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Storytelling, Suffering, and God: A writers perspective

by jimss23

I will begin this article by setting up one of the arguments that I am attempting to address when it comes to religion. 

"If there is a God, why does he allow suffering? If he is all-powerful, couldn't he just make all suffering disappear? If he is God, that means he is willing this evil to happen. Why?

I addressed a lot of different questions here as to avoid this entire article being one giant strawman argument. The issue of suffering is one of the hardest questions that believers have to face. For if there is an almighty power, he is responsible for the evil, just as much as he is responsible for the good.

A little about where I stand on this issue so that I make any possible bias very clear. I am a Diest. I believe in God in the broad sense of the word. I still am forced to address this question due to my beliefs.

As a writer, I think that I can bring a unique, be it brief, viewpoint. 

Let us examine the most basic and simple plot of a story. 

The protagonist has a challenge to overcome (the antagonist) and grows along the way. Good guys win, bad guys lose. (and as always, London prevails)

Now, the important part of this plot is the antagonist. The antagonist is evil. In the story of life, the antagonist is the antithesis of everything that is good. This is the thing that we want God to erase.

Writing a story is the closest thing that humans can come to playing God. We create worlds, people, hell, we even know what happens before we put it down on paper and make it a reality. So why, if we really want God to eliminate all suffering, do we add it to our works? Why do people find stories of struggle interesting and engaging? This world has enough suffering, why would our method of escaping reality have the very suffering that we want to avoid?

Because without suffering, there is no growth. The book "The Giver" shows us a world without emotion. No one suffers, nothing bad ever happens. Yet as we read it, we instantly know that this is wrong, that all the things that make life worth living are missing. The capacity for happiness allows the potential for sadness. 

I think that God, in creating the world, recognized this. What makes life worth living, all of the good things we enjoy in life, leaves us open to negative things. 

As to why some people suffer more, let us again turn to the story. Can it be said that no author has introduced a character, just to have them killed off? Their entire purpose is only to create an emotional response. Now if we bring it back life, just because you don't like your or someone else's role in the story that somehow the author is wrong. Now, let us say that God recognizes that this is unfair. That he wants to create a way to give these unfortunate souls, who had done no evil, receive ultimate justice? Create a place that in which they can receive eternal life as a reward for their contribution to the story. 

I will leave this here. Feel free to respond. Please do. I love discussing religion.

A parting quote.

"If you are right and I am wrong, I have lost nothing. But if I am right and you are wrong, you have lost everything."

-Dr. John Lennox addressing atheists.

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Sun Feb 26, 2017 3:33 am
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Snoink wrote a review...

I hate to be that person, but...

I am a Diest. you mean Deist?

Also, "(and as always, London prevails)" should be "(And, as always, London prevails.)"

Anyway, I am Catholic, but I love being contrary, so...

Suffering in a story arc often has a good vs. evil framework, and you yourself admitted that here, "Now, the important part of this plot is the antagonist. The antagonist is evil. In the story of life, the antagonist is the antithesis of everything that is good."

If every person is going through their own story in reality and thus struggling, wouldn't this mean that everybody is a protagonist? So, who is the antagonist in a world full of protagonists?

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Sun Feb 26, 2017 2:55 am
crobbins wrote a review...

Hey, crobbins here for a review!

I'm always wary of reading pieces about religion, but this one I actually really loved to read!

I actually support your idea very much. The whole argument against suffering, in my opinion, is justified, but as you so beautifully describe, suffering MAKES us humans. Without it, we are nothing. When we have nothing to overcome, what do we work towards?

An analogy I use when people make the argument that "if God is real, he should stop suffering" is in getting a college degree. When working to get a degree, you face a road filled with hardship and suffering. You may stay up until 5 AM working on a paper you procrastinated, but that teaches you not to procrastinate papers. You go through suffering to teach you things. Once you are taught, you can achieve great things (like getting a degree).

I loved your example of "The Giver." That book gives many strong examples to support this argument. You use this to your advantage beautifully.

Your line: "This world has enough suffering, why would our method of escaping reality have the very suffering that we want to avoid?" Sums up my feelings on this entirely. Although some may thing suffering (especially unnecessary and evil suffering) is unnecessary, it makes us who we are. The fact that we read about suffering with such vigor proves this.

So, overall, very well written and supported. I share your viewpoint on this. I also think anyone can relate to this piece, no matter what religion they are. I'd love to read more of your work!


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Fri Feb 24, 2017 4:19 pm
Wizard says...

