Thursday, May 04, 2006

Making Sense Out of Suffering

Peter Kreeft wrote a book twenty years ago that I've just gotten around to reading. I wish I had read it twenty years ago.

Kreeft is a philosophy professor at Boston College, and his book Making Sense Out of Suffering is a look at the implications of suffering in philosophy and theology. His audience is the skeptic, the person of uncertain beliefs and convictions who is tossed about in this world of sorrow and pain and is struggling to find some way to understand existence in light of that raw fact.

One thing that I really enjoyed about his book was his attention to various traditions and schools of thought. He starts with this observation:
By the time you finish reading this book, ten thousand children will starve, four thousand will be brutally beaten by their parents, and one thousand will be raped.

If you took a poll asking who the profoundest thinker of all time was, the man who would probably come out second, after Jesus, is Buddha. Buddha's entire philosophy centers around his answer to the problem of suffering. How can we not hear him out?
Gotama Buddha's voice is only the first of many which we must hear out. If we follow Kant's suggestion that the great questions revolve around God, the world, and the soul, then the question of suffering becomes a question of the existence of a supreme being and its relationship to the human world. The difficulty of suffering, for belief is that we are asked to accept the following:
  1. God exists.
  2. God is all-powerful.
  3. God is all-good.
  4. Evil exists.
How can this be?

Kreeft summarizes the possible alternate theologies, which differ on these points, either bluntly or subtly. For examine, the atheist may deny that God exists. Or one may more subtly say that God exists, but only as a psychological concept, thereby draining Him of real force and existence. All of these alternate answers have implications for the meaning of human suffering.

Kreeft's goal on the other hand, is to affirm Christian belief and answer a resounding "yes" to all these questions. The task then becomes making Christian belief intellectually credible and defensible. His technique is interesting -- rather than argue from cohesive deductive principles, Kreeft takes successive passes at the problem and allows answers and ideas to emerge suggestively, tentatively, rather than authoritatively and dogmatically.
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