The Sacred Chain | The Challenge of Pain and Suffering

Jim Stump is guided by philosopher Simone Weil and other experts to respond to the challenge of pain and suffering.

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So far, half way through the transcript, this is absolutely wonderful. I truly love how @jstump is posing the big questions and asking what if this or what if that


I think we might also say that God can’t make square circles, saying a square circle is just gibberish. And it’s no limit on Omnipotence to say God can’t do that logical contradiction.

or create a world with an infinite number of objects

Thanks Mike. The book is even better (imho)!


I am surprised at the amount of discussion on this topic. The Bible gives a clear answer to this question: pain and suffering are ultimately due to the free will of human actors. Adam had authority over the animal kingdom and the earth. He delegated this authority to his wife, and she delegated it to the “serpent,” an agent of Satan or Satan himself. The author of evil is Satan, exercising his delegated authority to inflict death, pain and suffering, until his God ordained demise and the creation of the new earth, without agents of evil. These are spiritual realities and truths, outside the reach of science, or theistic philosophy. The goodness of God is in giving man free will and a perfect world to start with. It is further in sacrificing His own Son to obtain deliverance of man from his self-inflicted curse of death.

Whoa – this is amazing:

I found a study done in 2022, that finds that people who don’t accept the science of evolution are more prone to believe and act in discriminatory ways toward their fellow humans than those who do accept the science of evolution.

This relates to the comparison made between evolution and meteorology:

dynamic weather patterns are needed to sustain life. And if you have dynamic weather patterns, turns out you’re going to get hurricanes and lightning sometimes.

The same would be true of geology.

This reminded me of something I listened to from NPR a while back:

But the other thing would be that I would certainly go so far as to say, and as I have tried to articulate in a very unsatisfactory manner, could it be that convergence is reflecting a deeper order of organization?

The guy in the NPR talk argued that regardless of how life might start, eventually evolution will produce warm-blooded,tool-using, upright bipeds, not because of anything built into biology but because of the forms that are best suited to deal with this physical existence. So evolution may well have been constrained by the nature of the physical world to produce something very like humans.

I love the bit about predators in heaven where predators and prey engage in " a great game of tag" so that their hunting/fleeing instincts are honored but there is no suffering as a result, so skills that originally were used for survival become in heaven skills for play, for just enjoying existence – what we humans call “sports”.

The article brought to my mind the idea that animals that suffer as prey are mirroring the suffering and death of Christ in that they are effectively laying down their lives for others. And that in turn made me think that it’s a risky business to define how God should do things based on our understanding! We don’t like pain, so we think that all pain is bad, but in this physical existence pain is frequently a very good thing because it tells us “Don’t do that! Be careful!” and thus contributes to our benefit – and just maybe beneficial pain can only happen if there is also pointless pain.

Which makes me think that an Eden – or the rest of the world – without pain would have been a very strange, even alien place, with angels dashing about making sure than no toes got stubbed, no hair torn out, no broken bones, no punctured skin . . . very much like the world that Satan tempted Christ to think about!
So we have to judge things based on Christ, and that means that we can’t just say that suffering and death are bad, because the pinnacle of suffering and death was actually very, very good. We should stop and ask if maybe all suffering is somehow good, since the ultimate suffering was most certainly good.


There’s no logical contradiction there. A contradiction only arises if you start with a finite number of objects and expect them to produce an infinite number – to have an infinite number it is necessary to start that way, which can’t be ruled out in either mathematics or theology.

Human pain and suffering . . . maybe. Are we to think that in Eden it was impossible to stub a toe or get a scratch or break a bone?

There’s a theme in Orthodox theology that says unless you base your answer in Christ you have no answer. In the case of pain and suffering, that takes us to the Cross, and thus all pain and suffering has to be viewed from that perspective, not from one of how we feel about things.

