Basically, she is a dear, dear woman. Secondly, I wonder if this is a such big piece for her for kicking back against the great Cosmic Load of Crap that was served up for her life that it becomes a pretty essential piece to hold on to in order to not get crapped on anymore. Lastly, I wonder if she secretly believed that the argument really doesn’t work at the end. That if you used it as a big umbrella to keep God’s Love or Power from reaching in and screwing up your life, you would still end up getting wet.
I have been spinning the whole thing around for the last day or so, and I am wondering how much truck the whole thing gets in any serious philosophy departments. I am thinking about Alvin Plantinga’s book on God, Evil, and Freedom and am wondering are there any philosopher’s worth their salt who still use this argument (I know it has a name, and I have never heard it called Abraxas; though I trust in Uruguay, given all its subterranean esoterism and other forms of “rational religiosity” that perhaps it is called this here and lots of other places).
The argument seems to be answered very easily, and that’s why, perhaps, the answer is suspect.
What about this:
A loving God would not create creatures that have a mere appearance of free will but who, in reality, are automatons. Freedom is a legitimate choice. If freedom is really real, suffering must be then be a real possibility. The presence of suffering in the world, at least that chosen by human beings (whether inflicted on self or inflicted on others) is neither a reflection on God’s power or God’s love.
However, a all-loving, all-powerful God would indeed need to build in a “failsafe” to his/her system. What happens when the real, true, bona fide freedom is used for malevolent ends and thereby suffering results?
If God had not answered that question, then I would start to fill out my complaint letter. On the question, “How would you rate your service today?,” God would score a big, whopping, UNSATISFACTORY. So, as I browse around the whole created order looking for God’s answer to suffering resultant from the free will of finite beings, I think of a couple of answers. When I put those reflections together, I have no problem conceiving of, and trusting in, a benevolent, omnipotent God who allows suffering.
Here are a smattering of answers:
1. The universe is broken, and it became broken by through the free will of a finite created being.
2. Who says suffering is senseless? Buddhists seems to have this question licked even before you start thinking about it, and that is why I love Buddhists. They suggest that we suffer because we want reality to be other than what it is. If we could accept suffering as a clear part of life, than we would cease to suffer.
3. Is suffering redeemable? That seems to be the essential question, and the essential answer. God’s great metaphor for suffering he painted for us by showing himself suffering. In doing so, he did two things: a. In the resurrection, he ended suffering as “the final word,” and b. he showed that the new life resulting after the crucifixion is suffering redeemed.
4. There is ultimately no growth without suffering. This might not have been necessary in the original plan. But, being born finite and out of sync with the original design for things, human beings (and all sentient creatures for that matter), have a gazillion imperfections. We are a bit like that hunk of stone Michaelangelo looked at and saw David. After chipping off and beating out everything that was not David, something extremely beautiful emerged. Well, something very beautiful, with really big hands, emerged. If David had been there inside the marble waiting to come out, I can only sense there would have been a suffocating feeling that dominated his existence. And once the hammer blows started falling, I can only imagine the concussive effects. But in the end, there was sense to it all.
So, if you have real freedom, a broken universe, and a path for suffering to be redemptive, can you really say that the presence of suffering in the world is incompatible with an all-loving, all-powerful God?
I, for one, can’t imagine any other scenario that sufficiently explains all the beauty and beastliness I am steeped in every day.
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