Yo. I decided to drop in and give some alternate perspective on the whole issue here, as the only people to comment so far have been a bunch of religious normies. -_-

So, let's clear the formal stuff her first and foremost. I am an Idontknoworcaregoaway-ist when it comes to this sort of religious stuff, and I just find all this interesting. I am a scientist, and therefore my starting point with every idea is always skepticism. Now, let's break this down one point at a time.

I'd first of all like to address to your first point, by saying that the God to writer analogy is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion. A story is made interesting by its conflicts, yes, but that is because we humans recognize on a certain level that these characters are non-existent. The suffering of fictitious characters can be an artful and intriguing thing, but we as the readers of course would never with those same things to befall anybody in real life. The Hunger Games is a cool story because of its interesting setting, but we'd never wish this to exist in the world today or ever. I'd say the main problem with this argument is not that it has a poor analogy attached to it, but that it makes a huge assumption. It is not that you assume God exists, but an even more arrogant assumption is made here when you state that this God cares about us in some meaningful way. I get it, I really do. Everyone has a will to feel special, and compared to the universe, people may become frustrated that they seem so small, pathetic, and meaningless. But using a God to lend ourselves this centrality people always desire for is a huge leap in logic and perhaps even outright self-centered.

I must also address the parting quote you give. This is a simplification of the famous Pascal's wager, which is able to be countered quite easily by attacking the "If" statement of this sentance. This quote is true. If Dr. Lennox is right then people like me have in fact lost everything. But how significant are the chances of Dr Lennox being right in the first place? The problem with this wager is that it makes yet another grievous assumption by implying that the religious person knows anything about God. For in fact, this wager also assumes that there is, in the first place, an afterlife that God has created for us. Besides, there is no way of telling who would be rewarded or punished in the afterlife, or even if they would be at all, as it is a ridiculous idea to presume that we know the logic of a seemingly incomprehensible being. Its reasoning could be entirely beyond our understanding, and might even seem ridiculous to us. Perhaps this divine being judges who shall enter heaven based on whether or not they licked exactly 23 lollipops while they were alive. Then there's the finishing touch. Perhaps people are only let into heaven if they don't believe in God. We don't know either way, but it seems as if I or Dr. Lennox still have an even chance of doing the right thing based on the lack of evidence of what a good life is. Therefore, this argument is a moot point.

Well, Imma leave it at that. Let me know if you have any responses, I love deep philosophy :D


jimss23 says...

Jimss here

Hey, Wizard. Thanks for the response! I always appreciate dissenting viewpoints. Echo chambers are a disservice to rational argument.

Not to be rude, but the first paragraph stems from a misunderstanding of the question itself.

The issue is framed as follows:
A: Assuming God is real, and
B: Assuming God conforms to the Judeo-Christian teaching (loving and caring), then
C: Why does God allow suffering?

So you are correct, I do make the assumptions. I have to before I even arrive at the question. Here is the argument in a more common way "Ok, let's assume that everything you say about God is true, why does he allow suffering then?"

So, it is not as much me making the assumptions as it is the question itself. This argument does not try to prove A or B but addresses the argument follows from those assumtions, C.

It is the assumptions that give my metaphor meaning. Without them, it is, as you say, a poor metaphor indeed. Once A and B are factored in, the metaphor takes on more meaning. If you just deny A and B, this whole argument becomes irrelevant anyway. My position on C has nothing to say about the legitimacy of A and B. That is a whole different argument.

As to you second paragraph, I am familiar with the standard arguments against Pascal's Wager. I like vague quotes that get the mind working. From your response, I succeeded.

Quick note; This is going to sound rude but, ad hominem. I'm not offended, but it is a fallacy you employ at times during your response. Words such as "arrogant" "Self-centered" are not attacks on my arguments as much as they are attacks on me. Things like "Flawed" and "anthropocentric" are more general ways of saying the same thing. I know this probably sounds like I'm butt-hurt, but ad hominem fallacies are the most common. I do them all the time by accident. This doesn't make your argument prima facie invalid; I still have to address the arguments, regardless of what the phrasing is. (God, this whole paragraph sounded like one long complaint. Please don't take it that way)

Please feel free to respond if you want to. I would love to debate this more. :)


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Thu Feb 16, 2017 10:26 pm
rosette says...

Heya Jim! No, this isn't a review but I thought I would comment.
First off, I found this very interesting and to be honest with you, I have had much of the same thoughts myself. If it wasn't for evil in this world, for suffering or trials... how would we learn? A cotton candy world that was all sunshine and roses without thorns is appealing maybe, for a time, but we, selfish, carnal people do not even have the capacity to live like that!

