Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Moral Value of Pain

I thought it might be helpful to set the various views of pain as I understand them next to each other. Where have I gone wrong in my analysis of the varying positions? Have I missed anything?

1. The Naturalist Perspective
This perspective does not believe in God or a human soul, so it would make us merely highly evolved animals with no eternal destiny. From this perspective, therefore, pain is simply painful. It has no real significance other than the fact that it hurts us and those who empathetically hurt with us. Pain thus presents no moral problem.

2. The Buddhist View
In this view, pain is part of the nature of things. We are nothing, so our pain is nothing. In fact, pain becomes good because it moves us toward nirvana. We experience it as our karma from our past actions, perhaps in past lives or existences. It is thus just. In this view, pain is good, part of the justice of the universe and something that moves us toward good.

3. The Hyper-Calvinist and Muslim View
Since in these views God directly dictates everything that happens in the universe, pain simply becomes God's will. It is good because God says so. God in fact has dictated it, or it is the will of Allah. Pain thus is good because God wills it.

4. The Augustinian/Arminian View
God did not create the world with pain. God created the world with the possibility of pain. Pain is a consequence of Adam's sin. But a world where we are free to choose good or evil is a better world than one in which there is no evil or pain. God sometimes intervenes to stop pain, but sometimes he does not intervene because there is a greater good in play. Pain thus not God's ideal for any specific situation, but it is good in the light of his overall design.

5. The Theistic Creationist View
Those who believe that God used an evolutionary process to create humanity must in some way assume that pain is part of God's plan for the creation. Pain therefore must not be intrinsically bad. Might they then assume that part of God's plan is/was to remove pain for homo sapiens forever? If they take Adam literally, might they blame him for messing up the removal of pain by keeping humanity from the tree of life? If they take him as symbolic, might Jesus' resurrection point to an as yet future human destiny without pain? Irenaeus' theodicy might fit in here as well--pain and suffering provides us with a context in which we can either grow or diminish in character. In any case, this view would not necessarily view pain as bad.

6. The Open View
Because God has created the world with freedom--or perhaps because of his nature--this view might assert that God cannot stop pain without ending human freedom. Or an extreme version might say that he simply cannot stop evil because his nature is love, and love can only persuade, not force. Maybe it makes us feel good to conclude that pain is always bad and that God is always against it, but this God is not all powerful. He's more like a very loving Zeus. This is the only view, it seems to me, where pain is actually bad.

7. Warning to the "Abandon the Faith" View
At this point, someone might be tempted to throw away faith. What kind of God allows pain? But once you throw away God, you're back at the naturalist view (or perhaps the Buddhist view, which requires just as much faith as the Christian view). If there is no God, then pain is completely meaningless, other than the fact that it hurts. We are back where we began. Pain is not bad and you can't blame God because you've thrown him away.

In conclusion, pain is not morally problematic unless you don't believe God is omnipotent. And in that case, you have bigger problems than the problem of pain.

Is this logic sound? Have I missed something? Thoughts?


Martin LaBar said...

Hmm. This one's worth chewing over, and digesting carefully.

J. W. Watkins said...

Pain, like all imperfection associated with this world has to be first and foremost a consequence of the introduction of Sin into the world. Humans are not the only things that suffer pain, so does the animal world.

Pain was not a part of God's perfect world in Eden. However, since sin became a reality, death became an intricate part of life following the Fall and associated with death comes the fallout of pain. Pain is inevitably associated first and foremost as a part of the dying process.

One need not have contributed in any way to cause a painful death, death is just going to involve pain in some manner. In this vein one would have to acquiescence (sp?) that God has allowed pain to play a part of death and there is no escape rationally from the thought that God allowed, or instituted death should be attended with pain. Could it be that in many cases God uses this specific kind of pain as a cleansing agent bringing about a specific fulfillment of sanctification?

If sin introduced pain into the dying process, did it have to be a part of life before death?

Obviously many suffer needless pain, their sinful lifestyle lay behind the suffering. Many escape this kind of pain. Can God use such pain as a bit in the mouth steering one aright? I have to believe so, many have testified thar it was the suffering in their life that brought them to humbly seek God. I see God satisfying pain in this circumstance to bring about His will.

But what about all the pain experienced by just about all of us through disease, accident, the fraility of the flesh when one cannot be blamed in any way for experiencing it.( i.e. cancer)

We have only place to go for explanation that fits a theology of Sin. Pain became a part of the fallout from sin. Sin was not God's will. Calvin ism has done great harm on this score. But God would not override Adam,S free will and to be true to His nature cannot override the results of that sin.

What He can do is provide grace and mercy and salvation which will eventually get us back to Eden and all cessation of pain as promised in Revelations.

But in hell, pain will continue throughtout eternity. Again the fallout from sin. Very sobering thought.

Do with these thoughts as you will. I had my upper teeth extracted this week and a denture plate installed. I am experiencing pain! Would like to take Adam aside and give him a piece of my mind. But then, I realize that Adam didn't cause what I am experiencing now.

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks for the insights (and sorry about the teeth)!