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Evil is not Divine Discipline - the doctrine that God uses it to train us is evil is false for it ruins compassion

FIRSTLY
 
Christian Scripture in Hebrews 12:7-11 says that all suffering is God disciplining us -

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

# It just says hardship meaning the adversities that just happen and the terrible things people do to each other.
 
# It says that each person who endures adversity can benefit from the discipline.
 
# The discipline is not a side-effect - it is the reason why God lets the terrible things happen or be done to you.
 
# There is a difference between terrible things happening and you trying to learn to be a better person and the thing happening BECAUSE you are to learn from it. In this view, any improving of your character is a side-effect that you create. The bad event is not about making you better but you make yourself better regardless. The side-effect is created by you not the evil. The evil in itself is still useless and intolerable and thus a proof that there is no God.  If you can be good in spite of evil that is a proof that evil is wholly useless and a denial that it is part of a divine plan.
 
This teaching that evil is discipline says evil is sort of good but just doesn't feel good. It is twisted.  Human nature does not want a theory of suffering that says it is good under the circumstances.  It is callous and implies you should be eager to suffer.
 
Leads to blaming others
 
Some say that God may torment a person who needs no discipline in order that others who deal with the person may be disciplined through that. Or he might torment a person who needs discipline and torments that person not for her sake but for others - such discipline may be meant for others and not the person.
 
What if you suffer and you think it is about God using your pain to fine-tune and develop virtue in others. You are refusing to take it as discipline. It is refusing to say, "I need discipline because of my sins and imperfections so this suffering is my own fault. I praise God for sending me the suffering." You are blaming others for what is happening to you and this contradicts Jesus' rule that you must blame yourself before you blame anybody else. The teaching implies that the Catholic priest who rapes a child is doing that child a spiritual favour. The child should be happier about the abuse than saddened and traumatised. God is ultimately the abuser for he lets it happen and uses it as part of a plan. The doctrine is based on victim blaming.
 
Means and ends
 
To hurt somebody to increase virtue in others is treating her as a means and not as a person who is important in herself. Religion may say that this is not a sin if there is no other way - if for some reason it would be worse if God refused to treat her as a means. They would say God can do this and still be good for he is not deliberately treating her as a thing - there is just no other way.

 

But it is very serious. If you are a means you need proof that explains why.  Faith and stuff is not enough.
 
The problem of evil
 
The doctrine of divine discipline says, "If suffering disciplines, then the Lord has sent it. You would not say that if you have the flu and if the teacher tries to help you become a better person because of it that the teacher is disciplining you. You would only say it if the teacher injected you with the virus. Suffering is God's will."
 
An all-powerful God who is all-good will not allow evil to happen for any reason but to teach us the right way to live. There is no doubt that if you believe in God you have to believe that he lets evil happen because it is best for improving us and if not us then other people somewhere but it is worth allowing. The Church asks people to take consolation in suffering for God is using it to build their characters if they let him. We will see that the unease we feel when we get this advice is appropriate and very appropriate indeed. The idea that the evil God allows, may not result in a greater good but just stops things getting worse so that with a specific evil such as smallpox or whatever or without it there will be no improvement has to be rejected because it is very unlikely that evil and goodness will break even. So God then has to be believed to bring about suffering for a better good. The sick thing about such an idea is that it indicates that suffering should be welcomed! Since suffering is the experience of worthless existence it is a liar and nothing can justify it. And naturally you cannot welcome the experience of worthless existence. Suffering is not pain for pain doesn’t stop you being happy but if pain is strong enough it will cause suffering. The suggestion that suffering is good for the soul and God uses it for that purpose says more about the person saying it and believing it than God!
 
THE INNOCENT SUFFER

God is supposed to send suffering to the innocent, to babies and animals and to the insane who cannot benefit from it themselves for there would be no compassion if he kept it for the deserving alone. Many say that God tells us we must judge nobody and believe that the wicked have repented even if it looks as if they have not. And we know that many so-called good people are full of malignance inside for it is in their best interest to act good but the teaching tells us to forget that. So, it seems there there is room for compassion after all if you assume that nobody deserves good.
 
You can exercise true compassion for a repentant monster being punished and still approve of the punishing provided you believe that the latter is done for a good purpose. It is the same as a dentist extracting a tooth and having compassion.
 