You say you believe in God. Okay. So please consider carefully what I'm going to say. A statement you had interested me: If he is God, that means he is willing this evil to happen. Why? Well, God is a good God. And believe it or not, the Bible does say he created evil. Just not how we think of it. Once God defined himself as good, that gave an immediate definition and creation of evil - the opposite of good. Like when you turn on a flashlight and suddenly, you see all these light-deprived places. Darkness. ...Ok, that was a bad example but do you see what I mean?

Anyway, I loved how you ended this article. There is a purpose! There is purpose for everything! God is not an author of confusion! (please excuse my exclamation marks - I love this stuff)

I'll just leave those thoughts of mine here.

jimss23 says...

Thanks for commenting. As for the statement, I can't say it is exactly what I believe. I was more trying to show the arguments made by atheists and skeptics and address them.
As to your point you are right on track. I even agree with you myself. I always tailor my arguments for non-believers first. But you bring up good points that add to the validity to this argument.

Thank You!


rosette says...

You're welcome! : D
Okay. I see why you brought your point across the way you did... I know its probably not the best way to use your Bible when arguing with an atheist. Science, after all, can prove it!

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Thu Feb 16, 2017 2:01 am
wildlyabstract wrote a review...


That's my first response.

This is incredibly insightful. I have to say, I've been a Christian since I can remember. I've grown up in the church, I was baptized when I was 8 years old, and I too have had these wonderings.

I'm assuming you are religious, yes?

The one idea that came to my mind when I first read your claim, was that God had no intention of letting sin and evil rule his world. Truly, I believe (and I may have to get my Bible out soon to check my own facts) that when God put Adam and Eve into the garden of Eden, I don't think he knew Satan would be there to persuade Eve to disobey. I think his full intention was to let good be the way of the life he was in the process of creating. Sin was something made by man, influenced by the Devil.

However, this leads me to another question: did God have any such intentions of making us imperfect had Satan not been there in the garden as well? Did God have a plan to send Jesus into the world from the beginning to save us? Was He counting on some kind of human force to persuade us? However, if that were true, I do not believe he would have carried it to the extent our sin is today. Murder, rape, adultery, robbery, and so many more. These things I believe God had no intention of.

I liked your allusions to other references. The Giver also sometimes comes to my mind when I think of religion in such ways as this, so it was nice to see someone else have the same ideas and thoughts. And discussing religion in the form of a novel, set with a protagonist and an antagonist I think is an absolutely brilliant way to discuss it, especially to someone who may not believe.

All in all, this entire thing has been very insightful, and I hope that you respond, maybe we can discuss this further.

I will also be honest in saying that this may have been my most philosophical and in depth conversation I've had about religion. Well, maybe second. I think I brought a question up that stumped my religious mother and father when I was about 12... this has been a close second. :)


jimss23 says...

Jimss here

Hey, em thanks for reviewing my work.

I am a little religious yes, but I find my true calling trying to bring atheists around to at least considering a religious perspective. As such, my arguments are phrased in a way to convince those who do not believe. I completely understand the finer detail of Judeo-Christan world view. I hope you continue to enjoy my ramblings and give me any advice on how to improve my works.

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Thu Feb 16, 2017 1:51 am
Cub says...

I'm not quite so open as a Diest (I'm a Catholic), but I also love discussing theology. I like your theory over why God put suffering in the world, however I don't believe it is correct. If God created suffering for growth, then why was there no suffering in the Garden of Eden? My thoughts have always been on this matter that most suffering, that is, suffering that is human caused, exists due to free will, which I won't expand upon (to see that demonstrated in a fictional setting, see 'Paradise Lost'). All suffering not caused by humans, that is, suffering from hurricanes, volcanoes, and what not, was mostly created due to man's fall in the Garden of Eden, as man must atone for that original sin. Still, though, I see the logic of your argument, and I like it. Your argument is quite intelligent, and I would enjoy debating it with you.
Aside from your argument, I do like the Dr. Lennox quote. It reminds me of Pascal's Wager.

jimss23 says...

Jimss here,

Thanks for your review cub. Ok confession time, I completely agree with you from a Christian perspective. The original sin stuff is completely in line with Christian beliefs.
I am not a Christian (not yet at least), but I find my true calling in trying to bring atheists around to religion, using arguments and philosophy they would understand. If I can convince them that it is at least possible for God to exist, then maybe they can begin considering what religion is correct. I like to consider myself a middle man. Anyway, that's just me.


We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
— T.S. Eliot