Anthropodicy OR the Problem of Pain

Christianity owes a lot to the West or the West owes a lot to Christianity, both sides will constantly play down their influence on the other. Christians will sometimes be slow to admit or discern that their flavor of spiritual practice and doctrine is a result of not just the scriptures in its pure form but also a lot on the cultural influences that have had a hand in the resulting practices and modes of thinking and reflection about God. The wider society too likes to hide from itself by denying that part of history of ideas, ideologies, practices and reflections of the self and State has been borne out of a huge religious influence which for the most part has been the Christian religion. We are all in denial.

Maxwell's EquationsSo when issues are brought up about incoherence of beliefs about God, we must understand that they do not come out of a vacuum or primordial slime pit untouched by grubby human flesh. In contrast to this our God stands outside of existence and is Holy and wholly other, yet has made himself known, became part of us and is still very much interested in Humans as baffling as that can be to fully grasp. Objections are always brought to us about God in terms of rationality which we demand of our thinking nowadays and have come to think of as above influence, a green virgin land, untarnished by capitalist ways of outside invaders. This is romantic but not at all true. Some humility is necessary and can be a useful counter measure to all totalising of knowing, maybe a hint of postmodernism but not too much, since we do know that we can know yet our knowing is from a vantage point, from a glass dimly.

The issue of rationality from western eyes created a problem for God or rather our way of seeing and relating to him. Rationality is not to be completely ditched otherwise we cannot then find ways of relating to our world or even to God in a sense, yet in relating there are reservations held by Him in terms of our creatureliness, problems which has been created by our inadmission of such a thing as limitation on our part. This is the imago dei taken too far. Shadows are not the figures themselves and cannot at all exist without the thing that casts the shadow.

Our rationality then, in the western sense of a theory of everything creates this special problem of Atheism especially because our arrival at his existence is found at the end of an equation, only to later re-think how we got there to begin with and realise that we have made a booby with a significant figure, there is no way of balancing it all out, there is a molecule missing, the name dark matter will not do, the vastness of the universe does not make any sense, therefore God must not exist.

This problem is sometimes expressed as the question of Theodicy, this is however not God’s problem, it is ours. The person at the end of the line might not believe I am who I say I am just because I cannot provide the name of my favourite cartoon character or the fifth letter of my mother’s maiden name, this however does not deny my existence as such. Theodicy is easy to solve with natural disasters because there are ready explanations that can make the equation balance and either make possible the existence of God or make the existence unnecessary. Not so with sickness.

Sicknesss should not exist because we think of it as something in which we can intervene and which we can ultimately eliminate. Sickness challenges our most cherished presumption that we are or at least can be in control of our existence. Sickness creates the problem of “anthropodicy” because it challenges our most precious and profound belief that humanity has in fact become god. Against the backdrop of such belief, we conclude that sickness should not exist [1]

The syllogism behind this looks something like.

Premise 1: God is Benevolent
Premise 2: God is all-powerful

In this mix comes the objection of the existence of pain which ‘free will’ will not finally resolve, original sin too only goes so far, therefore the conclusion is to question either premise, limiting either goodness or power if we are thinking logically. Another is to not try to resolve it but to leave it as our problem and not God’s, our limitation is not his limitation.

“For just as there is “no point” to God’s creation, so there is “no point” to our suffering. Neither is finally subject to “explanation”, and yet both remind us that our existence makes sense only insofar as we are able to place it in a narrative” [2]

What I suspect Hauerwas means by this is not that suffering is pointless or sadistic, our pain is not a pleasure to God if the first premise still stands. The narrative option is not an easy cop-out or nice comforting platitudes in the midst of our pain but rather a way of seeing. All great stories contain a certain amount of tension, character enters, problem besets, the plotline is then on how the tension is finally resolved. Note then that this does not mean we chop off the final few chapters of Job [3] because they make a mess of things nor expect a Hollywood ending.

Finally, in the midst of this the plot-line thickens when the suffering servant is introduced.


  1. Hauerwas, Stanley. “Naming the Silences: God, Medicine, and the Problem of Suffering”. T&T Clark (2004). 62.
  2. ibid. 79.
  3. I refer here to the view that the final chapters of Job are a later added epilogue that makes the story nice(r). Not having that there fulfills different agendas for some, for example Badham in arguing for Assisted Suicide says “The Epilogue provides a ‘happy ending’ to all Job’s misfortunes and giving him a wholly fanciful additional lease of life“. Quote from “Is there s Christian case for Assisted Suicide”, Badham Paul. SPCK (2009) 61.

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