God, The Fall, Suffering and Separation

I’ve recently been thinking about suffering and other problems. Not that I myself live in a state of suffering; rather, I am a person who thinks about suffering. I look at people and see all of the imperfections. I look at the happy marriages and see all the turmoil they go through. Sometimes the marriage is perfect whereas the kids are not. Other times, you may have a perfect family whereas the living conditions, from an economic perspective, are almost unbearable. All in all, us humans face problems. One of my recent patients was a young child of 4 who had leukemia. And a stroke. And  then she lost her fingers due to poor circulation. And now she also has a chronic clotting problem. What more could one ask for in this life? She’s received more than her share of suffering.
As you can already tell, I am not complaining about myself. That would by narcissistic; I am complaining about others. My suffering is bearable; it is watching others suffer that is not. At some point in religious studies, one must ask oneself: Where is God in all of this?
I don’t have a good answer, but I have an answer nonetheless. It’ll not solve anything since these sort of “answers” aren’t about “solving” things like suffering that simply cannot be “solved” in this lifetime.
If God gave us freewill that day when He made us–and it is taken for granted that we, as humans, have chosen sin–then we are responsible in part for our current isolation from God. We were given the freedom to choose love over hate and we had chosen hate. We were given the ability to follow God’s imperative commands, yet we chose not to. We all have chosen to follow our own inclinations.
So God gave us over to our own inclinations.
This world that we live in is not God’s doing per se; it is ours.
This world that we see around us is our creation.
The Fall as we know it did not take place in the distant past; it is taking place right now, with every sin that you chose to make your own.
The biblical “answer” (if you want to call it that) merely points to the problem of free will and our desire to choose evil almost incessantly. This world of suffering that we are born into is not God’s idea for humanity; it is humanity’s idea when substituting God.
Christianity today, at least the grace-filled “prosperity gospel” forms of it, neglect to pass on the severity and reality of both The Fall and our fallen nature. Not only that, Christianity in general has forgotten to talk about the isolation we experience in this world from God. Jesus did not cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in a joking manner; He cried out on our behalf too. We live in isolation from God. We chose to be alienated and this is our experience of that alienation, exile, isolation–whatever you want to call it. This world that you live in is the world you have chosen. It is the world full of sin. Sin is, in this view, merely a choice reflecting our own opinion in contrast to the divine will and gracious mandate. God’s will for humanity is not some kind of categorical imperative that goes against freedom of will; in fact, God’s imperatives are commands that merely enhance our ability to thrive. If God commands you to have a single wife and to have sexual relations only with her, that command is in no way meant to benefit God; it benefits only you. The command itself is not even a command really; it’s more of a suggestion that will enhance your own ability to thrive. The command to the Israelites to avoid pork was not benefiting God–neither did it in any way make God Himself “happy”–it benefited the Israelites. They were the ones who were exempt from coronary artery disease.
The moment we have chosen to disobey God’s will for us is the moment that we have chosen to create our own version of life and “the world as we know it.”
The moment the 18-year-old girl has sex outside of marriage with some strange boy, who gets pregnant in the process, who gets abandoned and is left to raise the child alone, who drops out of college to raise the child, who ends up living in absolute poverty, who sells herself to more strangers to make a decent living–this is her version of life. This is an example of humanity exercising its use of free will.
When we are faced with suffering, we must remember our own responsibility. Unlike the early Christian Gnostics who blamed the Creator God for creating “evil” flesh with all of its evil inclinations, orthodox Christians believe in a good God who has allowed us to love and to hate–in His divine wisdom, He has given us the ability to curse Him or to love Him (the choice being completely ours). This was God’s version of the story. You can love me or you can hate me. I have created you for good deeds–but you can choose not to do them.
Gnostics pushed the problem of suffering and evil “upstairs”; they blamed the Creator God.
Orthodox Christians recognize the problem–and the problem is actually us. We are the problem.
God is seen, in our eyes, as the redeemer and savior. He is the one trying to reconcile this sinful world to Himself.
Not only that, God has joined this world and decided to become a part of it.
He is not standing at some distance looking on. He is in the suffering. He is suffering. Not only did God suffer in the past, He is suffering right now in the present.
The Christians proclaim a suffering God who has brought into this suffering world a suffering Messiah to redeem a suffering people from their sin.
Most people today are Gnostics. Whether they like it or not, they are what orthodox Christians in the past have called “heretics.” (And no, I am not using the term lightly here.) They ignore suffering; they treat God like some sort of divine heavenly Santa Claus just waiting to give out presents; they talk about grace and nothing else. But what is grace apart from sin? What does it mean to be graceful to someone? Is grace a commodity? Or is it the price a suffering God pays for a sinful people? Is grace given out of a “Santa Claus mentality” or out of a suffering mentality? Is grace given to sinners as a means of both revealing their sins and drawing them nearer to God Himself?
The crucified God will have nothing to do with the Joel Osteens, the Joyce Meyers, the Joseph Princes of this world. Such amateur theologians (if it is even appropriate to call them that) are inconsistent in their beliefs and unrealistic. When grace is all you hear about in a suffering world, you start to wonder: apart from sin, who needs grace?
Where sin is forgotten, there grace is a relic of the past; where sin is forgotten, there grace is no more.
In a suffering world, humanity must keep in mind why we are suffering.
The answer lies in us–quite literally,
Apart from God, this is the world humans will have.
Apart from God–living in a state of exile and isolation–this is what we get.
Sin has isolated us, it has exiled us into a foreign land where we are no longer welcome. Sin has cast us out of that garden of Eden. Sin has reigned and reigned until it drove that last nail through a dying God’s hand.
Sin is the state we live in.
But even sin has its problems. When a loving God shows up, offers grace to repentant sinners, sin ceases to exercise its authority. Standing in the shadows of love, sin ceases to be.
The Christians don’t believe in a graceful God apart from sin. Such beliefs are held by the heretics and deceivers of this world (who are, sadly, deceiving themselves).
In line with orthodox Christianity, I prefer to preach a gospel that is overflowing with suffering. A gospel that recognizes the sinful state that humans are in. A gospel that doesn’t run from sin and suffering but rather embraces it and swallows it whole. I don’t believe that Jesus proclaimed any other message than a message of the reality of men’s sin and entire dependence upon God. Grace is given to the sinner.
The Christian message of hope is essentially a message that proclaims that God alone will save humanity. But in saving humanity, God will create a new world–a world where God’s will is completely present in every individual. Why? Because goodness is not ontologically or epistemologically dependent upon God–there is no such dichotomy. Goodness is God. To be “in heaven” is to be in a state of absolute divinity. To be in complete harmony with Goodness Incarnate.
The problem with suffering is a problem that is deeply connected to man’s sinful nature. Virtually all problems and evils can be traced to this fountain. I say virtually all because obviously not all evils are caused by man. Hurricanes still kill people.
But even in this suffering–a suffering that asks the question: why?–Christians have a hope for a better world. Not that we have somehow become that hope already, but that we are looking forward towards it and are already participating imperfectly in it.

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