Today: Monday, December 09, 2019

Suffering without God    (10/30/2016)

“I hate God!” a widow shouted at her vicar when her husband died suddenly of a heart attack.  We understand the anguish of her grief.  Later, she felt sorry for her outburst but came to understand that God is used to such a reaction and is big enough to cope with it.  But we still face questions.

Suffering, especially when it seems so undeserved and arbitrary, can be very difficult to understand. Couldn’t God have done a better job than make a world with so much suffering?  In fact, some people conclude that an all loving and all powerful God couldn’t and wouldn’t allow such a suffering world, so there cannot be such a God.

But for those who don’t believe God exists, there cannot logically be a problem with suffering.  It is simply one consequence of a random and arbitrary universe, which has no moral heart to it, which has no meaning and no purpose.  Why should we expect anything any different if everything is simply the accidental coming together of atoms?

Suffering only becomes a real problem for those who are prepared to believe in God.  It raises the question, how can a God of love allow it to happen?  In fact, for Christians that looks like an even bigger problem, because they are the ones who keep talking about a God of love.

Abandoning the idea of God, of course, doesn’t solve the problem of suffering.  It simply says that suffering is not a problem - except of course to those unlucky enough to feel its pain.

Holding on to God, on the other hand, keeps the question open - is there a meaning here? is there something that should be done? is there some glimmer of understanding? can we begin to see why God created a universe with the possibility of suffering within it?

What if God created a universe of possibilities, and then showed us something beyond suffering?

There is a remarkable verse in the Bible, which is perhaps one of the best loved of all verses for Christians, which says - “God loved the world so much, he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not die but have eternal life” (John chapter 3, verse 16).  But think for a moment how else that verse might have gone on.  If you had started a sentence saying - God loved the world so much… how might you have finished it?  Perhaps - “… he stopped all suffering,” “… he made everyone love each other,” “… he banished all weapons,” “… he eradicated all diseases and death.” 

As you think about what sound like better endings to the sentence, it’s soon clear that the whole thing begins to unravel.  The kind of world we might want to create without suffering is an unreal world, in which there is no free will, no challenge, no growth, no great meaning.  What actually happened was he gave his own Son Jesus to face the suffering and to overcome it.

God’s answer, in fact, was not to banish suffering, but as someone has put it, obeying the rules of his own creation, he faced it himself, entered into it, suffered alongside us, and surrounded us with his love and the prospect of real life.

I would rather face the problem and reality of suffering with that promise ringing in my ears, than without it.

When we cry out because of our own, or someone else’s, suffering, loving God, help us to know you are close by, that you feel the pain, that you share our sorrow, and that in Christ you have conquered it all, so that beyond suffering and death is life itself.

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