We probably get more email about the issue of human suffering, than any other single faith issue. Why does God allow the pain and the tragedies that all of us seem to encounter in life? We don’t pretend to have an answer to every case, but atheism offers no answer either. We have to consider how much of human suffering is caused by human vanity.
Perhaps the most difficult question is why an innocent baby should be born with a plethora of problems. As the parent of a child born with multiple birth defects, I have a personal struggle with this issue. Even though I have written a book about my son Timothy detailing our personal struggle, there are people who have far worse issues.
The big question for all of this discussion is, “What we can reasonably expect God to do?” The Bible tells us that God created humans in perfection. It was the deliberate rejection of God’s commands (sin) and selfish exploitation of the resources God gave us that have caused the problems. One area of our failure in today’s world is the chemicals we use to promote our physical appearance.
In 2017 a dozen health advocacy groups and individuals petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban lead acetate from hair dyes. Lead acetate is readily absorbed through the skin and is a neurotoxin. In 2011 the National Toxicology Program declared formaldehyde a human carcinogen. This and triclosan, phthalates, and parabens are still allowed in U.S. cosmetics even though they have all been linked to cancer, impaired reproductive ability, and compromised neurodevelopment in children. Cosmetics contain these chemicals in moisturizers, makeup, hair products, skin lighteners, and hand soaps.
The European Union has banned more than 1300 chemicals from personal health or cosmetic products, but little has been done elsewhere. Our vanity and emphasis on physical appearance contribute to the pain and suffering we experience. Add to that the war and violence that appalls most of us, and you have a huge percentage of the pain and suffering we see all around us.
Proverbs tells us “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting” (Proverbs 31:30). In 1 Timothy 2:9 Paul says that women should “dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with prepared hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds…” The cost of human vanity is not just in dollars, but also in human suffering caused by the chemicals used to preserve and advance our physical appearance.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Scientific American, November 2017, page 10.