On Suffering

Recently Stephen Fry created waves by declaring the Judeo-Christian  God to be capriciuos, mean minded and an “utter maniac”  for creating a world full of injustice and pain.

For him athiesm is a much more internally consistent belief system.

It avoids the prickly internal contradiction that maintains there is an all knowing , all good and all powerful God responsible for this world who is also desiring of our unending grattitude and praise.


Cultural commentator Russell Brand, mouthpiece for the spiritual awakening pervasive in western culture , had his reply on The Trews.


The debate is interesting because it drills down beyond dogma into the narrative of belief systems. Every world view has a story at its heart and from this core narrative we draw the meaning of our existence.

The narrative of Buddhism says suffering is an illusion tied to desire. If we achieve detachment from desire we can escape the world of suffering and so the world of rebirth.

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The narrative of Hinduism says suffering is merited, and karmic cycles deliver suffering upon us for past misdemeanours.

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The narrative of Islam says God is far greater than humanity, and God’s greater wisdom means humans cannot understand the meaning of their suffering.

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The narrative of athiesm says says suffering is entirely meaningless [as is joy or evil]. The locus of reality lies in existential being.

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What all these narratives agree on is that suffering incites in us a sense of justice. From it we gain a sense of meaning outside of our own experiences, a solidarity with others who suffer. Suffering gives us a  knowledge that all is not right with this world and that suffering is inherently wrong for the human condition.

The Hebrew understanding of suffering to me offers the most profound illustration in the Book of Job.

job book

The narrative of Job shows that suffering is real and it is often unmerited. Job choses not to resign himself to God’s mystery.

His suffering presses him to go beyond religion.

Job then has the choice to turn from God to nihilism but instead he turns TO God with a daring challenge. “Show yourself.”

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God created this mess and so only God can stand between an imperfect humanity and a perfect God and arbitrate.

In doing so, Job is declared righteous, as righteous as any of the covenant. It’s not blood sacrifice, circumcision, baptism, church attendance, meditation, renunciation, humility, pennance, piety or prayers that God smiles upon. From the very beginning it’s faith.

It’s the vision of God standing between us and Godself, a God-man ultimately carrying our suffering.

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This redemption gives ultimate meaning to our suffering, not removing it but bearing with us, walking with us, taking away our tears with a glorious future hope.

6 thoughts on “On Suffering

  1. I would caution against talking about the “atheist narrative.” The term “atheist” encompasses a wide spectrum of mutually incompatible belief systems. Some forms of Buddhism are atheistic, for example. I would recommend addressing the philosophical traditions you’re looking at by their proper names. Perhaps when you say “atheist narrative” you mean to speak about the “nihilist narrative” or the “secular humanist narrative” or the “existentialist narrative.” Atheists can ascribe to any number of rational and irrational belief systems, and so it might be better to address those instead of atheism, which is a term which encompasses nothing more than the absence of theistic belief.

    That nitpick aside, I’m glad to see that you approve of Job’s audacity in questioning God. I think that everyone should demand that God show Itself and explain its actions before signing on to worship It, and if God fails to materialize, or if God’s answers are inadequate, then faith in such a being is not warranted. One might believe God exists if It appears, but one need not worship It unless the being proves Itself worthy of worship. I identify with Job up until the point where God shows up and bullies Job into faithfulness. God’s power and knowledge are not sufficient reasons to worship and obey It out of anything other than fear, and ultimately, this is the best the Biblical God has to offer.


    • Thanks for the comments and clarification. Terms noted – yes, I mean humanist or existentialist narrative. I don’t think Job is commended for cowering to God’s power, but for his question. The friends are soundly critiqued for suggesting Job defer to God’s might. I wonder what you think of the post ‘Book of Job as Satire’ from October 2014 which parallels Job’s complaint with Heller’s Catch -22?


      • That is an interesting interpretation of the book. I suppose it does read a little like La Candide, except that Job doesn’t buy the explanations he’s given.

        On the Book of Job itself, I believe the current best hypothesis is that it was actually redacted a few times, with the main poetic bulk of the story coming first, and the narrative prologue and epilogue coming afterward.


  2. Pingback: Why this narrative? | Bear Skin

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