Friday, February 15, 2013

If God is good and all powerful, why is there suffering?

I get to speak on suffering at Universities from time to time. The last one I should've given I had to pull out of because my son was in hospital. I might write about that another day.

Personally, I don't tend to frame The Suffering Question philosophically because I'm not sure that's the right way to approach it. I want to speak to those who suffer. I want to be compassionate more than clever. I want to win a person today and tomorrow and bring them to know Jesus.  The question comes:
I can't believe in God because I've suffered.. How can there be a God when he doesn't stop that from happening. 
There are philosophical answers to that kind of question and they're probably pretty secure and solid. However, they don't necessarily help. I could, on a good day, win the argument. But where does that get me? I'm reasonably sharp intellectually but delivering a few knock out lines just leaves someone on the floor.  It's even less great when you're talking about someone who is already on the floor.

I'd like you to come with me rather than to be defeated by me.

Suffering isn't a maths problem. (Though maths problems can be a form of suffering.)
Suffering is something we feel, its tangible, its physical, its emotional, its painful.
It needs tears and silence and company and space before it needs answers.
Taking it away would be good but that's rarely on the table.

I too face suffering in this world. I too know a little of the brokenness of life. More today than I did a month ago. We agree this world isn't as it should be. The stories behind our tired faces tell that story.

We feel it. We know it. We believe it.

We agree that we'd like the world to be different. Better different.

And nobody is delivering that today. Nobody.
Though they tell us we shouldn't suffer and that we can overcome it.
We'd like that. I'd like that.

I believe that one day the world will be put right, pain and tears finished. And I believe it on the basis of what has happened when God himself came and was bruised with us, and for us. My God bled. And I believe that he'll return to end the suffering forever. Death will die and I think I've got evidence for that.

In the mean time this isn't the worst of all worlds, because I'm persuaded that much evil is restrained. But we'll never know what - in something like the same way that we don't know when the CIA succeeds.

We yearn together for a better world. We weep together for it.

I don't have complete answers but I do have some answers.

Rejecting God can feel like a moment of satisfaction. Sometimes you feel like punching the wall. But such rejection of God still presumes he's there to be rejected. And ends up abandoning the prospect of justice and change, while still holding on to the bitterness of our suffering. Where does that get us?

We still live with our pain. It's chronic. It's exhausting. But there can be some hope.

Robert Jenson riffs on Martin Luther and observes that from our own reasoning we'd probably say that God is evil or just not there, but we don't work from our own reasonings. Rather, we cling to the cross and take that as our vantage point, and things look different through the eyes of the God who gets bruised, crushed, crucified for us and with us. I invite you to come and look with me, through bleary eyes.

See also, for much more helpful words than mine: 
God and Suffering - Our Story at Tanya Marlow's blog.


  1. There are times when you spot in someone's life ways that they are being made more beautiful through suffering. This felt to me like one of those.

    Continuing to pray as you process.

    1. Thanks Tanya. I hope that it's leading to a refining of my character and faith. When I have the energy to feel anything I feel more sadness, more detail and richer moments of joy.