Dear Lord, can atheists
suffer with the problem of pain?
Or are you necessary for that?
Do you exist
so that we might scream at you,
and come to disbelieve in you?
Can we weep in lamenting
without you?
Because nothing is wrong
without you.
You are the ingredient
necessary to make the mess.
You are the prerequisite of sadness,
of sobs in pillows at night.
So I need you, Sweet Lord,
if I want to scream at sky
that things shouldn't be this way.
That is my prayer
and judgment.
Each needing you to listen
and exist.

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29 thoughts on “Theodicy”

  1. Omnipotent and benevolent? And all manner of things shall be well?
    O what thorny theological knots with which we bind ourselves...

  2. Brilliant. BTW, I had a whole semester class on "The Problem of Pain" and kept asking myself--do things get better if we REMOVE our belief in God from the equation? My answer: not really.

  3. Just read this Hopkins' poem for class. Is it legal to post a whole poem? If not, my apologies, but it makes such a nice companion piece to "Theodicy."

    Carrion ComfortNot, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of manIn me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on meThy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scanWith darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?   Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tródMe? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that yearOf now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

  4. It's grotesque and provocative. It's true and false. Do we scream at God, or at our own failure to reconcile? Is God the source of our pain, or the balm for it? How on earth can we ever find resolve attempting to fit an Absolute in our relative lives? Or, to fit our relative lives in an absolute? There is pain there, and there is pain in a total rejection of SOME absolute. That's my experience, anyway.

  5. "He needs to learn that he can't take the world on his shoulders." 

    The comment's irony--from a christian boss I had in college about a fellow christian employee--has lain on my mind like oil on water for thirty years, being half true and half false, and deriving its halves from separate points of view.

    Your little poem shook those halves enough to mix them, I think:

    For if tears for the world depict a God's-eye view, doesn't Jesus emerge as the divine response in human form? And if Jesus emerges as the divine response in human form, am I not a sinner? Yes, and yes.

    "That is my prayer and judgment." 

    Thanks, Richard.

  6. I was thinking of becoming a Christian again, but after reading this I have decided I better not.  Thanks.

  7. Emptiness
    That obliges me, myself to choose and invent
    Blank canvas that gives me despair and hope
    In unequal measures on different days

    Do those with a God/Gods/Religion
    Or just a satisfaction with the emptiness
    Know doubt?
    Know excitement?

    Without you I would feel
    I was trying to breathe into a sheet of ice
    Or walking forward into a wall;
    I couldn't move.

    Because nothing can happen without you.

  8. Anybody else get the feeling that all of Bill's posts could be visually summarized by this look?

  9. who should I blame for my suffering?
    who should be called to account for my pain?
    to whom should I sue for redress
    for my body's inevitable decline
    for the death that surrounds me
    for the death that reminds me
    that my own death is nearing, nearing, nearing,
    continually closer than it ever was before?

    who taught me to blame?
    from whom did I learn to accuse? 
    was it a great accuser, a divine accuser
    from whom I have learned to forget the present
    from whom I have learned to ignore this moment
    with constant concern for a future that does not yet exist?

    why do I find fault with the way the world works
    why do I desire a person or Person to fault for the natural failure of life over time
    for the faltering breath of every living thing since the beginning of all living things
    why do I blame; why do I fault; 
    for what bitter end do I try to accuse?

    a moment, this moment, is mine, and yours
    and this moment too, and the next one
    this one, is precious to me,
    is beautiful to experience, especially,
    if I spend it in love or beauty or kindness,
    if I spend it, this moment, 
    with abandon,
    no hoarding, no saving, no straining for a future unfulfilled,
    but spent in the now, 
    in the only moment that exists for me and for you,
    until this moment,
    or this one,
    takes over and offers something new,
    can this be enough?

    even in pain, or discomfort, or sadness,
    can this be enough?

    perhaps blame is the illusion that obscures the beauty of the moments we have

    “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”  Mark Twain

  10. I still check in once in awhile, even though I left Christianity a year or so ago. I lean towards deism-yet I believe I am becoming more agnostic. You will be happy to know I do not want to "de-convert" my family , friends , you or your fans. They still need to believe in an afterlife and theistic god. Such cultural beliefs provide relief from the fear of death.Your past series on Becker was enlightening as terror management theory has long been an interest to me!

    I am glad I caught your latest poem and I empathize with your struggle, Richard. If I may, I would like to reduce your beautiful poem to its core essence  : "God, I cannot reconcile my Christian belief in your existence with natural disasters, violence, and selfishness-all unaffected by prayer. Have we invented your existence to cope with the brutal reality of our existence?"  Please correct my interpretation if  assumes too much.


  11. It's a poem, so it's open to an particular and individual interpretation.

    But for me the core essence isn't about reconciling the existence of God with suffering but, rather, the necessity of God's existence to call suffering "a problem."

    Note the first lines (emphasis added):

    Dear Lord, can atheists

    suffer with the problem of pain?
    Or are you necessary for that?

  12. Richard, in less poetic terms, I've heard this same theme from William Lane Craig. Christian apologists complain that atheists cannot argue the "problem of pain", because without a God, there is no theological problem of pain.

    To which atheists simply sigh, smile, and say, "exactly."

  13. I think that's the case, though not being an atheist I'd hate to presume, that there is no "problem" with the cosmos.

    And to be clear, the poem doesn't have atheism in the crosshairs. It's a reflection from the inside of the faith. Because, as you point out, atheists agree with what I'm saying here, smiling and saying exactly.

  14. A real Psalm. The key seems to be the lines "because nothing is wrong without you." It's a peculiar reality that the world seems equally problematic with and without God - and what that reveals to me is that God is not the variable that needs to change.

  15. I'm an atheist who comes to your site because I enjoy reading your posts.  I feel like they are deeply thought-out and spiritually truthful parts of you coming out on the page, and a lot of wisdom.  So I'm coming not to combat your poem (because that would be silly - it's your poem, you can say whatever you want) but instead to ask:  why do you feel like atheism comes from a place of no emotion?  Our scema is still human, the frailty and suffering is not lost just because there is no God to ease the pain of suffering.  To me, it makes it more intense because there is no place of spiritual balm, of eternity, to look forward to laying down the burdens.

    Am I reading your poem wrong?  I really do enjoy your work, but since this is coming from a different line of thought than I usually see here, I'm not sure I'm understanding it.

  16. The title of the poem should be your hint. Theodicy is the theological effort to deal with the "problem" of pain. The poem is asking a question: is seeing pain as a "problem" a form of religious belief?

  17. Here's another way to approach what I'm doing. I'm playing with an inversion. Classically, theodicy works with a sequence that goes like this: You believe in God first and that belief creates a problem (the problem of pain). But might the reverse be true? You experience pain as a problem which means you believe in God.

  18.  Thank you for your response.  I think I was not seeing the problem of pain - I honestly didn't realize that was a thing until now.  I will think about that for a while.

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