I’ll be thinking via my fingertips today. Given the extent of the topic, I’m sure I’ll rinse and repeat so additional thoughts and insights are very much sought after.
I’m reading The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. (Click HERE for his youtube testimony.) In this book, Strobel attempts to “investigate” the most common obstacles to the Christian faith. He calls these obstacles “the Big Eight.” I’m reading about Obstacle #1.
“Since Evil and Suffering Exist, a Loving God Cannot.”
Why am I reading this? I was led. Compelled. There are so many struggling. Suffering. All ages, genders and walks of life. Suffering physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially. Children died this week. Children die every week. A young mother at my church lost her battle with cancer the day before a friend who defeated stage 4 breast cancer got her breast reconstruction.
I pray. For people I know, and people I don’t. I pray for strength and comfort. For peace.
I pray because I personally believe a loving God does exist, despite the evil and suffering in the world. But in my prayers, unspoken, was always “Why?”
My auto-pilot answer was “Have faith in God.” But in truth? I had nuthin. Except that whole “then we shall see face to face” thing. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
If there is a loving God, why is there pain and suffering in the world?
I’m 44, for crying out loud. I’ve been a Christian for nearly 30 years! I should to be able to ANSWER THE QUESTION instead of mumbling words like “sin” and “test of faith” and “God’s will” and “free will” or quoting scripture to Christians, agnostics and atheists alike. Scripture. Not a credible resource for agnostics and atheists. Quote the Bible if it makes you feel better, but when I’m talking to someone who doesn’t believe the Bible to be the Living Word of God, or to a person who doesn’t even believe in God, I need to approach the conversation in a different way. God can use other books and resources besides the Bible. He can use a sunset, a song or an impossible coincidence. He can even use my personal experience and fallible human intellectual understanding. He is that good. (I just need to gain some intellectual understanding and identify my personal experience.)
Besides not being able to intelligently articulate a reasonable response when talking to others, I personally didn’t like not having answers to the “why” question and the “how can there be a loving God” question. And I believed there were answers. Just because I didn’t know what they were, didn’t mean there weren’t any. This week, I found myself no longer comfortable just believing and trusting in God and accepting suffering without question. (Which I did, by the way.) For some reason, I’m at a place in my life where I want to know WHY I believe what I believe about this issue and be able to explain myself to Christians and non-Christians alike.
Wait. Don’t go off and comment yet, telling me “the” answer. Bear with me. I want to work through this one pragmatic step at a time. I’ve had discussions with “strong” Christians, “longtime” Christians, pastors and FirstHusband. I’ve read the Bible, commentaries, and books. Nothing seemed REASONABLE. The Christians were often patronizing and/or vague, attributing my doubt – or questioning or whatever you want to call it – to a lack of faith or an immature Christian. Because they really believed I lacked faith or was immature? Or to cover up the fact that they themselves weren’t able to effectively articulate an answer either? Back then, I believed it was me. After this week? Not so much. Because I found two authors who were able to articulate their reasoning in a way that resonates with me. It’s not that they “told” me the answer to these questions so much as they rounded up many of my thoughts on the matter (conscious and not) and were able to lay them out in an organized, reasonable way.
Let me back up a bit, before the resonating, and answer a likely question. What have I been doing all these years, with this seeming contradiction between suffering and a loving God?
Years ago, FirstHusband gave me the thought that allowed me to let the contradiction rest – until now. In discussing why a loving God allows human suffering, we had a lot to talk about. In the end, it was this:
Could it be (I said COULD) that one (I said ONE) reason people suffer is so the world can see the difference between how a Christian and a non-Christian deals with the suffering? The theory is that Christians have a hope, strength, peace and comfort that comes from God. Now THAT, I’ve seen. On more than one occasion. And so have you.
But what about non-Christians who approach adversity with a seemingly positive outlook? What about non-Christians who overcome obstacles to make things better or inspire us? Randy Pausch never professed Christianity. Neither has John Walsh. Both remarkable men, who, when faced with tragedy, responded much like we expect Christian men would. And what about the Christians who react to tragedy with anger, blame God or who fall apart and shut down? Non-Christians blame God, fall apart and shut down. It can go both ways.
So I personally choose to believe that there IS a loving, all-powerful God despite the seemingly contradicting evidence of evil and suffering present in the world. For years, I’ve been able to fumble around the God-speak, quoting scripture and using words like faith, free will, sin, and God’s Will, but I’ve never before formulated an intelligent response which adequately, logically, PRAGMATICALLY addresses the question AND the objections to the pat, theological answers.
Faced with the multiple tragedies of the death of her uncle and and her aunt’s diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease and terminal cancer, Lee Strobel’s wife said:
“If someone thinks he can wrap everything up in a neat little package and put a fancy theological bow on it, go somewhere else.”
I don’t want to be “someone” or “go somewhere else.” So, here are some questions and issues I’m going to work through:
Is evil evidence FOR God?
If God is all-POWERFUL, why doesn’t He stop or lessen suffering?
What does “less” suffering mean anyway?
If God is all-KNOWING, what does He know that we don’t?
How can we say that God is good when He allows evil and suffering?
What other questions or issues do you see?