“The real problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why some do not.” – C.S. Lewis
As long as theism has existed, the problem of suffering has been at the forefront of the argument over the existence of an infinite-personal deity. There has been much said about it, and I do not feel that I can do any justice to the defense of the problem of evil (POE) from theodicies or otherwise (although I do enjoy reading David Wood’s thoughts on the subject).
There is, however, another aspect of this struggle that I feel is greatly overlooked, to the detriment of the debate. I have entitled this the problem of disparate suffering.
Before I begin, I would like to clarify some terms. First, I am distinguishing between the problem of evil and arguments from evil (following Wood’s lead here), the former being the acknowledgment that evil exists and that it poses a conundrum that needs to be addressed and the latter using the acknowledgment of the problem as an evidence against the existence of God. I have no intent on discussing the problem of disparate suffering as a defeater to belief in God’s existence, but I think the problem is there and greatly underappreciated for its part in the overall problem of evil/suffering.
I first began to ponder this question several months ago when I encountered the Lewis quote given at the beginning of this entry, and I was absolutely blown away by its force. I have continued to consider its importance, although I am now convinced that its weight is primarily emotional, not logical.
Ultimately, one of the biggest dilemmas of humanity is the human condition, which presents a number of different lesser problems (the efficacy of human noetic devices and the place of humanity in the universe, for a few). Suffering seems to be a fairly universal part of this condition as well, but it varies in degree. This is expressed in a number of ways: some people have more wealth than others (or conversely, some people have little or nothing while others have more than they need [or perhaps deserve]), some have more health problems than others, some experience more personal grief than others (such as loved ones dying or catastrophic events occurring in their lives). This leads to a disparity that is inherently a part of the problem of suffering – some people suffer more than others, and some people barely suffer at all.
I alluded to a word a moment ago that I think is the crux of the whole matter: desert. [That is, what one deserves or merits, not the arid region or the course following dinner.] When we consider suffering at all, we think of what suffering a person deserves; this is more true, I think, with disparate suffering because even those who maintain that suffering is a necessary part of life (perhaps even when gratuitious) would hopefully agree that human suffering should be fairly distributed, with not too many receiving the majority of the pain dispensed in the sum of the universe and not too many receiving too little. That is, however, the situation.
So we are left to wonder why suffering is not evenly distributed even within relatively reasonable limits among humans and why some good people do not suffer. I ask myself this question often.
This is a subject I will likely revisit on a later occasion, since it fascinates and intrigues how to justify the fact that I should suffer more than I do. I encourage anyone who reads this to give it some thought.