It would be degrading to approve of God hurting you when you were a baby so that he could discipline others for that is not agreeable with the fact that you are most sure you exist and come first. (This is the principle that you must respect yourself before you can respect others). You cannot approve of that degradation. To say God exists is to reject the view that compassion is possible even if only the wicked suffer. It is to say there should be no compassion for them.
 
THE ROLE OF CHOICE
 
“If there were no suffering there would be no people helping one another. Suffering makes good works possible. The Bible says that suffering is often chastisement, that is correction, for sins to help us to become better people and worthwhile servants of God (Hebrews 12). Your own personal suffering enables you to do good works by trying to be patient and trying to be more sympathetic towards others and trying to be more spiritual. Suffering is sent to originate and nurture holiness and goodness in us. Specifically, it makes us humble and prudent and compassionate. We might not suffer to get stronger in virtue but we should and are meant to. The suffering we experience might not be intended for our benefit but for that of others but still we must try and make it improve us. We are talking about discipline in this theodicy and not about learning lessons. It accounts for all suffering. God could harm a baby for the sake of our souls.”

So, the discipline can only be discipline if we let it be. It is free will that effects the change and not the suffering. If so then the suffering is unjustifiable because that is like curing an infection in a hand with bleach when you could use a gentle cream to do the same job.

 

VIRTUE-MAKING?
 
The discipline defence is bad for compassion so what about other virtues such as patience and humility? And as for the patience, patience is refusing to let delay get to you, so the more impatience the better for the more sacrifice it will mean. Prudence is not a virtue but intelligence and remembering to think and God could implant that in you. As for humility, you only have to change your thinking and it is cruel for a God to hurt you just because you believe you are too good for him or others unless you are in a position to start using concentration camps.
 
The strangest thing about the soul-building theory is that it always says that suffering is for building up virtue. But virtue is a good habit. You feel good about doing it and you programme yourself to do it so that it becomes hard or impossible to refrain from it. It makes doing good easier for you. When suffering is for this programming why can’t God implant all the virtue in us in the first place when it is the end for which he sends suffering?  Whether we or God do the programming is irrelevant - what matters is that our virtue is programming and a reduction of our free will. We are told he does not want the suffering but just wants us to be holy and virtuous. When that is all he wants there should be no suffering. Many of the good points we have were implanted in us and so he should have implanted the rest too. That would still leave us able to freely do good.
 
The suffering of others does not make a good person good but brings out the goodness in another person that has been already there so the discipline defence is a failure. It is the same with your own suffering.
 
IT IS SELF-CENTRED
 
As the volume The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil observes, the discipline defence tells us that if we are to help others to become better people that is making us put the focus on ourselves (page 130). We only help people for our own growth in virtue. This would be a vile and evil and mercenary stance to take. It would be like going to visit a hospital and finding cancer patients and saying, “O thank God, here are some people here for me to help”. It leads to people being treated not as persons but as instruments where the spiritual advantages matter not the person (page 131). This book opposes the discipline defence. It says that the explanation for God allowing evil is that evil is not a thing but a falling short of good. But if God can be good then and let a cancer patient suffer you cannot justify him by saying, “God didn’t do anything to that person – the person just has the absence of health or has fallen short of health. The cancer isn’t real”. You are still left with the question of how God couldn’t improve that person’s health. And the only hope you have got is to say that God wants to help people through the cancer not to cure it for he could give us the cure but to grow by dealing with the cancer. So we are left back with the discipline defence again. The volume forces us back to it though it doesn't want to.

 

If suffering is for virtue and virtue is for happiness then suffering is only worthwhile if it makes you able to do more good than you suffered. Then why do people suffer and then die of it and why are so many lying in bed ill and unable to get up and do good for others?

IT DEFEATS ITSELF
 
You cannot say that you are hurt so that somebody may help you and be purified by helping you for that might be the devil trying to mislead you and prevent you trying to grow stronger. The suffering must be at least partly for yourself when it can be and when you can grow because of it. It is safest to hold that it is meant entirely for you for, after all, it hurts you more than it hurts others. When you are most sure that you exist it follows that you have to assume that the suffering is all your own fault. It would not be right to hold that it is even partly for others when you are not as sure that they exist. Still, the theory will make others crippled with guilt.

