Emo Philips Tackles the Problem of Suffering

One of my favorite comedians is Emo Phillips. He is a master of the misdirection joke where he gets you thinking one thing and then abruptly changes direction. For example, Emo jokes, "I ran three miles today, finally I said 'lady take your purse.'" He also jokes, "I was in a bar the other night, hopping from barstool to barstool, trying to get lucky---but there wasn't any gum under any of them."

Personally, I'm convinced that the guy has some Christian training in his background. I don't know if he is a Christian or a kid who was raised in a church who fell away, but his humor shows some occasional insight into things Christian.

On his website he has a page of Infrequently Given Answers, and one of them tackles the problem of suffering. Emo says:

The question is absurd: when you ask, "If God is both all good and all powerful, why then does He allow suffering?", what you are really asking is, "If God is both all good and all powerful, why then can He not make me (the questioner) -- who is just as much a part of a universe in which there is suffering as is any other part -- be at the same time the exact same questioner, but one who is now part and parcel of a universe in which there is no suffering?" Which, reduced down, is the same thing as asking, "Why can there not be, at the same time, X and the preclusion of X?"

Although I don't think that this answer effectively responds to the question of suffering, I do think it's an interesting take on the issue. After all, to a certain extent it's true that the questioner is asking that the universe be completely changed to a place that suffering is not allowed but in which the questioner is still the exact same person who is asking the question.

The Bible teaches that suffering comes because suffering is one of the ways that God teaches us. As noted by Matt Slick of Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry:

[I]t is quite possible that God uses the suffering to do good. In other words, He produces patience through tribulation (Rom. 5:3). Or He may desire to save someone through it. Take for example, the account of Joseph who was sold into slavery by His brothers. What they did was wrong and Joseph suffered greatly for it. But, later, God raised up Joseph in Egypt to make provisions for the people of that land during the coming drought of seven years. But not only was Egypt saved, but also so was his family and brothers who originally sold him into slavery. Joseph finally says to them, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:15-21). Of course, the greatest example of God using evil for good is the death of Christ. Evil people brought him to the cross, but God used that cross as the means to save the world.

So, while Emo's effort may be no more than an attempt to confuse, with a little effort his joke/argument could be turned into a rather interesting response. For example, what if a person were to respond thus: "If God were to create a universe in which there is no suffering, I wouldn't be the same person that I am today. God wanted me to be the person I am, and therefore suffering must exist or I wouldn't be the same 'me' that I am today."

Something to think about.


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