Pain and process

If God created the universe in some relevant sense, then He created a world with pain. Couldn’t this have been avoided?

What is the point of pain? It seems fairly obvious – pain is designed to keep organisms away from things that will harm them, and so allow them to survive and thrive. So, it’s obvious that – to an extent – it has some functional role, that it’s important in allowing mammals (and so on) to do what they do as well as they do it. In other words, the possibility of pain is part of being a ‘well-designed’ (by nature) animal in at least some cases. I think this is a first key to understanding pain.

That is to say, pain is a functional part of a process. Similarly, one notion that causes problems in a theodicy is the idea of God’s omnipotence as being like a ‘magic wand’, that He can wave at any time to bring anything about. If that’s the case, then one can rightly wonder why there is pain in the world, and why this is to a significant extent ‘natural’, i.e., not the result of human decisions in some sort of natural history.

Yet, it seems God’s power (however omnipotence is to be understood) manifests in His guiding us or events towards the Kingdom of God, i.e., His actions occur through time and natural processes – according to Christianity. In other words, God is bringing something about (which also involves our actions), and we are in the process of that. One part of understanding pain and God is probably something to do with that context. This is a second key.

However, people can become so tied up in an idea of an Edenic original situation and how a ‘fall’ is the cause of bad things (a theory that doesn’t fit with what we know about anthropology, evolutionary biology, and so on) that they focus on the past instead of the future when trying to contextualize things like pain.

When we eliminate a parasite that’s harmful to humans, say, this is a step towards the ‘Kingdom of God’. When we cure a disease, that’s a step towards the Kingdom of God. When we say hello to someone and make their day a bit better, that’s a step. And so on.

The point is not a Panglossian theodicy but the possibility that we can move towards a kind of future, i.e., a highly functioning society consisting of physical humans, i.e., the Kingdom of God or ‘Heaven’. I.e., Christianity is centrally about the future, not ‘apologies’ for the present or past. This is a third key.

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