Many of us have never done anything big for others. God hasn’t given us the chance. When little good deeds are enough before the Lord for even one then they are enough for all so the answer fails to account for serious and extreme suffering. It is a callous answer to the problem of evil for this reason. The discipline defence is saying people should suffer when it is apparent that they should not.

If there is no virtue without suffering then the more suffering the better and cruelty is the true kindness. It is absurd to believe in a God who won’t torment us to the extreme because he wants us to become ruins of our former selves.

If God enables us to inflict pain on others then it is so that they might be changed into better people by it. And then cruelty is really kindness for it is nurturing virtue in the victims. It is a favour. The theory is a recipe for a huge bloodbath and shows that humanitarian morality and God are incompatible. It also shows that religion can justify any brutal morality. If its morality is good for us it must be a hoax.

Religion says that suffering has intrinsic potential to heal the soul even if people won’t reform for they are resisting its power. It has to say this for we are rarely as happy as we could be. There is a bit of pain all the time. Even neutrality brings the pain of not being happier. This encourages cruelty.

If love is sacrifice then compassion and patience are not love and are evil for they make making things better easier.
 
SUFFERING IS NECESSARILY USELESS

Most suffering is caused by human beings. If God had fewer people in the world we would be happier so God does not want us to be happy and has put us here to do our penance. He could prevent the population of the world going above a thousand people. And he would have other worlds the same way. He is certainly far more to blame than us for any evil we do when he has made sure that there are enough of people in the world to make it hell for millions. Belief in God often thrives on a hard heart.

It is no comfort to tell anyone that their suffering was given to enhance virtue for there is no way of being sure the suffering was worth these results. Suffering always brings out impatience if not in yourself then in others. How can suffering bring you to God when it makes you impatient with him as well? Suffering is the experience of useless existence and meaningless pain. It is necessarily impatient. This fact proves that the atheist conviction that suffering disproves God is true. Those who disagree are just simply being hard hearted. Those who do not recognise the horror of suffering are able to believe in God.
ITS NOT COMFORTING BUT JUDGING
 
Some think it is comforting to feel that suffering is discipline from God. The comfort that the discipline defence seeks to offer is unkind because it implies that God wants all who suffer to know they are going to be okay and not to despair so anybody that does despair has none to blame but themselves for not responding to the divine inspirations. That is yet another example of how believers in God count themselves worthy to judge other people. People should not be judged because of God for we can sense people and we cannot sense God.

THE DISCIPLINE FROM GOD DOES NOT HELP AND MAKES YOU EVEN WORSE

Here is a quick refutation of the defence, “The more able to do good or virtuous I become the worse it is for me to sin for the less excuse I have and I am desecrating the work done in me so the sin is worse. I sin all the time. Even when I am perfectly good I would refuse to suffer for a thousand years to save a soul from Hell so I sin in my subconscious. So discipline increases sin instead of eradicating it. The discipline is an act of divine hatred towards me in a sense.”

Some say that the reason many think that the discipline defence is no good do not realise that no matter how perfect you are you could always be more perfect so discipline will always be needed so seemingly holy and perfect people should suffer in order to improve. People like George Schesinger have used this argument to solve the problem of evil. He argues that the power to improve will not and cannot be totally fulfilled. But with morality you only need to do right for the right reasons. A good person who saves a life out of love cannot perform a more perfect act for love just requires that they do all they can. It is quality not quantity that counts. The quantity only counts if you can increase it but if you cannot there is no harm done regarding the will and morality. You are perfect as you are if you want and will to be good and you cannot improve anymore not because you are bad but because your faculties are limited.

Humility is the sum of all virtues. Any vice you have, pride causes it so it is all down to incorrect thinking. When your motive in helping the sick is not to help them but to please God what is the point in them being sick unless God is getting his revenge? If you choose to make a small sacrifice in loving God and cannot make any greater God will understand so he should make things in such a way that nobody will need anything too big. You will still be able to choose him and his love.
           