This, BTW, is one reason I think that it was a gloriously wonderful thing that Christ had to carry His own crosspiece for the Crucifixion: when I’m doing my conservation work and get worn out from the stuff I carry to a point where I’m nearly stumbling, I know that this is something I share (in a small way) with my Savior!

Except that’s not in the text, it’s a projection of our understanding and preferences about life onto God.

“Self-inflicted”? No – He chose the nails, but He didn’t pound them in. His suffering and death had to be inflicted on Him for them to constitute Victroy.

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The contradiction is found in positing a non-numerical number of objects

No, because as I said there’s no contradiction in either math or theology in having an infinite number of objects at the beginning.

Interesting note: just as an infinite number of objects cannot be reached starting from a finite number, the other direction is also true – if you start with an infinity, you can end up with a finite number of objects.

Thanks for this podcast. I really like the way these Sacred Chain podcasts grapple with deep challenges of the Christian faith – leaving behind the silly superficial answers.

I like the way the superficial objection of “randomness” in evolution was dealt with. It appears that if we accept that quantum mechanics describes reality, then randomness in some sense in built into the very structure of the universe. So, we need to come to terms with God being able to bring about His pre-ordained plan in that context. This has something to do with predestination and free will, and has been debated by theologians for centuries. Superficial answers will not work here :slight_smile:.

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And I say a non-numerical number of objects is a contradiction

The problem with that answer is that the fossil record shows that death (and therefore animal suffering) preceded human existence for hundreds of millions of years. There have been at least five mass extinction events in the course of earth history. That is clearly not related to human free will. Humans have only existed on earth for a tiny fraction of earth history.


A contradiction in what? It isn’t in mathematics, it isn’t in theology, and now that I think about it it’s not a contradiction in physics, either.

Or are you just talking about word definitions? That’s silly, just semantic games. Would you rather I said “an infinite quantity”? or “an infinite set”? Even mathematicians will say “infinite number” often enough when the issue at hand is one of “how many?”

In fact, there are cosmologists who say that anything between no universe and an infinite universe doesn’t make sense (don’t ask me why; the math is likely beyond both of us).

Now if the universe isn’t flat, i.e. i space on a large scale is curved and closed that would indicate the universe is like a 4-D version of a globe such that if you had trillions of years and fuel you could set off on a straight line and end up back where you started because no matter which way you went you would be traveling on a 4-D great circle. But that looks less and less likely since as our measurements get better the universe looks even flatter – though a measurement using the cosmic microwave background was made in 2019 that indicates the universe may be closed-curved (4-D sphere) but so large that we can barely tell the difference between flat and the actual faint curvature; in fact if this is the case then the “great circle” circumference of the universe is at least 162 trillion light years (working from a guesstimate that we can measure curvature/flatness to one one-thousandth of a percent of a degree).

But if space is flat, or if it has negative curvature, then it may be infinite with infinite objects (when the Big Bang was considered to have come from a singularity, this was problematic, but that is no longer the case).

‘Infinite number’ is one of those things that has been said so often that it has an illusion of being true. My preference is for referring to infinity as a non-numerical value and there are at least two dinstinct values for it.

Infinity is not a number, but a concept. We can define infinity as the object that is larger than any other number, but infinity is not a real number itself, since it doesn’t fulfill the same axioms that the real numbers do.

Infinity in Math | Definition, Symbol & Signs |

This is by the way a sophiscated kind of Last Thursdayism… which I wouldn’t totally discount… but it does run into the dilemma of what to do with the “you” in your statement.

It is remarkable how consciousness seems to be a genuine outlier in the universe. As in how it is able to be aware of acting without being acted upon :grinning: which is a kind of great singularity in its own humble way

Not in the least – it’s a geometrical observation about a closed universe with positive curvature.

Not if you use a complete quote:

It’s just geometry.

We don’t have a large enough data set to know that.

At least try to think about it long enough to realize that it is a kind of Last Thursdayism

little difference whether it happens last Thursday or 14 billion years ago

There’s no “last Thursday” or “14 billion years ago” because there’s no time involved, just geometry.