IT IS ANTI-HAPPINESS
 
Discipline gives you relief from pain and suffering when it gets you to the goal. But it should go on all the time to make you suffer to do or will good if love is sacrifice. It never works for you are glad when it is over which means you have wasted it and ended up worse than you were at the start because you should be glad to have had it and to get the virtue it gives and be sorry to see it go. If it does such a good job at making you more virtuous then you should want it all the time to keep you in tip-top shape. Therefore, the notion of temporary discipline is at odds with the doctrine that love is selflessness and sacrifice which doctrine is required if you believe in the free will defence - that is the doctrine that God lets us hurt each other for he respects free will and intends us to use our will only for good. God would not give us free will if we were meant to do what we like best but is only concerned with what he wants. The theory needs the free will defence and yet it condemns it so the theory is incoherent.
 
There is no mistake: to believe even that God occasionally disciplines is to declare war on human happiness. Without the discipline excuse for divine apathy towards suffering and God's role in it God loses much of his attraction for people like to think that God will get back at those who injure them.


SPITEFUL
 
The notion that suffering is divine discipline is unfair for you cannot know what suffering does to everybody. The notion is vindictive and self-righteous. You are like the pupil who is happy to see the schoolmaster discipline somebody else as long as it is not you.
 
Any theory that claims that evil is for making a greater good is unsatisfactory and many would say that it is at best inconclusive though the truth is that it is more than unsatisfactory it is incoherent and nonsensical and dangerous. It means that we cannot look at the action of another and say for sure that it is evil. If a man murders we might say he did wrong for that is God’s job but what if he felt that God was telling him to do it? Christians base their extreme doctrines on the idea that God tells you these doctrines are true. For example, approval of what Jesus did to himself by going on the cross is an extreme doctrine. To condone suffering is a terrible thing and a horrible trait.

BIASED
 
If we are going to say that God is right to hurt us and make viruses to destroy our health then why can’t we say the same about an evil president who is running our country? Why can’t we say that his evil is good in a way we don’t understand and that we should assume he wants us to suffer so that we may engage in compassion? The Church answers that it is because God is good and therefore he should be trusted. So because the president is a human being and can do wrong he is not to be trusted and we are not to say that the evil he does is for some purpose we don’t understand that justifies it. But it is unfair to trust a being whose existence you cannot be as sure of as a man’s more than a man when both behave in seemingly terrible ways. The discipline defence then fails for it promotes injustice. It promotes not virtue but vice. God is a belief. If you are going to condone human suffering over a belief then it is your duty to condone the president’s especially if he claims his evil ways are not really evil. It is very insulting to sick people to condone suffering over a belief. Beliefs do not come before people.
 
The person you see should come before the God you cannot see for you can only believe in God when you don’t see him. We would be believing God, by condoning divine evil, to benefit God. It would be kinder then if we are allowed to do that to believe in the president to benefit him for at least then we are surer the president exists!
 
FINALLY
 
Christianity claims that God sends suffering to make us virtuous and happiness is secondary to this. In other words, if we can't be both virtuous and happy thanks to the circumstances of our existence then the happiness has to be destroyed. Christianity complains that too many attempts to explain how it can make sense to say evil and God can co-exist err for they assume God has to put our happiness first.
 
But that is a very serious attitude - you cannot adopt it lightly. You need huge evidence or proof before you can promote that attitude. Religion is guilty of valuing theology and God above people. The argument that suffering disciplines and this is the divine plan puts virtue before happiness. It is a cruel doctrine. It is better to be evil inside but live a good happy life of that benefits others though it is not really meant to and that benefits yourself than to be virtuous through suffering. 

 

It is obvious that if there is an almighty and all-loving God then suffering is permitted to happen by him to improve us as virtuous beings.  But it cannot improve so there is no loving God.
 
WORKS CONSULTED
 
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THE WEB
 
www.colorado.edu/philosophy/wes/Tooley2.html
 
THE ARGUMENT FROM EVIL AND THE EXISTENCE OF GOD by Michael Tooley.
 
http://www.nd.edu/~rpotter/courses/finitism.htm
 
FINITISM AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL, R Dennis Potter,
 
 www.ffrf.org/fttoday/august97/barker.html
 
THE FREE WILL ARGUMENT FOR THE NON-EXISTENCE OF GOD by Dan Barker